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We’re going to court, say lawyers in Neil Woodford fight

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were going to court say lawyers in neil woodford fight

One of the five firms looking to obtain compensation for investors who lost money in the break-up of investment fund Woodford Equity Income is set to launch a multi-million pound class action in the courts by the end of the year. 

The Mail on Sunday understands that litigation specialist Harcus Parker is likely to be the first to press the ‘go’ button, with a claim against Link – the fund’s ‘authorised corporate director’ (ACD). It is understood to be ‘further down the track’ than rivals RGL Management, Nelsons, Slater and Gordon and Leigh Day. 

The view of Harcus is that Link failed in its duties as ACD to safeguard the interests of the fund’s 300,000 investors, leading to the abrupt closure of the £3.5billion fund in June last year when it was unable to meet a multimillion pound redemption request from a key investor. 

Looking for justice: Many investors in Neil Woodford's fund have been left with losses of up to 50 per cent.

Looking for justice: Many investors in Neil Woodford's fund have been left with losses of up to 50 per cent.

Looking for justice: Many investors in Neil Woodford’s fund have been left with losses of up to 50 per cent.

Manager Neil Woodford was subsequently sacked by Link, the fund broken up and a majority of the assets disposed of with money being returned to investors. But many investors have been left with losses of up to 50 per cent. 

Harcus maintains Link did not ensure there was sufficient liquidity in the fund to meet investor redemptions – resulting in its sudden closure. Also, it says Link did not verify the valuation of some of the fund’s unquoted assets which were subsequently sold for a pittance as Woodford Equity Income was broken up. 

Finally, Link is accused of failing to make sure Neil Woodford ran the fund in accordance with its objectives – namely to provide investors with a mix of dividends and capital return from a portfolio of established UK companies. Instead, the fund was heavily invested in unquoted companies. 

On Friday, Harcus confirmed it has the necessary funding in place to launch its claim, has obtained favourable opinion from a leading Queen’s Counsel on the merits of its claim, and has set out its argument to Link in correspondence – a document The Mail on Sunday has seen.

It added: ‘The claim is going ahead and we expect to file soon on behalf of several thousand clients.’ Some 15,000 investors have expressed an interest in supporting the claim, of which 3,000 have gone on to become Harcus clients. Their numbers will be boosted when Harcus goes ahead with the claim – aggrieved investors can join it up until a deadline set by the court (woodfordclaim.com). The action is being run on a no-win, no-fee basis. 

Harcus’s move will be welcomed by Woodford investors because the litigation expert has past history in mounting successful actions. It pursued Link’s predecessor Capita Financial Managers in the courts over its role in the collapse of the Arch Cru funds – and is believed to have forced Capita into agreeing an out-of-court settlement in 2015. 

Interestingly, the Queen’s Counsel opinion sought on Link is the same as the lead counsel used in Arch Cru – Nick Vineall QC. Capita’s duties at Arch Cru were broadly the same as those for Link on Woodford Equity Income. 

Investors will need to be patient. Once launched, the class action would take at least 18 months to get to trial. Any judgment either way could then take between two and three months to be made, so if Harcus is successful, compensation is unlikely to be paid before the end of 2022. Harcus’s intervention aside, there is still the possibility of regulatory intervention in the Woodford debacle. The Financial Conduct Authority has been looking into the circumstances surrounding the closing of the high profile fund for the past 17 months – and continues to do so. According to Peter Sleep, a fund manager with Seven Investment Management, investors who are hoping for compensation through FCA intervention will probably need to have the ‘patience of a saint’. 

He says that regulatory action against Capita Financial Managers (now Link) for its role in the liquidation of the Connaught Income Fund took five years to bubble to the surface. 

The result was a £66million payment to investors (from Capita) who lost money in the failed fund – plus a public censuring for Capita. 

There are similarities between Connaught Income and Woodford Equity Income – in terms of the failure of the authorised corporate director (Capita in Connaught’s case, Link’s in Woodford’s) to adequately monitor the fund. 

