The Solicitor - The FindLaw UK Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

December 2009 Archives

Live Music Revolution: Small Venues No Longer Need To Be Licensed

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Live music performances for 100 people or less will no longer need to be licensed, under proposals announced today by Licensing Minister Gerry Sutcliffe.NDS

An exemption from the Licensing Act for small live music events would make it easier for a wide range of venues to put on live music, and help musicians who want to play to a live audience.

Former Drag Queen Branded "Faggot" & "Poof" Wins £30,000

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A former drag queen, Dean Awford, 42, who used to appear in clubs in Birmingham and Manchester as 'Scarlett Eclipse', has won £30,000 for  after he sued former boss David Gray of Gray's At The Northwick in Worcester.

Mr. Awford claimed Mr. Gray called him a "faggot" and a "poof"; repeatedly referred to him as "she" and "her"; and once told a customer he had "knickers to match" his leather shoes.

Despite having his claim for  rejected, Judge David Kearsley ruled that comments by Mr Gray, including: "Call yourself a f***ing manager - you couldn't organise a p***-up in a brewery" and "F*** off" constituted .

Upon hearing the verdict Mr. Awford said: "I am delighted that the  case was upheld.  I suppose as far as Gray's At The Northwick are concerned, I could be the Christmas fairy."

Government Plan To Penalise Disruptive Road Works

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Utility companies who do not finish their road works on time will face increased charges under new plans announced by Transport Minister Sadiq Khan MP.

The New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 sets out the current regulatory regime for street works.  This was amended by the Traffic Management Act 2004, which introduced powers for local authorities to operate a permit scheme.

So-called "statutory undertakers" - mainly utility companies - have a statutory right to place, maintain or repair apparatus in or under the highway.

Under new proposals, it will be a criminal offence to work without a permit, carrying a maximum daily fine of £5,000.  It will also be an offence to not meet a permit condition, for which the maximum daily fine is £2,500.  Fixed Penalty Notices, as an alternative enforcement mechanism, can also be given for working without a permit or not meeting a permit condition.  

To encourage companies to complete works on time, the Department of Transport says an increase in daily fines to as much as £25,000 may be justified.

In addition to increasing overrun charges for traffic sensitive routes, other DoT proposals published by the DoT include:

Heathrow Strike Action Averted

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Following discussions with SAS Ground Services UK Ltd (SGS) and Acas, Unite union has agreed to suspend the strike action proposed for Tuesday 22nd, Wednesday 23rd, Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th December, 2009, plus Sunday 3rd and Monday 4th January, 2010.

Baggage handlers and check-in staff employed by SGS were to embark on a series of 48 hour strikes beginning on 22nd December, lasting into the new year, in a bid to settle a pay dispute and prevent the erosion of workers' employment benefits when they are transferred to a new employer in the new year. 

Ticketmaster / Live Nation Merger Approved

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The  (CC) has decided to clear the proposed merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation in the UK.

NDSBoth Ticketmaster and Live Nation operate in the live music and entertainment industry.  Ticketmaster is a ticketing agent, whilst Live Nation is a live music promoter and venue operator.  The companies are headquartered in the USA and, in addition to the CC inquiry, the merger is being investigated by competition authorities across the Atlantic.

Under the Enterprise Act 2002, the Office of Fair Trading may refer to the CC completed or proposed mergers for investigation and report which create or enhance a 25% share of supply in the UK (or a substantial part thereof) or where the UK turnover associated with the enterprise being acquired is over £70 million.

New Year House Prices Cheer

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November data from Land Registry's flagship House Price Index shows a positive monthly house price change of 0.9 per cent, which is the sixth month in a row in which the movement has been above nought per cent.

NDSThe annual house price change stands at -0.3 per cent. This is the seventh month in a row in which the annual rate of decline has decreased.  The average house price in England and Wales is now £161,554. 

Four regions in England and Wales experienced increases in their average property values over the last 12 months.  The region with the most significant annual price fall was Yorkshire & The Humber with a movement of -4.7 per cent.  Wales experienced the greatest monthly rise with a movement of 2.9 per cent.  The West Midlands was the region with the most significant monthly price fall with a movement of -0.4 per cent.

