STEP has received an unprecedented number of enquiries regarding Mr Steven Long and the companies of which he is a Director, namely Universal Tax Solutions of Dencora House, 34 White House Road, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP1 5LT, which traded as Universal Wealth Preservation. Associated companies include Universal Asset Protection Ltd and Universal Trustees Ltd.
Mr Steven Long, Mrs Melanie Long and Universal Trustees Ltd act as Professional Trustees. Universal assisted clients with drafting and managing trusts, wills and lasting powers of attorney (LPAs), as well as providing secure storage of original documents.
STEP suspended Mr Long’s membership on 1 November 2017, and he was permanently excluded on 5 October 2018, following the completion of the disciplinary investigation into a number of the complaints received.
Universal Asset Protection entered into compulsory liquidation in May 2018, with the business premises of Universal Wealth Preservation having closed several months previously. We do not know nor can we speculate why the business ceased trading.
Clients contacted STEP after they experienced great difficulties in contacting Universal, with no responses to emails, letters or phone calls.
We have been advised by clients that they have been concerned about the management of their trusts, with delays in estate administration and payments from the trusts being made, in addition to being unable to ascertain the whereabouts of their assets, or retrieve original wills and LPAs held in secure storage.
Universal clients now face the realistic prospect that they are unlikely to retrieve original documents or to recover cash assets.
STEP is aware that Suffolk Constabulary is now investigating, and has seized all documents that were held at Dencora House.
We understand from media reports in December 2018 that Steven Long was sentenced to a prison term for contempt of court for refusing to disclose the whereabouts of client assets. This is a civil matter and is not related to the investigation by the Eastern Region Special Operations unit. We understand that criminal investigations are still underway.
What should you do now?
STEP is advising Universal clients to:
- Seek independent legal advice from an experienced trust and estate practitioner on your options, which may include how to make an application to the courts to replace Mr and Mrs Long/Universal Asset Protection Ltd as trustees, making new wills and LPAs
- Check whether Lasting or Enduring Powers of Attorney have been registered with the Office of the Public Guardian – call the OPG on 0300 456 0300
- If not in possession of an original will, make a new one without delay. In situations where someone has already passed away, we understand that Probate Registries are aware of the situation with Universal and registrars will accept a Rule 54 application for a copy of the will to be used. In circumstances where the Universal directors are appointed as executors, registrars will accept a Section 116 application to appoint new executors.
- Contact the Land Registry to ascertain in whose name your property is registered. Call the Land Registry on 0300 006 0411. We understand that the Land Registry is aware of the issues with Universal.
- If appropriate, consider whether to make a report to Action Fraud quoting ‘Operation Ardent’
- Many clients will require Universal Trustees Ltd to sign forms that release them as trustees. In such circumstances, clients’ legal representatives (solicitors and barristers) only can submit a written request for up-to-date contact details to be released to them. Such requests should be made via firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If concerned by marketing information received or direct approaches from other firms advising you to use their services, consider taking advice from Trading Standards/Citizens Advice Bureau.
STEP has produced an article on what to look for when choosing a trustee.
You can find a full Q&A on Universal here.
If you have any queries, please contact email@example.com.