ANT-AGEDDON

July 24th, 2014 No Comments By Lucy Sweet

ants ANT AGEDDONBEWARE OF THE ANTS! THE ANTS ARE COMING! Not just regular ants, either, but ASIAN SUPER ANTS!

*calls Daily Mail, faints*

What’s more, these super ants, also known as Fire ants, will eat through your home’s electricity cables and live in your plug sockets, causing potential fires.

They love a bit of electricity, because they’re EVIL, and they don’t even care if they get killed – it just makes their army stronger.

Fire ants aren’t usually found on these shores, but the species first made an appearance back in 2009, when 35,000 were found crawling all over a National Trust property in Gloucestershire. (Who counted them all?).

Now, a colony have taken over a house in Hendon, North West London, and they’ve been spotted in Buckinghamshire, too.

Jo Hodgkins from the National Trust said: “The problems with them are they seem to get attracted to electricity and they can take up residence in plug sockets and power sources, creating a fire hazard. They can easily establish themselves in somewhere like Britain and I would not be surprised if they colonised other areas. They are pretty tough little creatures.”

RUN! RUN from your new ant overlords!

complaint 300x300 It could be worth your while complaining  but check your sector firstWe seem to be experiencing an actual summer this year, which is novel. However, our friends over at Which! are investigating whether this is a summer of discontent by surveying over 3,600 people to ask them about their favourite complaints.

As a result we have the updated top five sectors that give people the most cause for complaints. Few would be surprised to see telecoms, energy, and money, topping the list, but also beating off shoddy competition are public services and parking, according to the Which! research.

Unsurprisingly, most people gave up at the first stage of complaining, and if the supplier told them to naff off, many people did just that. However, where people were tenacious enough to escalate issues to an independent reviewer such as an ombudsman, 68% of cases were upheld in the consumer’s favour. Reasons given for giving up at the first hurdle included not knowing that there were complaint schemes, fearing that the process would be too complicated and not believing that they’d be successful. Which isn’t really the right attitude now is it?

The Which! research also found that the chances of winning an escalated complaint – a ‘win’ being classified as a company being told to apologise, to give compensation or to take remedial action – varied greatly by sector.

Escalated complaints to do with energy and telecoms – including broadband, mobile and landline services – proved very successful in 2013/2014, with between 86% and 95% of people being successful.

However, during the same period, only 58% of consumers who had complained to the financial ombudsman won their case, while for public service complaints to the parliamentary and health ombudsman, just 42% of cases were upheld.

But the most valuable statistic has to be that, according to the figures, just over half of motorists who’d appealed their parking tickets to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal were successful in 2012/13. Save a quick £60 anyone?

fiesta 300x225 Ford Fiesta is biggest selling UK car everThe Ford Fiesta has become the best-selling car of ALL TIME.

The cheery little runabout that has been knocking around for nearly 40 years, has sold 4.1 million, to become the best selling car in the UK.

It has overtaken (OVERTAKEN HAHAHA) the Ford Escort, the previous record holder, to become the most popular model among British drivers.

The Fiesta was a mere £1,865 when it came out in 1976, and soon become a hit with the young set and lead the small car end of the car market ever since.

Mark Ovenden, head of Ford Britain, said: ”The Ford Fiesta has gone from strength to strength and today’s car combines style, value, driving dynamics and remarkable technologies such as the multi-award-winning 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine.”

“It continues to outsell its nearest retail competitor by more than two to one – and that really tells the story of this extraordinary car.”

Also, the advancements in technology differ somewhat from the car’s launch. For example, it would now take more than 80 modern-day Fiestas to generate the same nitrous oxide emissions of a single 1976 Mk1 model.

This first-generation Fiesta, with the 46bhp four-cylinder 950cc petrol engine, weighed around 800kg and achieved 37.7mpg. Today a 1.0 litre Fiesta is more than a third heavier, but achieves nearly 66mpg.

Fiesta models are developed in Dunton, Essex, while engines are assembled in Dagenham, Essex, and Bridgend, south Wales. Cars destined for the UK market are built in Germany and Spain.

Well done Fiesta!

