Monthly Archives:September 2017

How to bring down energy bills in winter and other savings

30 Sep 17
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From making the house nice and toasty to tidying up the garden, it’s time to get ready for winter. 

Winter-ready: Think about checking your central heating before you need to turn it on fully

Winter-ready: Think about checking your central heating before you need to turn it on fully

BE PREPARED

Think about checking your central heating before you need to turn it on fully when the cold weather arrives. Sheena Anker, a heating engineer for British Gas, says there is always a big spike in emergency call-outs when the weather changes and temperatures dip.

She says: ‘Most boilers have not been used for months over the spring and summer. That first cold snap of autumn – whenever it comes – is always our most hectic time. That is when boilers are most likely to seize up and things go wrong.’

Households can avoid or reduce problems by having an annual service on their boiler and central heating system – including radiators and gas fires for example. Particularly for older boilers, those aged between ten and 15 years, regular safety checks are important.

‘It is not just about ensuring your boiler is working efficiently,’ says Anker. ‘If something goes wrong and there is carbon monoxide this can be dangerous. We recommend households install carbon monoxide alarms as well as smoke alarms in their property and regularly check they are working.’ A one-off boiler service costs from £80 to £100 depending on where you live and which company you use. Make sure the engineer is Gas Safe registered.

A good service should involve a thorough inspection of the boiler and parts, the pressure and seals and the flue. For a guide to what to expect, consumer group Which? has a free servicing checklist here.

CONSIDER BOILER INSURANCE 

Standalone cover is available for boilers and central heating and many contracts include an annual boiler service as part of the package. But with a high excess, the first part of a claim a policyholder must pay, and restrictions on cover – such as a limit on the number of call-outs per year and exclusions such as no cover for problems due to faulty repairs or installation – it is not surprising this type of cover has received a bad press in the past.

‘Calling in a professional at short notice, perhaps at night or at the weekend, can be horrendously expensive, so an annual boiler service agreement can be an attractive option,’ says Kevin Pratt, insurance expert at comparison website Moneysupermarket. ‘But as with any contract of this sort, hunt down a policy at a reasonable price.’

Think twice about buying the cover offered alongside your energy bill by your supplier. This will almost always be much more expensive – at around £30 per month – more than five times the price of the cheapest standalone plans. The level of cover and service on standalone plans varies between providers so always read the small print but low-cost contracts are available. 

For example, 24/7 Home Rescue has cover from £4.95 a month with a £95 excess, and the AA charges from £5.99 a month with a £99 excess. Neither plan includes an annual boiler service.

HomeCare plans from British Gas start at £12 a month – there is a £60 excess on any claim and an annual boiler service is included. The HomeCare 2 plan covers the boiler and central heating and costs £13.15 a month.

Homeserve offers a boiler-only policy for £5 a month in the first year (there is a £95 excess and a free boiler service in year one only) – the premium then rises to £15.99 in year two. For broader cover most providers also offer plans to cover other home emergencies such as plumbing and burst pipes. Expect to pay from around £15 a month.

¿Hectic¿: British Gas engineer Sheena Anker

‘Hectic’: British Gas engineer Sheena Anker

INSULATE THE HOUSE

Lagging the loft and pipes and getting cavity wall insulation are common ways to warm up the home and bring down energy bills in winter – and avoid burst pipes. They are worthwhile measures but can be costly. Loft insulation can cost around £350, although could cut heating bills by on average £225 a year afterwards.

Other smaller and simple steps taken around the home can make heating more efficient, such as using draught excluders at the foot of doors or windows and putting reflective foil panels behind radiators to push warm air back into the room. Regularly bleed radiators to remove any trapped air which can stop them working efficiently.

All energy suppliers with over 250,000 customers are required to make a certain number of homes more energy efficient as part of their commitment to reduce carbon emissions.

Ask your energy provider about any schemes or grants available. Eligibility is typically based on household income and whether you receive state benefits.

However, some energy companies are even offering to fit energy saving measures – such as cavity wall and loft insulation, which can run into hundreds of pounds – to anyone’s home, not just their customers, for free.

E.On has a scheme, which is available only for a limited time, which will insulate homes which have not had this done before.

However, council tenants, and those living in flats and maisonettes are excluded.

Visit eoninstall.com or call 0330 400 1083.

We spent £4,000 on a new boiler, so cover will rescue us if things go wrong 

Keeping costs low: Steve and Clare

Keeping costs low: Steve and Clare

Like many householders Steve and Clare Davidson had never had their boiler serviced before – and had never bothered with breakdown cover.

But having recently stumped up around £4,000 for a new combi boiler and its installation – including scaffolding outside their period flat in Aberdeen – the couple are now keen to ensure its smooth running and minimise costs if anything does go wrong.

Steve, 54, a manager with a large telecoms company, and Clare, 58, who works in administration at Aberdeen University, chose Scottish Gas (part of British Gas) for the new boiler and installation as they felt it was a trustworthy brand and the pricing was transparent.

They got free HomeCare 2 cover for one year as part of the deal worth £174.

‘You never know with tradespeople if the quoted price at the start will be what you end up paying,’ says Steve.

‘The outlay has been high but we did not pay any more than the agreed price at the outset. As part of the new boiler price we now have breakdown cover included, which will cover any issues that might arise with the boiler.

‘That definitely gives us peace of mind. It is not something I had thought about before but I like the idea we can call and will have reputable tradespeople come out to help.’

SWEEP CHIMNEYS 

There is nothing better than a roaring open fire on a cold day but regular maintenance of the chimney is essential.

There are around 30,000 chimney fires every year, according to professional trade body the National Association of Chimney Sweeps – and they are often caused because the chimney has not been swept.

Regular sweeping removes soot, birds’ nests, cobwebs and other blockages as well as creosote (the tar that builds up in the chimney), which will help to prevent dangerous chimney fires.

