Posts Tagged ‘government’
For a slightly longer answer, May thinks that some websites are ‘safe havens’ for criminals, and now she wants to see new laws which give authorities the chance to access everyone’s information. It looks like she’ll want to get rid of encryption, and that all your internet history would be recorded, so authorities can look at it whenever they want, without having to get permission from anyone. They want to keep everything you do online, on record, for a year.
They also want to be able to see who you’ve texted and emailed too. If your messages are encrypted, the company keeping your messages private, must hand over data to authorities if asked.
With the hacks and leaks that have been doing the rounds lately, there’s just concern about anyone holding all this private information on everyone with an internet connection.
The draft bill underlines a want for powers for the bulk collection of large volumes of communications and other personal data by MI5, GCHQ, MI6, and for the introduction of “equipment interference powers”. This all means that computers and phones can be hacked whenever they want, in the name of national security.
Of course, the stupid thing here, is that actual criminals won’t be arranging serious crimes on Facebook Messenger or anything like that, so it looks like they just want to snoop on everyone else, which is going to worry many. It won’t worry the kind of people who say “well I’ve done nothing wrong, so they can look through all my stuff if they want”, but you can’t do anything about those people.
The Home Office has published the Investigatory Powers Bill in the House of Commons, which means it’ll be examined both Houses of Parliament. There’ll be a final vote on the whole thing at some point in 2016. We suspect there’s be some legal action thrown at the government before then.
How To Stay Anonymous Online
If you want to browse the internet anonymously, the first place to start is with the free Tor Browser. We won’t bore you with the ins-and-outs of the whole thing, but basically, it puts your web traffic through Tor’s network, and makes it anonymous and encrypts the shit out of it. It isn’t wholly anonymous, but it isn’t far off.
You can send emails through web services in Tor Browser too, but you’d need an email account that doesn’t reveal any personal information about you. One to look at is Guerrilla Mail.
As for instant messaging, there’s Pidgin, Wickr, and Tor who have just released their own. You know how to work a phone or search engine, so get on those. As for your phone itself, there’s an app called Orbot that runs Tor on Android.
If you want to set up a VPN (Virtual Private Network), then click here for a VPN how to guide. There’s loads of tutorials online, if you want to vanish from the eyes of the government.
The tax credit argument has been rumbling on for some time, with everyone except MPs it seems having some issue with the plans to cut tax credits put forward by Chancellor George Osborne in his summer budget. In a shock move the House of Lords have now forced George to “lessen” the impact of tax credit cuts on families and to provide some kind of “transitional help” for those affected.
Mr Osborne, during Treasury questions, said: “We will continue to reform tax credits and save the money needed so that Britain lives within its means, while at the same time lessening the impact on families during the transition.”
The savings from his plans totalled £4.4bn, so he’s going to have to find a more palatable way to save the cash when announced revised and softened plans in his Autumn Statement due at the end of November.
How will it affect me?
Under George’s plans, the income threshold for receiving Working Tax Credits and Child Tax Credit was due to be dramatically cut from April next year, along with a sharper rate of reduction in credits once the income threshold was reached.
Plans were criticised as they affected mainly those working but at low rates and the plans were such that low-income workers were facing losing £1,300 a year, which is a considerable sum when you don’t actually earn very much.
While the Chancellor would have time to draft new legislation to accompany his Autumn statement, and get it passed into law (assuming the Lords do not intercede again) ahead of the scheduled April 2016 date for changes, it is likely that anyone affected will see at least a softening of the severity of the changes, together with some kind of transitional help to protect those for whom tax credits are crucial- at least until the new living wage has its intended effect for lower income workers.
Why is it such a big deal?
As part of a gentlemen’s agreement, established as a principle in 1911 during the constitutional gridlock that followed a decision by peers to block the Liberal Party’s “people’s budget”, the Lords do not interfere with financial matters that have been agreed by MPs. The tax credit changes have been approved by the commons three times, owing to the Government’s majority, which is sorely lacking in the House of Lords. However, a gentlemen’s agreement only works if both parties believe the other to be acting in a gentlemanly manner. Here, the government was convinced the Lords would sit quietly and the Lords felt the government had not duly considered all the relevant impacts.