But as Sleep says: ‘Nothing is ever exactly the same, but there may be other issues the FCA uncovers with Woodford Equity Income. The wheels of justice turn slowly and I can only imagine that Covid is throwing sand in those wheels today.’ 

On Friday, the FCA said the investigation into the suspension of Woodford Equity Income was a ‘priority matter’. It added: ‘There’s a strong team working on it full time and we’re looking to complete it as soon as we possibly can.’ It confirmed Link was part of its work. Although Harcus’s focus is on Link, other litigation companies have targeted wealth manager Hargreaves Lansdown which, up until the day Woodford Equity Income was closed, had promoted the fund as a ‘best buy’ – in the process generating millions of pounds of revenue for itself. This is despite having concerns over the increasingly illiquid nature of the fund.

CASE STANDS ‘HIGH CHANCE OF SUCCESS’ 

Alan Miller, chief investment officer of asset manager SCM Direct, has closely followed the debacle over funds managed by Neil Woodford, left. 

Indeed, he was one of the first to predict that many of the investments in the Woodford Equity Income fund were grossly overvalued and near worthless. 

He raised his concerns directly with the Financial Conduct Authority – and has been proved right. He says any class actions stand ‘a very high chance of success’ – adding: ‘I think there will be substantial claims against both Hargreaves Lansdown and Link, ironically not against Mr Woodford or his business Woodford Investment Management.’ 

There is also the possibility of an institutional claim being launched against Link – backed by pension funds which invested in Woodford Equity Income. 

Harcus Parker is looking into this, but it is tricky because of the reluctance of many institutional investors to get involved in litigation which they consider ‘messy and vulgar’. 

One expert believes Hargreaves Lansdown should join such a claim so that investors in its own-branded managed funds – some of which were heavily invested in Woodford – have a chance to recover a slice of their losses. 

On Friday, Link and Hargreaves Lansdown were both invited to comment on the prospect of litigation. 

They declined the opportunity.

THE FOUR OTHER FIRMS TAKING LEGAL ACTION  

RGL MANAGEMENT: RGL’s main target is Hargreaves Lansdown although it is still looking ‘very seriously at adding Link to the claim’. Like Harcus, it has sought opinion from Queen’s Counsel on the merits of any claim and the response has been ‘excellent’. 

On Friday, James Hayward, RGL chief executive, said: ‘We have over 1,000 claimants and this is before a formal marketing campaign has begun. In all reality, we won’t issue a claim before next year.’ 

Hayward admitted his company might not be the first to issue a claim, but he pointed to the fact that ‘nobody had beaten them’ to mounting a class action against Yorkshire and Clydesdale banks for their mis-selling of business loans in the 2000s. ‘We have the expertise and the gravitas,’ he added. rglmanagement.com/woodford-litigation 

LEIGH DAY: Like Harcus Parker, Leigh Day believes a case against Link presents the best way forward. It told The Mail on Sunday it is in the ‘final stage of preparation’ ahead of launching its case. Any action would be based on a no-win, no-fee basis with fees capped at 30 per cent of any compensation received. 

Kamran Vojdani, a solicitor in the consumer law team at Leigh Day, said: ‘The time to get the case ready reflects the size, complexity and developing nature of this matter. In addition, we want to make sure everything is in place to take the claim through trial so we don’t have to disappoint clients later on.’ 

He added that it was ‘separately considering potential claims against Hargreaves Lansdown’. consumerlawclaims.leighday. co.uk

NELSONS: This firm is looking to issue claims against both Link and Hargreaves Lansdown – as well as advising some investors on additional claims against their independent financial advisers who recommended the Woodford fund to them. On Friday, partner Cathryn Selby said: ‘We have been gathering evidence for the claims that are proceeding – as well as investigating new potential claims as people affected continue to come forward. 