Bogus Brides And Grooms Face Jail And Deportation

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Two Czechs, four Nigerians and one Slovakian, involved an international marriage scam in West Yorkshire, have received jail sentences of 13 years (two years suspended) after pleading guilty at Leeds Crown Court.

NDSTheir convictions follow coordinated arrests earlier this summer across the north of England in an operation led by the UK Border Agency and supported by West Yorkshire Police.

Many of those arrested were apprehended heading for the West Yorkshire churches of St Philip and St James in Scholes and St Lukes in Cleckheaton, just hours before they were due to tie the knot.

UK Unemployment Falls For First Time In 21 Months

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The number of people claiming unemployment benefit - Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) - has fallen for the first time in 21 months.  Today's employment figures published by the Office for National Statistics show:

  • There were 191,000 redundancies in August to October, down 42,000 on the previous quarter but up 12,000 on the same quarter last year.

Extension Of 20mph Schemes - No Speed Humps Required

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New proposals to allow councils to put in place 20 mph schemes over groups of streets without the need for traffic calming measures such as speed humps have been announced by Road Safety Minister Paul Clark.

The Government is encouraging local councils to introduce 20 mph schemes on residential streets and other roads where cycle and pedestrian traffic is high, such as around schools, shops and parks.

Bradshaw Announces Jobs Boost For Young People

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More than 600 new jobs in the cultural, creative and sport sectors have been announced by Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw, in a range of projects aimed at getting young people out of unemployment and onto the first rung of the career ladder.

Future Jobs Fund money has been confirmed for jobs around England and Wales in sectors as diverse as theatres and music venues, digital archiving, media production and the furthering the Olympic sporting legacy.

Harper Collins Product Recall For Baby Book

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Harper Collins has issued a product recall for the following product:

Product: Usborne Publishing Baby's first book (boys edition)

ISBN: 9780746087930

Title: Baby's first book (boys edition)

Binding: Cloth

Batch Number: 90594

Date code: JFMAMJJ SOND/09

Price: £9.99

Winding Up Petition For Foster Stone Letting Agency Submitted

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The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills has presented a winding up petition to the High Court for Foster Stone Limited, a letting agency based in South London.

The petition to wind up the company in the public interest was presented following confidential enquiries carried out by the Insolvency Service Companies Investigation Branch ("CIB") under section 447 of the Companies Act 1985, as amended.

On the application of the Secretary of State, the Official Receiver has been appointed by the Court as provisional liquidator of the company.  The role of the Official Receiver is to protect the assets and financial records of the company pending determination of the petition.  The provisional liquidator also has the power to investigate the affairs of the company insofar as it is necessary to protect the assets including any third party or trust monies or assets in the possession of or under the control of the company.

Belling Cookers - Product Recall

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Belling has issued a product recall for the following cooker models:

ï G707

ï G708

ï G709

ï DB60

The cooker model number can be found by looking in the handbook or on the data badge on the rear of the cooker.

If the above cookers are installed on combustible flooring they can create a fire hazard caused by excessive heat transfer from the base of the oven to the surface beneath the cooker.

Leeds Firm Closed Down For Preying On The Sick & Elderly: Part 2

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[Continued from ]

  • The company made untrue and fraudulent representations to a finance company by falsely claiming that it had taken deposits from customers of at least 25% of the sales price, when the company had actually taken smaller deposits from customers.

  • In almost 20% of the sales files seen by the Investigator, there was no copy of  a customer sales order.  The company failed to supply these missing sales orders and it was thus not possible to establish with certainty that a customer had signed and knowingly entered into a contract with the company.

  • The company used the same objectionable and inappropriate sales techniques previously carried on by two previous connected companies, Powermatic Adjustable Beds Ltd and QOL Ltd.

Leeds Firm Closed Down For Preying On The Sick & Elderly: Part 1

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The High Court has closed down More than Mobility Limited - a company based in Hunslet, Leeds - for targeting the sick and elderly with hard-sell techniques and mark-ups of one thousand per cent or more.

