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Showing posts from June 11, 2013

Should pensioners pay back their winter fuel benefits?

For many pensioners, the package of additional benefits that is paid on top of the state pension  provides a vital boost to their tight budgets. But a row has broken out within the Coalition over the fact that the benefits - worth several hundred pounds - are paid out in equal amounts to the UK's richest and poorest pensioners. It has prompted work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith to this week call on wealthy retirees to give up or pay back their winter fuel payments, free bus passes and free TV licences if they can afford to do without them. Pay it back: Iain Duncan Smith has encouraged wealthy pensioners to forego winter fuel payments, free buss passes and free TV licences. How much are these benefits worth? Everyone born on or before July 5, 1951 (aged 61 or over), is entitled to a winter fuel payment of £200 to help with heating bills when the cold weather sets in. The amount rises to £300 for those over 80. Payments are made in November or December and are pa

HMRC officials trawl USA and Australian data in super rich tax haven crackdown

Customs officials are trawling computer records from the USA and Australia as part of its crackdown on wealthy tax cheats. Hundreds of people in the UK are already being investigated for offshore tax evasion by HMRC as its analysts study 400 gigabytes of data provided by America's Internal Revenue Service and the Australian Taxation Office. Chancellor George Osborne has warned that cheats have nowhere to hide, with early results already unearthing companies and trusts in tax 'havens' like Singapore, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and the Cook Islands, which are being used to hide the assets of the rich. Hidden getaway: The rich are using offshore tax havens like the Cayman Islands to hide their assets. He said: 'The message is simple: if you evade tax, we're coming after you. The Government has invested hundreds of millions of pounds to fund the fight against tax evasion, both at home and abroad. 'This data is another weapon in HMRC's a

ENTERPRISE ZONE: Peter aims to p-p-pep up the tourism trade

It is better known for its gritty industrial heritage, but the Local Enterprise Partnership has plans to make Dudley a tourist destination. Dudley Zoo and Castle chief executive Peter Suddock is celebrating the attraction’s 75th anniversary today with the launch of Penguin Bay, featuring one of the largest collections of Humboldt penguins. He says: ‘There is a scheme to link us with the Dudley Museum and Art Gallery and the Dudley Canal Trust to encourage people to come to the town for a day out.’ A common entrance and car park for the three attractions is planned and transport links between the sites are being improved. The zoo and castle’s turnover has tripled in 10 years to around £3 million. Suddock says: ‘We support other local firms, such as Teddy Grays confectionery in Dudley,  who have made our sticks of rock since the zoo opened in 1937 – one of only three places in the country making sticks of rock. We source locally wherever we can.’

ENTERPRISE ZONE: 6,400 jobs in the zone, according to Local Enterprise Partnership,

An Enterprise Zone which was approved in August last year will create up to 6,400 new jobs, the Local Enterprise Partnership believes. The zone is made up of 320 acres of development sites in Darlaston and Wolverhampton North and its status means firms could benefit from incentives such as a 100 per cent business rate discount, relaxed planning laws, superfast broadband and enhanced capital allowances for machinery. Flying high: Moog will make spacecraft controls in the new regeneration zone Of the 22 zones chosen by Government, the Black Country’s zone is one of only six with 100 per cent capital allowances. So far three firms are moving in. Jaguar Land Rover is investing £355 million in an advanced engine manufacturing facility on the site. Moog will occupy a 200,000 sq ft building to make systems to control space vehicles, medical equipment, missiles, satellites and commercial aircraft. Meanwhile bio-analytical testing firm Eurofins UK is in the process of completing

