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Government should put a pause on enforcement of council tax bills, charity says

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government should put a pause on enforcement of council tax bills charity says

The government should introduce a pause on council tax arrears enforcement for those struggling to pay their bills in ‘Tier 3’ areas, a charity has said.

Citizens Advice said millions of people in England now face new restrictions but lack protection from the financial hardships that come with them.  

It is concerned that households in the newly defined tier 2 and 3 areas are not sufficiently protected from the enforcement action that follows missing bills and are not receiving the support they need to help pay them back.

The news comes after the Government introduced a new three-tier system with those in tier 1 deemed at medium risk of coronavirus, those in tier 2 at high risk and those in tier 3 very high risk, meaning they will be placed in a local lockdown. 

Citizens Advice said people do not have equivalent protections from the financial hardships

Citizens Advice said people do not have equivalent protections from the financial hardships

Citizens Advice said people do not have equivalent protections from the financial hardships

Specifically, it is concerned about the lack of support for people in third tier area who are behind on their rent and council tax bills.

Jamie McGlynn, Local Service Manager at Citizens Advice Manchester, said: ‘Now that many of the protections have been lifted, we’re seeing a surge in people contacting us for help as bailiffs, debt letters and eviction notices start up again.

‘Added to that, there have been a lot of redundancies announced in recent weeks and many people we help are working reduced hours because of the impact of the first lockdown.

‘If we move into the “Very High” tier without further protections in place, I’m worried about a perfect storm where people already struggling to keep their head above water financially are going to really suffer.’

‘We’re also seeing lots of people whose income has dropped to nothing as they self-isolate. They’re hugely worried about the possibility of missing vital bills or running up rent arrears.’

Council tax 

Separate research conducted by Citizens Advice in August of this year found that in the first three months of the pandemic, 2.8million people fell behind on their council tax bills.

Whilst there was a pause on face-to-face bailiff visits for council tax collection between April and August, visits have since resumed with Covid secure practices.

People in tier 2 and tier 3 areas could now be facing financial hardship like they did during the national lockdown but will have to face bailiffs at their doors if they’re unable to pay their council tax bills.

The charity is recommending that the government introduce a pause on enforcement of council tax debts in tier 2 and 3 areas to bring the protections in line with those in the first national lockdown.

For many people with council tax arrears, it is unlikely they will be able to pay these back any time soon, especially with further restrictions coming into place.

In light of the new restrictions, Citizens Advice say the government should provide local authorities with further hardship funding to enable them to support people who are behind on their council tax bills.

It claims this should be prioritised for areas in, or entering, tier 3 restrictions.

There will be millions of households who will be struggling to pay their council tax bills now

There will be millions of households who will be struggling to pay their council tax bills now

There will be millions of households who will be struggling to pay their council tax bills now

Private rental sector

Meanwhile, in the private rental sector, the pause on possession proceedings finished on 20 September, and the notice period for those seeking possession was increased to six months.

However, this extended notice period only applies to a newly issued notice seeking possession.

This means where people were given three months notice of eviction between 26 March and 29 August, their landlord can bring possession proceedings once the three month notice has expired.

While the government has said bailiffs won’t be able to enter properties to carry out evictions in tier 2 and 3 areas, claims for possession can still proceed and the courts can still order possession.

Therefore, people may face receiving a possession order despite local restrictions and face the possibility of eviction imminently once their area moves back to tier 1.

There is also no new financial assistance from the government for people behind on their rent across any of the three tiers.

As of July, around 1.2million people were behind on their rent, and this number is unlikely to reduce as people face further restrictions.

To avoid a surge of evictions and people falling into unmanageable debt, Citizens Advice says the government should introduce a national programme of government-backed grants and loans for tenants struggling to pay their rent because of the pandemic.

Citizens Advice says the government should grants & loans for tenants struggling to pay rent

Citizens Advice says the government should grants & loans for tenants struggling to pay rent

Citizens Advice says the government should grants & loans for tenants struggling to pay rent

It claims this could be administered through local authorities and should be prioritised in areas under tier 3 restrictions.