The company generated £3 million in sales since they started trading in 2007, using a combination of cold calling and follow-up home visits to persuade householders to buy electrically adjustable beds and chairs.

UK Mortgage Lending Falls In November

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Gross mortgage lending totalled an estimated £12 billion in November, a 10% drop from £13.3 billion in October and down 14% from £13.9 billion in November of last year, according to new data from the Council of Mortgage Lenders.

A modest seasonal decline between October and November is typical, although the 10% fall is a little larger than normal.  The underlying story, though, is one of market conditions holding steady and the CML does not expect this position to change much in the coming months.

Record Numbers Completing Apprenticeships

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A record 143,400 people completed their apprenticeship in the 2008/09 academic year, according to data on vocational qualifications released today by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.  This increase of 27.4% compared to 2007/08 smashes all previous records, and means the Government has met its target to increase the number of apprenticeship completions two years early.

Statistics also show that 239,900 people started an apprenticeship in the same academic year, representing the highest number of successful starts and completions ever in an academic year.

The overall success rate for apprenticeships was 70.9% in 2008/09, significantly higher than the target success rate of 65%, and the 37% pass rate in 2004/05.

Discount Wholesalers Wound Up In The Public Interest

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Four inter-connected companies registered in Dartford, Kent and specialising in supplying big brand products at discount prices have been wound up in the public interest following an investigation by the Insolvency Service's Companies Investigation Branch ('CIB').

Travel Chaos: SAS Ground Staff To Strike At Heathrow & Aberdeen

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Unite union has said baggage handlers and check-in staff at Heathrow and Aberdeen airports will strike next week unless there is movement on resolving a pay dispute. The workers are employed by SAS Ground Services UK Ltd.

A series of 48 hour strikes will begin at 4am hours on Tuesday, December 22nd and end at 4am on Thursday, December 24th, continuing during the same times on Saturday, December 26th and Sunday, December 27th, 2009 and again during the same period on Sunday, 3rd January and Monday, January 4th, 2010.

The stoppages will hit travellers on Turkish, Emirates and Thai airlines at London Heathrow; and KLM, Air France, Wideroe and Atlantic at Aberdeen.

BA Strike Ballot Invalid - 'A Disgraceful Day For Democracy'?

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The High Court has granted an injunction to prevent a 12-day BA cabin crew strike taking place.

The strike was scheduled to begin on 22 December, but the Court declared it unlawful on the ground that Unite union failed to comply with section 227 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. 

This states that union members can only vote in a strike ballot if, at the time of the ballot, it is reasonable for the union to believe that they will take part in the industrial action.

The Court invalidated the ballot of BA cabin crew members because it included "hundreds" of workers who have already accepted voluntary .

92.5% of Unite's 12,500 BA cabin crew members voted in favour of strike action - this was in response to the airline's announcement that it intends to unilaterally change their terms and conditions of employment.

Despite the overwhelming nature of the result - not to mention the comparatively small number of ineligible voters - High Court Justice Cox refused Unite permission to appeal.

Birmingham Security Alarm Companies Wound Up

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Three Birmingham based companies providing top of the range security systems for homes and offices have been wound up in the High Court following an investigation by the Insolvency Service Companies Investigation Branch (CIB).

Sureshield Security Systems Limited, Sureshield Monitoring & Maintenance Limited and Green Capital Limited took payment in advance for the installation of the alarms alongside a five year monitoring and maintenance deal.

The High Court heard the directors abandoned the companies and not only made no attempt to notify customers, but also failed to secure the assets including confidential information about the clients.

The Chief Registrar noted that abandonment "put customers in danger" and rendered any security measure "ineffective because security details were left around".

Flyglobespan & Globespan: What Are My Customer Rights? (Part 2)

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[Continued from ]

If you don't have insurance, didn't pay by credit card, & aren't protected by ATOL...

You should submit a claim to the following address: Joint Administrators c/o Erskine House, 68-73 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 4NH.  As stated in Part 1, however, as an unsecured creditor, you'll be lucky to recover even a fraction of the money you paid for your ticket(s).