‘We are in the process of finalising the claims so anyone looking to pursue a claim should act quickly as we anticipate issuing formal letters of claim before the end of the year.’ nelsonslaw.co.uk/ woodford-fund-claim

SLATER AND GORDON: It is following RGL in pursuing Hargreaves Lansdown. On Friday. Gareth Pope, Slater and Gordon’s principal lawyer, said: ‘We consider that investors have a viable claim against Hargreaves Lansdown and we are committed to holding them accountable for the losses investors have suffered. 

‘Slater and Gordon has formed a team of barristers and expert advisers and is in the process of creating a group action against Hargreaves Lansdown to enable all investors to reclaim their investment plus other losses suffered.’ slatergordon.co.uk  

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How I won access to my disabled son’s frozen Child Trust Fund savings

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Victory! Catherine, her husband John and her 17-year-old son Oliver

Victory! Catherine, her husband John and her 17-year-old son Oliver

Victory! Catherine, her husband John and her 17-year-old son Oliver 

The mother of a 17-year-old boy with profound learning disabilities who would be unable to access his Child Trust Fund cash when he became an adult has won her battle to unlock more than £2,000 in frozen funds.

In one of the first reported examples of the parents of a disabled child succeeding in an attempt to access their money, Catherine, from Worcestershire, will be able to manage her son Oliver’s funds when he turns 18 next April.

Catherine wrote to her son’s Child Trust Fund provider, OneFamily, at the start of October after the mutual’s savings chief told This is Money parents affected by the CTF lockout should get in touch and their cases would be looked at ‘sensitively and with compassion’.

She fed this quote back to the Brighton-based mutual, which looks after a quarter of CTFs and finally had confirmation at the start of this month she would be able to look after her son’s money when he turns 18, saving her thousands of pounds in court fees.

It is a rare example of a happy outcome to a problem affecting as many as 200,000 disabled young children who cannot currently access their own savings due to their disabilities making them unable to manage money and make their own decisions.

The Government and industry bodies are currently in discussions over long-term solutions to the problem, with some individual CTF providers currently deciding on a case-by-case basis whether to allow parents to access the money on their child’s behalf.

Without a solution parents face the prospect of a costly application to the Court of Protection to get permission to become a ‘deputy’ and manage the money on their child’s behalf, eating into the savings and completely wiping them out in some cases.

‘No one ever indicated at any stage that there would be problems accessing Oliver’s money’ 

Catherine, who only wanted to provide her surname, faced the prospect of this earlier this year when OneFamily wrote to her son Oliver when he turned 17 to tell him his trust fund would mature in 2021.

What’s the problem? 

Campaigners warn as many as 200,000 disabled children face the same issue as Oliver, that they are unable to access CTF money because of their lack of mental capacity, due to their disabilities. 

While some have been warning about the problems facing the first batch of trust fund teenagers turning 18 this year for years, the issue has only really come to light in the last few months.

In order to access the money, carers, guardians and parents must apply to become a ‘deputy’, which involves an application to the Court of Protection.

The court application can cost £365 plus up to £2,500 in solicitors’ fees.

Campaigners and families have complained this problem was never made clear to parents, who continued to pay money into a savings ‘lobster pot’, that their child could not get the money out of.

This is despite the fact those children on Disability Living Allowance were given extra payments into their trust funds.

The Government has insisted the measures are needed to prevent the children from being exploited.  

He had just over £2,000 in his account, she said, thanks to a combination of birthday cash from his grandparents and higher government vouchers due to his ‘profound learning disabilities’.

At this point she began to wonder if there might be a problem accessing the funds, something which the mutual confirmed to her at the start of June. 

It told her she needed to apply the Court of Protection to become a deputy in order to access the money on his behalf.

This is despite the fact the Government had handed him more money because of his disabilities and allowed her to manage his benefits when he turned 16.

She told This is Money: ‘No one ever indicated at any stage that there would be problems accessing Oliver’s money. 

‘The Government were, at the time, actively encouraging parents and grandparents to add to the CTF for the child’s future.