For people struggling to pay their rent, the Citizens Advice said people in tier 2 and 3 areas who are facing eviction should also be given at least one-month’s notice when local restrictions come to an end before they are made to leave their home.

Other household bills 

However, it is not just council tax and rent that households could struggle to pay.

Consumer credit customers may be struggling to pay back their loans and any other forms of debt.  

Fortunately, they will benefit from payment holidays and interest-free overdrafts until 31 October.

There is also new guidance from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for those who have had the full payment holiday or who are newly in financial difficulty that will help them past 31 October. 

Where customers hold premium finance credit regulated agreements, help could include allowing the customer to make no or reduced payments for a specified period. 

Meanwhile, for insurance arrangements, measures include re-assessing the risk profile of the consumer to see whether they could be offered lower monthly payments. 

Those struggling with energy bills will be supported, however, as it was recently revealed that households struggling to pay for their energy will get emergency credit this winter under new regulations from Ofgem.

The energy price cap has also been extended until the end of 2021 meaning households will not have to pay over a certain amount if they are a default tariff or prepayment customer.  

In the telecoms industry, there has been voluntary commitments from all major telecoms providers to remove data caps, offer new packages, and work with customers in financial difficulty. 

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: ‘Many of the protections that the government and regulators rightly put in place for people struggling with bills have ended or are running out. 

‘But lifting these protections was founded on the prediction that household finances would improve as the UK left lockdown. For many in the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions, this will now simply not happen.

‘Some regulators, like Ofgem, have been proactive in strengthening protections as we enter what is likely to be a hard winter for many. In other sectors, help for people living in the areas of strictest lockdown is confusing, inconsistent and, in some areas, inadequate.

‘As more parts of the country move into the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions, a renewed package of protections and support is vital to keep people living there from falling into further debt.’

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Hope for first-time buyers as YBS launches 90% mortgages

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hope for first time buyers as ybs launches 90 mortgages

First-time buyers squeezed by the mortgage crunch have been given another ray of hope as Yorkshire Building Society launches home loans for borrowers with a 10 per cent deposit. 

The move from one of Britain’s biggest building societies is better news for borrowers who have seen nine in ten of the mortgages for those with a 10 per cent deposit available in March wiped off the market – leaving just 71 deals from a handful of lenders.

But with a 3.69 per cent two-year fixed rate and 3.79 per cent five-year fixed rate, the YBS deals will cost borrowers considerably more than what’s on offer to those with bigger deposits.

Yorkshire Building Society is one of the few lenders to offer a 90% LTV deal for first-time buyers and those looking to remortgage currently

Yorkshire Building Society is one of the few lenders to offer a 90% LTV deal for first-time buyers and those looking to remortgage currently

Yorkshire Building Society is one of the few lenders to offer a 90% LTV deal for first-time buyers and those looking to remortgage currently

Two-year fixed rates are on offer below 1.3 per cent and five-year fixes below 1.5 per cent for those with buying with 40 per cent deposits. 

The YBS deals are aimed at first-time buyers and existing homeowners with less equirt who want to move house or remortgage.

Banks and building societies slashed high loan-to-value mortgages after the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown hit. 

Many blamed the volume of demand for mortgage holidays, combined with staff working at home, but they are also concerned about negative equity if house prices fall and job losses that could see borrowers struggle to pay their mortgage.

Ben Merritt, senior mortgage manager at Yorkshire Building Society said: ‘We’re committed to supporting borrowers with smaller deposits and are really pleased to offer these mortgages again – there’s certainly been a gap in this part of the market for some months.

‘Thanks to the hard work of our front line colleagues we now feel we’re in a better position to continue supporting existing borrowers who need a payment holiday and launch mortgages for new customers, while maintaining the high standard of service our customers expect.’

Is YBS’s mortgage a good deal?

