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What is the law on...? Common legal questions answered

21st April 2017

Money found on floor

Is it illegal to pick up money found on the floor? What is the law on cold-calling? These are just some of the most commonly asked legal questions in the UK. In this article Law Absolute answers some of these questions with help from those in legal jobs.

What is the law on finding money?

Technically you can be prosecuted for picking up money you found on the floor. The law is called ‘theft by finding’. This means if you find cash on the street and do not attempt to return it to its owner by handing it into a shop or police, you could be found guilty of theft.

If there is no easy way to tell where the money came from, the law can become complicated. In February 2017 a young woman ended up with a criminal record for keeping £20 she found on a shop floor. Daniel Wise, associate solicitor at Slater Heelis LLP told “This case will no doubt come as a surprise to many people, but it serves as a timely reminder of the definition of ‘theft’ – which has remained largely unchanged for almost 50 years. Under the Theft Act 1968, a person is guilty of theft if they ‘dishonestly appropriate property (including cash) belonging to another’.

“Lost property will continue to ‘belong to another’ unless it has been genuinely abandoned by the owner. The fact that cash has been dropped in the street does not necessarily mean it has been abandoned.

“Arguably, the smaller the amount of money, the less likely it is that the original owner would be found, as they would be less likely to be looking for it. For very small sums of money, the person who finds it is more likely therefore to be able to demonstrate that they were not acting dishonestly by keeping it.”

If you find money in a cashpoint, the law is more sophisticated. According to Guy Gosheron, a barrister with Lester Aldridge, most cashpoints will retract cash if it’s not removed within a certain amount of time, so you should wait for the money to be reclaimed by the bank first. Mr Gosheron told “If the cash is not retracted then take the cash out of the machine and note the time and the amount.” 

Is it legal to smoke e-cigarettes indoors?

Smoking e-cigarettes indoors

While there is currently no law in place banning people from smoking e-cigarettes indoors, many businesses across the UK have implemented their own company policy to prevent this from happening. So if you do want to use your e-cigarette indoors, check the establishments’ policy.

E-cigarette business Vapourlite conducted its own research to find out how many businesses have adopted a policy to ban e-cigarettes on their premises. According to its blog, Vapourlite discovered: “90% of the companies we contacted did not allow the use of electronic cigarettes indoors.”

The ban on smoking indoors, introduced in 2007, worried pub and club owners at the time, according to Vapourlite: “At the time, there was huge uproar by landlords, pub companies and smokers’ groups, saying the ban would be a disaster for many pubs and clubs and the impact on people’s social lives would be huge. But as we all know, the ban was incredibly effective, and people did not stop going or socialising because of it.”

Are retailers legally obligated to honour incorrectly priced items?

Many people believe that if an item is incorrectly priced in-store or online, due to a pricing glitch or system error, the retailer must honour the reduced price. However as Ben Lewins, Paralegal in the Commercial Department at Clapham & Collinge Solicitors points out, it isn’t always so straightforward:

“Although you may not realise it, all online or in-store purchases require a contract for the sale of goods. The law on whether a vendor has to honour a price will depend on whether the contract has been formed or not.

“Online stores have their own terms and conditions which will usually pinpoint at what state the contract is finalised. For example, Tesco’s terms and conditions stipulate that the contract is only made when the order is dispatched. Even after you have paid for the item, they are within their means to refuse the offer and refund your money without breaching the contract. This would enable them to have certain quality checks in place to safeguard themselves should an online error cause the price of an item to plummet.

“This happened to Screwfix in 2014 who refunded customers’ money rather than honour the lower price. However, all customers who had received the items were allowed to keep the products as their terms and conditions state that the contract has been formed once the goods are delivered.

“In-store, the situation is slightly different. Whilst it may seem that the price tags on items represent offers of sale, these are legally ‘invitation’s to treat’ and are inviting customers to offer to buy them at the price shown. This means that a store can refuse to sell you any item as they are merely not accepting your offer.

“Stores may honour price glitches or mis-priced products for commercial reasons or as gestures of goodwill. However, whether they are legally obliged to do so will depend on whether a contract has been formed and this will depend on the facts of each case and can differ from company to company depending on the terms and conditions.”

What is the law on cold-calling?

Is cold-calling legal

Cold-calling – when a company makes an unwelcome telephone call to someone in order to sell goods or services - is not illegal in the UK, however measures have been introduced in recent years to help people cope with the sudden influx of nuisance calls. As of April 2016, cold-calling companies are now forced to display their telephone numbers or face heavy fines.

According to official figures reported in The Telegraph, one in five direct marketing calls is from an anonymous or false number. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) receives more than 14,000 complaints about nuisance calls every month.

Baroness Neville Rolfe, who introduced the measures, told The Telegraph: “It’s harassment, plain and simple. For those who rely on their phone as their main form of communication, having to field unwanted calls can be an intolerable pressure.”

Under the new laws, offending companies can now be hit by fines of up to £2 million by Ofcom. The ICO can also impose fines of up to £500,000.

Is it illegal to skip school?

Children between the ages of 5 and 16 are obliged by law to receive a satisfactory level of full-time education, whether parents decide to send them to school or teach them at home. If a child regularly skips school without a legitimate reason, such as illness, it will be considered truancy.

According to Law and Parents, truancy is illegal and parents face being fined up to £2,500: “If the fine is not paid or the truancy continues, a magistrate can opt for a custodial sentence and also the intervention of social services.”

