Posts Tagged ‘government’

Government cuts Lloyds stake to below 17%

June 23rd, 2015 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

Lloyds Banking Group 001 300x180 Government cuts Lloyds stake to below 17%The government’s stake in Lloyds Banking Group is below 17% after they flogged more shares to investors. At a knock-down rate? We wouldn’t like to speculate…

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.

Optimism, there.

Disabled payment delays – unlawful

June 5th, 2015 1 Comment By Mof Gimmers

disabled logo 300x300 Disabled payment delays   unlawfulThe Government’s delays in paying a new disability benefit to two claimants has been judged to be unlawful, according to the High Court.

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.”

pensions 300x187 Women to miss out on pensioner bonds thanks to age limitWhen 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.”

tax 215x300 Coalitions tax and benefit changes cost us all £489 a yearAlthough 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.”

Social media should be simpler

December 1st, 2014 2 Comments By Ian Wade

Bitterwallet Facebook censorship Social media should be simplerSocial media companies should simplify their conditions as no-one can understand them. That’s according to the government, sitting on the parliamentary science and technology committee.

Of course, last week, we saw just how little MPs understand social media as it is, leaving one Tory red-faced as everyone saw how much he liked dirty photos.

Anyway, the complicated terms and conditions that allow firms like Facebook access to a wealth of personal information and even control a user’s phone are drafted for use in American court rooms, according to the committee.

The committee would like a new set of guidelines that make sure websites explain themselves a bit clearer, and that laws should be in place should they not comply.

The committee has pointed to terms for Facebook Messenger’s mobile app, which is used by more than 200,000 million people a month.

Basically, Facebook can gain direct access to a user’s mobile or tablet, including to take pictures or make videos, at any time without explicit confirmation from the owner.

Committee chair Andrew Miller said: “Let’s face it, most people click yes to terms and conditions contracts without reading them, because they are often laughably long and written in the kind of legalese you need a law degree from the USA to understand,”

Miller went on to say that he’s sure most social media developers will be happy to sign up to new guidelines on “clear communication and informed consent” that the committee is asking the British government to draw up.

public wifi Government turn public buildings into WiFi hotspot heaven!The government are turning over 1,000 public buildings into Wi-Fi hotspots!

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.”

Drivers! Beware copycat government websites!

October 7th, 2014 1 Comment By Mof Gimmers

car scrap Drivers! Beware copycat government websites!Hey drivers! Here’s something you should know: there’s a chance that you’re being charged for services that are normally free thanks to ne’er-do-wells setting up copycat government websites.

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.

Fake government websites banned

September 17th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

asa logo 300x200 Fake government websites bannedThe advertising watchdog ASA – who sadly aren’t a real dog – have banned three cheeky copycat websites.

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.

goldengirls 241x300 Boost your pension by 258% with this one clever trick No, it’s not a dodgy Facebook ad – it’s TRUE. People in their 50s and 60s can stand to triple their pension pot by joining new company pension schemes and boosting their contributions.

Many older people don’t bother with new pension schemes, thinking that they’re too old to get the benefits. But new pension reforms mean that they can up their contributions by 258% in just a few years and take out all their money without paying any tax. Woohoo!

Here’s how it works. In the last 2 years companies started automatically putting their employees on a pension scheme. Once you’re enrolled, your contributions are deducted from your payslip, your employer contributes something and you get tax relief from the government.

But people who were over 50 tended not to bother with it. WRONG.

If you do it, under the new reforms you can take all your wonga out of these schemes when you retire, rather than bothering with boring, stifling annuities.

Here’s the maths. (Theoretically.)

If you earn £24,000 a year this year, make an increase in contributions in 2018, and get a small pay rise every year – and there is a rate of 5 per cent annual growth – a 55-year-old could make £14,134 by the age of 65.

So get on it, silver foxes! That cruise ship buffet is waiting…

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.

david cameron government Hello, emergency laws to monitor your phones and internet useEmergency laws are being brought in next week which will force phone and internet companies to hold records of customers’ calls, texts and visits to websites.

Sounds dodgy doesn’t it? How can a government do something like that? Well, Cameron & Co. have wheeled out the usual excuse of terrorism. See, if the government can snoop on everyone, that’ll stop someone from listening to God and blowing themselves up.

Obviously.

According to Cameron, these fast-tracked measures are absolutely necessary to defend our national security against the threat from Iraq and Syria. If we don’t, the consequences are “grave.” This move is a response to a ruling by the European Court of Justice which struck down regulations that allowed communications companies from storing data for police use for a year. Downing Street reckons that we’re all doomed if phone and internet companies start deleting these records.

“It is the first duty of government to protect our national security and to act quickly when that security is compromised,” David Cameron said. “As events in Iraq and Syria demonstrate, now is not the time to be scaling back on our ability to keep our people safe. The ability to access information about communications and intercept the communications of dangerous individuals is essential to fight the threat from criminals and terrorists targeting the UK. No government introduces fast track legislation lightly. But the consequences of not acting are grave.”

“I want to be very clear that we are not introducing new powers or capabilities – that is not for this Parliament. This is about restoring two vital measures ensuring that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies maintain the right tools to keep us all safe.”

Nick Clegg, a man hired to wander around Whitehall to say ‘does anything need doing? No? Okay. Fancy a pint after? You’re busy? Never mind then’, said these emergency laws “will not be used as an excuse for more powers, or for a ‘snooper’s charter’.”