ENTERPRISE ZONE: Winners in race for Olympic contracts

The Black Country is benefiting from the forthcoming Olympics, with figures showing that nearly 50 businesses have won contracts from the London 2012 Games and associated projects. Areport by the Black Country Consortium shows that at least one company in each of the 13 parliamentary constituencies has been awarded a contract, many of them through the supplier portal The value of the Black Country Olympic contracts is £415 million. It is estimated that about 7,000 supplier contracts worth £6 billion in total were made available nationwide for the 2012 games. Alucast in Wednesbury, secured a deal to cast parts for the London 2012 Games torch. The company, which employs about 100 staff and expects to reach £8 million turnover this year, was chosen by Coventry-based Premier Group to manufacture the caps for the torch. Dudley-based bathroom products-maker Thomas Dudley & Co and steel mesh manufacturer Hickman and Love also won contracts. Construction giant Carillion, w

ENTERPRISE ZONE: 'Inclusive spirit' brightens Black Country's outlook

Once a world leader as the engine of growth in the industrial revolution, the Black Country has seen more than 1,000 businesses go to the wall in the past year. And it is now below the national average for the number of start-ups per head of population, according to a State of the Region report by the Black Country Consortium, an organisation promoting regeneration in the area. Despite this, Stewart Towe, chairman of the Black Country’s Local Enterprise Partnership, one of 39 in England that bring local authorities and private businesses together, is optimistic. Home cooking: Pargat's Narinder Kaur is hoping to lessen reliance on imports Towe, who also owns steel frame-maker Hadley Group in Smethwick, says: ‘There’s a new agenda and an inclusive spirit that wasn’t there before. Successes include securing millions of pounds of investment for the Black Country.’ The Partnership covers 31,245 small and medium-sized firms in Wolverhampton, Walsall, West Bromwich and Brier

Sterling outlook: What next for the pound?

Is the pound weak or strong or middling? Opinions on the health or otherwise of sterling tend to differ so drastically, it's sometimes hard to believe the same numbers are being watched. It's a financial benchmark that allows divergent interpretations, and even carries some emotional baggage: some constituencies take pride in a strong sterling, as an indicator of British economic virility, and a harbinger of cheaper Continental holidays. Financial authorities and Governments take a more pragmatic view and in straitened economic times are generally happy for the pound to weaken, hoping it will give a shot in the arm to exports and rebalance the economy. Gaining currency: The pound's recent appreciation is a tale of euro weakness Aside from what is desirable, the pound exchange rate at any one time will be called weak by some and strong by others. There's a camp that decries the current €1.25 that the pound buys, preferring to remember the €1.50 of six years ago r

1 in 3 Post Offices to close due to pay cut

  Thousands more post offices could disappear over the next two years, the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters warns today. Squeezed: Sub-postmaster Bhavna Desai faces a pay cut. It says a 'totally unacceptable' pay cut being imposed on its members is putting around a third of businesses in danger of collapse. George Thomson, the federation's general secretary, said a 'double squeeze' of falling income from Post Office Limited, and soaring staff and utility bills meant many post offices were struggling to stay afloat. And he warned that with just 11,500 remaining across Britain, another 3,000 were at risk of closing. Post Office Limited pays all the country's 9,000 sub-postmasters a fixed income, known as a 'core tier payment'. Although the amount varies according to the size of the business, all receive a minimum of £10,000 a year. But Mr Thomson said this is set to drop this month by an average of £100 a month, or £1,200 a year. At

Thousands more post offices face closure

  If your community still has a local post office, you are lucky. Treasure it - it may not be there for long. In the past decade one in three rural post offices has closed. Fighting on: Carrington residents took their campaign to Downing Street That works out at a shameful four closures per week and the loss in total of about 2,400 rural branches. Towns and suburbs also lost thousands of their branches, though these were often less publicised. Taken together, about 2,500 rural and urban branches have closed in the past two years alone, leaving a network of 12,000, down from 18,000 when Labour came to office in 1997. Post Office Limited, part of Royal Mail, says it wants to maintain the network as it is. But the reality is that many branches are no longer viable. And the recession - coupled with the move to providing services online that used to be carried out over the counter - has proved to be the final straw. The National Federation of SubPostmasters, which represents t