Not only is there a safety issue, but also insurers will not usually cover damage due to fire if the chimney had not been swept by a professional chimney sweep.

For more information and to find a chimney sweep in your area consider visiting nacs.org.uk.

Insurers will not usually cover damage due to fire if the chimney had not been swept 

Insurers will not usually cover damage due to fire if the chimney had not been swept 

SORT THE GARDEN 

Putting away the barbecue and the garden furniture is often one of the first signs summer is over. Autumn is a good time to sort out the garden and lock valuable items away securely – either in a shed or the garage. Clear guttering and prune overhanging tree branches which could cause damage to a home in a storm. Trim hedges and secure fences to deter thieves.

If you have made larger purchases over the summer – such as a new barbecue, garden heaters or furniture and power tools – it is advisable to check your insurance cover should they be damaged or stolen. The value of contents in the garden can run into thousands of pounds. Home insurer Aviva reports the average garden claim is more than £800.

Many household insurance policies will cover garden furniture and other items left outdoors, plus trees, plants and shrubs, sometimes as standard but more usually as an optional extra.

Be careful though as terms and conditions will vary widely between providers and there will be limits on the claim, typically at around £1,000 to £1,500 in total – and within this there will be individual item limits. There will usually be a range of exclusions, for example many policies will not cover flood and storm damage for items left in the garden.

Hannah Maundrell, of online comparison website money.co.uk, says: ‘Go through home insurance documents with a fine-tooth comb and be sure to ask about particularly valuable items that are not kept in the house.’

If you have expensive plants or particularly valuable items in the garden or outhouses speak to an independent insurance broker who can seek out specialist cover.

Find one through the British Insurance Brokers’ Association at biba.org.uk.

Check your energy bills – and switch to a cheaper supplier 

Big savings: Sandra Coomber

Big savings: Sandra Coomber

With price rises from the Big Six suppliers kicking in and colder weather just around the corner, it is vital to review your energy bills – and the provider. Chances are you could make a big saving by switching ahead of the winter months.

Claire Osborne, energy expert at price comparison website uSwitch, says householders who have not switched for a few years are likely to make big savings – as much as £300 or more in the first year.

Osborne says: ‘With more than 50 suppliers in the market offering a range of deals, you can find one that suits your needs and can compare not just on price but other things such as customer service, whether they provide green energy and best fixed rates.’

She adds: ‘Whether you choose to go with a large supplier or one of the smaller, newer ones, make sure you are not rolled on to the supplier’s default standard tariff – these are normally the most expensive deals.’

It is important to supply regular meter readings – usually once every three months – to your energy company if you do not have a smart meter which can do this automatically.

Almost six million households never do so and it leads to around half of consumers receiving much higher bills when they finally submit a reading. Retired delivery drivers Sandra and Pete Coomber, both 70, first switched supplier five years ago from E.On to EDF and then again two years ago to First Utility.

The couple, who live in Bristol and have two children and four grandchildren, knew little about the company but the savings looked attractive.

‘We decided to go for a fixed tariff with First Utility for two years,’ says Sandra.

‘It was a bit of a leap in the dark as I didn’t know the company – it was not one of the big names I recognised.

‘But we are set to save almost £300 over two years. Switching is simple, the energy companies do all the work for you. The savings make a big difference to us.’

 





Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

Reported LGBT purge in Azerbaijan Reveals Canada must do more

30 Sep 17
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Human-rights activists state Azerbaijani authorities have launched a purge against LGBT citizens, aping their counterparts in Chechnya.

This newest persecution points to the need for Canada and other Western nations to find ways to respond when authorities attack sexual minorities in their own country, especially now that such activities seem to be spreading.

The Nefes LGBT Azerbaijan Alliance has printed an abysmal study on the organization’s Facebook page which says police have started rounding up people thought to be homosexual or transgender.

“Detainees were subjected to beatings, verbal abuse, and forced medical examinations, in addition to transsexual women’s heads being forcibly shaven,” the report claims. “Many were released just after giving up the addresses of fellow members of the LGBTI community, that were then in turn arrested and subjected to the identical treatment.”

The report estimates testimony from several anonymous sources. In accordance with Victim B: “I was with my buddy in Old Town. Suddenly police officers came to us and to place us in automobile and took to police station at Nasimi District. Probably I am feminine looking guy and that is why they could recognize me. I’d two-day detention. During both of these days three police officers were beating me so poorly, I lost my consciousness.”

Javid Nabiyev, the author of this report, left Azerbaijan two decades back and now lives in Germany. He told The Globe and Mail in an email exchange his interviews and research suggested that over 100 people were detained. People, he said, are fleeing in fear to Georgia and Turkey.

The New York-based news organization EurasiaNet reports 46 confirmed arrests since Sept. 15.

The Trudeau government responded quickly to news of the purge.

“Canada is concerned by the recent reports of arrests, detentions and violence targeting LGBTQ2 individuals in Azerbaijan,” Adam Austen, spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said in a statement on Friday.

“Azerbaijan has a duty to safeguard the rights of all its citizens … we call for the security of people in Azerbaijan whose sexual orientation makes them a target for persecution.”

Nominally, Azerbaijan is a secular democracy where same-sex activity is lawful. In fact, the Muslim population is extremely intolerant of homosexuality and the authoritarian government suppresses dissent.

On Sept. 20, an Azerbaijani newspaper reported that the opposition Justice Party supported the pogrom.

“The Western circles, that are the sources of immorality and illness, that were cursing God’s name for quite a very long time, have been catastrophic our national customs under the name of human rights,” a party leader said. (Translation by Google.)

The Ministry of Internal Affairs denies any purge, but advised another book that prostitutes and others “of unconventional sexual orientation,” was temporarily detained after complaints from local citizens, and was analyzed for the presence of sexually transmitted diseases.