‘Had we known, or even suspected, that there would be difficulties accessing the funds, we would never have encouraged Oliver’s grandparents to add to it at birthdays. 

‘They would have put the money in a different account.’

Having ‘almost given up all will’ at the prospect of tackling the Court of Protection forms, she discovered the story This is Money published at the end of September. 

OneFamily’s head of investments had told us in the article that ‘in certain circumstances it may be possible to release funds if sufficient proof of identification can be provided by the person responsible for managing the young person’s finances.’

How a line from a company statement helped me access my child’s frozen funds 

‘I phoned OneFamily, quoting their head of investment directly from your article,’ Catherine said when she first contacted us at the start of October. 

‘The lady on the phone was very cagey and asked several times where I had read this.

‘She then put me on hold for 20 minutes. When she came back, her tone had changed, and she was very helpful. 

‘She asked if I had any supporting evidence such as a doctor’s letter? I burst out laughing; as the parent and carer of a profoundly disabled young person, you have files full of professional letters and reports.’

She sent over a letter with attached documents a day later on 9 October, which were received on 12 October. 

However, she never received a reply to confirm OneFamily had received the documents and attempted follow-ups through its online messaging service on 17 and 22 October were also unanswered.

Catherine came across a story This is Money published at end of September highlighting the problem affecting as many as 200,000 disabled children

Catherine came across a story This is Money published at end of September highlighting the problem affecting as many as 200,000 disabled children

Catherine came across a story This is Money published at end of September highlighting the problem affecting as many as 200,000 disabled children

But after making a formal written complaint about the lack of a response from the mutual on 25 October, she finally received some good news at the start of this month.

In a letter dated 5 November, the letter apologised for the delay in responding to her and said: ‘The information you’ve provided makes it clear Oliver will be unable to manage the closure, and that you can do so instead.

‘I’ve enclosed a declaration document for you along with a return envelope. Please complete and send this to us when you can. 

Do you have a OneFamily CTF? 

This is Money asked the mutual which looks after one in four CTFs what parents in the same situation as Catherine needed to do. 

Its head of investments, Paul Bridgwater, said: ‘Every case is different, but in some circumstances it is possible to release the funds if sufficient proof of identification can be provided by the person responsible for managing the young person’s finances.

‘We aim to review each application sensitively and with compassion, and would encourage all customers who may be in this position to get in touch, so that we can give them all the support that they need.’

‘Upon receipt, we’ll pend the instruction until Oliver’s 18th birthday in April next year.’

Catherine told This is Money she had returned the declaration form which should mean she can access her son’s Child Trust Fund cash without penalty next year.

In response to Catherine’s case, Paul Bridgwater, OneFamily’s head of investments, said: ‘I’m very sorry for the delay Catherine experienced in receiving a response from us. It’s definitely not the service that we aim to give. 

‘Unfortunately, our team of specialists who handle enquiries of this nature became overwhelmed by the sheer volume of applications that were received in October.

‘However, this should not have happened, and we have subsequently increased the size of our team.

‘I can’t comment specifically on Catherine’s case, for confidentiality reasons. 

‘However, it became clear to us earlier this year that the child trust fund maturity procedures, as defined by HMRC, would not meet the needs of all of our customers.

‘Therefore, we supported our industry bodies in lobbying the Ministry of Justice for new draft guidance to help families in this position. 

‘In the meantime, we chose to adopt a more flexible and customer focused approach, to see if there might be way for customers like Oliver to be able to access their balances without the need of a Court of Protection Order.’

The Ministry of Justice told This is Money at the end of last month that proposals handed to it by TISA, which represents CTF providers, were ‘being considered’ and that it would ‘respond shortly.’

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Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Land Rover with a fully working kitchen to be auctioned

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A bespoke Land Rover ‘Gastrowagon’ that featured in the popular River Cottage television series with celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is to be offered to the highest bidder next month.

The 1982 Land Rover 109 will be one of a selection of collectible vehicles available at the next Bonhams MPH Sale on 11 December.

