Thursday 22 October 2015

Thursday, October 22, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
Posted by Hari on Thursday, October 22, 2015 with No comments | Labels:

Students win £100,000 after going on rent strike over rat-infested homes
The 87 tenants of Campbell House West had refused to pay rent to University College London since May and were initially threatened with academic sanctions and exclusion from their courses. But after an inquiry, a university complaints panel has now ordered the institution to pay the tenants  £1,300 each, the equivalent of a full term’s rent rebate. Students had complained that demolition work near the property had made it impossible to sleep, study, and revise and that the building was infested with rats and mice. In May, research by the charity Citizens Advice published found that tenants in the private sector spend £5.6bn in rent every year to live in homes that can make them sick or kill them. An inquiry by the charity found 740,000 privately rented homes across England contain serious risks to health including severe damp, rat infestations, and risks of explosion. Privately rented accommodation was in a significantly worse state to council and housing association property. Sixteen per cent of all privately rented homes were found to physically unsafe, compared to just six per cent in the socially rented sector. Eight per cent of private homes were found to have serious damp, which can contribute to chronic illnesses such as bronchitis, eczema, and asthma. Six per cent were excessively cold and ten per cent risked a risk of dangerous fall; both of these factors present significant hazards for elderly people. INDEPENDENT

EU to force Starbucks and Fiat to pay back millions of Euros in unpaid taxes
The European Union said it will require Starbucks Corp. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to pay tens of millions of euros in back taxes after ruling that tax deals they negotiated with two European governments were illegal, in an unprecedented decision by regulators that risks blowing open thousands of corporate tax structures across Europe. The investigations are technically aimed at the governments, which have been ordered to recover the unpaid taxes. The sums to be reclaimed are modest—amounting to between €20 million ($22.6 million) and €30 million for each company. And Wednesday’s decisions are widely expected to be appealed at the EU’s courts in Luxembourg, a process that can take years. But experts said the probes have already created a chill in corporate board rooms across the continent. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of companies have used Luxembourg’s holding-company rules to reduce their tax burden from the country’s official 29% rate to almost nothing, according to documents disclosed last year by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. EU regulators are working on three similar investigations involving Apple Inc. in Ireland and Inc. in Luxembourg, as well as the Belgian tax discount involving AB InBev. The tax probes are a high priority for the commission and have been repeatedly widened in recent months, as regulators requested hundreds of tax agreements from all 28 EU countries. EU policy makers are eager to close loopholes in the fragmented tax system that allow international groups to sidestep billions of euros in tax at a time of tough national austerity. The scrutiny of complex tax structures may help level the playing field for startups and smaller firms that cannot afford to engage in such arrangements. One fallout from Wednesday’s rulings, experts said, may be to bolster interest in financial centers in the Far East, the Middle East or the Caribbean, away from the watchful gaze of EU regulators. WALL STREET JOURNAL

Tory MP attacks George Osborne's tax credit plans in maiden speech
A Conservative MP has used her maiden speech in the House of Commons to lambast George Osborne for planning to penalise low-paid workers with cuts to tax credits. In a pointed address, Heidi Allen said the cuts fail David Cameron’s “family test” and are driven by the chancellor’s mistaken decision to run an overall budget surplus. Allen, the Tory MP for Cambridgeshire South, was heard in silence as she tore into the government over its tax credit plans. Allen, who said she decided to enter parliament after she feared that Britain was on the verge of a break up during the 2011 London riots, accused the government of naivety in claiming low-paid workers could easily earn more by working extra hours. The MP also challenged ministers’ claims that workers will not lose out if all tax and benefit changes are considered over the lifetime of this parliament. The chancellor faced further pressure to water down his plans after Conservative MPs David Davis and Zac Goldsmith signed a cross-party motion calling on the government to do more to protect low-paid workers. GUARDIAN

Bank regulation: Treasury abandons senior bankers’ accountability rule
One of the most contentious parts of a tough new accountability regime for top executives in the financial sector is to be excised in a move that will be welcomed by Britain’s banks. Just as the Senior Managers Regime is to be extended to the entire financial sector, the Treasury has abandoned the “reversal of burden of proof” rule that would have held senior managers to account for failings on their watch, with the threat of a fine or a ban. Banks were so concerned by the proposal they had high-level meetings with the Bank of England about it as recently as last week, according to people familiar with the situation. Instead — as part of the Bank of England and Financial Services Bill to be introduced to the House of Lords — senior managers across the financial sector will have a statutory duty of responsibility to take all appropriate steps to prevent a regulatory breach from occurring, but it will be up to the watchdog to prove that such steps were not followed. The Bank of England said in a statement the change was one of “process rather than substance” and urged firms to comply with both the spirit and letter of the law. Abandoning the reversal of the burden of proof is one move in a series of recent steps to appease banks, some of whom have threatened to move their headquarters in response to regulation that they regard as too heavy-handed. FINANCIAL TIMES