Western human-rights organizations have thus far been unable to independently confirm the extent of the abuse. But there’s general alarm at the prospect that, mere weeks after the Chechen government conducted a purge of sexual minorities, a state in exactly the same region seems to have established a copycat purge.

As The Globe recently reported, the Trudeau government secretly spirited several dozen homosexual Chechens who were in danger to Canada as refugees. A similar program might be required again, this time for Azerbaijan.

Critics note that LGBT individuals from Saudi Arabia, Uganda and a number of other countries are at risk of persecution and even death at the hands of the country, but the Canadian government doesn’t seek to rescue them.

But sexual minorities fleeing such nations have strong claims for refugee status.

There seems to be growing need for some sort of rapid response which may be triggered when one regime or another starts a sudden purge from its LGBT population, placing them at risk, perhaps through an international forum like the United Nations.

For the time being, the Trudeau government has allowed Azerbaijani police know that Canada is watching them. The question is how this nation will react, if things get seriously worse.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

75% of families couldn’t pay bills without a mum in work

29 Sep 17
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  • Households left without a woman’s income only able to pay bills for 7 months
  • One in three women has life insurance cover and 7 per cent has critical illness
  • 25% would rely on benefits if their partner couldn’t work for six months or more 

Three-quarters of households in the UK would only be able to pay their bills for seven months if they lost the income of the woman in the family due to illness or death, new research has shown.

Yet just one in three women has any insurance protection in place to cover their families if they could not work or died, exposing a big gap in cover should the worst happen.

The main reason for not having protection in place is that it is not seen as a financial priority.

Cover gap: One in three women has life insurance cover and 7 per cent has critical illness

Cover gap: One in three women has life insurance cover and 7 per cent has critical illness

On top of the financial hit, the research shows that on average women spend at least 23 hours a week on childcare and household chores, which their families would struggle to afford or cover.

Without a protection policy in place, many women are putting themselves at risk of serious financial difficulties if something were to happen, the exclusive research from Scottish Widows shows.

The insurer asked 2,606 women about their financial situation. Of those, 31 per cent had a life insurance policy and only 7 per cent had a critical illness policy.

Of those without a policy, the main reasons for not taking one out was it not being a financial priority and women not thinking they needed one.

When asked what they would do if their partner was out of work for six months, 25 per cent said they would have to rely on state benefits to pay for household bills and 54 per cent said they didn’t have a will in place.

The women in the survey were also asked about their savings and 68 per cent said they weren’t able to save for the long term, because they had other things to pay for.

Protection policies are designed to cover you in times of hardship and to make sure there is enough money available to cover costs such as mortgage repayments. 

There are lots of difference policies available with life insurance, income protection and critical illness being the most well known. 

The price you pay for protection cover depends on your personal circumstances, with the cheapest prices reserved for younger people in good health who are less likely to die or become seriously ill.

Households left without a woman's income would only be able to pay bills for seven months

Households left without a woman’s income would only be able to pay bills for seven months

Prices also vary depending on the insurer – and as there are lots of options in this market it’s worth getting quotes from a few different firms if you’re thinking about buying a policy.

Jackie Leiper, protection director at Scottish Widows, said: ‘One of the most important things a woman can give her family is security, but financial protection is still too far down the priority list because women simply don’t recognise their own value.

‘It’s crucial that everyone – no matter what stage of life they’re at – considers whether they have the right protection in place to ensure their loved ones aren’t left coping with financial strain on top of emotional trauma if the worst were to happen. 

‘And that applies to working women and full-time mums alike. We all need to recognise the monetary value of women’s time and effort in the household, and to safeguard it accordingly.’ 

The research also highlights the change to the benefits available for those who lose a partner. The Bereavement Support Payment replaced the Bereavement Allowance, Widowed Parents Allowance and the Bereavement Payment earlier this year.

It’s available to anyone whose husband or wife died on or after 6 April 2017 and it is a lump-sum followed by 18 payments, but this is less than the previous payment system which paid out monthly sums for 52 weeks. 

Protection insurance essentials

Life insurance: Life insurance pays a specified sum if you die.

There are three types of life insurance – level term, decreasing term and whole-of-life. Level term is taken out for a specified period of time and if you die within that time a set lump sum will be paid.

With decreasing term insurance, which tends to be cheaper, the sum the insurance pays will fall over time. 

Whole-of-life insurance pays a guaranteed amount when you die and there is no specified term. However, the premiums for this type of insurance can change. A proportion of the premium you pay is invested and its growth helps keep the premiums low.

Critical illness insurance: Critical illness insurance pays out a tax-free lump sum on diagnosis of a range of conditions. All insurers must cover seven core illnesses, including cancer, heart attacks and multiple sclerosis.

Injuries that leave people permanently disabled are also covered. Common exclusions include HIV/Aids, self-inflicted injuries and those caused by drug abuse.

The cost varies widely. The older the policyholder, the more they will pay, as will those already in poor health or those who smoke.

Income protection: This pays a tax-free income if you are unable to work due to illness or unemployment. Up to 70 per cent of income can be covered, depending on the insurer, and you’re covered until retirement.  





Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

Number of asylum seekers entering Canada through unauthorized border crossings drops in September

29 Sep 17
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The amount of asylum seekers entering Canada through unauthorized crossings across the U.S. border dropped in September, but it’s hard to predict whether there’ll be another surge in the coming months, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen states.

Approximately 50 people a day entered Canada via an unofficial crossing point at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., in September, compared with 200 to 250 a day in August, Mr. Hussen said on Thursday. Over 12,000 asylum seekers have spanned at Lacolle from New York this season.

“The numbers have gone down, but we’ll wait to determine if this is a fad or not,” Mr. Hussen told reporters on Parliament Hill after a meeting with members of a federal-provincial task force on irregular migration.