Part of the problem is that the Tax Credit changes were not included in a Finance Bill, which gets debated and allows time and opportunity for tweaking of legislation, but was instead pushed through as an unamendable take-it-or-leave-it statutory instrument. And the Lords left it, with two motions passed which will force the Government to delay the cuts until an assessment of their financial impact is carried out, as well as implementing provisions that will provide financial redress to the millions of tax credit claimants who will be affected when their entitlements are reduced.
Now, of course, the Government is livid with the Lords, claiming that is is unconstitutional for an unelected body to overturn decisions of the elected body of MPs. No comment was made on the constitutionality of electoral promises that are subsequently welched on. In any case, both David Cameron and George Osborne are of the opinion that the Lords need to be “dealt with” for daring to overturn their decision.
But what do you think? Are the delay and adjustments to the cuts a good thing or a bad thing?
While the government are trying to stop people from undertaking Freedom of Information requests, so we can’t look at their correspondence and dodgy deals, funnily enough, they’re not so concerned about privacy when it comes to the public’s messages.
MI5 boss Andrew Parker is asking the government to get new powers to monitor communications, which means that encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp and iMessage could be banned.
Of course, they’re blaming terrorists again, and Parker has said internet companies have a “responsibility” to share information about their users, and that the use of strong encryption in apps should be illegal.
This backs David Cameron’s views on the matter, where he said that he doesn’t want to “allow a means of communication between people which we cannot read”. Maybe, like the government’s FOI idea, we should all charge the authorities £600-a-pop if they want to look in our messages. Sound fair?
Parker reckons that encryption is “creating a situation where law enforcement agencies and security agencies can no longer obtain under proper legal warrant the contents of communications between people they have reason to believe are terrorists”.
“They are using secure apps and internet communication to try to broadcast their message and incite and direct terrorism amongst people who live here who are prepared to listen to their message.” He added that it “is in nobody’s interests that terrorists should be able to plot and communicate out of the reach of any authorities with proper legal power”.
Just imagine, if we can’t have encrypted messages, what baddies might be able to do, if they can hack into everyone’s messages too! Of course, Apple and Facebook (who own iMessage and WhatsApp respectively) are keen to commit to their users privacy (apart from all the times they use your details to make cash and the like).
Anyway, keep an eye out for the Home Secretary bringing back the Snooper’s Charter, as your privacy isn’t too much of a concern to the current government.
You may recall that BT made a deal with the British government, in a bid to get broadband rolled out across the country. Well, it isn’t happening quickly enough, and millions still don’t have a proper internet connection.
In addition to that, Openreach has doled out slower speeds that originally advertised. It is all a bit rubbish, frankly.
The target that was set originally was to have 95% of the UK covered by 2015, however, that date is now being pushed back to 2017, and even with the revised date, BT reckon that it’ll be more like 2018 by the time they reach 95% coverage. And it’ll be longer still before they reach every citizen in Britain.
Another thing that might cause delays is an Ofcom investigation into a monopoly on government contracts. The government gave 44 out of 44 contracts to BT, even though there’s the option of TalkTalk, Virgin Media, and Sky. And now, David Cameron is showing signs of frustration, unhappy at the speed of the rollout.
BT have missed tagrets of speeds of at least 5 Mbps or 24 Mbps, and reports show that new Openreach customers are getting under 2 Mbps on a typical day. Given that countries like Sweden, Czech Republic, Finland, Romania, Lithuania, and Hungary have all been getting faster average speeds, with a lower cost of implementing the services, to say this whole thing is unsatisfactory is something of an understatement.
Given that the UK is the fifth largest economy, it really shouldn’t be this slow when it comes to rolling out such things. BT – pull your finger out.
