LIFE BITE: Higher Rate of Stamp Duty Land Tax now payable when Purchasing Additional Residential Properties

apple-150579_1280The Government has introduced measures which will mean that higher rates of Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) may be payable if you purchase an additional residential property.

These higher rates took effect from 1 April 2016.  The higher rates will be 3% above the current SDLT residential rates. They will be charged on the portion of the value of the property that falls into each band.

These bands will be set out as follows:-

Purchase price Band Existing residential SDLT rates New additional property SDLT rates
£0* – £125k 0% 3%
£125k – £250k 2% 5%
£250k – £925k 5% 8%
£925k – £1.5m 10% 13%
£1.5m + 12% 15%

Whilst there are many complex scenarios as to when the higher SDLT rate will be applied, the most common scenario in which you will have to pay the higher SDLT rate is where you are purchasing a buy-to-let or second home in addition to your main residence.   There are however may exceptions to this very general rule and you should seek specialist advice.  In certain circumstances,  you may become entitled to a refund on the additional stamp duty paid.

Tax matters can be complex at the best of times and so if you are in any doubt as to whether the higher band of SDLT will be payable on your new property, you should contact the HMRC or alternatively seek advice from the solicitor handling your property transaction.

If you require any further information on BUYING OR SELLING PROPERTY, please feel free to contact Ruth Flinn on or alternatively CONTACT US HERE

The National Living Wage : – Is Your Business Ready?

money2Most of us, (given the option,) would happily accept an increase in pay for the job we do!  

Well, on 1st April 2016, the new “National Living Wage” came into effect in Northern Ireland, making the dream of a pay increase for some workers a reality.

The implementation of the National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2016 means that all workers aged 25 and over are now legally entitled to at least £7.20 per hour pay. 

Whilst this is great news for workers over 25, businesses now need to be prepared for how this change will impact on them. 
Here is some important information for you on the National Living Wage:-

What is the National Living Wage?

The National Living Wage is different to the “Living Wage” which is a voluntary hourly rate set at £8.25 which employers can choose to pay.  It also differs from the “National Minimum Wage” which technically remains in place for workers under 25.  The new “National Living Wage” is essentially a compulsory top-up for workers aged 25 and over.

As things stand, the National Minimum Wage rates are as follows:-

  • £6.70 per hour for those aged 21 and over
  • £5.30 per hour for those aged 18-20
  • £3.87 per hour for under 18’s
  • £3.30 per hour for apprentices.

In effect, it is only those workers in the top band, who are over 25 and currently earn £6.70 per hour who will be affected by this  new regulation.  These workers will now be entitled to the top-up of 50p per hour.

What impact will this have for businesses?

Concerns were raised that the new Regulations would be detrimental for businesses in Belfast in that it could have an impact on profits, the use of overtime, bonuses, recruitment and potentially consumer prices but only time will tell.

No doubt employees who now benefit from the increase will certainly be pleased with its introduction. Hopefully a positive effect will be increased productivity and job satisfaction in the workplace.

What happens if businesses don’t pay the “National Living Wage”?

An employee could make a number of claims to the Industrial Tribunal for failure of his/her employer to pay the National Living Wage including a claim for unlawful deduction of wages or a detriment.

Not only that, if an employee is dismissed for a reason related to the National Living Wage they will be able to make a claim for unfair dismissal even if they have less than one year’s service.

Finally, if that wasn’t enough to ensure compliance, an employer can face penalties being imposed by HMRC including a requirement to pay any arrears of pay owed to an underpaid employee and a penalty of up to 200% of the arrears owed. Bear in mind there is also the potential for businesses to be named and shamed if held to be in breach of the Regulations.

If you require any further information in relation to the NATIONAL LIVING WAGE or any other EMPLOYMENT RELATED ISSUE please do not hesitate to contact us here at Life Law NI or email

Belfast Central Mission:- Housing Support for Older People Belfast


Catherine Apsley HSOP Project ManagerCatherine Glenn is Project Manager at Housing Support for Older People Belfast, which is run by the charity Belfast Central Mission (BCM). The project works across Greater Belfast to support people aged 55 and older who are struggling with independent living to enable them to remain in their own homes.  

In her guest blog for Life Law NI, Catherine tells us about how the project can help older people to remain independent:-


What is Housing Support for Older People?

As people are living longer and the aging population continues to expand, a greater number of older people are striving to hold onto their independence within their own homes.  Throughout life, people’s housing needs often change.