Earlier on Thursday, Canadian government officials said they recently reviewed the Trump government’s immigration policies and discovered that the USA is a safe country for refugees. The conclusion means a bilateral agreement requiring people to be sent back across the border if they claim refugee status after entering Canada via an official U.S. border crossing stands. The NDP and refugee advocates have called on the authorities to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement and review U.S. President Donald Trump’s current anti-immigration measures.

Talking to a Parliamentary committee meeting, Paul MacKinnon, an assistant deputy minister at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), said the department frequently does inspections of the U.S. refugee determination system and its wider immigration policies.

“We did one only a couple of months ago, even after the [Trump] executive orders came out, and we assert that their system is reasonable and does not influence the Safe Third Country Agreement as it currently stands,” Mr. MacKinnon told a joint assembly of the House of Commons national security and immigration committees.

The majority of the asylum seekers who crossed at Lacolle are Haitians who fear being expelled since the Trump government plans to finish a program in January, 2018, that allowed them temporary protected status following the gigantic 2010 earthquake in the impoverished Caribbean nation. Thousands of panicked Haitians headed north to Quebec after misinformation on social media indicated Canada would accept them as refugees.

Officials revealed in the meeting that over 5,600 asylum claimants who crossed at Lacolle have obtained restricted health-care benefits under a special directive from Mr. Hussen. The minister said the supply guarantees that those who crossed at Lacolle can get the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) while they await a meeting with the authorities to ascertain their eligibility for asylum. He said most asylum seekers complete their eligibility interview within hours of crossing the border, but the spike in Lacolle has caused delays.

“Because of this, those people could not then get IFHP as they were awaiting us, through no fault of their own,” Mr. Hussen stated. “In order to decrease the pressures on emergency rooms, hospital rooms in Quebec, we made a decision to give them IFHP.”

Officials also used Thursday’s meeting to address what they called “myths” about the recent surge in asylum seekers, including the proposal that those who cross at places like Lacolle are taking the areas of overseas refugees waiting to resettle in Canada.

“They aren’t jumping a queue, since the system is intended to manage that sort of movement,” said Michael MacDonald, a director-general at IRCC. “There is no queue jumping for those. And that processing isn’t in any way connected to the overseas refugee processing system{}”

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

Economy Energy launches cheapest energy tariff

28 Sep 17
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If you’ve not already turned the heating on this year, you’ve probably begun to think about it and how much it will cost.

For those who haven’t considered it yet, a new market-leading energy tariff has just been launched by Economy Energy.

The typical household will pay £844.10 for the one-year fixed dual-fuel tariff, which is £309 cheaper than the average standard variable tariff from a Big Six provider. That’s according to the comparison website MoneySuperMarket – the only place you can get your hands on the deal.

Rising costs: Energy bills have risen steadily this year but a fixed-rate tariff could cut costs

Rising costs: Energy bills have risen steadily this year but a fixed-rate tariff could cut costs

The comparison website says it’s the cheapest average tariff available to any of the leading comparison websites.

Energy bills have risen across the board this year with all of the Big Six energy providers increasing prices – with British Gas the last to hike prices, by 12.5 per cent on 15 September.

Providers have blamed these hikes on rising wholesale prices and an increase to the cost of Government schemes such as the smart meter roll-out.

The price has risen for customers with a standard variable tariff, as the price they pay for energy is not fixed and therefore can rise or fall at any time.

These tariffs are typically the most expensive available and have been under fire repeatedly in the past year. 

GOT A TIP OR AN ENERGY QUESTION?

Do you have an energy question you would like to have answered? Contact:experts@thisismoney.co.uk with the subject line ‘energy expert’ 

Last year, the Competition and Markets Authority published the results of an investigation into the energy market that found those on these tariffs were collectively overpaying by around £1.4 billion every year.

But by choosing a fixed-rate tariff, households can save a significant amount as the price paid per unit of energy remains the same for the length of the contract.

These tariffs are usually cheaper than an standard tariff and MoneySuperMarket claims the latest deal from Economy Energy could save households an average of £309 per year compared to the average standard tariff from a Big Six provider.

Fight back with our Energy Switch Club 

An increasingly popular way to get cheaper bills is to sign up for a collective switch, where suppliers fight for your business. You can register for the next Energy Switch Club from This is Money now.

As well as joining our no-obligation collective energy switch, where we will use people power to demand a better deal direct from the suppliers themselves, registering for free can also enter you into our prize draw to win £10,000, enough money to cover your bills for 10 years.

Anyone who registers for free for the Energy Switch Club between September 19 and October 16 is automatically entered into the prize draw. This only requires your email address and a few basic details and there is no obligation to switch if you do sign up.

 For full details on how to register, see our article on how to slash your gas and electricity bills AND get the chance to win 10 years of free energy

 

What does the Economy Energy tariff offer?

Economy Energy was set up five years ago in Coventry and earlier this year came third in the Citizens Advice online tool for customer service which compares all the major energy providers.

An average household paying by direct debit, using and 12,500kwh gas and 3,100kwh electricity each year, will pay £844.10 for 12 months if they signed up for the market-beating tariff. 

The price paid per unit of energy will then remain the same for the full 12 months of the tariff. 

Sky-high bills: Energy customers with a standard tariff can slash costs by switching to a fix

Sky-high bills: Energy customers with a standard tariff can slash costs by switching to a fix

Switching to a different energy tariff could save you a significant amount of money over the course of a year, particularly if you have never moved providers before or are stuck on your provider’s standard tariff.

Once the tariff ends, you will likely be moved onto a more expensive rate so be sure to set a reminder so that you have time to shop around for the cheapest deals and avoid a bill hike.

Watch out – if you want to switch away before the end of the fixed period you will have to handover £25 in exit fees per fuel. 

According to figures from MoneySupermarket, the estimated annual bill is the cheapest deal available through any leading comparison website.

Stephen Murray, energy expert at MoneySuperMarket, said: ‘Switching energy suppliers has never been easier and this is a great opportunity for customers to save substantially on their bills. 

