BBC Radio 4 Moneybox Care Fees Investigation
As you may be aware, this company was featured on BBC Money Box, broadcast on Radio 4 on the 15th April 2017 and repeated the following day on 16th April.
We consider that the content of the programme presented a very one sided version of events, was misleading and did not show this company or the wide range of professional services it offers in the correct light.
In the BBC’s own words, ‘we are one of many firms’ (indeed we are 1 of over 500 firms), which provide estate planning advice and as such feel that we were unreasonably singled out.
The BBC advised us of their intention to broadcast the programme in an email on 29th March 2017. We responded by providing them with substantial evidence to refute their allegations and those of the featured client.
The BBC refused to answer our questions nor did they acknowledge the contents of the documents we sent but stated that they would continue with the programme as they planned regardless of the proof we sent them. Hence the only recourse left to us was to try to prevent broadcast by seeking the Court’s help. We did indeed go to the High Court but this was after we had sent the BBC numerous documents which clearly showed that their version of events was misguided and they gave us no confidence the programme would remain impartial. The case was never heard by the Court as the BBC raised a technicality and so the judge never made a decision as to the validity of the BBC’s claims.
This release is intended to present a fuller version of the facts rather than those carefully selected by the BBC to support their allegations.
The programme featured a client of Universal (Susan Steer) who had complained following the death of her husband. This complaint to us was almost two years after they had engaged us to carry out comprehensive planning for them.
Dealing with the points as they appeared on the programme:
Susan Steer first complained to us on 28th October 2016. We replied on the following dates answering her queries, 10th November 2016, 23rd November 2016, 6th December 2016, 15th December 2016, 7th February 2017, 9th February 2017 and 2nd March 2017. We went to extraordinary lengths to deal with Mrs Steer's complaint, remaining professional at all times. Mrs Steer's complaints seemed to vary considerably each time, accusing this firm of varying misdemeanours and ironically she never suggested that 'care fees' was her main concern yet the BBC appear to have made this out to be the reason for her complaint. Dissatisfied with our responses, Susan Steer involved her local MP, Alan Johnson, who following receipt of the actual details of the matter from us has not proceeded with the case.
The BBC did barge into a seminar being presented by our Steve Long in 2011; on 4th October 2011 they requested an interview with him and we replied promptly on 10th October 2011 saying he was out of the country and that he would speak to them upon his return; in the run up to their misleading programme on 15th April 2017 we provided the BBC with documentary proof of Mr. Long’s absence out of the country in October 2011 and that we had notified the BBC on his return from this absence yet they chose to edit today’s programme in such a way as to make it seem that Mr. Long was avoiding them in 2011 but this absolutely was not the case.
The Steers never told our representative that Don Steer had terminal cancer; we were only told that he had been diagnosed with cancer; we even sent the BBC the paperwork pertaining to the meetings with the Steers and the documents which they signed which showed precisely why the Steers instructed us; in their own words it was because " [Mr and Mrs Steer] have a son who is not very responsible where money is concerned. Gifting their main asset into trust will be helpful for him in the future re administering their estate and for him after they have died ". The BBC only mentioned the latter half of the actual reason, therefore being very selective with what they wanted the listeners to hear. Furthermore, If a client decides to withhold vital information relating to health, which would understandably affect their planning, this firm cannot be expected to advise fully and for Mrs Steer and the BBC to suggest otherwise is wholly unreasonable.
Don Steer not only attended the seminar but had a personal one to one consultation with our advisor, saw and approved the information we had noted and was finally seen by another representative on a subsequent visit to whom he confirmed his approval and that he was very happy with what we were doing for him and his family. At that second meeting Mr and Mrs Steer formally executed all of the legal documentation drafted for them and raised no objections or questions regarding the planning they had undertaken. At no point did Mr or Mrs Steer confirm Mr Steer's cancer as being terminal, despite our client care letter asking them to check and clarify our understanding.
Lastly, we would add that Susan Steer and her son have indeed benefited from the planning Don put in place, as should Susan need to go into care, the assets which Don put into Trust cannot now be used to pay for her care fees and their son is protected irrespective of her stated intentions of avoidance. Don's desire to ring-fence and protect his assets for his wife and son have been achieved. This was never mentioned on the programme.
Turning to the seminars, we make it quite clear to potential clients in writing, in our slides and verbally during the presentation, that if avoiding care fees is a primary motive then we cannot assist them. Our sales consultant covered this at the end of the seminar when answering questions and categorically reinforced this fact.
Trust planning has numerous benefits and while a client may enjoy many of these benefits, care fee avoidance should not be the motive for planning and while it may, for some, be a side benefit, it can never be guaranteed.
Even the BBC’s own expert, Mary Butler, (a Solicitor for the Elderly) said during the programme “I am not saying that these products in certain circumstances will not work”... this is because they do work and we would add that if done correctly, for the right reasons and at the right time and not to deliberately avoid care home fees it would be difficult to challenge. The Government’s Care and Support Statutory Guidance definition says: “…it would be unreasonable to decide that a person had disposed of an asset in order to reduce the level of charges for their care and support needs if at the time the disposal took place they were fit and healthy and could not have foreseen the need for care and support.” In conclusion Trusts have been around for hundreds of years and have consistently proved to be an effective tool in tax and inheritance planning.
Finally, we totally agree that many of the companies offering this type of planning are unregulated. In fact, many are untrained and unqualified. However, please note that our employees are highly qualified in their own specialist areas and are individually regulated within their own field of expertise. Our staff include experts qualified in law, accountancy and tax and ongoing technical training and competency is a top priority for the firm.
The Government decided that bodies such as ourselves do not need to be regulated but, we would be happy to be regulated as we strive to meet and exceed all legal requirements.
We have many thousands of satisfied clients who have enjoyed the benefits of comprehensive planning with us. We are not always perfect and we do occasionally fall short of the rigorous standards that we have set for ourselves, but we pride ourselves on the technical accuracy of our advice and the commitment and integrity of our staff who always act in the best interests of the client.