Are you currently abroad on a Globespan holiday?

Customers currently abroad on Globespan package holidays should be able to continue to stay in their hotel or villa and complete their holiday.  In the majority of cases, their accommodation provider will be paid directly by the Civil Aviation Authority so they should not incur any additional expense.

In the event you do incur additional expenses, however, you should retain receipts as the Civil Aviation Authority will be able to consider claims for refunds in respect of these amounts.

As for getting home, the Civil Aviation Authority will arrange a flight for you.  You should check the ATOL website ( for more information.  The Civil Aviation Authority also have a helpline (+44 (0) 2891 856 547) for those customers in particular distress.

Flyglobespan & Globespan: What Are My Customer Rights?

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Scotland's biggest airline Flyglobespan has collapsed after its parent company, Globespan, entered administration yesterday.  All of the company's flights have been cancelled and 800 jobs lost.

Moreover, 4,500 passengers have been stranded abroad.  The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says it will repatriating about 1,100 of them - those who booked package holidays and are therefore protected through the  scheme.

Video Recordings Bill: Age-Rated Films & Video Games

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A fast track Bill to restore public protections around the supply and classification of age-rated films and video games has been published.

The Video Recordings Bill is designed to correct an anomaly that means the Video Recordings Act 1984 is not currently enforceable in UK courts.  The problem came to light in August 2009 when it was discovered there had been a failure to make a necessary technical notification to the European Commission before the 1984 Act became law.

Creative Industries Minister SiÙn Simon said:

"This Bill is essential to ensure proper protection of the public from inappropriate content in video recordings and boxed video games.

"The purpose of the Bill is simply to repeal and revive the existing provisions of the Video Recordings Act 1984 in order to make the criminal offences in the 1984 Act enforceable.

"Since this historic problem emerged in the summer, retailers have shown a highly commendable sense of responsibility by continuing to observe the age ratings system on a voluntary basis."

UK Immigration Fraud In The Philippines

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The UK Border Agency is working with banks in the Philippines to develop an electronic verification system that will help to crack down on fraudulent visa applications.

False banking documentation accounts for more than one-fifth of all fraud encountered in Philippine applications for permission to come to the UK.  The new system, which will be managed by the Bankers Association of the Philippines, will enable bank documents to be checked more quickly, efficiently and accurately.

Church Of England 'Culture Of Neglect And Bullying': Part 2

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[Continued from ]

Despite pleas to the Bishops of Dudley and Worcester, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Reverend Sharpe said the church authorities have done nothing to help or support him.

He has now appealed to an Employment Tribunal for compensation.  His case rests on the fact that the church should have warned him of the nature of the parish and its problems before offering him the post.

The vicar says the rectory at Hanley Broadheath has fallen into serious disrepair.  The building was riddled with damp and mould; had asbestos problems; part of the ceiling had given way; the chimney was unsafe; and tiles were falling off the roof.  Both he and his family became seriously ill as a result of these problems.

Reverend Sharpe said:

Church Of England 'Culture Of Neglect And Bullying': Part 1

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Unite union has called for the resignation of two Church of England bishops for presiding over 'a culture of neglect and bullying' in the Diocese of Worcester.

The call came as the vicar Reverend Mark Sharpe, his wife Sara, and four children left their home - the rectory at Hanley Broadheath, near Worcester - yesterday, after eviction proceedings were started.

Unite represents 2,500 faith workers across the UK and has asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to set up an immediate investigation into the four year campaign of harassment allegedly inflicted on Reverend Sharpe after the vicar exposed irregularities in parish affairs at the remote rectory in rural Worcestershire.

Culminating in eviction, the campaign of harassment allegedly inflicted on the vicar and his family included the poisoning of a pet dog; the tyres on the family car being slashed twice; the theft of central heating oil three times; his family being sworn at; his post being tampered with; his internet and phone connections being cut; and constant prowlers at the rectory.

BA Ask Court To Stop Cabin Crew Strike

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British Airways has announced it's commencing legal action to stop its  over the busy Christmas and New Year period.  On Monday, BA cabin crew members of Unite union voted in favour of a 12-day strike beginning 22 December and ending 2 January. 