Are you married? Well done you. You must be thrilled and exponentially more lonely as you’ve irritated everyone on Facebook with your incessant cooing and 3,000 wedding photos that look like everyone else’s stupid wedding photos.
Anyway, if you’ve got married and are earning £10,600 or less in the 2015 to 2016 tax year, you may well be able to reduce your partner’s tax by up to £212 thanks to the new Marriage Allowance.
It isn’t a huge amount of money, but it is worth getting on it, as basically, it is free money for doing absolutely nothing of note. Tories love people getting married and, in their minds, marriages stop things like riots from happening, so there you go.
So, grab all your personal details ever, and head over to the government’s dedicated website for Marriage Allowance and get registered, by clicking here.
If you’re married and earn a higher amount than the threshold, then maybe you can sell all those spare toasters you got from your wedding day? If not, maybe you could moan about it and be passive aggressive with your beloved while you shop for matching fleeces?
Here’s two things that are unrelated, obviously. Just as the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority announces that MPs’ salaries are to increase by 10% to £74,000, the government just so happen to announce that they’re planning on closing down 91 courts in England and Wales.
Justice Secretary Michael Gove has noted that this is to reduce “surplus capacity”.
In a written statement, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for courts and legal aid, Shailesh Vara, said the service’s estate was “underused”, and that ”last year over a third of all courts and tribunals were empty for more than 50% of their available hearing time.”
So which are the courts, which fall under these proposals?
Bow County Court
Feltham Magistrates’ Court
Greenwich Magistrates’ Court
Hammersmith County Court (formerly West London County Court)
Lambeth County Court
Pocock Street Tribunal Hearing Centre
Richmond-upon-Thames Magistrates’ Court
Tottenham Magistrates’ Court
Waltham Forest Magistrates’ Court
Woolwich County Court
Birmingham Youth Court
Burton-upon-Trent Magistrates’ Court
Buxton Magistrates’ and County Court
Corby Magistrates’ Court
Grantham Magistrates’ Court
Hinckley Magistrates’ Court
Kettering County Court
Kettering Magistrates’ Court
Sandwell Magistrates’ Court
Shrewsbury Magistrates’ Court
Skegness Magistrates’ Court
Solihull Magistrates’ Court
Stafford Magistrates’ Court
Worksop Magistrates’ Court
Consett Magistrates’ Court
Halifax County Court and Family Court
Halifax (Calderdale) Magistrates’ and Family Court
Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court and County Court
Morpeth County Court
Rotherham Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court
Scunthorpe Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court
Wakefield Magistrates’ Court
Accrington County Court
Accrington Magistrates’ Court
Bolton County Court and Family Court
Bury Magistrates’ Court and County Court
Kendal Magistrates’ Court and County Court
Macclesfield County Court
Macclesfield Magistrates’ Court
Oldham County Court
Oldham Magistrates’ Court
Ormskirk Magistrates’ Court and Family Court
Runcorn (Halton) Magistrates’ Court
St Helens Magistrates’ Court and County Court
Stockport Magistrates’ Court and County Court
Tameside County Court
Trafford Magistrates’ Court and Altrincham County Court
Warrington County Court
West Cumbria Magistrates’ Court and County Court
Aylesbury Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court
Basildon Social Security and Child Support Tribunal (Acorn House)
Bedford and Mid Beds Magistrates’ Court and Family Court and Bedford County Court and Family Court
Bicester Magistrates’ Court and Family Court
Bury St. Edmunds Magistrates’ Court and Family Court and Bury St. Edmunds Crown Court
Chichester Combined Court (Crown and County)
Chichester Magistrates’ Court
Colchester County Court and Family Court
Colchester County Court Offices
Dartford Magistrates’ Court
Dover Magistrates’ Court
Eastbourne Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court
Harlow Magistrates’ Court
Kings Lynn County Court and Family Court
Lowestoft Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court
Redhill Magistrates’ Court and Family Court and Reigate County Court and Family Court
St Albans County Court
Tunbridge Wells County Court and Family Court
Watford Magistrates’ Court and Family Court
West Berkshire (Newbury) Magistrates’ Court
