In this article, Ruby Keeler-Williams and Richard Gray of Elysium Law provide an overview of the legal action which can potentially be brought against LT4L and the companies involved within the structure – which is now the subject of HMRC Spotlight 63.
In this article, we’ll give an overview of aspects of the anticipated litigation against scheme providers following HMRC Spotlight 63, with specific regards to various issues that will arise in any claim for Negligence, Breach of Contract and Misrepresentation.
A professional adviser will enter into a retainer or contract with the client(s) they engage with. The scope of the duties is defined by the retainer letter. A contract contains both express and implied terms. An express term for example, would be the fees paid to enter the ‘planning’. Legally this is known as the consideration and in any breach of contract claim, the claim would naturally include a claim for a return of the fees. An implied term of the contract would be to carry out the contractual duties as expressed by the retainer in accordance with the standards expected of a reasonably competent professional within that field.
Given that the duty of care is owed by a professional advisor, there would also be a claim in Professional Negligence. Whilst the formulation of damages claimed are normally different in negligence and breach of contract, in cases such as these, where the loss amounts to professional fees and tax liabilities, it would effectively be the same.
Whilst negligence can be defined as a Breach of Duty of Care owed to the Claimant, which causes Loss and Damage to the Claimant, the position is far from simple.
In bringing a claim in negligence, the elements of causation is a question of fact. A number of elements will be considered by the court which are evidence-based.
For example, if a person has attended a sales fair, has taken a brochure and having read the brochure signs up to the scheme without further discussion or asking questions, the Defendant (who will act by their insurance company solicitors) will claim that the Claimant would have entered into the scheme in any event.
Items promised such as less tax to pay, redistribution of income, business property relief on shares at the specific time, are powerful inducements and the court may view that causation is either not proved, or alternatively that the loss has been contributed to by the negligence of the Claimant themselves (known as Contributory Negligence). Contributory Negligence will reduce the degree of damages which otherwise would have then awarded in proportion to the Contributory Negligence demonstrated by the Claimant.
The insurer’s riposte to any claim will almost certainly be one of causation, asserting that the Claimant would have entered the scheme regardless of what they were told. Items such as the evidence required to prove or disprove the assertion is beyond this article. This is a process which requires full engagement with any would-be litigant who wishes to bring the claim.
Professional Indemnity Insurance
Professional Indemnity (PI) Insurance is a type of insurance designed to protect professionals (such as lawyers, tax advisors, accountants, etc.) from financial losses resulting from legal claims made by third parties. These claims typically arise due to alleged negligence or errors and omissions in the professional services provided by the insured or their employees.
Any claims made will be dealt with under LT4L’s PI policy.
A point to concern for litigators is that irrespective of the strength of the claim, any claim of fraud will invalidate the policy. We have seen cases (in which we were not involved) where the lawyers pleaded fraud and immediately the policy was withdrawn.
In any event, fraud has a very high benchmark and ought not to be pleaded unless there is specific evidence which can be proved on the criminal standard of proof (beyond reasonable doubt). This will not apply this claim and if you are advised that this is a fraud by any other party, then we would reject that assertion.
The Insurance Policy
Elysium Law had been approached by a number of individuals or couples, some of whom have sought a copy of Less Tax 4 Landlords’ insurance policy.
Less Tax 4 Landlords are part of the One Consultancy Group, which includes an accounting firm (OCG Accountants), a mortgage broker (OCG Mortgages), an FCA regulated financial services firm (Phare Financial Services) and an SRA regulated ABS (OCG Legal).
We have had sight of the Professional Indemnity Insurance Schedules for Less Tax 4 Landlords, OCG Accountants and OCG Legal. The Professional Indemnity Insurance Schedules only contain the main limits, sums insured, endorsements and excesses but others will apply and will be detailed in the Policy Document, which we have not had sight of.
It must be noted that when a professional adviser ceases to practice, there must be what is known as run-off cover covering the six-year period after the cessation of the practice.
The Limit of Indemnity
The amount of cover provided under a PI policy is determined by the limit of indemnity. This will usually be set out in the schedule to the policy. The limit may be expressed to be on a “per claim” or “per loss” basis or on an “aggregate” basis or both:
- ”per claim” or “per loss” means that the limit will be available for each and every claim or loss as applicable.
- ”in the aggregate” means the limit of indemnity will be available for all claims that fall for cover in that policy period.
It is common to see limits expressed to be both on a “per claim” basis and in the aggregate.
For example, if the limit of indemnity was expressed to be “£100,000 each and every Claim and £1 million in the aggregate”, this would mean there was a maximum limit of £100,000 available for each Claim (as defined under the policy) but insurers would pay no more than £1 million in total for all of the Claims covered under the policy.