£1.3bn Post Office lifeline

  The beleaguered post office network was thrown a £1.3bn lifeline by ministers last night in an effort to prevent a repeat of mass branch closures under Labour. New deal: Newe cash should protect branches. Unveiling details of the controversial Royal Mail sell-off yesterday, Business Secretary Vince Cable said he was determined to protect the future of branches, which will not be included in the sale. Mr Cable added that ministers are looking at plans to turn the network into a John Lewis-style mutual company in which staff, sub-postmasters and communities have a share. But he revealed the Treasury has also approved a £1.3bn subsidy package to prop up and modernise it over the next four years. He added the package, which effectively doubles the level of subsidy to the network, meant there would be no repeat of the mass closure programmes forced through by the last government. The Business Department said the money would be used to modernise and improve services, including e

Promise of new era for post offices

  There will be 'no closures on our watch', Business Secretary Vince Cable said last week of Britain's 11,500 remaining post offices. Saved: Postmasters Peter and Sue Knight are staying for the moment. 'We have heard loud and clear how much the public values a large network.' The Government also acknowledged widespread public anger over the 5,000 closures under Labour, disclosing that 3.5m people signed protest petitions. Cable's pledge came as the Government unveiled further details of how Royal Mail would be hived off from the branches. Eventually it is planned that the Post Office will become a 'mutual' along the lines of the John Lewis Partnership or the Co-op. In the short term, new money will go towards branch refurbishments and projects aimed at increasing custom and creating profit from the network, which has been losing money since 2000. More Government services will be distributed over post office counters and there will be new

Post Office to lose £20m contract

  The Post Office network is on the verge of losing a crucial contract to process benefit cheques worth £20m a year. Trusted service: Government is warned vulnerable people won't feel confident using new technology to collect benefits Ministers are set to hand the work to Paypoint, denying post offices the chance to provide the vital service for the hundreds of thousands who lack a bank account. The move will mean 331,490 vulnerable people - including pensioners, the disabled and unemployed - would no longer be able to cash benefit cheques at their local post office. They will instead have to find a shop that takes Paypoint, a system accessed through a swipe card or barcoded bill. Post offices will also come under threat of closure, having already lost out as payments and renewals of many licences and services switch to the internet. Consumer Focus, a watchdog group, wrote to pensions minister Steve Webb yesterday telling him that post offices are the most trusted inst

Post Office to lose £20m contract

  The Post Office network is on the verge of losing a crucial contract to process benefit cheques worth £20m a year. Trusted service: Government is warned vulnerable people won't feel confident using new technology to collect benefits Ministers are set to hand the work to Paypoint, denying post offices the chance to provide the vital service for the hundreds of thousands who lack a bank account. The move will mean 331,490 vulnerable people - including pensioners, the disabled and unemployed - would no longer be able to cash benefit cheques at their local post office. They will instead have to find a shop that takes Paypoint, a system accessed through a swipe card or barcoded bill. Post offices will also come under threat of closure, having already lost out as payments and renewals of many licences and services switch to the internet. Consumer Focus, a watchdog group, wrote to pensions minister Steve Webb yesterday telling him that post offices are the most trusted inst

One in three post offices may shut after sell-off

  More than one in three post offices could be closed under Government privatisation plans for the Royal Mail, it is feared. Trouble in the post: The country may be left with only a skeleton post office network. The official customer body, Consumer Focus, believes that the country may be left with only a skeleton post office network. It says safeguards are needed to ensure key parts of the Post Office role, such as the collection of parcels, are not hived off to supermarkets or other retailers. The branch network has been savaged since 1980, with the number of post offices reduced from 22,000 to 11,900. This was partly due to the Government ceasing to use post offices for payment of most pensions and benefits, which are now automatically put into bank accounts. Consumer Focus believes the total number of post offices may be cut by a further 37% - 4,400 - to the legal minimum of 7,500, unless safeguards are put in place. Currently, the Royal Mail pays Post Offices Ltd £343m a