YBS is offering a 3.69 per cent two-year fixed rate with a £995 product fee for home purchases and remortgages. 

What about the self-employed?

The self-employed do qualify for YBS’ 90 per cent product – even if they’ve been granted support by the government.

Merritt says: ‘Yes, we continue to accept applications from self-employed customers who have taken government support. 

‘We may however, need to request additional documents to confirm the income is sustainable for an applicant’s individual circumstances.’

It also offers a 3.79 per cent five-year fixed rate with a £995 product fee for home purchases and remortgages. 

All its house purchase mortgages come with a free standard valuation, and those looking to remortgage get paid legal fees.

But the rate is not the lowest out there though. 

Rachel Springall, finance expert at Moneyfacts, says: ‘These are competitively priced and may well attract borrowers looking to save on the upfront cost of their deal as they come with a free valuation and allow borrowers to add the product fee to the mortgage advance.

‘For first-time buyers there are alternative deals to consider in the market such as Nationwide, of which their two-year fixed is priced at 3.49 per cent and their five-year at 3.54 per cent both with free valuation and £500 cashback incentive.’

The Yorkshire’s intermediary arm, Accord Mortgages, also offers a range of 90 per cent LTV mortgages.

Ben Merritt, of Yorkshire Building Society says the lender can continue supporting existing borrowers and offer new deals

Ben Merritt, of Yorkshire Building Society says the lender can continue supporting existing borrowers and offer new deals

Ben Merritt, of Yorkshire Building Society says the lender can continue supporting existing borrowers and offer new deals

David Hollingworth of L&C Mortgages says: ‘Other lenders like Nationwide, Metro Bank, Platform and Virgin Money are some of the other lenders that currently offer 90 per cent deals and others have dipped in and out with products when possible. Atom Bank has just launched some rates today.’

Borrowers considering a 90 per cent mortgage will pay much more than before the pandemic.

Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, says: ‘Sadly, the lack of availability means borrowers have seen high LTV rates rise. 

‘Twelve months ago, 90 per cent two-year fixes were available from less than two per cent but now the equivalent products cost well over three per cent, despite rock-bottom interest rates.’

Those considering waiting for a better deal or more options may have to wait a bit, although things have improved slightly.

Since March 701 of the available 90 per cent LTV products have been axed – leaving just 78 on the market – a slight increase from the 56 available at the beginning of the month. 

Twelve months ago, 90 per cent two-year fixes were available from less than 2 per cent but now the equivalent products cost well over  3 per cent 

But even though more lenders are willing to put their toe in the water, Springall believes that the return of the 90 per cent deals will be a gradual process.

She says: ‘It’s a great sign when you have the likes of YBS coming on and available to everyone but building societies are very different to banks.

‘It will take time for other lenders to follow their lead. That’s why we’ll see certain lenders like Atom Bank offering to just first-time borrowers and buyers and then if this works they will have deals available to those that want to remortage.’

Figures from Moneyfacts highlight the few options borrowers have to choose from if they have smaller deposits, with mortgages above 90% hacked back

Figures from Moneyfacts highlight the few options borrowers have to choose from if they have smaller deposits, with mortgages above 90% hacked back

Figures from Moneyfacts highlight the few options borrowers have to choose from if they have smaller deposits, with mortgages above 90% hacked back

Will the mortgage remain on the market?

This year has seen a few 90 per cent LTV lenders enter the market only for those offers to disappear following hype and an influx of applications.

YBS’s product is likely to be a popular offering given its competitive rate. 

Merritt says there’s no current restriction on the number of applicants the building society is willing to take on.

He explains: ‘We don’t have a set threshold for these products, but we will continue to monitor our service levels to ensure we continue to offer the high levels of service our customers expect.’

YBS says it’s able to offer qualifying customers a mortgage in 15 days, which means that borrowers will be able to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday.

Merritt says: ‘There are still a number of months to go before the stamp duty holiday deadline. 