The Housing Support project is fully flexible and provides a range of free support for older people including assistance with benefits, debt, housing issues, home safety, home maintenance, homelessness and accessing services in the community. Choice is central to the project and all clients will be treated with equality, respect and dignity.

Who runs Housing Support for Older People?

The project is run by Belfast Central Mission (BCM), one of Northern Ireland’s oldest charities.  Established in 1889, BCM recently celebrated 125 years of caring for disadvantaged and socially excluded people throughout Belfast and Northern Ireland.   BCM is an agency of the Methodist Church in Ireland but we support people in need, irrespective of their religious, ethnic or other background.

BCM’s diverse projects aim to meet the needs of the whole person, whether spiritual, emotional, social and physical.  Our projects are based in Belfast, North Down and Ards, and Armagh and Dungannon and involve approx imately 800+ beneficiaries each year with an additional 3,000 who benefit from our Christmas programme.  Projects include:

  • Parent Support
  • Therapeutic Counselling for vulnerable care leavers
  • Floating Support & Supported Housing for vulnerable young people preparing to live independently
  • Residential care and Housing Support services for older people, including support for those with dementia
  • Christmas Programme – toys & food for children/older people

How can the Housing Support Project assist me?

The project can help with a wide variety of issues, offering advice and both emotional and practical support.  We have also been able to assist clients with re-housing, and improving the energy efficiency of their homes.  We have great links in the community, and if we can’t sort out a particular issue, we will signpost our service users to the right organisation to help them.  The project has its own handyman service which can carry out minor repairs to clients’ home such as changing locks.

Our service is designed to meet the needs of older people in the community.  Staff from the project will meet with them in the comfort of their own homes to assess what support they require.  We very much respect the choice which many older people make to remain independent in their own home and BCM support packages are tailored to enable this to happen, when possible.

One of Housing Support’s recent clients was Mary (name changed) who had to move house after experiencing intimidation.  Mary’s support worker was able to advocate on her behalf to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.  Together they viewed potential flats and her support worker assisted her with the practical side of moving home.  Mary said, “I’d recommend the people from BCM because they are so good and helpful whenever they take on your case.  This is something everybody should know about, people who are in trouble can be helped and there’s no one more helpful than my girl who looked after me.”

The project can offer support initially up to two years, but this can be extended for those who will always need a level of housing support to remain living in their own homes.  The service is offered free of charge and is totally confidential.  Service users contribute to the project via the service user forum, and are welcome to meet up for outings and trips which take place several times a year.  BCM also runs a programme of community services for older people in Belfast including Befriending, a weekly Lunch Club and monthly Tea Dances.

People can refer themselves, and referrals are also welcome from family members, housing officers, social workers and other professionals.

To find out more or make a referral, please get in touch with me or my team on: or call 028 9024 5716. 
You can also visit BCM’s website to find out more or download a referral form:
 For more information about Belfast Central Mission visit our website:

School Attendance & the Law

school attendance.jpeg

Growing up, most of us didn’t particularly enjoy getting up early and going to school each day, and the parents amongst us have probably experienced their fair share of early morning tears and tantrums from their own children on the same issue!  

There is normally an almighty whoop in the air when the school summer holidays come about and children are faced with a few months of school-free bliss.
However, as luck would have it, the school summer holidays are also one of the most expensive times of year to travel.  Many parents are faced with not being able to afford to take their children on holiday during this period due to overpriced flights and  accommodation.   This has resulted in many children being taken on holiday during school term time when travel costs are lower and more affordable.

There have been a number of Court cases in England in recent months brought by parents opposing fines that their local education authorities have imposed upon them for removing their children from school to go on holiday during term time.

One such parent, Jonathan Platt,  made the national newspapers recently when he was fined by Isle of Wight Council for taking his children to Disney World in Florida in April 2015 despite his six-year-old daughter’s absence being refused by her primary school.  Whilst Mr Platt did manage to successfully contest this fine, he subsequently received a new fine after taking his daughter on a second trip during term-time – a fine he  also opposed.

In England, parents taking their children out of state schools during term time could currently face a fine of £60 or worse.  This differs to the current position on term-time holidays in Northern Ireland – here, parents cannot currently be fined for their child’s unauthorised absences from school.   However, if your child’s school attendance falls below a certain level, the school could refer the matter to your local Education Welfare Service.

What is the law on school attendance?

It would be of no surprise to anyone that the law in Northern Ireland states that children must receive ‘efficient full-time education’.  Parents have a legal obligation to make sure that they provide their children with suitable education either by registering them in school or making other appropriate arrangements to make sure they receive a suitable education.  Parents also have a legal responsibility to ensure that their children attend regularly at school once they are registered.