Post Office 'lites' face heavy fire

  Trials by Post Office bosses to cut costs with a network of 'lite' branches with only limited services have been sharply criticised by a Government watchdog. Headache: Hilery Bond couldn't use her mobility scooter In November, the Government pledged a £1.34 billion survival package to keep the 11,500-strong network of post offices alive until 2015. But a scheme to replace many subpost offices with cut-price 'post office local' alternatives, to be run by corner shops, garages and other outlets is being carried out. About 60 'locals' - sometimes branded 'essentials' - have been operating for months and their performance was the subject of a report published last week by the Consumer Focus watchdog. The report, called Local but Limited, found that more than half of all users were not impressed with the moneysaving idea. It highlighted the fact that 'locals' don't offer popular services such as basic banking, certain bill payme

Sell-off 'could shut 9,000 post offices'

  Up to 9,300 post offices could close as a result of the Government's sell-off of the Royal Mail, research reveals. Blow: The deal with Royal Mail is now indoubt. The dire prediction will worry millions of people living in villages. In many cases, their post office is the only shop and provides a vital service, particularly for those without cars. The network is already a shadow of its former self, having collapsed in size from 19,000 when Labour came to power in 1997 to just 11,500. But it could shrink even further, according to the research commissioned by the Communication Workers' Union. It comes as Labour today calls for the plans to sell off Royal Mail to be scrapped, and for the company to remain publicly owned. The research found most sub-postmasters, who run post offices, typically as part of a small shop, are desperately worried about their future. Their anxiety surrounds the Government's refusal to sign an 'inter-business agreement' between

Post Office delivers a trail of betrayals and closures

Whitstable is famous for its oysters, but the picturesque Kent resort may soon lose one of its pearls – its Crown post office. It has been earmarked for closure along with one in five of the flagship branches throughout Britain. The Post Office plans to cull 70 of the 373 Crown branches – the major high street outlets run directly by the Post Office. This follows the closure of 8,000 sub-post offices in towns and villages over the past decade. Ten years ago there were about 19,000, now barely 11,500 survive. Target: Whitstable's Crown post office may soon close, to the fury of locals such as Anita Rule The Crown closures are the latest of half a dozen such ‘initiatives’ in recent years – though the word  closure is never used by the Post Office – that have left a trail of broken promises. The Post Office claims the latest closures are part of a ‘transformation’ in which no branch will be forced to shut but will instead operate from a shop. But many of the 30,000 residents of


  Whether you're reading the newspaper, listening to the radio, or watching the TV you can almost guarantee that the topic of health and wellness will come up. It's not surprising considering that GPs are reporting huge increases in obesity, diabetes and mental illness diagnoses. According to the Government's Foresight Think Tank, by 2050, 60% of men, 50% of women and 25% of children in Britain will be clinically obese, with related health problems costing more than £45 billion a year. The nation's healthcare professionals are predicting that a time bomb is ticking for the UK's health and the strain on the NHS, let alone on industry and therefore the UK economy, will be immense. These stark warnings are certainly prompting change. In her report – Working for a Healthier Tomorrow - Dame Carol Black, the National Director for Health and Work, proposed a radical overhaul of the system that will see the demise of the sick-note and the rise of the 'fit-

Financial guide to Beat the downturn

  Steering a steady course in these stormy times Find out more about the Financial Mail and Lloyds TSB guide Beat the downturn. Downturn or depression. Slump or slowdown. Whatever you call it, our world has changed dramatically over the past 12 months. This guide, produced by The Mail on Sunday in association with Lloyds TSB, is designed to help you come through the downturn with your finances in the best possible shape. It is easy to feel powerless in the face of current economic turbulence. But even in a downturn there are strategies for success: ways that you can help yourself to prosper through difficult times. Written by Stephen Womack, one of Financial Mail's leading personal finance correspondents, there is a fact-packed section of tips to help you stretch your spending further and to increase your income. Take control of your spending, with our detailed guide to budgeting. Downsize your debts and get on top of problem payments. Become a savvy saver, learn