BA says it has commenced legal action for injunctive relief "to protect customers from massive stress and disruption."  The airline has also written to Unite to highlight "irregularities in the union's strike ballot," which the airline believes renders the ballot invalid.

UK National Identity Service Extended Across The North West

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Anyone with a home or work address in the Cheshire, Merseyside, Lancashire or Cumbria can make an appointment to register for a  beginning in January, it was announced yesterday.

The cards cost £30.  The Government hopes they will deliver a number of benefits to residents, businesses and local authorities, including:

FIFA Guarantees Signed As England 2018 Bid Gathers Pace

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England's 2018 World Cup bid reached its latest milestone yesterday as the Government signed off the guarantees required by FIFA, Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe announced.

All bidding nations have to sign up to deliver a number of guarantees drawn up by football's world governing body before submitting the final bid to FIFA in May 2010.

The guarantees, signed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Departmental Ministers, are in areas such as tax, visas and security.

Marriage And Divorce: Experts Say Steer Clear Of Dancers...

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A paper to be published in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology shows that people working in stressful jobs or 'extrovert environments' are more likely to divorce.  very helpfully provides a list of ten professions to avoid as your search for the ideal spouse:

Housing Advice: Government Extends Repossession Funding

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The Government have announced £4million in additional funding for debt advice agencies and 80 court desks across the country to help people facing the threat of repossession.

36,000 cases have been seen by court desks over the past year; while more than 100,000 households have benefited from free advice on managing their debts from charities and councils.  And services offering free advice and representation helped stop repossession in four out of five cases making use of their service.

The Government have introduced a range of , including help with mortgage interest payments and special schemes for the most vulnerable households.

New figures from the Financial Services Authority show there were 13,987 repossessions between July and September - 5% less than at the beginning of the year.

This has prompted the Council of Mortgage Lenders to reduce their repossession forecasts for this year by well over a third - from 75,000 to 48,000.

Constructive Dismissal: Dismembered Barbie Dolls The Final Straw

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A psychologist who worked with murderers and rapists at Grendon High Security Prison has told an employment tribunal a colleague forced her to resign by sending sexually explicit and abusive text messages, slashing her tyres, and leaving dismembered Barbie dolls next to her car.

Vivienne Harte, of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, is now suing the Ministry of Justice for and for failing to stop the harassment and intimidation, which she claims forced her to quit.

High Court Winds Up Rogue Stationery Company

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Liverpool-based Jaguar Mailing Systems Ltd has been wound up in the High Court after repeatedly sending unsolicited stationery to businesses then pursuing the recipients for payment.

Investigators working for Companies Investigation Branch, an arm of the Insolvency Service, found the company's telesales team targeted junior and inexperienced employees.  These staff members were talked into agreeing to delivery of the stationery - labels for franking machines - but no attempt was made to ascertain that they were authorised to place such an order.

Businesses Reap Rewards Of Simplification Programme

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Businesses are saving nearly £3 billion a year due to the Government's Simplification Programme which aims to get rid of unnecessary paperwork - saving firms time, money and hassle - according to a report published by the Better Regulation Executive yesterday.

The report details 280 regulatory changes over the last 12 months designed to make life simpler for businesses, including:

BA Cabin Crew Approve 12-Day Strike - 1m Passengers Affected

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Unite union announced today its 12,500 BA cabin crew members have voted in favour of a 12-day strike over the busy Christmas and New Year period.  Industrial action is scheduled to commence on 22 December and end on 2 January.  says over 1 million passengers will be affected.

The announcement drew a stinging response from the airline:

"British Airways is extremely disappointed that Unite is planning massive disruption for hundreds of thousands of our customers over the Christmas/New Year holiday period.

"A 12-day strike would be completely unjustified and a huge over-reaction to the modest changes we have announced for cabin crew which are intended to help us recover from record financial losses.

"Unite's cynical decision betrays a total lack of concern for our customers, our business and other employees within British Airways."

reports BA was already on course to lose £600 million this year and the 12-day strike action could cost the airline another £300 million.

