OFT: The Office of Fair Trading has launched a market study to look in depth at the payment protection insurance (PPI) sector. The study follows a super-complaint from Citizens Advice (CitA) which was based upon the CitA report - Protection racket: CAB evidence on the cost and effectiveness of payment protection insurance.
Three main areas of concern have been highlighted:
· Consumers pay excessive prices for PPI
· The protection consumers buy is partial, with evidence of high pressure & unfair sales tactics
· The administration of PPI claims can be slow & unfair and can leave consumers facing additional charges or serious debt enforcement action.
Press release ~ Citizens Advice (CitA) ~ Protection racket: CAB evidence on the cost and effectiveness of payment protection insurance ~ OFT: Response to the super-complaint on payment protection insurance made by Citizens Advice ~ FSA Factsheet ~ FSA Consumer information ~ The sale of payment protection insurance – results of thematic work
OPDM: The government says that local authorities should appoint a councillor or officer to act as a ‘champion’ to help individuals & groups play a greater role in shaping their communities by engaging with the planning process.
According to the government the ‘Champions’ will act as a bridge between groups who often do not understand:
· the complexities of the planning system
· how they can make their views known and
· the help that is available to them through the independent Planning Aid Service, which provides free advice & support on planning issues to people & communities who couldn't otherwise afford it
Press release ~ Planning Aid Community Champions brochure ~ Planning Aid website ~ Planning Aid for London ~ Planning Aid Concordat ~ Local Government Environment Board ~ Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI)
ODPM: Fourteen more councils have asked to develop housing Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes to build more social rented homes as part of a drive to regenerate their local communities. Nine new build schemes and five decent homes & local regeneration schemes have been submitted as expression of interest bids to the fifth bidding round. The outcome of successful fifth round bids will be made known in the summer.
In May a new bidding round for ALMOs and housing transfer for those local authorities not yet on a decent homes programme will be launched. This bidding round will close at the end of July with the outcome announced in the Autumn.
Press release ~ Sustainable Communities Plan ~ Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) ~ Public Private Partnerships Programme (the 4Ps) ~ Procurement Pack
ESRC: Although World Health Day was celebrated last week, significant opportunities to help bring lasting peace to countries previously torn by civil war - through re-building and improving their local health systems - are largely being missed by the world’s major aid donors, according to important new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
Health is increasingly an international matter, with foreign policy & security implications. But issues are too often portrayed only as threats, says Professor Colin McInnes, of the Centre for Health & International Relations, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, who led a joint study with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Press release ~ Global Health, Security and Foreign Policy ~ London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine ~ World Health Organisation’s ‘Health as a Bridge for Peace’ programme ~ Department for International Development ~ World Health Day
DfES: The Government has published its Action Plan for the Ten Year Childcare Strategy, which sets out how they claim that they will deliver on the commitments they have made to ‘transform the range of childcare, early years and extended schools services available to parents’.
The Action Plan also sets out:
· a framework for local authorities to meet their duties under the Childcare Bill which will come in to force from 2008
· the latest thinking on consultation on the Early Years Foundation Stage and
· how the Department can support local authorities and providers in implementing it
Press release ~ 10-year Childcare Strategy Action Plan ~ Sure Start ~ 4Children website ~ Childcare Bill ~ Guidance on the Extended Schools Initiative and the provision of pre-school childcare
ODPM: Twenty towns around the country are to get the help of experts to ‘accelerate’ the economic revival of their town centres in a two-year project, which is intended to help to reduce crime & anti-social behaviour and improve the local environment by working towards engaging business in developing Business Improvement Districts (BIDs).
Local business partnerships in the 20 selected areas will receive free management, technical & communications support from town centre experts, to establish sustainable partnerships between businesses, the public sector and the local community.
The project is a strand of the ‘How to’ programme, which aims to support councils and local agencies in taking action to improve the quality of life in communities across England. Through the ‘How to...’ programme the government will also be distributing guidance to ensure public access to toilets.