Barnstaple Crown Court
Bath Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court or North Avon (Yate) Magistrates’ Court
Bournemouth Magistrates’ Court
Cheltenham Rivershill House Tribunal
Chippenham Magistrates’ Court, Civil Court and Family Court
Dorchester Crown Court
Fareham Magistrates’ Court
Gloucester Magistrates’ Court
North Avon (Yate) Magistrates’ Court or Bath Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court
Stroud Magistrates’ Court
Torquay Magistrates’ Court
Brecon Law Courts
Bridgend Law Courts
Carmarthen Civil, Family, Tribunal and Probate Hearing Centre
Carmarthen Law Courts (The Guildhall)
Dolgellau Crown and Magistrates’ Court
Holyhead Magistrates’ Court
Llangefni Civil and Family Court
Neath and Port Talbot Civil and Family Court
Pontypridd Magistrates’ Court
Proposal on the provision of court and tribunal estate in England and Wales
Prestatyn Magistrates’ Court
Wrexham Tribunal (Rhyd Broughton)
There’s also a number of integrations taking place, which you can see in this lovely government document. So, while we’re in a period of austerity, the MPs give themselves a pay rise, as well as looking at the closure of family courts, among other things.
Yesterday, British Gas announced a 5% price drop on bills, and it looks like the rest of the Big Six will be following suit.
Of course, Npower, EDF, E.On, SSE and Scottish Power don’t want to be missing out or made to look like awful, greedy, upright swine compared to British Gas. What do you mean that’s what you think of them, regardless?
Energy companies usually announce their changes in September, but with British Gas making the move earlier than usual, you’d expect the rest to follow suit.
If that’s the case, there’s a lot of money to be saved – whether they could’ve passed on more savings is up for debate (we think they could have) – with Npower having around 5.1m customers in the UK, EDF Energy serving 5.5m domestic and business customers, E.On UK having 5m domestic and business customers, Scottish Power having somewhere in the region of 5m domestic and business customers and SSE with over 8m customers. That’s a lot of people getting money off their bills, which we should be vaguely grateful for.
However, the problem is that the industry has seen much bigger drops in wholesale energy costs, so really, they should be doing more for their customers.
Alongside all this, the Treasury has launched an investigation into the sector, regarding the savings that utilities companies could, or should be passing on to everyone. If they are found to be stitching us up, then the government may well intervene… but then again, they probably won’t because, as we all know, all politicians are arseholes.
Anyway, the crew at UK Financial Investments (UKFI) – the people responsible for handling the government’s stakes in all the privatised banks – has been slowly selling off the Treasury’s stake in Lloyds after the bank got £22.5bn from taxpayers in the financial crisis and subsequent bail outs.
The government initially owned a 41% stake in Lloyds, before selling bits of it off in 2013. What this all means for taxpayers, is that around £11.5bn has been returned. Are the rest of the shares going to get the amount recouped back to £22.5bn? Doesn’t look like it.
“Today’s announcement shows the further progress made in returning Lloyds Banking Group to full private ownership and enabling the taxpayer to get their money back,” Lloyds Banking Group said in a statement.
The Treasury have been given an extra 6 months to get some money back, and Chancellor George Osborne reckons there’s still a chance to sell a further £9bn of Lloyds shares through 2015-16.
This case was brought about by a pair, known legally as ‘Ms C and Mr W’, who said that tardiness of providing personal independence payments (PIPS) meant that the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith had breached his common law and human rights duties to make payments within a reasonable time.
These payments are the ones that replaced the disability living allowance (DLA) in the Government’s shake-up in the area. They’re supposed to help disabled adults to keep up with the extra costs caused by disability.
One previous hearing heard that many had been forced to get funds from loan sharks and visit food banks, thanks to the delays in receiving their benefits. Mrs Justice Patterson passed the ruling which said that the delay in both cases was “not only unacceptable, as conceded by the defendant, but was unlawful”.