‘On average we provide customers with a mortgage offer in less than 15 days, but of course there are a number of factors involved with the wider house buying process that could affect completion timescales, out of our control.’

What type of homes can I buy?

There are some types of properties that Yorkshire Building Society won’t lend on. These include:

· Pre-cast re-enforced concrete properties, designated under the Housing Act 1985, unless they have been repaired by PRC Homes Ltd, a subsidiary of the NHBC.

· Local Authority multi-storey blocks

· Dwellings constructed by timber, i.e., not clad with brick, stone etc, including  log cabin/chalet type of construction

· Single brick (single skin) construction

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Bitcoin price: Why has it fallen 12.5% in a day?

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bitcoin price why has it fallen 12 5 in a day

Bitcoin’s seemingly unstoppable surge towards an all-time high and a $20,000 price tag went into reverse as holders tried to cash in their gains for a profit.

The price of the cryptocurrency plummeted more than 12 per cent over the last 24 hours from a peak of $19,374 a coin on Wednesday to $16,858, according to figures from Coindesk.

Fellow cryptocurrencies like ethereum and ripple have also plunged in price over the last 24 hours, while bitcoin’s fall was its sharpest since the start of September.

Bitcoin plunged by more than 12% in the last 24 hours just as it looked set to hit an all-time high

Bitcoin plunged by more than 12% in the last 24 hours just as it looked set to hit an all-time high

Bitcoin plunged by more than 12% in the last 24 hours just as it looked set to hit an all-time high

It had looked set to break its all-time high of around $19,500, set in December 2017, driven by a series of good news stories, endorsements from institutional investors and continued money printing by central banks. 

The fact the price of the cryptocurrency had risen from just under $8,000 in January to the verge of $20,000 a coin without serious interest from casual investors had led some to argue the boom this time around was here to stay for a while yet.

This is Money has previously reported on the factors driving the cryptocurrency’s rise, including endorsements by the likes of PayPal and JP Morgan, which said it could possibly compete with gold as an alternative store of value. 

However, this positivity has been somewhat dented by the sudden plunge in the bitcoin price, which appeared to be the result of a massive sell-off by high net worth holders of the cryptocurrency.

The sharp drop is yet more proof of the cryptocurrency’s volatility and why This is Money warns casual investors looking to buy into it that they need to do their research and be careful beforehand.

According to bitcoin analysts Glassnode, the number of investors holding at least 1,000 bitcoin reached an all-time high this week, with the concentration of large sums of the cryptocurrency in the hands of a small number of investors giving them a significant influence on the market.

Another analyst, Ki Young Ju, wrote on the social media platform Twitter that these holders of large sums of bitcoin had sold off their holdings, causing the price to fall.

Bitcoin has been on a tear since the end of the summer and is still massively up on where it was at the start of this year

Bitcoin has been on a tear since the end of the summer and is still massively up on where it was at the start of this year

Bitcoin has been on a tear since the end of the summer and is still massively up on where it was at the start of this year 

And one of the most well-known cryptocurrency exchanges, Coinbase, said traders were being hit by connectivity issues as they tried to make purchases or sell-off their holdings. The San Francisco-based exchange said it had found and fixed the problem.

Responding to the sudden drop, Glen Goodman, the author of the book The Crypto Trader, said: ‘When Bitcoin approached $20,000 in 2017, more people were queueing up to buy it than ever before.

‘Many of those buyers have been holding their investment – in varying degrees of misery – ever since.

‘The pressure now, not least from their long-suffering partners, is to sell and finally break even on their investments.

‘With their fingers hovering over the “sell” button, when the price started retreating slowly down to $19,000 and then $18,500, it led to a flurry of panic sellers grabbing their chance to break even, and those sellers caused the price to crash fast.’

However, he still said the long-term picture for the cryptocurrency was ‘very positive’, despite the possibility of ‘a lot more price volatility in the near future’.

He added: ‘This appears so far to be a healthy correction in a big bull market. In my opinion, only a fall to $10,000 would put that bullish narrative in question.’