As previously reported, 1,700 BA cabin crew are at risk of redundancy and Unite say those who remain face extended working hours and new starters brought in at "bargain basement wages."

BA insists the changes are necessary, however, to ensure the airline's "long-term survival."  It also claims .

RBS Win EC Approval For Restructuring

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The Government has today welcomed the European Commission's approval of the restructuring of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and State Aid approval for the (APS).

Plans for the restructuring of RBS were announced on 3 November, following an agreement with the Treasury on the bank's participation in the APS.

Paedophile Youth Worker Claims Dismissal Unfair

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An employment tribunal in Croydon, south London has rejected a case brought by a paedophile youth worker sacked by Lambeth Council after he was charged with sexual abuse.

Last month, Jason Hoyte, 38, was found guilty at Inner London Crown Court of sexually abusing six girls, one as young as four, over a 20 year period.

Social Trends Report: Marriage And Divorce Numbers Fall Yet Again

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The Office for National Statistics has issued its annual  report on households and families.  The report shows:

  • The number of marriages in England and Wales fell for the third consecutive year in 2007, to around 231,500.

  • There were around 128,500 divorces in England and Wales in 2007, a fall of 3% compared with 2006.  This was the fourth fall in succession and is the lowest number of divorces in a single year since 1976.

Slovakian Gang Sentenced To 50 Years For Child Trafficking

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A court in Sheffield has sentenced a Slovakian gang to 50 years for child trafficking and forcing a girl to work as a prostitute following an operation by the UK Border Agency and South Yorkshire police.

The two men and one woman orchestrated the 15-year-old Slovakian's passage to the UK and then forced her to sell herself for sex on the streets of Sheffield.  She was only rescued from her ordeal when a 'client' called the police believing she was being forced to have sex for money.

BA Cabin Crew Strike Announcement

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Last month, Unite union issued ballot papers on potential strike action to 12,500 plus BA cabin crew members.

Today, at 2pm at Sandown Racecourse in Esher, Surrey, Unite will announce the result of the ballot.  The announcement will take place at the same location and on the same day as a mass meeting of BA cabin crew.

In November, BA imposed new working arrangements on cabin crew, including the reduction of crew numbers on all flights.  Cabin crew say this has negatively affected passenger service, as well as their earnings and career prospects.

BA posted record losses of £401 million last year, prompting chief executive Willie Walsh to say the airline faced a "fight for survival."

As part of the airline's cost-cutting plans, 1,700 full-time BA cabin crew are at risk of redundancy.

VAT Air Freight Fraudster Jailed For Three And A Half Years

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A man convicted of evading £1.3m VAT was jailed for three and a half years at Oxford Crown Court last week.

The court heard that between October 2001 and July 2006 Philip Bowles, 60, of Maidenhead, failed to submit  related to the sale of land for commercial development in Cardiff worth £7.5 million.

Redundancy Rights: Diageo Reaches Deal With Scottish Workers

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Unite union announced Diageo agreed a deal on  with hundreds of Scottish workers on Thursday.  It said Diageo had provided a "much-improved and unconditional offer" after months of campaigning by workers and union officials.

Diageo agreed to increase the worker termination payments by £4,000 - to £9,000 per person - and dropped its previous condition that payments should be based on productivity and attendance.

Geldof Slams "Barbaric" And "Abusive" UK Child Custody Laws

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This week, released a .  The contains a foreword by Bob Geldof, which slams current child custody laws as "barbaric" and "abusive" and dismisses the system as a "disgraceful mess."

Mr. Geldof had to fight for custody of his three daughters from his former wife Paula Yates and alleges that British courts "consistently" show bias against men by handing custody to mothers.

Food Company Fined £20,000 After A Worker's Fingertip Severed

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A food production company was fined £20,000 yesterday after a worker had his fingertip severed at a factory in Southall.

The Heath and Safety Executive prosecuted Noon Products Ltd, based in Egham, Surrey, for breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

On top of the £20,000 fine, Noon Products were ordered to pay costs of £5,491.

City of London Magistrates' Court heard that on 17 February 2007 a worker was asked to repair a dough divider machine at the company's Collett Way premises in Southall.  The employee had removed a guard and was cleaning the middle part of the machine with a screw driver and an air gun.  As he put his right hand into the enclosed space, a dangerous part of the machine severed the tip of his right index finger.

Work Visas: Foreign National ID Cards Extended To Tier 2

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From next month, skilled migrant workers and their dependants will receive an identity card for foreign nationals when they successfully apply to extend their stay in the UK under .

Under regulations approved by Parliament on Wednesday, all Tier 2 applications made inside the UK on or after 6 January 2010 will involve the enrolment of the applicant's biometric information (fingerprints and photograph).

Pre-Budget Report 2009: Key Tax & Benefits Provisions

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In this week's pre-budget report, the Chancellor Alistair Darling confirmed  and scotched .

Instead of raising VAT, the Chancellor chose to increase National Insurance contributions (NIC) by 0.5% effective 2011 - but only for people earning over £20,000 a year.

UK Innovation Investment Fund Receives Boost

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In the summer, the Government announced it intended to set up a UK Innovation Investment Fund by investing £150 million on a 'pari-passu' basis.

UK Innovation Investment Fund will ensure that venture capital is available by early 2010 to invest in innovative British businesses in key sectors, such as life sciences, clean technology, digital and advanced manufacturing.

Real Help Schemes: Update

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During the Pre-Budget Report, the Chancellor provided an update on a number Real Help Schemes managed by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills, which were set up to help businesses during the economic downturn.

Trade Credit Insurance

The Trade Credit Insurance Top-up Scheme was introduced on 1 May 2009 to provide support to businesses that saw their whole-turnover trade credit insurance cover reduced by their provider.  The scheme enables businesses to top-up their cover for a maximum of six months at a price of 1% of the value of the cover.

The value of cover is determined by the level of cover provided by the underlying credit insurance policy, up to a maximum of £2 million.

Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme: Part 2

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The Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme is open to firms with an annual turnover of up to £25 million that are looking for loans of up to £1 million for a period of up to 10 years.

Under the scheme, the Government provides the lender with a guarantee of 75% of the loan to viable small and medium sized businesses on the margins of commercial lending.  It can be used to support:

Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme: Part 1

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The Government has announced that its guarantee scheme to support business loans will continue for another year.

From April 2010 to March 2011, the Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme will support up to £500 million of bank loans to viable businesses that would otherwise lack the security or track record to obtain commercial lending.

Decent Homes Programme Assessment

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Housing Minister John Healey today announced a full scale assessment of the  - the Government drive to improve social housing stock. 

Launched in 2001, the Programme has already invested over £33 billion in homes occupied by council and housing association tenants to ensure they have decent heating, wiring, windows, doors insulation, kitchen and bathrooms.

The Programme has delivered 700,000 new kitchens, 525,000 new bathrooms and over 1 million new central heating systems over the past ten years.

On top of delivering improved and more energy efficient social housing, the  has also encouraged better ways of working and managing homes, given tenants more say and created employment opportunities across the country.

Announcing the Programme Assessment, John Healey said;

"In 1997 we inherited over two million homes in disrepair and we have taken great strides in making sure tenants have a decent home.  Unprecedented government investment and help has meant that next year a total of 92% of our public homes will be at a decent level." 

But Mr. Healey says more needs to be done.  He's particularly concerned about 27 rogue councils that have actually seen an increase in their non decent housing stock; 13 that still have over 50% of their housing stock classified as non decent; and ten more with a third of their housing stock still not up to scratch.

10 Biggest Legal Changes Of The Decade, 2000-2009 (continued)

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[For changes 1-4, read .]

5. Extension of employment rights & protection

The UK employment landscape has changed dramatically over the past decade. 

The Government have introduced a raft of measures to tackle unfair discrimination in the workplace, including new rules to combat , , , and discrimination on the ground of , , and

The Government has also legislated to extend pregnancy and maternity rights, and protect whistleblowers.  And it now plans to improve the .