Press release ~ Cleaner Safer Greener ~ ‘How to’ guides: Parks & open spaces ~ Improve residential areas ~ Manage Town Centres ~ BIDs ~ London BIDs ~ Safer Parking Scheme ~ Scottish BIDs ~ Living Places: Caring for Quality ~ Living Places: Cleaner, Safer, Greener ~ ODPM Cleaner Safer Greener communities website
ODPM: The latest national framework setting out a vision of the Fire & Rescue Service for the next two years has been published by the Government. The framework stems from the Fire White Paper, Our Fire and Rescue Service, which was published in June 2002.
The Fire and Rescue National Framework 2006-08 outlines:
· the Government's expectations for the Fire & Rescue Service
· what fire & rescue authorities are expected to do and
· what support Government will provide
Its central theme is the Government's claimed commitment to reducing fire deaths & deliberate fires through placing a greater emphasis on fire prevention. It also takes account of progress on modernisation including Integrated Risk Management Plans (IRMPs), Resilience, Regional control centres and Equality & diversity issues.
Press release ~ Fire and Rescue National Framework 2006-08 ~ Fire White Paper, Our Fire and Rescue Service ~ Fire and Rescue Service Online website ~ Integrated Risk Management Plans (IRMPs) ~ Resilience ~ FiReControl project - Regional control centres website
ODPM: Following the Chancellor's announcement in the Budget of an Extra Homes Pilot, local authorities and housing associations in London will be invited to put forward proposals to help reduce the number of households living in insecure temporary accommodation in the capital.
The new pilot will build on the range of existing & emerging 'temporary to permanent' housing schemes including the Newham, the 'Local Space' scheme, which is working to provide more affordable & settled homes over the long term by capturing funding that was previously being used to pay for costly temporary accommodation.
In particular, the pilot scheme will explore new approaches which help families to overcome barriers to work, provide settled homes and reduce the cost of funding expensive temporary homes through housing benefit.
The Report for London highlights:
· London's role in contributing to Government plans to increase house building rates to 200,000 per year by 2016.
· An increase in social housing for families in London as part of a new programme of work to address the problem of overcrowding and the impact on children.
· An action plan between Government, the ALG and GLA is being drawn up to start addressing overcrowding in the Capital.
Press release ~ Building on Success: London's challenge for 2012 (2.4 Mb) ~ ODPM – Allocation of Accommodation ~ Empty Management Orders ~ ODPM Homelessness website ~ Newham, the 'Local Space' scheme
FSA: The Financial Service Authority has published its consultation paper (closes 2 July 2006) detailing how it will regulate all personal pensions, particularly Self-Invested Personal Pensions (SIPPs), from April 2007.
This follows changes set out by the Treasury in a recent consultation which will bring SIPPs within the FSA's remit. Under the new regime all those who operate a SIPPs scheme will need to apply for additional permission or authorisation if not already authorised.
Press release ~ CP06/5 ~ Previous consultation - "Proposed changes to the eligibility rules for establishing a pensions scheme" ~ Response statement ~ FSA – SIPPs ~ FSA Pensions website ~ FSA related publications
Defra: The government claims that new measures to tackle air pollution could extend life expectancy, cut environmental damage from acidic air pollution and generate benefits of £1.4billion a year. Air pollution is currently estimated to reduce the life expectancy of every person in the UK by an average of eight months.
Measures outlined for consultation in a review of the Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (closes 11 July 2006) could help to reduce the impact on average life expectancy to five months by 2020.
An updated strategy should be published at the end of the year drawing conclusions from this consultation and providing a clear, long-term vision for air quality.
Press release ~ Air Quality Archive ~ Consultation on the review of the Air Quality Strategy ~ UK's climate change programme 2006 ~ Air quality information ~ Expert Panel on Air Quality Standards ~ Environment Agency – Air quality ~ Scottish Environmental Protection Agency ~ Defra - Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control regime ~ IPPC: a practical guide for health authorities ~ Particulate Matter in the United Kingdom ~ The Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
HSE: Having consulted the nuclear industry on drafts of its Safety Assessment Principles for nuclear installations, the Health & Safety Executive is now seeking wider public views on revisions to it (closes 31 May 2006).