An entirely unique motor, it features a fully functioning kitchen at the back with a two-burner hob, oven, and even a fridge.

Meals on wheels: TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Land Rover used in his River Cottage Series will be sold at auction next month

Meals on wheels: TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Land Rover used in his River Cottage Series will be sold at auction next month

Meals on wheels: TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Land Rover used in his River Cottage Series will be sold at auction next month

The 1982 Landie has a fully operating kitchen in the back. A built-in fridge, oven, worktop and drawers are accompanied by a double-burner hob and a sink that fold down from inside the rear doors

The 1982 Landie has a fully operating kitchen in the back. A built-in fridge, oven, worktop and drawers are accompanied by a double-burner hob and a sink that fold down from inside the rear doors

The 1982 Landie has a fully operating kitchen in the back. A built-in fridge, oven, worktop and drawers are accompanied by a double-burner hob and a sink that fold down from inside the rear doors

The 4X4 has recently been completely restored and is estimated to sell for between £25,000 to 35,000 when the hammer drops in a matter of weeks.

The 1982 long wheelbase 109 Land Rover, which has been converted to a camper-cum-kitchen, became familiar to viewers of the chef’s 1990s series ‘A Cook on the Wild Side’, as Hugh’s transport in which he toured the British countryside in search of wild ingredients.

Built especially for the television show, the Gastrowagon has a fully operating kitchen that extends from the rear section of the vehicle, with a worktop, drawers, fridge and oven fitted into the back of the Land Rover.

The double-burner hobs and sink are fitted to the inside of the rear doors. Once folded out, it creates a fully operational kitchen.

Additional table tops stored inside the Land Rover can also be attached to create a huge outdoor cooking space. 

The back also has a wind and waterproof canopy so a user can whip up their favourite dish no matter what the weather conditions. 

Sleeping accommodation is provided by a roof-mounted upturned boat and ancillaries include a shower and basin that appear from another hidden fold-out panel on the right-hand-side of the vehicle.

Sleeping accommodation is provided by an upturned boat that's mounted onto the roof of the classic Land Rover 4X4

Sleeping accommodation is provided by an upturned boat that's mounted onto the roof of the classic Land Rover 4X4

Sleeping accommodation is provided by an upturned boat that’s mounted onto the roof of the classic Land Rover 4X4

The 4X4 has recently been completely restored and is estimated to sell for between £25,000 to 35,000 when the hammer drops in a matter of weeks

The 4X4 has recently been completely restored and is estimated to sell for between £25,000 to 35,000 when the hammer drops in a matter of weeks

The 4X4 has recently been completely restored and is estimated to sell for between £25,000 to 35,000 when the hammer drops in a matter of weeks

Ancillaries include a shower and basin that appear from another hidden fold-out panel on the right-hand-side of the vehicle

Ancillaries include a shower and basin that appear from another hidden fold-out panel on the right-hand-side of the vehicle

Ancillaries include a shower and basin that appear from another hidden fold-out panel on the right-hand-side of the vehicle

The 4X4 has been fully restored after it was used in the chef's 1990s series 'A Cook on the Wild Side', as Hugh's transport in which he toured the British countryside in search of wild ingredients

The 4X4 has been fully restored after it was used in the chef's 1990s series 'A Cook on the Wild Side', as Hugh's transport in which he toured the British countryside in search of wild ingredients

The 4X4 has been fully restored after it was used in the chef’s 1990s series ‘A Cook on the Wild Side’, as Hugh’s transport in which he toured the British countryside in search of wild ingredients

Inside, there’s even a vintage ice cream maker. 

Another extra special feature is Hugh’s signature on the bulkhead.

Following 25 years in the wilderness, the Gastrowagon was completely rebuilt and refurbished to its original fully-functioning specification, by classic Land Rover specialists John Brown 4X4, and is said to run and drive ‘like new’.

Rob Hubbard, Head of Bonhams MPH, said: ‘Land Rovers are always popular at MPH sales and we are pleased to offer this true one-off which would be perfect for anyone wanting to take a post-lockdown staycation.’ 