Italy gives Google 18 month privacy deadline

July 24th, 2014 No Comments By Lucy Sweet

google Italy gives Google 18 month privacy deadline The way Google handles data is under fire from Italy, who have given them 18 months to change their ways and improve user privacy.

France have already fined Google £150,000 because they failed to co-operate with its laws on tracking and storing information, and it looks like Italy might be next to hit the company with a piffling fine that wouldn’t even make a dent in the average Google CEO’s lunch bill.

The Italian data protection Authority have told Google that they must ask its users for permission to use their personal information before they go spreading it around Facebook in the form of targeted ads about Fitflops and belly fat.

They also said they must honour customer requests to delete data within two months. Or else.
Google are co-operating so far, perhaps fearing reprisals from burly, well-connected Sardinian men called Beppe.

They said: “We’ve engaged fully with the Italian DPA throughout this process to explain our privacy policy and how it allows us to create simpler, more effective services, and we’ll continue to do so. We’ll be reading their report closely to determine next steps.”

How about you stop selling our data to advertisers without our permission, Google? That would be logical ‘next step.’

As they say in Italy – VAFFANCULO.

Europe’s banks been robbed

July 24th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

Bank 300x193 Europes banks been robbedThe security of the European Central Bank has been compromised!

A security breach has lead to a host of email addresses and other contact info being stolen from a European Central Bank database.

The ECB have told everyone to calm it, as the information leaked is related to those who had registered to attend its events, such as conferences or visits, and was not encrypted.

Although, you know, you wouldn’t necessarily be on their database for the lols, but the ECB reaffirm their fans that no sensitive stuff was compromised.

The ECB said the matter first came to its attention after it received an anonymous email seeking money in return for the stolen data.

They also said it was in the process of contacting those who may have had their contact information stolen, while all passwords on its website have been changed as a precautionary measure.

Now, let’s try and do this whole anonymous threat thing again. Demanding money in exchange for a thing you’ve done, but failing to say who you are seems a bit daft.

Modern times, ladies and gentlemen.

People are angry at sneaky insurance charges

July 24th, 2014 No Comments By Lucy Sweet

insurance 289x300 People are angry at sneaky insurance charges Two out of three people are incensed about paying the sneaky charges hidden in the small print of insurance policies. It’s becoming a thing now to insert charges for cancellations or amendments to your policy and consumers are NOT happy.

A Which!!! survey revealed that nearly half of insurance firms have increased admin fees in the last few years – fees that have no real basis in reality, like a £20 charge to set up a policy or get copies of documents.

So why all the secret fees and subterfuge? Well, it’s those goddamn comparison websites, innit?

Insurance companies want to keep those all important headline fees down, so they have to spread the actual cost somewhere else. It’s also happening with mortgages, credit cards and bank accounts. In fact, it’s like the whole world is turning into Ryanair.

And we’re getting wise to it, too. 68% of those surveyed said they were aware of the manipulative trickery that companies employ to keep headline costs down.

Hit it, Ricardo Lloyd-o! “Consumers are fed up with being hit with unexpected, additional costs for financial products that lead to them paying more than they bargained for. These fees can be hard to avoid, and people often don’t know what they’re really paying for.”

“We want the financial services industry to stop sneaky fees and charges, and put an end to excessive, unclear and hard to compare fees that do nothing to improve the low level of trust in these markets.”

You betcha.

PayPal toy with being a payday loan company?

July 24th, 2014 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

paypal PayPal toy with being a payday loan company?PayPal – a company that people don’t exactly trust or like – have announced that they are going to start offering cash advances to small businesses in the UK. If you can’t get a loan, then PayPal want to ‘help’.

Of course, everyone’s problems with PayPal are well documented, but so too is the general irritation with loan companies and banks. It is basically getting a consumer to pick which illness they’d like.

The PayPal Working Capital fund will launch in the UK later in the year, but has been giving out loans in the USA since last September. And people are taking them up on the offer. Thus far, they’ve made £82m worth of advances to American firms.

They say they will provide “funding in minutes” after approvals and all that… but no credit check.  A one-off fee is required on the advance (like interest) and the fee you can receive is based entirely on sales history from the PayPal account, the amount of money being advanced and the schedule of repayment.

Businesses will pay back what they owe with a share of sales made using PayPal, so if you don’t sell anything on a given day, PayPal get nothing.