The safety of a nuclear plant is the responsibility of the licensee, who is required to submit to HSE a written demonstration of safety, or safety case, which is periodically updated to reflect changing conditions.
The Safety Assessment Principles (SAPs) provide a framework for the technical judgements that HSE inspectors have to make to establish whether safety cases are adequate, thus ensuring a consistent approach to the assessment process.
Press release ~ Safety Assessment Principles (includes consultation documents) ~ International Atomic Energy Agency ~ Nuclear Decommissioning Agency ~ Reducing Risks, Protecting People (R2P2) ~ Guidance on ALARP - As Low as Reasonably Practicable ~ Western European Nuclear Regulators' Association
DCMS: Culture Minister David Lammy launched a consultation (closes 29 June 2006) to seek views on a number of changes to the Treasure Act 1996 Code of Practice, which would allow administrative responsibilities relating to the Act to be transferred from the DCMS to the British Museum.
The government claims that a number of measures will be incorporated into the transfer, in order to ensure that the integrity of the system is retained. The Secretary of State will continue to decide on valuations, having been advised by the Treasure Valuation Committee.
Press release ~ Consultation Paper on Amendments to the Treasure Act 1996 Code of Practice (Revised) England and Wales ~ Current Treasure Act 1996 Code of Practice England and Wales ~ Treasure Valuation Committee ~ British Museum
DfT: The Department for Transport has published the national statistics of Vehicle speeds in Great Britain in 2005 using data collected at 36 sites (where a 30 or 40 mph limit applies) and at 60 other sites, which have been selected so that speeds are not seriously constrained by road layout, traffic congestion or by the proximity of speed cameras. The speeds are recorded as vehicles pass over an automatic counter and do not represent speeds over a longer distance, but they do however provide an indication of compliance with speed limits.
The latest figures show that the proportion of motorists exceeding the speed limit in 2005 changed very little from 2004,although driving in excess of the speed limit remains at a high level on all types of road.
Press release ~ Vehicle Speeds in Great Britain 2005 ~ Effective Interventions for Speeding Motorists ~ DfT Speed Management website
RA Eng: New research by the Henley Management College for The Royal Academy of Engineering has revealed that over one third of engineering firms in the UK believe that engineering graduate shortages and skills deficiencies are costing them money through delays in new product development and additional recruitment costs.
The study, 'Educating Engineers for the 21st Century: the Industry View', found specific graduate skill gaps in problem solving, application of theory to real problems, breadth of knowledge and ability in maths.
Almost half a million engineering graduates emerge each year from India and China, while in the UK, in the 10 years up to 2004, the numbers of students opting for engineering courses remained almost static at 24,500 and, of those, less than half chose to enter the engineering profession after graduating.
Press release ~ The Royal Academy of Engineering ~ Henley report and commentary ~ Henley Management College
DWP: Research published by the Department for Work and Pensions explores the characteristics & circumstances of families & children in 2004. The report is based on analysis of the Families and Children Study (FACS), which provides information about children, their parents & families as a whole across a wide range of subjects.
The first part of the report describes findings on: family characteristics, parental health, education, work, family income, benefits & tax credits, savings, housing and material deprivation. The second part of the report describes findings on child characteristics, health, schooling, activities & leisure, maintenance and childcare.
Press release ~ DWP Research Report No. 340 'Families With Children in Britain: Findings from the 2004 Families and Children Study (FACS)' ~ Summary version ~ Families and Children Study (FACS)
DWP: New research published by the Department for Work and Pensions examines public bodies' approach to implementing the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 and provides evidence for a baseline against which to assess the extent to which the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 prompts authorities to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people.
Press release ~ Research Report 343 - The Public Sector and Equality for Disabled People (1Mb) ~ Summary Version
DCA: The Legal Services Complaints Commissioner has announced that she has declared as ‘inadequate’ the Law Society's final Plan for securing effective and efficient complaints handling for the period 1 April 2006 to 31 March 2007.