‘Switching to a fixed-rate tariff, such as this one offered by Economy Energy, gives households languishing on standard variable tariffs the chance to make savings of over £300 today.’

How does it compare?

The new tariff from Economy Energy and MoneySuperMarket is the cheapest from a comparison website when looking at average prices, as you can see from the table below.

However, to find out exactly how much you could save by switching, it’s always worth doing your own comparison based on your personal usage and your postcode.

Use out postcode energy finder tool right, or here

BEST BUY ENERGY TARIFFS
Provider and tariff 

Tariff  type

Avg. medium user (gross)

Exit penalties
 

Economy Energy: Online Saver (MSM exclusive) Fixed £844 £25/fuel 
Toto: 100% Renewable Saver  Fixed £863 £25/fuel 
First Utility: Smart First October 2018 v1 Fixed £888 £30/fuel 
Toto: TOTO Discount Variable Saver Variable  £889 £10/fuel
Economy Energy: Direct Saver (Fixed) Fixed £897 £25/fuel
Octopus Energy: Octopus 12M Fixed Fixed £912 £0
iSupplyEnergy: iFix 12-Month Oct18 v4 Fixed  £919  £30/fuel 
Eon: E.ON Go Online 1 Year v1 Online Fixed £920 £30/fuel 
Green Network Energy: GNE Family Green 18 Month Fixed v6 Fixed  £929  £30/fuel 
Places for People: Together – September 2018 – fixed 61 paperless billing  Fixed  £930  £30/fuel 
Source: MoneySuperMarket, correct as of September 22 2017    

 

 

 





Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

Small wins don’t overshadow large, looming battles in NAFTA talks

28 Sep 17
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The gloom and doom started to really set in around the NAFTA talks on Tuesday evening. U.S. negotiators had started to put forward proposals that were so aggressive that some observers were calling them poison pills.

This was more than the everyday anxiety over the future of the North American free-trade agreement that Canadian and Mexican officials have got used to since Donald Trump became U.S. President. They have responded to that by putting on their game faces and talking about making a deal. Away from cameras, the faces are longer now.

If you watched Wednesday’s closing statements to the media after the third round of negotiations, and looked past Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s celebratory announcement that a chapter on small business had been completed, you could glimpse trouble.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer insisted the Americans want a deal that undoes their trade deficits. Mexican Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo said countries need the “will” to table workable proposals, stated that the next round will have “substantial challenges” and warned Mexico wants a deal that increases rather than diminishes trade opportunities. Ms. Freeland said she would not comment on Mexico-U.S. issues as she skirted questions about whether the United States was deliberately proposing non-starters: “I do not have the superpower that allows me to look into the hearts of a counterparty and divine their true intention,” she said.

But many among the hundreds who stick close to these talks now believe there will be no deal – and even that the negotiating positions the United States put forward this week are really setting the ground for Mr. Trump to trigger a withdrawal from NAFTA.

“The prevailing view is it’s coming. Probably late 2017, early 2018,” said Dan Ujczo, an international trade lawyer with cross-border law firm Dickinson Wright, who was in Ottawa to keep tabs on the talks. “The mood [on Tuesday] night was clearly despondent.”

The information dribbling out of the talks did not bode well. The U.S. proposal on labour, initially described as being like the rules Mexico and Canada accepted in the now-dead Trans-Pacific Partnership, also calls for Mexico to increase its minimum wage sharply. Mr. Ujczo said the Mexicans told him that what the U.S. team was talking about could work out to an eight-fold increase. The United States also made aggressive demands regarding seasonal growers, poking a pointy stick into a long-running trade war between Mexico and Florida tomato growers that is something like the Canada-U.S. softwood dispute.

NAFTA could face “death by a thousand cuts,” Mr. Ujczo said.

The United States has yet to put forward its proposals on key contentious issues, such as rules of origin for autos that determine whether a vehicle is North American enough to cross borders duty-free, but fears are now that they’ll be ugly.

Unworkable demands might be dismissed as a tactic, and a very Trumpian one, too. Even triggering the six-month process for withdrawal from NAFTA could be a way to press for a better deal later. But letting the talks run into mid-2018 is dangerous, too.

The three countries have said they want a deal by February – and that’s not just to suit Mr. Trump’s impatience.

Mexico’s presidential election will be held next July, and some fear that if NAFTA isn’t signed and sealed by then, the candidates won’t be able to resist capitalizing on anti-Trump sentiment and opposition to doing a NAFTA deal with the U.S. President.

“I call it the pinata effect,” said Moises Kalach, head of trade negotiations for Mexico’s business lobby, the Consejo Coordinador Empresarial. “Put it out there, and it will be very popular to hit it.”

And the U.S. Congress has mid-term elections in November, 2018 – so if a renegotiated NAFTA is going to the Congress for approval, it’s going to be a political football. Even if the February deadline is met, it will be controversial in primary campaigns; if not, it will be debated in election races. Most politicians in the U.S. Congress don’t want to have to say how they would vote on a NAFTA 2.0 – that is, except those that want to kill it. And around the talks this week, there has been more gloom about whether the United States will ever negotiate a new NAFTA anyway.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

Canada, U.S. Function to step up pressure on Myanmar’s military leadership

27 Sep 17
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Canada and the USA are in discussions about how they could intensify pressure on Myanmar’s strong military leadership because of its role in ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims, amid reports that 480,000 members of the minority group have fled violence in the Southeast Asian nation.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland stated she talked with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday night about ways to step up pressure on Myanmar’s military leadership, but didn’t mention any particular plans. Speaking to the House of Commons during an emergency debate about the violence confronting Rohingya, Ms. Freeland underlined the significance of holding Myanmar’s military to account.

“it’s quite important that the army in Myanmar know that the entire world knows of the army’s role in this ethnic cleansing and that we’ll not stand for it,” said Ms. Freeland, who took time away from NAFTA discussions in Ottawa to deal with the House of Commons Tuesday night.

Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi doesn’t have the ability to direct security issues, as the army retained significant authority under Myanmar’s 2008 constitution. However, the Nobel laureate and honorary Canadian citizen has faced sharp global criticism for her inaction on the current Rohingya crisis.

In a Sept. 18 letter to Ms. Suu Kyi, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the responsibility for resolving the crisis falls “squarely upon” Ms. Suu Kyi and military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, who asked the emergency debate, asked Ms. Freeland if she’d spoken with General Hlaing directly. Ms. Freeland said Canada has put pressure “straight to the army leadership,” but didn’t indicate if she talked with Gen. Hlaing.

Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that Myanmar is committing crimes against humanity in its massacre of villagers and mass arson in Rakhine state, where 480,000 Rohingya have been forced to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh over the last month. A Myanmar government spokesman said there was no evidence to support that claim.

Ms. Freeland said Canada has three objectives for the ongoing Rohingya crisis: to end the ethnic cleansing; to make sure that humanitarian assistance can reach the minority group; and to work with global allies allowing Rohingya to return to Rakhine and live free of persecution.

The current outbreak of violence began at the end of August, after Rohingya insurgents attacked dozens of police posts and a military base in Rakhine. Myanmar’s army responded by murdering hundreds of people, triggering a large exodus of Rohingya villagers. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has described the situation as ethnic cleansing.

Heading in the United Nations General Assembly last week, the Liberal government said it was likely to concentrate on the plight of Rohingya, among other current global problems. While Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet colleagues increased the situation of Rohingya during bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the UN, his speech made no mention of the situation.

“The Prime Minister must have raised this issue during his address to the UN General Assembly last week,” Mr. Genuis stated.

Ms. Suu Kyi didn’t attend the UN General Assembly, staying in Myanmar to deliver her first national address since the enormous Rohingya exodus. In her speech, she condemned rights abuses in Rakhine and said violators will be punished. While Western diplomats and aid officials welcomed the tone of her speech, some doubted if she’d done enough to deflect international criticism.

NDP MP David Christopherson, who has met Ms. Suu Kyi, told the House of Commons that she’s the best hope for Myanmar, while acknowledging her lack of power within the army.

“We are going to be certain the world knows that we are holding the military to account since we are aware of the problem that [Ms. Suu Kyi] has and my heart breaks for this circumstance.”

With reports from Reuters

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

Power giants tricking us into getting smart meters

26 Sep 17
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  • Suppliers were ordered by Government to offer smart meters to all households
  • Customers are not obliged to say ‘yes’ and can refuse to have one installed 
  • But letters and texts fail to make it clear that smart meters are optional

Energy companies are using high-pressure tactics to push customers into having smart meters in their homes — by scheduling dates to fit them without being asked and threatening to take away cheap deals.

Suppliers have been ordered by the Government to offer smart meters to all households in Britain by 2020 and face fines if they fail to meet the deadline.

Customers are not obliged to say ‘yes’ and can refuse to have one installed.

But Money Mail has been inundated with letters from readers who feel pressured into having one of the new meters and misled into thinking that they are compulsory.

They tell us they have been bombarded with calls, texts and letters even after they have refused one.

Hard sell: Energy companies are using high-pressure tactics to push customers into having optional smart meters in their homes

Hard sell: Energy companies are using high-pressure tactics to push customers into having optional smart meters in their homes

At least one major firm is sending out letters saying they have made a smart meter installation appointment, despite the customer never requesting one.

Another says this is something they are trialling. If customers do not want a new meter, they have to call and cancel, or an engineer will just turn up.

Suppliers are also sending out letters and texts to customers that fail to make it clear that smart meters are optional.

EDF Energy is texting customers: ‘We need to upgrade your meter to a smart meter’, while E.ON is sending letters that state in bold, red type: ‘Reminder: your meter is being phased out’. Scottish Power’s letters say ‘Action required’ next to a large, red exclamation mark.

Some E.ON customers have even been told they face losing their cheap deal if they refuse to have a new meter.

And last week, the supplier said it would replace its expensive standard tariffs with rolling deals that cost up to £262 a year less — but only if customers get a smart meter first.

These meters automatically send readings to your provider over a wireless connection. It means the end of estimated bills, and customers will be able to see more clearly how much energy they use, helping them to reduce their costs.

Suppliers have been ordered by the Government to offer smart meters to all households but they remain optional

Suppliers have been ordered by the Government to offer smart meters to all households but they remain optional

But as many as one in five UK households says they do not want one. Some are concerned about how their personal data will be used. Others don’t want the hassle of waiting in for an engineer to call.

Many more are reluctant after learning that most of the 7.36 million meters already installed will stop working if you switch to a different supplier.

Money Mail does understand that this problem will be fixed through a software update — without an engineer even needing to visit. But no details have been confirmed so far.

DO THEY REALLY SAVE YOU MONEY? 

Smart meters use wireless signals to communicate with your supplier, which means you don’t have to ring in meter readings.

You will also be able to see how much power you are using by the hour in pounds and pence on the meter’s small, computer-like screen.

There is no charge to have one fitted and it shouldn’t take an engineer longer than an hour to install.

Officials claim they will help you to save money, as you’ll be more aware of how much energy different appliances use — and reduce your consumption.

These digital meters will also ensure you are only billed for the power you’ve used, putting an end to estimated bills.

Most big energy companies are writing to customers to offer them one of the new smart meters.

However, some are only offering them in certain areas of the country and many smaller firms are not yet fitting them, so you may have to wait.

As many as one in three households is also being told they can’t have a meter because it won’t work in their property — for example, if the walls are too thick, or they live in a rural area with poor mobile phone signal.

One reader, who didn’t want to be named, reveals her elderly mother was bewildered when EDF Energy sent a letter saying it had booked an appointment for a smart meter to be fitted in her home, even though she hadn’t asked for one.