In the Professional Indemnity Insurance Schedules for Less Tax 4 Landlords, OCG Accountants and OCG Legal (which are an overview and do not reflect the terms of the entire policy) the limit of indemnity is £2 million for Less Tax 4 Landlords, £2 million for OCG Accountants and £3 million for OCG Legal. We have not had sight of the complete policy and as such cannot comment specifically as to whether this is per claim or on an aggregate basis.
It is common in a PI policy for there to be an aggregation provision. Such a provision provides for two or more separate claims covered by the policy to be treated as one claim when they have a unifying common factor that links them together.
This is of considerable importance because it is likely that claims in respect of LT4L that arise from the same cause of action will be aggregated, meaning that despite the number of individuals who seek compensation, they will all be classed as one claim.
Clearly, if there were 600 Claimants all seeking £20,000 each, the total claim would be £12 million, which is significantly above the limit of indemnity. In order to minimise their losses, insurers make provision for an aggregation clause which means that they avoid claim such as this.
Experience tells us that LT4L will have a policy with an aggregation clause in it. As yet, we are yet to determine every companies or individuals who have provided planning within the arena to this particular DoTAS scheme. It may be that the accountants and the solicitors concerned will each be liable for their part in the provision and implementation of the scheme and therefore, there would be two policies to attack by this litigation.
As far as challenging the aggregation clause, the position will be dependent on the specific wording of the clause and as such at this stage is not clear and cannot be the subject of accurate comment. Generally, the principles are as follows:
It is crucial to look at the words used in the aggregation provision including whether any of the words used are defined terms. Provisions which seek to unify claims by reference to the same ‘act’, ‘error’, ‘omission’ or ‘event’ have a narrow scope and tend to result in fewer aggregated claims (Lloyds TSB General Insurance Holdings Ltd v Lloyds Bank Group Insurance Co Ltd  UKHL 48)
In contrast, provisions which allow for a wider search for a unifying factor such as the same ‘originating cause or source’ are likely to mean more claims can be aggregated together (Axa Reinsurance (UK) Plc v Field  2 Lloyd’s Rep 223 )
In AIG Ltd v Woodman and others  UKSC 18, the Court held that in order for claims to be aggregated, they must have a unifying factor, such as a common feature, circumstance, or cause.
This was expanded upon in Baines v Dixon Coles and Gill (A Firm) and others  EWHC 2809, in which insurers sought to aggregate claims relating to the theft of client monies by a partner of a firm.
HHJ Saffman provided the following example at paragraph 53 of the Judgment:
“In other words if there is a series of acts A, B and C, it is not enough that act A causes claim A, act B causes claim B and act C causes claim C. What is required is that claim A is caused by the series of acts A, B and C; claim B is also caused by the same series of acts; and claim C too.”
An example of claims being deemed to have the same ‘source or originating cause’ can be seen in Spire Healthcare Ltd v Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance  EWCA Civ 17, where the Court of Appeal held that several claims against the insured all arose out of the same “source or original cause”, namely, the conduct of an individual in disregarding the welfare of his patients and performing operations on them without their informed consent. The claims could, therefore, be aggregated as one claim so that the £10 million policy limit applied, instead of the aggregate policy limit of £20 million. This decision confirms that the negligent or dishonest acts of one individual can be an originating cause for the purpose of an aggregation clause, even though their negligence may take different or multiple forms.
These will depend upon the specific taxes to be collected by HMRC.
As yet, whilst HMRC have written to people telling them to register if affected by the scheme, there has been no expression of policy with regards taxes they wish to look at collecting. Again, this will be discussed no doubt with the expert selected to liaise with HMRC in any settlement.
Mitigation of Losses
It is important that you demonstrate in any claim that you have tried to mitigate any losses incurred. This should be done via an expert. Damages may be only extra income Tax, interest and penalties for example. If you have been affected, you should seek to instruct a litigator who will compile a schedule of damages each Claimant has incurred.
You will also claim extra accounting fees for the entities involved, your experts fees and of course the consideration (fee) paid to LT4L. These will be set out in a Schedule of Loss and it is more cost effective and easier to mount a claim of significance. In other cases, we have seen individuals taking on the insurance company alone and given the costs of such litigation, their claims have been ignored simply upon the basis that the Claimant cannot afford the costs.
Elysium Law has an outstanding track record of bringing, defending and settling high-value and complex cases. With hundreds or even thousands likely affected following Spotlight 63, we are looking to advance a group claim. We anticipate claims worth tens of millions against LT4L and their insurers.
If you find yourself impacted by the issues discussed, Elysium Law are ready to offer expert guidance and assistance. Please contact us today.