Additional table tops stored inside the Land Rover can also be attached to create a huge outdoor cooking space

Additional table tops stored inside the Land Rover can also be attached to create a huge outdoor cooking space

Additional table tops stored inside the Land Rover can also be attached to create a huge outdoor cooking space

Following 25 years in the wilderness, the Gastrowagon was completely rebuilt and refurbished to its original fully-functioning specification, by classic Land Rover specialists John Brown 4X4, and is said to run and drive 'like new'

Following 25 years in the wilderness, the Gastrowagon was completely rebuilt and refurbished to its original fully-functioning specification, by classic Land Rover specialists John Brown 4X4, and is said to run and drive 'like new'

Following 25 years in the wilderness, the Gastrowagon was completely rebuilt and refurbished to its original fully-functioning specification, by classic Land Rover specialists John Brown 4X4, and is said to run and drive ‘like new’

The wooden rear door panels also have carrying facilities for a gas tank to power the hobs and a Jerry Can

The wooden rear door panels also have carrying facilities for a gas tank to power the hobs and a Jerry Can

The wooden rear door panels also have carrying facilities for a gas tank to power the hobs and a Jerry Can

CARS & MOTORING: ON TEST

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Regular saver accounts: HSBC and First Direct slash rates again

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HSBC has once again chopped the rate on its popular regular saver account available to current account customers.  

The bank and its offshoot First Direct have cut the rate from 2.75 per cent to 1 per cent. Up until last October, they paid 5 per cent, while as recently as 2016, First Direct offered 6 per cent.

With HSBC, savers can put in between £25 to £250 a month, while at First Direct it is £300. It is likely to have proven a popular home for those Britons who have been able to squirrel more money in the pandemic. 

On the maximum £3,600 allowance for First Direct customers, it works out as a cut in interest from £99 a year to £36. For HSBC customers on the full £3,000, they will be paid £30, down from £82.50.

HSBC and First Direct customers will lose as much as £63 a year in interest after the cuts were brought in

HSBC and First Direct customers will lose as much as £63 a year in interest after the cuts were brought in

HSBC and First Direct customers will lose as much as £63 a year in interest after the cuts were brought in

HSBC snuck out the change, which came into effect at midnight, unannounced on the same day heavy cuts from Treasury-backed National Savings & Investments affecting 25million savers came into effect.

However, some customers were possibly prepared for the news, after they were sent paperwork last week dated 24 November telling them the interest rate was 1 per cent.

HSBC last week refused to confirm whether the cut to its regular saver was coming, with customers told it was a ‘technical error’. 

Both it and First Direct failed to respond to This is Money yesterday when asked whether there would be a cut meaning we couldn’t alert readers beforehand for them to get in before it closed its doors.  

M&S Bank, another managed by HSBC, took its regular saver paying the same interest rate off-sale on 12 November.

HSBC and First Direct customers who got in before midnight last night will still receive 2.75 per cent, but everyone who applies from now on will get the lower rate. 

Those who already have the account will be unaffected until the 12 months is up.

It is a blow to savers suffering from rock bottom rates as these regular savings accounts, which lock customers’ money away for a fixed period in return for a greater payoff, are some of the last decent rates available from Britain’s biggest high street names. 

HSBC cut its basic easy-access account to just 0.01 per cent earlier this year.

The cap on how much can be saved each month and the fact money can’t be accessed straightaway also means they are often described as a good option for people trying to get into the savings habit, with the best rates often only available to banks’ current account customers.

The best account available to everyone is offered by Coventry Building Society

It pays 1.55 per cent and doesn’t require a minimum deposit each month, with savers able to put away up to £500.

A raft of other providers have cut rates on these accounts in recent years, or have scrapped them altogether.  

The account with Britain’s second biggest mutual can be opened online, by post or over the phone and savers would earn around £93 in interest after the 12-month term if they stashed away the full £6,000 allowed by the account.

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