She added that, in the case of Ms C, the delay was 13 months, while Mr W waited for 10 months. In each case, this had called for ”expeditious consideration” as both parties suffered significant disabilities: ”They were each to be regarded as the most vulnerable people in society,” added the judge: ”There is a high duty on local authorities to act promptly, consistently and appropriately to recognise social welfare benefits.”
“There can be no public interest in delays such as was the case here.”
When you retire, you can invest in pensioner bonds, however, there’s an admin problem if you’re a woman. The age limit for investing in these is 65, so if you’re a woman who retires at 62, you’re barred from joining in until you’ve reached the age limit.
Somewhere in advance of 900,000 woman won’t be able to take advantage of the scheme, which some critics have said is tantamount to punishment for women having a lower state pension age and that all pensioners should be granted access to the high-interest fixed-term bonds.
The bonds themselves offer 2.8% interest for one year and 4% for three years, which is nearly double the rates you’ll get on the high street.
However, The Treasury aren’t having it, saying that it would be ‘unlawful’ to lower the age limit just for women, under equality regulations. This has resulted in a lot of peeved pensioners signing a petition in protest against this, which was launched as a lifeline for elderly people who are suffering from low interest rates on their savings (a record low, in fact).
Personal finance expert Sarah Pennells, who kicked off the petition, said: “These women have already seen their state pension age rise and they feel doubly penalised by the Government. Many female pensioners over 62 feel really hacked off they are excluded from this.”
On the petition, some older ladies have vented spleen. Sylvia Corlett, 62, wrote: “I am classed as a pensioner in all other aspects, claiming state pension, pension credit, bus pass, winter fuel allowance etc. Yet I am NOT classed as a pensioner regarding the new pensioner bonds. Why?.” E S added: “I am one of the several hundred thousand women who paid Married Women’s contributions in return for absolutely nothing and this is another example of women being treated unfairly.”
Many of the women talk of ‘discrimination’ and point out that after being paid less than men their entire lives, this felt like another kick in the teeth.
Dr Ros Altmann, the Government’s older workers adviser, isn’t impressed: “If the Government is trying to help pensioners to live off their savings then surely that should include women who are under 65 but already taking a pension. This is a group of women who have already lost out as a result of changes to the pension system.”
“They have not saved as much as men of their age because they did not earn as much. And they will also have lower state pension entitlements than men because many had shorter working lives or took breaks from the labour market to care for children.”
Although it’s only January, all the political parties are upping their efforts with a view on the general election in a few short months’ time. Of course, part of the election campaign is to impress upon the electorate how much better any given party is than all the others, so what the coalition needs like a hole in the head is a national thinktank providing economic evidence of how much worse off the average UK household is as a result of the coalition’s changes to taxes and benefits. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, it’s a fairly sizeable £489 a year.
Of course, that is an average figure, and depending on your personal circumstances, you may have lost more than this, or ended up better off. However, the IFS has also identified broad groups who are likely to have been winners or losers under the coalition regime.
It may come as a surprise to a few, but low-income working-age households have been hit hardest, losing the most under the coalition as a percentage of their income. Also losing out are families with children, who fall within the lowest 10% of earners, who lost £1,223 on average. However, the richest 10% of households also lost £5,350 a year.
So where are the Tories and Lib Dems going to get their votes from? Middle and higher-income households of working age have escaped “remarkably unscathed” from the government’s austerity measures. Those falling into this bracket who don’t own children have actually gained financially from the changes, largely due to increases in the threshold for paying income tax, according to the IFS.
Overall, the poorest households lost around 4% of their incomes, followed closely behind by the next poorest tenth, losing around 3.5% of their income. The richest suffered a loss of 2.5%, a percentage that falls to zero for middle-income households.
Pensioners were “relatively unaffected” on average, as the “triple lock” on the state pension, whichmeant they have been relatively better protected against the economic downturn than those employed, was largely offset by a hike in VAT.