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Just FOUR councils applied to use a new hedgehog warning road sign

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just four councils applied to use a new hedgehog warning road sign

A new traffic sign launched by the Department for Transport for councils to display on roads with high populations of hedgehogs, badgers, otters and other small animals has received a prickly response with just one per cent of authorities applying to use it.

The sign, unveiled last year, displays one of the spiky creatures in a red warning triangle and was designed to help preserve dwindling hedgehog numbers and reduce the number of people injured in collisions involving animals.

However, This is Money can exclusively reveal that all four councils who did apply to erect the signs were denied permission because they did not provide enough evidence to the DfT that they have a high concentration of the animals in their areas.

Prickly reaction: Just four councils have applied to the Department for Transport to use a hedgehog warning sign on roads that put the animals and drivers and riders at risk

Prickly reaction: Just four councils have applied to the Department for Transport to use a hedgehog warning sign on roads that put the animals and drivers and riders at risk

Prickly reaction: Just four councils have applied to the Department for Transport to use a hedgehog warning sign on roads that put the animals and drivers and riders at risk

Of the 343 councils that could have requested to display the signs on their roads, only Newcastle City Council, Middlesbrough Council, Surrey County Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council applied, according to an Freedom of Information request by the AA.

All four subsequently had their applications denied, the DfT confirmed.

The department clarified that all four had ‘failed to evidence any concentrations of small animals habitually in the road, or provide any accident data’.

Councils and animal conservationists will query how they can feasibly provide evidence of hedgehogs being at risk on their roads. 

‘Rejection of the applications based on failing to provide adequate evidence conjures up all sorts of weird scenarios: council officers counting the bodies or sending off the evidence in jiffy bags,’ said an AA spokesman. 

He added: ‘Common sense suggests that, if cash-strapped councils are prepared to fork out the money for the signs and the manpower to erect them, there is probably the local need for them.’

The signs are to warn of small animals, including hedgehogs, badgers, otters and squirrels. Hedgehogs in particular are now on the Red List of endangered UK species

The signs are to warn of small animals, including hedgehogs, badgers, otters and squirrels. Hedgehogs in particular are now on the Red List of endangered UK species

The signs are to warn of small animals, including hedgehogs, badgers, otters and squirrels. Hedgehogs in particular are now on the Red List of endangered UK species

The decision to deny these authorities will has left the British Hedgehog Preservation Society bristling in frustration.

Hedgehog numbers have plummeted in recent years, halving in volume since 2000.

The animals now find themselves on the Red List of endangered UK species.  

Fay Vass, chief executive at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, told This is Money: ‘We are disappointed that more authorities aren’t applying for the small mammal signs that feature a hedgehog and that the DfT are rejecting those that do. 

‘We know from interaction with the public that these signs would be very welcome in many areas where hedgehog road casualty counts are high. 

‘In the meantime, we produce a sign that can be purchased for display on private property, but we very much hope that the official signs will soon begin to be erected in the spirit they were intended. 

‘They are important to warn people that small animals might be on the road in that area, not only for the sake of the animal, but to help reduce risk for drivers too.’

The AA asked how councils could feasibly provide evidence that they have roads with high concentrations of small animals

The AA asked how councils could feasibly provide evidence that they have roads with high concentrations of small animals

The AA asked how councils could feasibly provide evidence that they have roads with high concentrations of small animals

The new traffic warning sign was launched in 2019 by former transport secretary Chris Grayling, including a bespoke announcement and plenty of fanfare around the sign. 

It was unveiled as the DfT said hundreds of people are injured every year in collisions involving animals in the road, claiming that 629 people were injured in accidents involving an animal in the road (excluding horses) and 4 people were killed in 2017 alone. 

Mr Grayling called on local authorities and animal welfare groups to identify accident and wildlife hotspots where the sign should be located.  

He said: ‘The new small mammal warning sign should help to reduce the number of people killed and injured, as well as helping our precious small wild mammal population to flourish.’ 

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