The targets set by Commissioner included Improving the speed with which complaints are handled by the Law Society and Improving the quality of complaints handling by the Law Society, but the Law Society's final Plan, submitted to the Commissioner on 10 March 2006, did not include all of the targets which the Commissioner set.
The Commissioner now proposes to proceed to consider whether to impose a penalty and, if so, in what sum. The maximum penalty that can be imposed is the lower of £1 million and 1% of the annual income of the Law Society.
Press release ~ Office of the Legal Services Complaints Commissioner ~ Legal Services Ombudsman (LSO) ~ Law Society Complaints Procedure ~ Summary of Performance Measures and Statistics: Consumer Complaints Service January 2006 ~ Guide to choosing a legal adviser ~ The Future of Legal Services: Putting Consumers First ~ Solicitors (Compensation for Inadequate Professional Services) Order
MOD: The government claims that the protection of the Ministry of Defence's (MOD) most sensitive sites has been ‘strengthened’ by the implementation of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCAP) which, from 1 April 2006, has made it a criminal offence to trespass on designated sites.
The only defence to a charge of criminal trespass is that the trespasser did not know and had no reasonable cause to suspect, that the site where the offence was committed was designated under SOCAP. Any person found guilty of criminal trespass is liable to a fine of up to £5,000, or a custodial sentence of up to 51 weeks in England and Wales, (up to 12 months in Scotland), or both.
The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, as amended by the Terrorism Act 2006, will in due course also provide for the offence of criminal trespass at nuclear sites licensed by the Health & Safety Executive.
Press release ~ Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 ~ MOD note on SOCAP ~ Ministry of Defence website ~ Terrorism Act 2006
DCA: Those who fail to pay fines handed down by magistrates' courts or sums of money ordered in High Court judgments will now find their names recorded in a new public register. The new Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines will include these details together with county court judgments, county court administration orders and Child Support Agency liability orders.
For the first time the Register will bring together details of all those defaulting on various financial judgments, replacing the Register of County Court Judgments established in 1852. Information from the Register is used by lenders to assess a person's creditworthiness and those who try to avoid payment may find their ability to obtain employment, housing or other services restricted.
Press release ~ County Court Judgments ~ DCA – Enforcement Review ~ Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines Regulations 2005 ~ Registry Trust Ltd
DCA: All 99 Crown courts in England & Wales are now using the award-winning computer system known as XHIBIT (eXchanging Hearing Information By Internet Technology), which provides information on court hearings to victims & witnesses of crime and crime-fighters.
On average, 19,000 hearing updates and nearly 2,000 documents per day, including lists, orders & results are sent to the XHIBIT Portal, helping court users, such as the police, prosecutors and witness groups, to obtain necessary case details in minutes rather than days. The public can also track court hearings online or via public display screens in the court building.
Only 3% of police time in court is spent giving evidence and only 54% of witnesses gave evidence on the day called with 17% waiting more than four hours.
Press release ~ Victim Support ~ National Offender Management Service (NOMS) ~ XHIBIT ~ Her Majesty's Courts Service ~ UK Police Service ~ CPS ~ Police National Computer ~ CJS Witness Section ~ NAO - Crown Prosecution Service: Effective use of Magistrates’ Court Hearings - Full report (1Mb) ~ Summary ~ No Witness, No Justice
HSE: The Offshore Installations (Safety Case) Regulations 2005 become law last week, replacing the Offshore Installations (Safety Case) Regulations 1992. The 2005 Regulations reflect the experience & changes in the offshore oil & gas industry since 1993 and are intended to cut bureaucracy for industry and allow Health & Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors to carry out more planned interventions.
Transitional arrangements will apply to all existing safety cases. Operations Notice 69 was published on HSE's website in November 2005 and provides guidance for duty holders on these.