What if my child is not attending school regularly?

If your child’s attendance at school drops to below 85% and no acceptable explanation is provided for their absence (for example, they have been too ill to attend or their absence has been previously authorised), or alternatively if your child’s school are concerned about your child’s ongoing absences, they can refer the matter to the Education Welfare Service.

If such a referral is made, an Education Welfare Officer will initially attend at your home to discuss and explore with you the reasons why your child has been absent from school.  The Education Welfare Officer’s primary role is to try to support and assist you and your child.  They can liaise closely with other agencies to ensure that any needs your child has are met and to work to find ways for you and your child to overcome any issues there may be with school attendance.

What can happen if I do not engage with the Education Welfare Service ?

In most instances, the assistance of the Education Welfare Service is a welcome support to parents experiencing issues with their child going to school.  However, if a parent fails to engage with the Education Welfare Service by ignoring their child’s educational needs and, despite warnings, does not ensure their child’s regular attendance at school, they are effectively considered to be breaking the law.  As such, an application to prosecute a parent may be made by the Education Welfare Service to the local Magistrates Court.  If such an application is made, the Court has the power fine parents up to £1,000 for each child if they consider that the law has been broken.

Education Supervision Orders

If there are significant concerns about a child’s school attendance, the Education Welfare Service can make an application for an Education Supervision Order.  This application is made to the Family Proceedings Court under the Children (NI) Order 1995.   Unlike parental prosecutions, these proceedings are not criminal proceedings and are in no way issued to punish the child or parent – their intent is to provide support and assistance to the child and their family on an ongoing basis.  An application for an Education Supervision Order is therefore only appropriate where there is a good level of co-operation and engagement between the Education Welfare Service and the family of the child.

When an Education Supervision Order has been applied for, the Education Welfare Officer provides a full report to the Court on the issues regarding the child’s absence from school.  This report will contain a plan of proposed work set out by the Education Welfare Service.  The report will be shared with the child’s parents who are entitled to their own legal representation in these proceedings.   The court may appoint a separate solicitor to act in the interests of the child if it feels this is necessary.

When will the Court make an Education Supervision Order?

Before making an Education Supervision Order, the Court must be satisfied that a child is not being properly educated and also that making an Order would be better than making no Order.  The Court must also give careful consideration to a number of factors detailed in a list called thewelfare checklist’. This includes:

  • The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child.
  • His or her physical, emotional and educational needs.
  • The likely effects of a change in circumstances.
  • His or her age, sex and background.
  • Any harm suffered or at risk of suffering.
  • The capability of parents or other relevant persons in meeting his or her needs.
  • Other powers available to the Court.

What happens if an Education Supervision Order is made?

If an Education Supervision Order is made, this allows a Supervising Officer to give directions to you or your child which should be complied with.  Directions given by the Supervising Officer could include permitting them regular access to your child, agreeing to attend meetings/appointments or agreeing to undertake assessments.  Any directions given by the Supervising Officer should be necessary, reasonable and confirmed in writing.

How long does an Education Supervision Order last?

An Education Supervision Order will initially be made for one year however this can be extended for up to three years or alternatively an application can be made to discharge the Order if it is deemed unnecessary.    An Order cannot continue once your child has passed compulsory school age.

What if I don’t adhere to an Education Supervision Order?

If an Order is made and parents fail to comply with it, the matter may be referred back to the Family Proceedings Court and the Court.   Social Services may also be directed to investigate the child’s circumstances more fully and consider whether they need to take further action to secure the welfare of the child.

It is therefore imperative that parents do all they can to ensure that they act in the best interests of their child by fully engaging with the Education Welfare Service and complying  with any Orders made by the Court.
For more information the law surrounding school attendance and Education Supervision Orders, please feel free to contact us confidentially below on our contact  form or alternatively email us on

A Guide on How to Register Anonymously on the Electoral Register

With the deadline for registering to vote in respect of the NI Assembly elections closing on 18th April 2016, we at Life Law NI wanted to provide you with information about Anonymous Registration on the Electoral Register.

In a nutshell, you may be able to register anonymously to vote if you are concerned about your name and address appearing on the electoral register because you think that it could place you at risk.

Anonymous Registration allows those who are at risk to keep their personal details from being published on the electoral register thereby ensuring safe voter registration.

The Belfast Area Domestic Violence Partnership has produced a useful infographic with all the information you need on this issue.



For more information,  please feel free to contact us.