Average monthly rent hits record high of £816, highlighting housing shortage
Inflation may have dipped into minus figures, but rents have leapt by an average of between 6.3% and 8.5% over the past year, according to two reports, highlighting the dramatic extent to which the cost of a place to live has uncoupled from the cost of living. The average rent paid by private tenants in England and Wales reached a record high of £816 per month in September, compared with £768 a year earlier, said letting agents Your Move and Reeds Rains. Meanwhile, the latest official inflation figures showed UK prices were 0.1% lower than this time last year. Housing charity Shelter said the figures “highlight the plight of an entire generation stuck in insecure and expensive private renting”. On Tuesday, official figures underlined the continuing difficulty of buying, as UK house prices surged to a record peak of £284,000 on average in August. Landlords have plenty to be happy about. Higher rents combined with the growth in property values mean that on average, landlords in England and Wales have seen returns of 9.4% over the year to 30 September – up from 8.9% in August. This translates into an average total return of £16,950 before deductions such as maintenance and mortgage payments. GUARDIAN

Royal Institution to sell science treasures by Darwin, Newton, Kepler to rescue finances
Ninety works spanning three centuries of scientific inquiry are to go under the hammer at Christie’s in December, in an attempt to plug a £2m hole in the finances of the UK’s most venerable science charity, the Royal Institution. The groundbreaking works in the history of medicine, science and the natural world include first editions from scientific luminaries such as Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Leonhard Euler, Johannes Kepler and Alexander von Humboldt. They will be put up for auction on 1 December 2015. The selection ranges from the 16th to the 19th century, many of the volumes given added lustre by their connection to an institution founded in 1799 for “diffusing the knowledge” of science and technology. According to Stefania Pandakovic, Christie’s head of sale, the “fantastic” selection includes books “which have not been on the market for over 200 years”. “These works are not just some of the most important scientific texts from the last 400 years, offering a history of the development of science since the 16th century, but are also very special because of their connection with the Royal Institution,” Pandakovic said. “Many of them were donated by their authors, which makes them unique.” The Royal Institution has been struggling with its finances since the completion of a £22m refurbishment of its central London headquarters in 2008. The project was intended to turn the Albermarle Street building into a “salon” for science and attract a wider audience. But during the economic downturn visitor numbers didn’t keep pace with running costs and by 2013, the charity found itself £7m in debt. GUARDIAN

Corporate giants including Coca-Cola and Walmart back Obama's climate change push
Dozens of corporate giants have backed President Obama's drive to strike a climate deal at talks in Paris next month. The White House said that another 68 companies had agreed to measures such as using renewable energy and reducing water wastage. The businesses will also take steps to cut carbon emissions. They join 12 firms including Apple and General Motors that signed up in July. GE has pledged to invest $10b in clean energy by 2020, while Apple plans to make 280 megawatts of clean power generation available by the end of next year. Mr Obama has failed to get the Republican-controlled Congress to approve climate change legislation. Republicans have claimed that these laws would be bad for US business, but the President will hope support of dozens of America's largest companies will make it harder for them to make such an argument. "The perception is that this is an environmental issue, it's for tree-huggers, and hardheaded business people either don't care about it, or see it as a conflict with their bottom lines," said President Obama, adding: "Considerations of climate change, energy efficiency, renewable energies are not only not contradictory to their bottom lines, but for these companies they are discovering that they can enhance their bottom lines." BBC NEWS

More than 12 million fall into UK digital skills gap
Go.On UK, a charity set up to promote digital skills, has produced what it calls a digital exclusion heatmap, pinpointing the areas where people are most likely to miss out on the digital revolution. Where skills are lacking, poverty and a lack of infrastructure are part of the story. Wales has the lowest levels of internet access and places like Merthyr Tydfil are amongst the poorest in the UK. But the charity says the UK isn't doing too badly compared with other countries when it comes to broadband availability, and in our use of mobile devices we are ahead of many of our rivals. So you might think that a country which has taken to online shopping and social media with feverish enthusiasm would also be a leader in digital skills. But it seems that we are a little below average compared with OECD rivals, and well behind countries like Japan, Finland and the Netherlands. Go On UK, chaired by the government's former digital advisor Baroness Martha Lane Fox, is warning of a threat to economic growth, productivity and social mobility if we don't close the skills gap. It is low-skilled work and people most under threat from automation, and digital knowhow will be vital if those people are not to be left stranded as the hi-tech tide sweeps on. BBC NEWS


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