She says: ‘It’s misleading to just send out a letter with an appointment date and time. The wording suggested that all households had to have one.’

Andy Hookway, 57, a retired policeman from Plymouth, had a similar experience with EDF Energy. He says: ‘I said I didn’t want a smart meter, but they ignored this and sent me an appointment.

‘I called to cancel and then, the day before, they sent me a text reminder, so I called again.

‘Yet the engineer still showed up. When I turned him away, he said this happened to him at least every other day.’ EDF has apologised to both customers for any inconvenience.

Marnee and Keith Pringle, from Grantham, Lincolnshire, say they were told by E.ON that their off-peak rate would end — causing their electricity bills to soar from £1,820 to £3,086 a year — unless they switched to a smart meter.

The letter they received read: ‘To stay on a tariff with cheaper off-peak rates you need a different meter, and we’ll install a smart meter for free.’

The couple, who are both retired insurance brokers, already face high bills, as they live in an area with no gas supply.

Marnee, 69, says: ‘I feel like we’ve been backed into a corner.

‘We live in a cottage with thick walls and poor mobile phone signal, so what will happen if they can’t fit one? 

Are we still going to be charged the higher tariff?’ Greg and Nina Stevens, both 68, from Northamptonshire, received a similar letter from E.ON, telling them their off-peak tariff would end and their bills would rise ‘significantly’ unless they had a new meter fitted.

Smart meters automatically send readings to your provider over a wireless connection. It means the end of estimated bills

Smart meters automatically send readings to your provider over a wireless connection. It means the end of estimated bills

When Money Mail intervened, E.ON admitted that neither the Pringles nor the Stevens had to have to have a smart meter fitted. They could continue to get their off-peak tariffs if they had new analogue meters installed.

E.ON also apologised for the wording of its letter.

Allison Rogers, 54, a depot manager, also from Northamptonshire, says she is fed up with receiving texts from her supplier, Scottish Power.

‘I have had numerous texts telling me to contact them to arrange for a smart meter to be fitted,’ she says.

‘They didn’t ask if I wanted one. They have now put a note on my file to say I don’t want one, but the lady I called said that I would eventually have to have one installed.’

Scottish Power has apologised for its actions.

Robert Mitchell, 81, a retired IT contractor from Birmingham, was called by Sainsbury’s Energy, part of British Gas, to say his meter was due for replacement, although it was just a few years old.

‘It wasn’t a question of whether or not I wanted one. It was like they were just letting me know I had to have one,’ he says.

Geoff and Jenny Payne, 68 and 65, from Kent, say: ‘We had a stream of emails and phone calls from British Gas. In the end, we became thoroughly sick of the matter and told them to stop contacting us.’

British Gas says: ‘If a customer tells us they do not want a smart meter, we stop sending them communications.’

A spokesman for EDF says that its approach of sending out smart meter appointments has been endorsed by the watchdog, Ofgem.

The spokesman added: ‘Customers are not obliged to accept the appointment and can rearrange or cancel by contacting us by phone or online.’

An E.ON spokesman says: ‘Smart meters offer a number of benefits for customers.

‘However, they are not compulsory and we’re reviewing our communications to ensure this is made clearer.’

Scottish Power says the exclamation mark symbol on its letters is ‘a standard prompt on customer communications to denote that action is required’.

An Ofgem spokeswoman says: ‘It is not compulsory to have a smart meter installed — consumers have a right to decline them and suppliers must not mislead them.’





Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

End of income sprinkling will affect one in eight small-business owners: Research

26 Sep 17
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Only about one in eight small-business owners are likely to be influenced with a Liberal proposal to end earnings sprinkling, according to new study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

A study by the left-leaning think tank says small-business owners most likely to be influenced by the tax-savings measure are male, professionals such as doctors or lawyers who make more than $216,000 annually and with spouses or adult children that do not work. Ending income sprinkling is one of three taxation changes that the Liberal government is contemplating.

Business lobby groups have fought with the changes, saying they’ll discourage Canadians from starting their own ventures.

However, David Macdonald, senior economist of the center and author of the research, stated family-run businesses such as restaurants or shops are unlikely to be affected.

“It’s hypothetically possible this [change] could impact a middle-class household, but in the real world it is very unlikely,” Mr. Macdonald said.

His research suggests 77 percent of small-business owners don’t benefit from the tax break, while another 10 percent would not gain enough to offset the price of setting up the scheme.

About half of the yearly value of this tax break goes to households in the top 5 percent of earners, the analysis states.

Income sprinkling enables the owner of a private company to distribute dividends to relatives, even if they have not contributed to company operations. If the owner is at a high-income tax bracket and the relative is in a lower range, the sprinkling will have an overall effect of lowering the taxes paid.

In July, the Liberal government proposed ending the practice, together with changing the rules for investing inside a company and the tax treatment of capital gains. The authorities said the measures were developed to target Canadians with high incomes.

The CCPA study looked only at the effects of income {}. But business groups have been fighting all of the changes.

“These are valid ways of small business owners to grow their business, ensure the stability of the company during uncertain times, or to save for the retirement. Without these measures, companies won’t have the ability to create as many jobs for Canadians,” said Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, in a statement last week.

The Canadian Medical Association has also defended income {}, saying it is a way for physicians with private corporations to look after their loved ones.

Mr. Macdonald said that his analysis, based on data from Statistics Canada and tax filers, revealed income sprinkling was nearly entirely benefiting wealthy Canadians. And business owners who benefit from the tax measure save less than $10,000 per year.

“It is interesting to observe the examples which were brought out. It is certainly possible to make accounting cases or an Excel instance where a family … would see their taxes go up $20,000 due to the closure of the tax loophole,” Mr. Macdonald said. “But there are not really plenty of families that fall in that in the broad scheme of things.”

