MORE THAN eighty homeowners have been left in the lurch after a firm of conveyancers neglected to pass on Stamp Duty to the taxman.
With offices in Brentwood, Billericay and Hornchurch, Reeve Fisher and Sands was wound up last week.
The business, which has operated for over 20 years, had in some cases held on to Stamp Duty payments for almost a year, despite the law requiring payment in 30 days.
One homeowner, who purchased his house in December last year, described the moments a letter from Revenue and Customs (HMRC) landed on his doorstep.
He said: “It was incredibly daunting – they were chasing me for tens of thousands of pounds.
“I had already passed the money over to Reeve Fisher and Sands almost a year ago.
“I rang up the conveyancers and they said that if any error had been made and it wasn’t paid they would pay any interest incurred.
“The next thing I know I am being called by a solicitors telling me I am on a list of 80 people whose Stamp Duty had not been paid.
“Fortunately I found out that I was one of the lucky ones and it had been paid just before they were wound up.”
The Brentwood resident, who asked not to be named, added: “It was not so lucky for my mother.
“About £12,000 of unpaid Stamp Duty was not paid by the firm. We are talking hundreds and thousands of pounds that have not been paid.”
A spokesman for the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC), the people who regulate the industry, said: “The CLC intervened into the practice of Reeve Fisher and Sands on December 12.
“Clients of CLC-regulated firms are protected in a number of ways.
“First through rigorous, specialist regulation of specialised lawyers, second through the professional indemnity requirements we place on firms and third by the CLC’s Compensation Fund which is a discretionary fund of last resort.
“The CLC strives to ensure that any transactions that are underway when a firm closes can continue without delay.
“It appears that some payments of Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) should have been made by Reeve Fisher and Sands on behalf of the client, but were not in fact made.
“The CLC is working with HMRC to find out where this has happened, and to try to ensure that demands for payment of SDLT do not continue to be made when that tax should already have been paid by Reeve Fisher and Sands.
“Where Reeve Fisher and Sands held a client's money for the payment of SDLT and did not make that payment, the client will not be required to pay the tax themselves.
“The payment will be made either from the funds of Reeve Fisher and Sands or, in the event that they are not sufficient, from the CLC's Compensation Fund.
“Clients who have already received demands from HMRC for the payment of SDLT should contact the CLC who will then take the matter up with HMRC.”
He added: “Criminal proceedings will be a matter for the police and we will be making a report to them with the results of our investigation.”
A spokesman for HMRC said: “In law, the purchaser is liable to make an SDLT return and pay the tax, even if he or she employs a solicitor for this purpose.
“We understand this would come as a shock because the purchaser would naturally expect the money to be sent to HMRC by the solicitor.
“In these circumstances, clearly those involved should make good any shortfall.”
The Gazette tried to contact Reeve Fisher and Sands but no one was available for comment.
The CLC urge anyone who is suffering as a result of this incident to contact them on 01245 349599.
If you are an existing customer, the following conveyancers have taken over to ensure as little disruption as possible.
Files from the Brentwood office are going to PCS Legal in Basildon. The contact is Stuart Forsdike.
Address: 5 The Capricorn Centre
Cranes Farm Road
Telephone: 01268 590003
Files from Billericay and Hornchurch offices are going to Hayward Moon Property Lawyers in Ipswich. The contact is Mark Hayward.
Address: 4 Chestnut Court
Telephone: 01473 234730