Lloyds TSB explains the changes on Isa over-50 limits

  More than 21 million savers who are 50 years old and over will soon be eligible to benefit from an increased tax free ISA allowance. Research from Lloyds TSB, however, reveals that nearly two thirds (61%) of over 50s surveyed do not understand the approaching ISA changes. As part of this year's budget, the Chancellor announced that the total ISA limit would increase from £7,200 to £10,200, £5,100 of which can be saved in cash. For those born on or before 5 April 1960 the new limits come into effect on October 6th 2009, whilst younger customers will need to wait until the start of the 2010/2011 tax year next April. How will the changes affect me? Lloyds TSB have teamed up with This is Money to explain the changes to the ISA allowance. Click here to download a guide , written by This is Money's savings expert, Alan O'Sullivan. How will Lloyds TSB customers benefit from the change? Lloyds TSB customers can take full advantage of the increased limits, a

Restaurant discounts | 2 for 1 dining | Reader offer from This is Money

  The idea of getting discounts at over 3,000 restaurants sound good, doesn't it? The Gourmet Society Dining Card offers discounts ranging from 50% off your food bill to 25% off the total bill and 2 for 1 on one, two or three courses. And you can get money off a card through This is Money. Discounts are available nationwide on both well-known chain restaurants and independent eateries.   Exclusive This is Money offer Annual membership usually costs £53.50, but with This is Money's discount you can join for just £33.50 with an additional two months FREE. Get your exclusive discount now              All restaurants offer one of the following: - 2 for 1 on a minimum of a main course - 50% off the food bill for a group of people - 25% off the total bill (including drinks) for a group of people Plus, you can get additional discounts on companies like Oddbins, Nicky Clarke, The AA and Thorntons. Want to find out more? - Find out how it works - Read

Home Energy | British Gas EnergySmart™| This is Money

  A revolution in the way you pay for and control your home energy. Free electricity monitor Enter your own meter reading online or by text/SMS Monthly billing, based on your actual usage Save up to £150 with EnergySmart™ Find out more at™ EnergySmart ™ is a revolutionary new way to manage your home energy, helping you to use less and save money. We have taken your feedback and introduced new ways of monitoring and paying for your home's energy. Firstly, you can pay monthly, rather than quarterly, and based on actual usage rather than estimated bills based on average usage over the year – no more huge debit or credit statements! Secondly, you can enter your own meter reading online or by SMS. Don't worry if you forget, we can still estimate if we need to. Thirdly you can manage your account online, and see graphs of usage, and hints and tips to reduce your energy usage and spend. On top of savings made from seeing and control

Win an iPad in our competition

  This competition has now closed. Congratulations to Paul Bennett from Leicestershire who won the iPad. With fears of house prices falling again and the possibility of a double-dip recession on its way, it has never been more important to pay close attention to your personal finances and ensure that you are maximising your savings and investments. Prize: Get your hands on an Ipad while they're still a must-have gadget Making the best financial decisions for you and your family is always hard, but in the current climate it can feel even scarier. An independent financial adviser (IFA) is best placed to look at your finances as a whole and can help you reach your own financial goals – whatever these may be. Unlike other types of financial advice, an IFA can access products from the whole of the market place, acting on your behalf to ensure you have the best possible products for your individual circumstances. This is Money has teamed up with, the profe

Inheritance tax on retirement flats: Families left a home face huge bills

Thousands of families are being left with huge bills after inheriting retirement homes. Money Mail can reveal how beneficiaries of retirement flats are finding themselves with a property they cannot sell, rent out or even move into. Instead, many are left forking out thousands of pounds a year for service charges and face sky-high fees if they do sell the property. Home curse: Janice Gill and Margaret Morris have been unable to sell their mum's flat for 3 and half years on the market (case study below) Around 200,000 pensioners own retirement homes. They are marketed as a hassle-free way for people to spend their final years. The flats often come with a warden and communal areas such as a garden and restaurant. But when a relative dies and passes on their home it can cause a financial headache. Richard Townsend-Rose, of CarlEX, a campaign group set up to help leaseholders, says: ‘Many older people move into retirement flats because they think it will offer them a ca

Can I get an early inheritance to buy my first home?