In his analysis, Mr. Macdonald estimated that the federal government would collect about $280-million more in taxes annually if income sprinkling is finished. Provincial authorities would collect about $110-million annually.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

NAFTA talks stymied by uncertainty over U.S. Schedule

25 Sep 17
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Donald Trump’s unpredictable nature and hostile opposition to free trade is looming over NAFTA talks as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his negotiating team stay uncertain about what the U.S. President desires from a reformed pact, or if he would even sign a deal and risk alienating his base, according to high-tech resources.

Negotiating teams from Canada, Mexico and Washington sat down for another day of discussions in Ottawa on Sunday, with sources saying progress has been made around less-significant matters affecting small and medium-size business in addition to the environment and competition.

The more controversial issues involving trade dispute-resolution mechanics and rules of origin for the automobile sector are anticipated to be increased on Tuesday evening and Wednesday when Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, her Mexican counterpart Luis Videgaray and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer hold trilateral discussions.

The Globe and Mail has spoken to key players — that were only authorized to speak on desktop — to put out the critical challenges ahead as negotiators aim to complete a deal by February, 2018, at the latest.

“Really nobody understands what Donald Trump wants. Does he want a bargain or does he need something he can then turn down and say to his foundation: ‘I told you these Canadians and Mexicans are untrustworthy. This is a bad deal for America,'” a senior advisor to Mr. Trudeau told The Globe on Sunday. “They aren’t sure yet what he needs.”

In discussions with Mr. Lighthizer and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Canadian officials have gotten the impression that they have a “constituency of one” (Mr. Trump) and are stuck in a “position where they want to please” the President instead of negotiate on issues of material to gain all three countries

Canadian and Mexican officials have arrived at the meetings well-prepared and briefed while the U.S. negotiating team isn’t performing to the standards expected of them, one source said, noting that the Americans have not provided a complete assortment of texts for the discussions.

Complicating the discussions is apparent friction between Mr. Lighthizer and Mr. Ross, who had been told by Mr. Trump that he “would be the big shot” from the North American free-trade agreement discussions, a source said.

Mr. Lighthizer, who’s a more experienced trade negotiator and more comfortable with Washington politics, has managed to convince the White House to let him operate the NAFTA file. He’s made it clear to his Canadian and Mexican counterparts he answers only to the President and Congress.

Canadians are still waiting for the United States to indicate a text regarding rules of origin for cars and for the Chapter 19 dispute mechanism, which the United States alleges hinders it from chasing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases against Canadian and Mexican companies.

On the eve of the Ottawa talks on Friday, Mr. Ross fired a salvo when he published a study he commissioned that contended there isn’t sufficient U.S. product manufacturing — called rules of origin — in Canadian- and Mexican-made autos.

Mr. Ross’s study asserted U.S. content of manufactured goods imported from Canada dropped significantly — to 15 percent from 21 per cent. U.S. content in products imported from Mexico dropped even more — to 16?per cent from 26 per cent.

The U.S. study was quickly refuted by Canadian auto-industry executives that estimate that there is between 60 percent and 70 percent U.S. content in Canadian-assembled vehicles. U.S. content in Mexican-assembled vehicles is estimated at 40 percent.

A Canadian advisor to Mr. Trudeau confessed the “Ross figures are false,” but said Canada shouldn’t take part in a public war of words with the Americans and should rather face them with the facts in the negotiating table.

Up to now, chief U.S. negotiator John Melle has yet to table or even hint at what the Americans anticipate for new rules of automobile origin, which currently stand at 62.5 percent North American automobile content to qualify for duty-free motion between Canada, the USA and Mexico.

Another significant issue that has not yet been raised and might end up being a deal-breaker is that the Chapter 19 dispute-resolution mechanism. This provides for independent, binational panels to adjudicate countervailing duty and anti-dumping instances. The USA needs these disputes resolved by judicial review in national courts.

A senior Canadian official said Mr. Trudeau regards Chapter 19 as the “red line” that Canada won’t cross. The official said Mr. Trudeau is prepared to walk away from the negotiations if the United States makes Chapter 19 a make-it-or-break-it scenario.

1 advisor to Mr. Trudeau cautioned that talks are in the first stage and noticed that the Prime Minister could play an essential role in conserving the deal since he has a superb relationship with Mr. Trump, very similar to what Brian Mulroney had with with Ronald Reagan. The source stated that Mr. Trudeau, Ms. Freeland and their team of advisers have aimed to create personal bonds with Mr. Trump, his family, closest advisers and Mr. Ross and Mr. Lighthizer.

An August poll conducted for The Globe reveals the vast majority of Canadians were supportive of the Trudeau plan of building relationships with the Trump government to advance Canadian interests.

A Nanos Research Poll, conducted between Aug. 30 and Sept. 1 of 1,000 Canadians, found that 65 percent of Canadians were comfortable or somewhat comfortable with Canadian officials being friendly with members of the Trump government. The margin of error of the random survey was 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Insiders say progress has been forced to rewrite NAFTA’s Chapter 11 Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), along the lines of this arrangement from the recently concluded Canada-EU trade arrangement (CETA). Ms. Freeland and her staff have been pushing hard on CETA-style investor-protection provisions, including the establishment of a roster of judges to arbitrate disputes.

Canadian and U.S. negotiators are open to reforming Chapter 11 to recognize a nation’s inherent right to protect on issues like the environment or health and safety. The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which Mr. Trump walked away from, had similar language.

Sources also say Canada and the United States are taking a firm stand on the enforcement of labor standards. They need a renegotiated NAFTA pact to include penalties if Mexico attempts to maintain its wages low by not living up to the labor standards set by the three nations.

At the conclusion of Sunday’s talks, chief Canadian negotiator Steve Verheul said over each of the three sides are making “good solid progress … but the end game is always the toughest and impossible to predict.”

With a report from Reuters

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail