'Rogue' property agents to be targeted, ministers say

Block of flats in BristolImage copyright Getty Images

Plans to protect leaseholders and tenants in England from unfair costs are to be outlined by ministers later.

They say they want to clamp down on a "small minority of rogue agents" in the property management system who force consumers to pay over-inflated charges.

They will consider changing the law so all letting and management agents must be qualified and regulated to practise.

Between £2.5bn and £3.5bn a year in service charges are levied on the 4.2 million leasehold homes in England.

Increased transparency

In a speech on Wednesday, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid will launch a six-week "call for evidence", saying he wants to hear from people about whether a regulatory overhaul of the sector is needed.

He will pledge to protect consumers from unfair costs and excessive service charges and look at ways to place more power in the hands of consumers by giving leaseholders more say over their agent.

The review will also examine if a new independent regulatory body is needed - and if separate bodies should be established, for both leasehold and private rented management, and letting agents.

Other measures to be considered include whether leaseholder tenants should have a greater say over the appointment of managing agents and how transparency can be increased in the system so that tenants and leaseholders know what they are being charged for and why.

"Our proposed changes to regulate the industry will give landlords, renters and leaseholders the confidence they need to know that their agents must comply with the rules," Mr Javid will say.

Ministers say the problems apply not just to leaseholders but also some of the 4.5 million tenants in the rental sector, with overcharged costs for repairs and services often being passed down to tenants....

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Bill Clinton meets Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill

Bill ClintonImage copyright Getty Images Image caption Bill Clinton arrived at the Culloden Hotel outside Belfast on Tuesday afternoon

Former US president Bill Clinton has met with the leader of the DUP and Sinn Fein's Stormont leader during a visit to Northern Ireland.

The meetings with Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill took place outside Belfast earlier.

He was due to fly to Northern Ireland on Monday, but the trip was postponed due to Storm Ophelia.

Earlier, Mr Clinton received an honorary doctorate from Dublin City University.

In an address when receiving the honour, Mr Clinton called for mutual respect.

"The Good Friday Accord basically recognised that in an interdependent world which can be good, bad or both, human nature being what it is - an interdependent world is one in which you cannot get away from the other," he said.

Image caption Mr Clinton received an honorary doctorate from Dublin City University

"In such a world the great trick is to own your own identity, embrace your own tribe, but form a community in which what you have in common with those you can't get away from is more important than your differences.

"That's all it was."

Brexit

During his address in Dublin on Tuesday, Mr Clinton also suggested that some people who who had voted for Brexit were not fully aware of what they had voted for.

Mimicking a voter, he said:"I'm sorry we can't stay together, we had a disagreement.Oh my God, I didn't know I was going to lose that customs thing and all these economic benefits.Why didn't anyone tell me that?"

Mr Clinton added:"All partnerships that are community-based are held together not because everybody agrees with everybody else, not because we don't still have our particular identities, but because co-operation is better than conflict or isolation in any environment in which you must be in touch with others.

"It's a simple proposition.But we are re-litigating it now." ...

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Tory MP misses vote be assistant referee at Champions League game

MP Douglas RossImage copyright PA Image caption Mr Ross has previously faced criticism for missing a Holyrood committee

Tory MP Douglas Ross is to miss a vote on universal credit to be an assistant referee at a Champions League match.

Mr Ross will be in Spain on Wednesday for the Barcelona v Olympiakos game as a debate is held at Westminster.

The Moray MP, who has been backed by his party, was not down to speak before the vote on the new benefit.

The former MSP was criticised in November last year[1] for missing a Holyrood committee to run the line in a Champions League match in Portugal.

It led to calls for him to stand down from his frontbench role as the party's justice spokesman.

Mr Ross later went on to defeat the SNP's Westminster leader Angus Robertson at the general election earlier this year.

The SNP said the latest decision to miss a parliamentary vote showed "part-time Tory MP Douglas Ross just never learns his lesson".

Stewart Stevenson MP said:"He is yet again leaving his constituents without a voice in Parliament because he'd rather rub shoulders with famous footballers.

"This isn't the first time that he's failed to turn up for important meetings, and his constituents will be wondering why he shows no interest in discussing universal credit - which is driving up rent arrears and leaving families penniless.

"It's time for two-job Ross to call time on his highly lucrative refereeing career."

Local cases

Labour's Shadow Scotland Office Minister, Paul Sweeney, said:"It shows a perverse sense of priorities that Douglas Ross is off working a second job in Barcelona while Parliament debates the huge damage that universal credit is causing in our society tomorrow.

"The rollout of universal credit has blighted lives across the country, forcing many to rely on food banks and crisis grants to get by.Yet Mr Ross doesn't even have the decency to turn up to Parliament and explain why he supports putting people through such misery.

"This sorry episode will leave Mr Ross's constituents in no doubt as to where his priorities lie and it's not playing the game for them."

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said Mr Ross had the support of the party and local voters - and insisted there would be many more Scottish Conservative representatives in this debate.

He added:"Douglas has held more than 50 surgeries since becoming an MP and has met personally with David Gauke to discuss local cases which have arisen from those.

"Despite what the SNP thinks, the people of Moray are right behind Douglas and his refereeing, as they showed decisively when they elected him as their MP just a few months ago."...

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Coca-Cola says plastic bottle deposit scheme should be UK-wide

Coca-Cola bottlesImage copyright AFP/Getty Images

Drinks giant Coca-Cola says any proposed plastic bottle deposit scheme should be UK-wide, MPs have heard.

Nick Brown, head of sustainability for Coca-Cola in Europe, said that in such a scheme the empty bottles become "a form of currency".

And the committee were told that if deposits varied between Scotland and England, people would have an incentive to cross borders to get more money.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove suggested a scheme earlier this month.

He said that it would boost recycling and in the process protect marine life from plastic waste.

The scheme involves consumers paying a small surcharge, which would be refunded when bottles are returned.

In the past Coca-Cola has opposed the idea, but in February reversed its position to support a planned scheme in Scotland.

Mr Brown told the Commons Environmental Audit Committee:"We have seen that other countries which have a deposit scheme have improved recovery rates of packaging and reduced littering, which is important to us.

"We understand that things need to change both with household waste collection and packaging on-the-go.We think a deposit scheme can work in that context."

Mr Brown stressed the importance of any scheme being UK-wide:"Packaging effectively becomes a currency in these types of schemes.The cross-border flow of materials is very important and needs to be designed into the scheme."

John Mayhew, Director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, which leads a campaign for a plastic bottle deposit scheme in Scotland, said it was particularly important the levels of the deposit should be the same for neighbouring countries to prevent people crossing the border to gain a greater deposit return.

However he suggested the use of barcodes could prevent bottles being cashed-in in a different country to where they were bought.

'Hit consumers'

The Scottish and Welsh governments have recently said they are also considering introducing a deposit scheme.

Only 57% of plastic bottles sold in the UK in 2016 were collected for recycling, the government says.

In Denmark, which has a deposit scheme, more than 90% of bottles are returned.

But opponents say a scheme would hit consumers.

Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium, said at the time of Mr Gove's announcement:"Whilst superficially appealing, the reality is deposit return vending will hit customers with an upfront charge, pushing up the cost of living to the tune of tens of millions of pounds at a time when household finances are under strain."...

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