> We are struggling to find the money for a deposit on a house. If I asked for a part of my inheritance now what would be the implications for them? AR, Suffolk Property ladder: Most would be first-time buyers find it very tough to clamber on Linda Mckay, of This is Money, replies: The rising cost of living means that many of those aged under 40 are asking for part, or all, of their legacy ahead of time. Grown up children, such as yourself, may be in desperate need of cash to pay off debts, for a property deposit, to get through a period of unemployment, for university fees for their own children or even to pay for a wedding. Many taxes are unavoidable but inheritance tax is a very simple tax and one that can be limited with planning. It seems you have a virtuous circle where you need funds now and possibly your parents don't. It is potentially a win-win situation, the only loser is the taxman. According to HMRC the annual gift allowance is £3,000, although your parents cou

Top tax tricks: How to avoid a tax raid on your inheritance

Little-known tax tricks could help thousands of families avoid a raid on their inheritance by HM Revenue & Customs, or at least cap the impact. Inheritance tax (IHT) receipts increased to more than £2.7billion in the year to April 2011 — an annual rise of 14 per cent. Sizeable estates will inevitably invite a tax bill, but middle-class families can eliminate or limit IHT with some preparation and professional advice. Tax laws also allow wealth to be portioned, or drip-fed, to families each year, so make full use of the benefits. For you: Inheriting an estate above £325,000 for an individual or £650,000 for a couple will be subject to a 40 per cent charge WHAT ARE THE RULES? If your estate — which includes everything from property and possessions to and savings — is below £325,000 for an individual (or £650,000 for a couple), there is no inheritance tax to pay. But anything your beneficiaries inherit above this exemption will be subject to a 40 per cent charge. This can

Royal Bank of Scotland in £1.4bn bump on road to recovery

Royal Bank of Scotland blamed an accounting quirk after slumping to a £1.4bn loss for the first three months of the year, but hailed great progress in its long road to recovery. The state-backed bank preferred to focus on operating profits, which swelled to £1.2bn from a £144m loss a year ago. But its figures were tarnished by a charge on its own debts of £2.46bn, which resulted from it being deemed more able to pay back investors. Step in the right direction: Stephen Hester says RBS making ‘excellent progress’ The bank confirmed it was about to complete an important step in its rehabilitation by paying off the final slice of the £163bn in UK and US taxpayer-backed emergency loans borrowed at the height of the crisis. But RBS played down the prospect of an imminent sell-off of the taxpayer’s 82 per cent stake, worth less than half the £45.5bn paid for it Boss Stephen Hester also glossed over speculation about talks to sell a stake to Middle East investors, saying: ‘As fa

Blow for holiday homeowners as ruling making them exempt from inheritance tax is quashed

Thousands of UK holiday home owners who let their properties could now be hit with big inheritance tax bills after a landmark ruling allowing them relief was quashed by a tribunal. Those hoping to leave behind a substantial nest-egg for their children will be hit by a ruling by the Upper Tribunal that means they will no longer be able to claim business property relief on their furnished holiday lets. There are currently around 65,000 owners of such properties, and claiming the relief would exempt them from up to 100 per cent inheritance tax. Home woe-ner: Furnished holiday lets will no longer be exempt from inheritance tax after a landmark ruling was quashed on Thursday. But yesterday's ruling means that holiday homes will be treated the same as other assets and will count towards a person's estate on death. Inheritance tax of 40 per cent is due on assets exceeding £325,000, a threshold that should stay the same until at least April 2015. The latest decision reverses a t