Home Money Beware the glossy looking will-writing firm with bogus credentials and whose owner served time in jail, says TONY HETHERINGTON

Beware the glossy looking will-writing firm with bogus credentials and whose owner served time in jail, says TONY HETHERINGTON

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James Scotney is owner of Town and Country Law

Tony Hetherington is the Financial Mail on Sunday’s star investigator, fighting readers’ corners, revealing the truth behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left behind. Find out how to contact him below.

IS writes: Town & Country Law Ltd appears solid and reliable, with multiple offices, brilliant sales equipment and a dedicated focus on wills. However, we paid them £1,990 last June and since September we have been seeking answers to simple questions, after they sent us an ‘advice letter’ with a draft will.

Tony Hetherington responds: You have contacted the Legal Ombudsman, but have found that despite the name, the Town and Country Act is not regulated and therefore the Ombudsman cannot help you. Indeed, the preparation of wills and trust documents can be carried out by anyone, even without qualifications or experience.

You were frustrated by your contact with the firm, who were drafting “specialist probate trust wills” for you and your wife. When you had questions, you wanted written answers, but you told me you were being called instead. The firm also explained: “We constantly receive advice from a tax lawyer regarding our trust products, and we have recently been informed that we need to discuss additional advice with our clients before progressing the specialist probate trust. »

James Scotney is owner of Town and Country Law

James Scotney is owner of Town and Country Law

Shortly after you contacted me, Town & Country Law gave you a full refund, which was great news. But for me either, dealing with the company was not easy. What I can say is that he believes he tried to answer you and did not neglect you.

That said, many questions remain unanswered. I wrote about Town & Country Law two years ago, after discovering that its owner, James Scotney, had obtained clearance from the Financial Conduct Authority. He and his firm were on the FCA’s public register of vetted and approved people and firms.

This was surprising as the FCA requires all applicants to declare any criminal convictions, and Scotney has a criminal record. He stayed out of trouble for a few years, but the normal clean slate rehabilitation rules do not apply to some firms, including those that fall under the FCA and guarantee a high degree of honesty.

Scotney did not disclose his past to the FCA, although he admitted it a year later and the FCA decided to let him retain his authorization, although after the Mail on Sunday report in 2022 he gave it up. It was suggested that the FCA’s request for details of any criminal past was vague and that Scotney had simply misunderstood. The FCA declined to discuss Scotney’s case, but says its website and forms make disclosure expectations very clear. They say: “If you are applying for approved person status, you must notify us of any criminal convictions. »

Town & Country Law and Scotney ceased to be authorized by the FCA in September 2022. However, I discovered that at least one of the firm’s websites was promoting funeral plans. This requires FCA approval, which Scotney’s company does not have. So I asked him if he should do it.

Scotney has not responded and appears to view its websites as mere advertising. Some details, like an offer of discounted plans, disappeared after I asked about it, but a Town & Country Law website still says: “We offer a range of services including wills, trusts, durable powers of attorney and funeral plans.

Town & Country Law and Scotney ceased to be authorized by the FCA in September 2022

Town & Country Law and Scotney ceased to be authorized by the FCA in September 2022

Town & Country Law and Scotney ceased to be authorized by the FCA in September 2022

Two of the firm’s promotional websites go even further, surprisingly publishing a completely false claim: “Town & Country Law Ltd is authorized and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.”

Until about two weeks ago, one of Scotney’s sites also claimed that they were “members of the Society of Will Writers”, a real professional body that enforces professional standards. This claim has now disappeared and the Company states: “We have no Town & Country members. »

Since anyone can set themselves up as a will writer without any experience or licensing required, do all these lies really matter? Well, being able to say that you have been examined and approved by the FCA and have gained membership of a professional body certainly gives the image of a reliable and honest company. But what kind of picture can we draw if these assertions are false?

We’re Watching You

A disbarred solicitor who was a central figure in a multi-million pound land investment fraud has finally paid the entire amount owed under a confiscation order.

Dale Robert Walker, 64, gave a false air of respectability to a network of fraudulent companies that sold house-sized lots, telling investors their value would skyrocket when development began. But these lands were only farmers’ fields, bought at agricultural prices by the fraudsters. She had no building permit for housing and no chance of obtaining one.

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We named Walker in 2012 after a reader paid £15,000 for land in Chesham, Buckinghamshire. A sales brochure showed a housing development, but the local council had already started proceedings to prohibit even the construction of a fence on the land. The real value of the land was less than £200.

Walker, who ran a small law practice in Sevenoaks in Kent, was disbarred as a solicitor in 2015. He and seven others were found guilty, with Walker sentenced to five and a half years in prison.

In 2017, the Financial Conduct Authority obtained a court order requiring Walker to hand over £716,719, his share of the £4.25 million raked in by the fraudsters. He paid in installments until he was unable to raise the remaining £33,500, and last month he was sentenced to 62 days in prison. A family member then paid and Walker was released.

FCA head of enforcement Steve Smart welcomed the decision to return Walker to prison, saying: “It is clear that this has persuaded Mr Walker to find the means to pay.”

If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at the Financial Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email tony.hetherington@mailonsunday.co.uk. Due to the high volume of requests, personal responses cannot be given. Please only send copies of the original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.

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