The Universal fraudsters strike again - but it could be possible to recover assets
Way back in 2018, we reported the case of Universal Wealth - a company owned by Melanie and Steve Long, who faced fraud charges after they set up a scheme designed to avoid paying care fees and simplify the administration of an estate. Instead, all it did was leave people out of pocket.
Despite Universal Wealth being shut down, the Longs continued to have connections to other companies under the Universal brand, including Universal Tax Solutions, Universal Asset Protection and Universal Trustees Ltd.
After going into liquidation in May 2018, many families were left unable to contact the Longs and Universal clients were contacting professional services body STEP in abundance, concerned for how their trusts were being managed. In fact, it was disclosed to STEP that in December 2018, Steve Long was sent to prison for failure to disclose the whereabouts of Universal clients’ assets - and they have had to accept they may never recover or retrieve those assets.
Speed forward to January 2021 and it seems Steve Long is up to his old tricks. According to STEP, Mr Long is now trading with a website called howtokeepitinthefamily.co.uk. What’s more, Mr Long has also declared that he is a Registered Trust and Estate Practitioner which is a falsehood, as he was permanently excluded from STEP membership.
Therefore, if you or anyone you know is considering entering into an agreement or other contract with Steve Long, or you have been approached by a representative of any of the Universal brands, we would urge you to avoid it at all costs.
The trust and estate planning sector is not regulated in England and Wales, therefore it is up to you to be on your guard. Ask the right questions, like how long has the company been trading, do they publish a complaints process and is the company registered with Companies House. Also make sure you check they are registered with any appropriate professional bodies, or that they subscribe to any professional code. It is also a good idea to always check the reviews.
Fortunately it appears the website howtokeepitinthefamily.co.uk has been taken down, however it might be too late for some. If you are an existing client, visit this dedicated STEP webpage.
You should also contact a professional and seek legal advice. Here at Downs Solicitors we have unravelled a few of these types of Trust, where client property has been transferred into trust and held in the name of Trustees. We’ve seen cases where clients have then discovered they are not listed as the registered proprietor of their own home and it has caused lots of distress.
It takes a while, but in some cases it can be possible to transfer property back into the sole name of the client free of any restrictions and mention of Universal.
Speak to the Private Client team at Downs Solicitors for more information.