“Liberty and security must go hand in hand. We can’t enjoy our freedom if we’re unable to keep ourselves safe.”

Tom Watson, meanwhile, isn’t impressed and said on the radio this morning that this is a “stitch up” that denies MPs the chance to be able to scrutinise the legislation: ”This is a secret deal between party leaders. There hasn’t been a bill published, we find out this morning when Parliament is on a one-line whip and MPs are in their constituencies that next week they will railroad through emergency legislation.”

“If you are an MP, you probably shouldn’t bother turning up for work next week because what you think doesn’t really matter. They are ramping up the rhetoric on it but no one in civic society has a chance to form a view on this or lobby their MP or talk to them about it. I understand that Labour’s shadow cabinet is seeing it this morning. They’ve not had a chance to think about it yet.”

Cue: If you’re not doing anything wrong, it doesn’t matter arguments.

websites  People confused by copycat ‘government’ websites Confusion reigns amongst consumers, who are regularly bamboozled and misled by fake websites posing as official ones – particularly copycat government websites.

Savvy web users might be able to spot a rubbish fake crown logo or a web address called ‘giveusyourdetails.gov.passport.’ But others are regularly being led down the garden path, according to research by the Advertising Standards Authority.

The ASA is so concerned about this that it’s launching a new awareness campaign, which will lead people to official government web pages and away from the dodgy ones.

It’s also considering tougher enforcement of fake sites and advertisers, pledging to work with Google and Bing to weed out the infiltrators.

Although 8 out of 10 people surveyed could spot the official passport application site, some of the other sites posing as government sites are quite convincing. Only half guessed that a site replacing Births, Deaths and Marriage certificates was actually a commercial website.

‘We’re focused on tackling any sites that continue to mislead, in support of other enforcement activity.’ Said Miles Lockwood from the ASA. ‘We’re also working with search engines and government to ensure the public are protected. In the meantime, always start at gov.uk to access a government service.’

 UK government filters wrongly censor 1 in 5 websites It may seem hard to believe, but something to do with the UK government isn’t working very well. Or perhaps it’s working very well indeed *rubs hands together maniacally*

This time, it’s the UK government online filters, which are a little bit ENTHUSIASTIC. They wrongly block one in five websites, creating the kind of internet censorship you might expect to find in China.

The Open Rights Group Project has been investigating the amount of websites that our overzealous filters are blocking, and it found that out of 101,008 sites, about 19% of websites are blocked by UK ISPs for no particular reason.

One of the blocked websites is the political blog Guido Fawkes’ Order Order. The editor Paul Staines said: ‘We would really appreciate it if TalkTalk would remove us from their block list. The only people who block us are them and the Chinese government.’

TalkTalk say they haven’t blocked them, no not at all, free speech is important etc. But the Open Rights Group ‘Blocked’ Project offers a free checking tool, which gives you information about which sites are blocked by UK filters.

After all, it’s a free country, innit?

OR IS IT?

Cheques are going digital!

June 19th, 2014 2 Comments By Lucy Sweet

cheque flat 1 Cheques are going digital! Don’t you just love a cheque? The best cheques are from grans, with ‘£5.00’ in very spidery writing, or those massive ones that people carry around on Postcode Lottery adverts.

Most people don’t pay by cheque any more, but even so, they often show up, as if BACS was never invented. And it’s a drag to go into branches to cash them.

Soon, though, you’ll be able to take a picture of your cheque on your smartphone and pay it in either via email or your mobile banking app. It’s called ‘cheque imaging’ and next week the government is expected to give the go-ahead for legislation allowing banks and building societies to use it.

It’s great news for us, because electronic cheques will speed up the interminable clearing process involved with all those bits of paper. At the moment you have to wait up to a week for a cheque to clear because it has to go from your bank to a clearing centre. But cheque imaging bypasses all that antiquated messing around, and it will only take 2 working days for your money to appear in your account.

However, it’s bad news for branches. Take away the need to cash a cheque, and you could see nothing but tumbleweed and unemployment. But, the hardy paper cheque might not be phased out entirely. Even if the legislation goes ahead, the Cheque and Credit Clearing Company says: ‘Customers wouldn’t have to do anything different if they don’t want to. They would still be able to pay cheques into their accounts at branches.’

But if it only takes 2 working days to clear a photo of your cheque, what’s the betting that we’ll all be doing it via email instead?

sugar is a drug Plans leaked for a 20% fizzy drinks – and BISCUIT   tax Health minister Jeremy C…Hunt is under pressure to introduce a 20% health tax on pop and biscuits, in a new (and probably hopelessly clumsy) strategy to reduce the nation’s dependency on lovely, life-giving sugar.

A report written by Public Health England, which includes advice from doctors, health experts and cardiologists (huh, what do THEY know?) has been leaked to The Grocer magazine.

It says that there are six possible ways to reduce the UK’s sugar intake, but fizzy drinks are the easiest target. They propose that a 20% tax would reduce obesity rates by 1.3%.

This report – which was commissioned by the government – is apparently the basis of another report which will be published on June 26th. The Department of Health, however, says it has no plans yet for a sugar tax.

Hmmm. You can tax fizzy drinks all you like, but you can’t take our BISCUUUUUUUUUUITS! Not if you don’t want a vicious Hob Nob black market on your hands.

This means war.