In America, there’s been glitches – a number of customers have noted that unauthorised payments have been taken out of their PayPal account as repayments, with PayPal clearing business accounts without much fanfare or explanation.

Would you trust PayPal to sort you out with a loan? Or are they no better or worse than any other loan company?

pg tips tea bag1 287x300 Pyramid bags are officially better than round ones, says ASA Tea aficionados have argued the toss about different shaped tea bags since the dawn of time (well, ok, that’s not exactly true).

But hotheaded tea drinking chimps everywhere are now going to have to concede that PG Tips pyramid bags DO let out more flavour than Tetley’s round ones.

Tetley were furious when Johnny Vegas and that godforsaken monkey appeared to trash their round teabags in a recent advert. They sit at the kitchen table and do a test to see which teabags are best, with Monkey concluding that:

‘PG Tips uses pyramid bags, so if we test one against a regular tea bag … you’ll see the tea has got more room to move, freeing the great fresh taste for a perfect cuppa.’

Tetley said that although they weren’t mentioned in the ad, it was obvious that as they are purveyors of round teabags, they were being targeted and ‘denigrated’ by a knitted primate.

BUT the Advertising Standards Authority upheld PG Tips claims, and enraged the Tetley teafolk by saying that pyramid bags WERE better, and that their round ones basically suck.

‘Unilever provided test results which showed that the infusion of tea, at 40 seconds and two minutes into brewing, was greater when using a pyramid teabag than when using a round teabag. We therefore concluded that the ad did not exaggerate the capability and performance of the advertised product and was not misleading.’

FIGHT!

tax man HMRC are officially rubbish  Adjudicator upholds 90% of complaintsYou are probably familiar with the concept of an Ombudsman, an independent reviewer who will review the facts of a case once the normal complaints procedure has been exhausted, and will normally find in favour of either the complainant (usually the customer) or the retailer.

Now, we all know that HMRC no longer has victims, rather customers, and as such, it is open to complaints same as any other service provider. While there is no ombudsman for tax-collecting services, there is an Adjudicator. The Adjudicator has now published her annual report for 2013/14, which shows that an unbelievable 90% of customer complaints have been upheld- and government bodies including, and mostly HMRC, have been ordered to pay a whopping £4.4m in redress payments.

The Adjudicator provides an independent review of complaints about HMRC, as well as against the Valuation Office Agency and the Insolvency Service, although these are only a small proportion compared with the HMRC complaints.  In fact, the actual number of complaints about HMRC has gone down, a staggering 90% of taxpayers’ complaints have been upheld this last year.

There were 1,131 new complaints in 2013/14, 1,087 of which were about HMRC. This is less than half the number in 2012/13, when there was a surge in complaints, many of them about PAYE.

Of the cases resolved last year:

90% were upheld substantially or partially (61% in 2012/13)

7% were not upheld (37% in 2012/13)

3% were withdrawn or reconsidered (2% in 2012/13)

The total amount the departments paid out in redress, on the Adjudicator’s recommendation, was £4,369,258 , massively up on the £1,194,031 the year before. The total includes tax credit overpayments written off, as well as costs reimbursed and compensatory payments.  

Complaints to the Adjudicator are typically about mistakes, unreasonable delays, poor advice or inappropriate staff behaviour.

In her report, the Adjudicator noted that  HMRC had put “a lot of effort” into transforming its complaints handling, and complimented the department on “listening to her constructive criticism.”

She did, however, acknowledge the startling proportion of upheld complaints and described seeing many cases “where HMRC staff failed to consider the circumstances of vulnerable people and where communication was poor.”

Anyone else with a 90% upheld complaint rate might be looking for their P45. But still, at least HMRC are trying, right?!

iwatch High time for iTime: Apple IS designing a smartwatch Smartwatch watchers, your hunch was correct. Apple have indeed been busy designing a smartwatch and were awarded a patent for a wrist-worn device with a touchscreen that can communicate with a smartphone.

The patent was submitted in 2011, but Apple’s secretive design manoeuvres mean that it wasn’t officially disclosed until yesterday.

On some of the documents, the device is called ‘iTime’ but as the name hasn’t been trademarked, it’s possible that idea has been ditched somewhere along the line.