The government website states that local councils and schools can use various legal powers if a child is missing school without a good reason. A Parenting Order means parents will need to attend classes and listen the court’s guidance to improve their child’s school attendance. An Education Supervision Order is imposed if the council thinks a parent needs support to get their child to school, but that they are not co-operating. A supervisor is then appointed to help parents get their child into education. A School Attendance Order is issued if a local council believes a child isn’t getting an education. Parents will be given 15 days to provide evidence that they have registered their child with a school or that they are receiving home education. The order also requires parents to send their child to a specific school. Parents also face a fine of £60, rising to £120 if not paid within 21 days. In more serious cases, if parents are prosecuted, they face a fine of up to £2,500, a community order or a jail sentence of up to three months.

A recent legal battle brought the issue of term-time holidays to the foreground. A father from the Isle of Wight took his daughter out of school for a family holiday and was subsequently fined. Laws were changed after an increasing amount of parents were taking their children out of school for holidays, many of whom were avoiding rocketing holiday prices during half-term breaks and summer holidays.

According to a report by the BBC, the previous guidelines stated head teachers could grant leave of absence of up to 10 days for the purposes of a family holiday during term-time in “special circumstances”. The report added: “The government said it had long recognised schools were experiencing problems with parents using this threshold as a right, rather than as a rough guide for a particular sort of situation.”

In Scotland there are no fines for parents who take their children on holiday during term-time, the same goes for Northern Ireland. In Wales, families are permitted to take up to 10 days of term-time holiday at the head teacher’s discretion.

What is the legal drink drive limit in the UK?

Legal drink-drive limit

Firstly, it’s important to note that the drink drive limit varies across the UK. There are a set of laws for England, Wales and Northern Ireland collectively and Scotland individually.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the legal alcohol limit for drivers is 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath, 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, 107 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine.

In Scotland, as of 2014, the legal alcohol limit is significantly lower at 22 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath, 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, 67 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine.

There is always an element of confusion when it comes to the drink drive limit, and unfortunately there is no straightforward answer as to how much an individual can drink before getting behind the wheel. While someone may stay under the limit after two pints of standard-strength lager, another may be well over the limit. It depends on your weight, gender, metabolism and how much you’ve eaten. It is recommended that you avoid drinking alcohol if you are going to drive, or stick to just one drink with a meal.

If you are caught drink-driving, you will face a 12-month driving ban, heavy fines and potentially a prison sentence.

Is it illegal to park in front of a driveway?

If a vehicle is blocking access to your driveway, it is not illegal. But there are steps you can take to avoid this happening again in future. Charlotte Dixon, solicitor at DAS Law, told The Mirror: “The first step with any anti-social parking problem is to contact your local authority or the police; however there is little the law can do to support home owners – even if a car blocks your driveway. The Highway Code can only help if the parked car is causing an obstruction to the road but not in relation to private land.

“One option that’s available is to pursue a legal claim for nuisance on the grounds that the driver is interfering with your use and enjoyment of your property – but to do so you’d need to know the identity of the offending vehicle’s driver.”

If a vehicle is parked on your driveway without your permission, this is trespassing. Trespassing is a civil offence, so the police may not always get involved. Homeowners have no special right to park directly outside their property, unless they have a private driveway.

All road users have the same right to park anywhere on the public highway as long as they do not break parking restrictions. However trying to keep a parking space available outside your home on a pubic road using cones or other obstacles may be seen as obstruction and liable to prosecution, unless your local authority has granted you the right to do so in special circumstances. There’s no limit on how long a car can be parked in the same space on a public road, unless the vehicle is thought to have been abandoned.

Is it illegal to use my phone while driving?

As of March 1st 2017, drivers caught using their phone while behind the wheel face six points on their licence and a £200 fine. The penalty is even more severe for drivers who have been on the road for less than two years, as they face having their licences revoked. Repeat offenders could be disqualified from driving or receive a maximum fine of £1,000. Those who are driving buses or goods vehicles could get a maximum fine of up to £2,500.

The new measures were introduced to deter drivers from texting, making phone calls without a hands-free kit and using social media while driving. It’s important to note that this also includes waiting in traffic.

What is the law on wearing a seatbelt?

If your vehicle is fitted with a seatbelt, you must wear it, and only one person is allowed to sit in each seat. It is illegal not to wear a seatbelt. If you are found by police to be driving a vehicle in which any of the passengers are not wearing their seatbelt, you may be fined up to £500. In the case of classic cars, or cars originally made without seatbelts, this law does not apply. However it is worth noting that in this case, children under three years old may not sit in the car and children over the age of three are only allowed to sit in the back seats.

There are a few exceptions to the law surrounding seatbelt use. You do not need to wear a seatbelt if you are:

  • A driver who is reversing, or supervising a learner driver who is reversing
  • In a police or fire and rescue vehicle
  • A passenger in a trade vehicle investigating a fault
  • Driving a goods vehicle on deliveries that is travelling no more than 50 metres between stops
  • A licensed taxi driver who is ‘plying for hire’ on carrying passengers

There are also medical exemptions, but your doctor must have agreed to this and will give you a Certificate of Exemption from Compulsory Seat Belt Wearing. If this applies to you, you need to keep this certificate in your vehicle at all times and show it to the police if you’re stopped. You also need to notify your car insurer.

Is it illegal to drive without a valid MOT certificate?

UK law states that cars and motorcycles must hold a valid MOT certificate once the vehicle is three years past its registration date. You are allowed to take your vehicle for an MOT in advance, however it is illegal to drive your car or motorcycle without a valid MOT certificate.

Driving without an MOT may invalidate your insurance, meaning you cannot claim in the event of an accident. If you are stopped by police, you may face a £60 on-the-spot fine or, if court action is taken, a £1,000 fine.

Image credits: Vaping 360, Alex Roberts, Jared Sexton