Two solicitors who failed in their duties as attorneys under a lasting power of attorney have each been fined £11,250 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Richard Walford and Alistair Heron, partners at Exeter firm Gilbert Stephens, were acting under an LPA for a Mrs H and failed to ensure that conditions of the home insurance policy for her property were met.
As a result, when the property suffered a burst pipe, the damage was not covered. The pair instead used Mrs H’s funds to pay £16,220 for the repairs, “rather than advising their client about the potential negligence and need to take independent legal advice”, the SRA said in a notice published yesterday.
They continued to act for her for another two years, “despite there being an own conflict of interest”, until the Office of the Public Guardian appointed an interim deputy in March 2020.
Gilbert Stephens reimbursed Mrs H £20,000 “immediately on being served with a demand for payment by solicitors acting for her personal representatives”, but this was “late” into the SRA’s investigation.
The solicitors admitted that they had breached multiple SRA rules. They said that, when Mrs H left her property, their first mistake had been not to drain down the heating system, which led to the burst pipe.
The SRA said a fine was appropriate because “the conduct showed a disregard for their regulatory obligations and, whilst the breaches have been rectified, the misconduct continued for longer than was reasonable”.
The regulator acknowledged that there was no lasting significant harm to Mrs H or third parties, “but it was nearly five years after Mrs H’s money was used to address the loss and damage to her property that Mr Walford and Mr Heron agreed to pay £20,000 by way of restitution”.
They also had no previous regulatory history and co-operated with the SRA’s investigation.
The regulator set the fine at £15,000 each, reduced to £11,250 to reflect the solicitors’ “prompt admission in accepting responsibility to the misconduct” and eventually remedying the harm caused.