The patent is for a device that can work either clipped into a wristband, or on its own.

But when connected to the wristband it turns into a smartwatch which includes ‘haptic sensors’ that mean you can control it with hand gestures (you probably know a number of ‘hand gestures’ you’d like to do at smartwatch wearers).

When will the watch finally appear? Who knows? But Apple say in the patent that there are: ‘continuing needs to make portable electronic devices smaller and more portable. There is also a continuing need to enhance functionalities of portable electronic devices.’

GET ON WITH IT THEN.

*taps watch*

Can Fred save Premier Foods?

July 23rd, 2014 1 Comment By Ian Wade

fred Can Fred save Premier Foods?Premier Foods are relaunching Mr Kipling and bringing Homepride’s Fred back in a hope to reverse its fortunes, after revealing a £54.9 million half year pre-tax loss.

Sales fell 6.1% to £364.4 million in the first half of the year as difficult market conditions in the supermarkets sector hit the food group.

Along with Mr Kipling and Homepride, the company also looks after OXO, Bisto, Sharwoods, Batchelors, Ambrosia and, oh, Loyd Grossman.

As well as that lot, the company’s ‘support brands’ include Angel Delight, Birds, Saxa, Paxo, Atora, Cadburys (cakes end), Smash, Marvel, McDougalls and Lyons.

Or what they call in the trade ‘ambient grocery’. Amazing.

Basically, if you don’t own or use at least one of those items, then you’re a social outcast and deserve to have urchins point and laugh at you in the street.

Gavin Darby of Premier has tried to calm the unrest by saying: “We grew profitability and most of our ammunition is yet to fire. The second half of the year will see a number of new product launches.”

The company is rumoured to be ploughing £30 million into a marketing spend, with new Mr Kipling adverts happening in August.

Following that, there’ll be a number of other product launches, including Bisto gravy and casserole pastes, Batchelors deli-box cous cous, Sharwood’s mini poppadoms and Cadbury sponge pudding desserts.

Cous-cous. I ask you.

And jolly floury chum Fred returns Bowie-ly to our screens after seven years, for the first major Homepride adverts in a decade.

For the period Premier Foods said trading profit was up 2.1% to £48.1 million, better than analysts expected, and it said profit expectations for the year remain unchanged.

Gross profit margin rose from 33.2% to 34.6%. The pre-tax loss  was largely because of a write-off of financing costs.

Looks like they’re banking on a revival of ’80s food.

Google Glass 4 We don’t want no Tech Utopia...we dont need no thought control... Do you think the world would be just dandy if it was a headset wearing, liquid food-eating homogenised utopia run by massive tech companies?

Well, you’re in the minority. It seems like there’s a old school backlash brewing against the constant onslaught of technology – so you’d better watch out where you wear your Google goggles.

San Francisco, home of Google, is rebelling. And if the recent anger aimed at Silicon Valley is anything to go by, it looks like we really don’t want tech companies and their inventions interfering in our human interaction and daily routines.

In California, there have been vocal demonstrations and attacks on Google’s private employee buses, which operate in the Bay Area. Then a Google Glass wearer, Sarah Slocum, was attacked in a bar by a woman who claimed that Google was ‘killing the city’.

The onslaught of tech is also killing jobs. San Francisco restaurant workers are campaigning for a wage increase –and in response a Conservative lobby group who works for the US restaurant industry to threatened to replace staff with iPads.

And some of Silicon Valley’s ideas are verging on the insane. It’s even happy to crowd fund the sinister liquid food replacement Soylent – with Google’s Justine Tunney actually suggesting that they could feed it to poor Americans to make them healthy and productive.

So the old idea that if you don’t like technology, you’re a prehistoric fossil, is over. San Francisco may be a hub of artists, hippies, punks and musicians, but it’s clear that people getting increasingly concerned about the influence that social media and new tech products have over our minds and choices.

What do you think? Are we in danger of becoming oppressed Orwellian robot slaves? Or is Glass just a handy way to find a good restaurant?

Ofcom: Brits want a dirty internet

July 23rd, 2014 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

porn Ofcom: Brits want a dirty internetThe mucky-minded of Britain were asked if they wanted the government to introduce porn filters to the internet. An overwhelming majority laughed in the face of such an idea, with a take-up for Sky, BT and Virgin Media all below 10%.

