A solicitor who built up residual client balances of nearly £200,000 has been rebuked and fined by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) – six years after he was advised as to his conduct for the same failure.
John Geoffrey Burton, director at John Burton Solicitors of Stone in Staffordshire, also admitted failing to register lasting powers of attorney (LPAs) on behalf of clients.
In a regulatory settlement agreement with the SRA, Mr Burton also offered undertakings to return within three month all outstanding monies to clients that he no longer needed to hold in his client account, and to apply within 28 days for registration of the LPAs “and thereafter to promptly use reasonable endeavours to prepare registration of the same with the Office of the Public Guardian”.
The agreement recorded that as at 10 March 2016, the residual client balances totalled £189,424. There had been a “substantial delay” in registering 27 LPAs, as well as a failure to inform clients every 12 months that he continued to retain funds on their behalf.
Mr Burton has so far managed to return £100,000 of the residual client balances.
The solicitor said the LPA delays had been due to personal circumstances, and that he had not charged the affected clients any fees.
Back in 2010, the SRA identified residual client balances of £38,000 in his client account. The agreement said: “Mr Burton had informed the SRA that he would be take reasonable steps to ensure that money was returned to clients and if after taking reasonable steps he was unable to contact the client, he would apply to the SRA for a waiver. Matters were concluded by way of a letter of advice.”
In mitigation for his latest misconduct, the SRA noted that Mr Burton was experiencing person problems which meant that he was not able to devote his time to the firm, and had put in place an action plan to reduce the residual client balances. Further, he has “progressed” the LPA matters.
He also agreed to pay the SRA £600 in costs.