The hardest-hit region was greater London, where households lost an average £1,042, followed by south east England, the West Midlands and north west England.
James Browne, a senior research economist at IFS and co-author of the report said: “Whichever way you cut it, low-income households with children and the very richest households have lost out significantly from the changes as a percentage of their incomes.
“Increases in the tax-free personal allowance have played an important role in protecting middle-income working-age households meaning that those without children have actually gained overall.”
Over the next few months, places such as libraries, museums, civic centres, transport hubs, sporting complexes and other buildings around the UK will begin to offer free Wi-Fi.
Now you literally have no escape from the bad rays of modernity. Some have already started doing it, and the plan is to get all of them up and running by March 2015.
According to the official Government website: “Millions of citizens, business men and women and visitors will be able to take advantage of free connectivity across the UK, which in turn will support our cities in becoming even more attractive places to live, do business, visit and invest in”.
Which sounds like the sort of speech you hear just before the population’s brains are harvested by killer robot overlords. Sadly the government nonsense bingo card fails to find ‘hard working’ in that statement. Perhaps it was the first draft.
It’s all part of the Government’s £150m SuperConnected Cities programme aimed at transforming the digital capability of UK cities, ensuring our cities boast world-class connectivity and are equipped to deal with the increasing demands of the digital age.
Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey chipped in with: “The digital landscape of the UK is undergoing a period of tremendous improvement and is all part of the Government’s long term economic plan. For business, visitors and the UK public, accessing wifi in our cities is absolutely vital. These free hotspots will be instrumental in making UK cities even more appealing as places to not only do business, but to visit as well.”
Thanks to these sites, people have been paying extra for things like applying for a driving test or congestion charges. We’ve looked at these sites before, with tax returns and others, but these shady sites just won’t go away.
Seeing as the government can’t be arsed warning you about these impersonators, we might as well be the ones to do it.
The AA have told the Transport Select Committee about these snide-sites, and reports have been submitted looking at the work of the DVLA, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA).
What these sites do, is act as a needless middleman so they take some money off a duped driver to process something for a fee, when the motorist could’ve done it for free through an official government website. Transport for London have already asked the DVLA to send letters to drivers who have used these unofficial swines and are in talks about a proposal that won’t accept payments made from these third parties.
Of course, all the motoring bodies should be doing this, but they’re being very, very slow on the uptake and it seems no-one is addressing the issue.
One thing that clearly needs to happen is some action from the Government Digital Service (GDS), who liaise with Google and the like, and they can take action against “websites that add little or no value to existing online Government services”. The National Trading Standards Board needs to pull its finger out also – they’ve received additional funding to ‘clamp down on misleading websites’.
With the DVLA struggling to manage the new paperless car tax system, it is obvious that the government isn’t coping particularly well with drivers’ needs. As well as adapting to the changes, the government need to do more to warn drivers about these third party websites. And while they’re at it, the DVLA also needs to look at how they share personal data with companies that rinse drivers through costly parking enforcement.
There’s a lot that needs to be done, but remember this for now: if it doesn’t have .gov.uk in the URL, avoid it.
The sites have been posing as government channels for health insurance cards, passports and birth certificates, leaving consumers baffled, poor and riotous.
The websites – europeanhealthcard.org.uk, uk-officialservices.co.uk and ukpassportoffices.co.uk – duped users into thinking they were official providers of services they were offering, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said.
It also ruled that the websites must not appear again and any future versions must feature disclaimers that say “we’re not real”.
Although, putting a thing on a site saying it’s a fake, sort of defeats the purpose of being a moody front to steal your life.
The ASA said it received large numbers of consumer complaints about websites that offered access to online government services, but which were not official channels and typically charged a premium.
The ASA said the europeanhealthcard.org.uk website charged for an application verification service, while the EHIC was available for free when applied for via the official gov.uk website.
Only stick to the proper gov channels, and if in doubt, call ‘em up and waiting 45 minutes to get through to someone.