Ofcom have done a report on such a thing, and found that most people chose not to block porn from their internet connections, telling ISPs to stick their adult content filters up their holes. Yeah. Like that. Oh yeah. Einfach so, mein kleines Kaninchen.

This is bad news for the Govt because they shouted loudly about all this and made BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media all contact their customers to force them to turn the modesty filters on or off. It is a weird notion. Imagine a Government official popping their head around your door and saying “watching any dirty films any time soon?”

You’d throw a shoe at them.

Ofcom found that 5% of new BT customers turned the filters on, with 8% of Sky customers and a measly 4% of Virgin Media users. The fusty sorts at TalkTalk already have the Homesafe parental controls system. 36% of those guys wanted to get it turned on. Oooh yeah.

Now, all ISPs are required to ‘pre-tick’ the box that sees adult content filters switched to ‘on’, which means new customers have to actively say they want it switched off during the installation process.

Naturally, the whole thing has already been a farce, with non-bongo sites being blocked by these clunky modesty wrappers. People found that they were denied access to sites which offer help about domestic violence and sexual health.

Either way, it seems like Britain is all for a dirtier internet, which is to be applauded. So the chastity belt wearing simpletons at Westminster.

Student loans system in a right palaver

July 23rd, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

student Student loans system in a right palaverMPs are calling for an urgent review of the student loans system, after it transpired that 45% of student loans will never be repaid.

It’s estimated that 45p in every pound shelled, the taxpayer won’t ever get back.

Under the current system, students can borrow to cover the full cost of £9,000-a-year tuition fees, and do not have to start paying back their loans until they have finished studying and are earning above £21,000 a year, and any outstanding debt is written off after 30 years.

However the sheer amount of students defaulting on their debt (ie: they haven’t got jobs or even if they have, they’re not paying enough), and the system looks in crisis as it will soon become financially unviable.

Originally, the government has projected that 28% of loans would have to be written off, but ministers have been continually shouting “HIGHER!”

The number has been revised because economists have downgraded their predictions of how much graduates are likely to earn in the future.

The National Audit Office predicts that student debt will increase from £46 billion in 2013 to about £330 billion by 2044.

Meanwhile, the Student Loans Company is supposed to have 98.5 per cent of borrowers in a repayment channel – which means they are either repaying on time or not earning enough to repay, but they’re allowed to include people in that total, even if they don’t have any information on them.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies has predicted that the average student will now leave university with about £44,000 of debt, in 2014 prices, compared to about £25,000 under the old system.

Although the lowest earners will pay back less, far fewer graduates will pay off their debt in full by the age of 40, and almost three quarters will never earn enough to pay back their loans in full.

Tuition fees are higher in England than in any other public university system on Earth, and when you throw in other expenses, the cost of studenting in England in general was the third highest in the world.

THE WORLD!

Deathwatch: Crocs (Hurrah!)

July 23rd, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

crocs 300x137 Deathwatch: Crocs (Hurrah!)Crocs, the ghastly footwear, are in crisis.

Once upon a time, back in the last decade, Crocs became a thing, as the comfy waterproof clog-styled footwear-eyesores were bloody everywhere.

Today, they are looking at laying off 180 staff and closing 100 stores worldwide.

And no wonder. Look at them. Completely vile.

The company’s profits slumped more than 40% last year, with outlets in America and Asia noticing a big slump, whereas over in Europe there’s been a mild growth.

The company plans to simplify its range to save $10 million, although one would motion that they could simplify it easily enough by destroying every trace of Crocs in the universe.

Six months ago, Blackstone, the private equity firm, invested £117m in a 13.5% stake in the company, which has about 600 stores around the world, including three in the UK. They won’t be happy.

Andrew Rees, the Croc president, said: ”We have a clear, well-defined strategy for addressing these issues and improving performance. Work is under way already to drive significant change throughout our company.”

Originally conceived as a sort-of boat shoe, Crocs came to attention when the likes of Jack Nicholson and George Bush started hoofing about in a pair.

By 2009, profits took a dive, as everyone saw sense and went “URGH GET THEM AWAY FROM ME”.