Press release ~ Offshore Installations (Safety Case) Regulations 2005 SI No 205/3117 ~ Transitional arrangements ~ HSE information sheet
ODPM: New powers, under the Housing Act 2004, to improve management of private rented sector properties through licensing, to bring long-term empty homes back into use and to improve the health & safety of occupants in dwellings, have come into force.
Further measures to safeguard tenants' deposits are scheduled to come into force in October.
Press release ~ Housing Act 2004 ~ ODPM Private Renting website ~ Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) ~ Selective Licensing ~ The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) ~ Management Orders ~ Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMO) ~ Codes of Practice for University and Colleges of Higher and Further Education ~ see also HERE ~ Residential Property Tribunals ~ Tenancy Deposit protection
HMRC: HM Revenue & Customs is simplifying the way tax is collected from retirement annuities as part of a plan to help make sure that retired people don't pay more tax than is due on their annuities paid out of retirement annuity contracts (RACs). HMRC is also offering help to them to reclaim any tax overpaid on this income in recent years.
There are 1.2 million retirement annuity contracts (RACs) in payment at present, of which around 80% are less than £3,000 per annum. Up to 2 million more are due to enter into payment over the next 15 years.
Currently, basic rate tax of 22% is deducted from retirement annuities unless people have declared that they are not liable to tax. As a result people who are only liable to pay basic rate tax on part of their annuity, as well as lower rate or non-taxpayers, can have tax taken off and then have to claim this back at the end of the tax year. From 6 April 2007 HMRC will collect any tax due on income from retirement annuities under the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system.
Press release ~ HMRC - retirement annuity contracts ~ and HERE
OFT: Credit card default charges have generally been set at a significantly higher level than is legally fair according to the OFT and these current practices have led to unlawful penalty charges currently in excess of £300m a year.
The OFT now expects all credit card issuers to recalculate their default charges in line with the principles set out in a statement just published and to take urgent action where needed to reduce the level of credit card default fees. The industry has until 31 May to respond to the statement.
These principles also apply to default charges in other consumer contracts such as those for bank overdrafts, store cards and mortgages
Press release ~ Calculating fair default charges in credit card contracts ~ Guide for consumers ~ Credit Card Repayment Calculator
OFT: The Payment Systems Task Force has recommended a number of changes to improve the governance arrangements of LINK, the UK's leading automated teller machine (ATM) switching network. Its Working Group found that LINK had introduced many innovative features in recent years, but agreed that it would still benefit from changes to its governance.
The Working Group also concluded that members of the LINK card scheme and Post Office Ltd should continue to explore if a way acceptable to all parties can be found that would allow free cash withdrawals at Post Office counters for all consumers holding a current account with a major financial institution.
Press release ~ Payment Systems Task Force ~ LINK Access and Governance Working Group report (1Mb) ~ LINK Interchange Network Ltd response ~ LINK homepage ~ OFT report 'UK payment systems' 2003
Pensions Regulator: The Pensions Regulator's final draft code of practice - Member-nominated trustees and directors - putting arrangements in place - has been published on the regulator's website. This will give trustees and other interested parties the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the intended code of practice.
It will provide trustees with practical guidance on how to comply with legislation regarding the appointment of member-nominated trustees and member-nominated directors. Trustees are required to ensure that arrangements are in place (and implemented) for at least one third of trustees to be member-nominated; or at least one third of directors of the trustee company to be member-nominated.
The arrangements must include a nomination process & selection process and comply with other statutory requirements. Guidance will be published shortly covering timings and transitional issues. Trustees of occupational schemes and their advisers should note that they must comply with regulations that come into force on 6 April 2006, even where associated codes of practice are to be issued at a later date.
Press release ~ Member-nominated trustees and directors - putting arrangements in place
FSA: The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has issued a consultation paper (closes 6 June 2006) outlining proposals to remove the statutory audit requirements under the Companies Act for small firms and Appointed Representatives (ARs). Most of the firms that benefit are likely to be financial advisers and the FSA estimates that this would save 3,200 small firms and 1,490 ARs £12.9m each year.
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