Directors of York Will-Writing Firm Sentenced for Unfair Trading
5:47pm 12th December 2013
Two partners and a salesman of a York-based legal services business were sentenced today at York Crown Court having been prosecuted by City of York Council for unfair trading.
The investigation by the council’s Trading Standards officers began after receiving complaints about the services provided by Minster Legal Associates. The partners failed to follow officers’ advice and continued to trade unlawfully after being interviewed as part of the investigation. The business was wound up in March 2012.
The two partners in the business, Samuel Dodds (age 31) and Gary Jones (age 32) each pleaded guilty to two offences of ‘trading contrary to the principles of professional diligence’ under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 back in April 2013. At today’s hearing they were each given an eight-month prison sentence suspended for two years, a 250-hour community punishment order, and were disqualified from being a director or manager of a company for four years.
His Honour Judge Ashurst described Minster Legal Associates as ‘wholly incompetent’ and said it dealt with customers in a ‘shoddy and indifferent way’.
Michael Wild (age 49) the salesman for the business was given a six-month prison sentence suspended for two years and 200 hours community punishment for mis-selling the firm’s products. He was serving a suspended prison sentence for credit card fraud at the time of his offending. He was sentenced to an additional 50 hours community punishment for that breach.
The investigation by trading standards officers revealed that the business did not do what its clients paid many hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds to do: documents arrived weeks or even months late; mistakes were made drafting wills and other documents, with names and addresses detailed incorrectly or misspelt and documents not tailored to customers’ needs. One will was worded so that it would achieve the very opposite of what the customer wanted.
When customers wrote to complain they would usually receive no response. If they telephoned to complain, the phone would often not be answered. If they did manage to get hold of somebody, they would often be promised calls back that never happened. Eventually they might manage to speak with someone who would assure them documents would be re-drafted and sent out to them but nothing would materialise and some complainants would eventually give up pursuing their consumer rights.
Some business which Minster Legal Associates was paid to undertake was never actually carried out: Enduring Power of Attorney documents were not registered at the Office of the Public Guardian, deeds were not registered with the Land Registry and some complainants received absolutely no service at all.
The partners ignored advice by Trading Standards and denied customers the proper right to cancel contracts signed in the home.
Michael Wild told customers that they should sign up quickly to take advantage of ‘legal loopholes’ which, he claimed, would enable people to avoid having to sell their homes to pay for care home fees when, in fact, is not the case.
Wild changed his plea to ‘guilty’ to the mis-selling offences at York Crown Court last month.
His Honour Judge Ashurst has adjourned the case for three months for a full report into the finances of the defendants and compensation for the vitims.
A former client of Minster Legal Associates, Mrs Bertha Frear, aged 75, of York, said: “I’m glad they’ve been brought to justice as they’ve caused us and many others so much loss and worry. My husband and I were approached by Michael Wild because he’d written wills for some relatives. When we hadn’t had or heard anything from him for a while, we called by his offices and found the firm was in liquidation. It’s been a shock and a worry and we’ve been poorly since. We’ve lost £2,000 that we worked hard to save. I never thought something like this would happen to us.”
Councillor Linsay Cunningham Cross, City of York Council’s Cabinet Member for Crime and Stronger Communities, said: “Hundreds of people across Yorkshire have lost out as a result of the appalling service from this business. City of York Council will take firm action against any business that deliberately flouts the law, swindles residents of money and abuses their trust.
“Anyone seeking advice on consumer matters should contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 08454 040506 in the first instance.”
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