10 Biggest Legal Changes Of The Decade, 2000-2009

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1. Human Rights Act

The Human Rights Act 1998 incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law and became effective on 2 October 2000.

While it's had its fair share of detractors, particularly in the , the Act has undeniably benefited a large number of vulnerable people.

An evangelical Christian relationship counsellor who refused to offer therapy to gay couples has lost his unfair dismissal appeal.

Gary McFarlane, 47, from Bristol, worked for the publicly-funded national counselling service and was sacked last year after he said he could not do anything to promote gay sex and "encourage sin."

After being fired, Mr. McFarlane lodged a claim for , , and  against  for failing to accommodate his faith or allow him to try to overcome his reservations.

The Government has responded to the news that steel producer from its Teesside workforce by announcing over £60 million of investment in the North East "to support the region's industrial ."

The investment will generate an estimated 3,000 new jobs in the short to medium term and sustain over 10,000 jobs long term.  Immediate investment will be structured in two parts:

Northern Rock Restructuring Set For 1st January 2010

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The Treasury has confirmed Northern Rock restructuring will take place on 1 January 2010. 

The proposed restructuring of Northern Rock received European Commission approval on 28 October 2009 and the Northern Rock plc Transfer Order 2009 has now been laid before Parliament.

The restructuring will strengthen Northern Rock's capital position and enable the bank to return to the mortgage market.  Under the restructuring, Northern Rock's business will be split between two companies - Northern Rock plc and Northern Rock (Asset Management) plc - with the back book of mortgages managed separately from Northern Rock's other business.

Constructive Dismissal: HBOS Culture "Harassing And Laddish"

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A former HBOS bank manager who is claiming , , and  before an employment tribunal in Leeds has alleged a male colleague tricked his way into her hotel room during a business trip by telling the night porter he was her girlfriend.

Haley Tansey, 39, of Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, told the tribunal: "I'm not sure how long I had been asleep when I woke up with a horrible feeling that I was not alone and that I was being watched."

When she told the man to leave, he asked to use the bathroom.  He then emerged naked and only left when she threatened to hit him with a high heel shoe.

Redundancy Rights: Corus Announces 1,700 Job Losses On Teesside

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Steel producer Corus has announced the closure of its Teesside Cast Products (TCP) unit, resulting in the loss of 1,700 jobs.

Corus chief executive Kirby Adams estimated redundancy costs will total £80 million.  Adams said: "This is the last thing we wanted and we feel deeply about what is happening.  Sadly, it has become unavoidable, through no fault of our people on Teesside."

Tata Steel bought Anglo-Dutch Corus in 2006 for $12 billion and the unit on Teesside accounts for about 15% of its European steelmaking capacity.  According to a company statement, Tata had already subsidised the plant's continuing operation to the tune of about £130 million. "Operating a 3 million tonnes per year merchant slab plant is not sustainable without a long-term strategic partner," the statement added.

Heterosexual Civil Partnership

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Last month, Tom Freeman and Katherine Doyle applied for a civil partnership at Islington Town Hall.  But Islington council refused their application as it's only allowed to process civil partnerships for same-sex couples.

Matrimonial "Apartheid"

The couple told the they do not agree with marriage because it's an "apartheid" that segregates straight and gay people.

While they want the same legal rights as any husband and wife, they do not want to be seen to be "colluding with the segregation that exists in matrimonial law between gay civil partnerships and straight civil marriage."

Home Energy Pay As You Save Scheme

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As talks aimed at securing a global climate deal kick off in Copenhagen, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband has announced steps to encourage people to cut household emissions.  The Government's also had its second reading in the Commons yesterday.

Pay As You Save scheme

Homeowners in Birmingham, Sunderland, Sutton and Stroud will test out new ways to finance house energy makeovers under the Government's new Pay As You Save, or PAYS, scheme.

The Home Energy Pay As You Save pilots will give households the opportunity to invest in energy efficiency and micro-generation technologies with no upfront cost.

The reports Anthony Stewart, 33, a former sales manager for Lloyds estate agents in Lilliput, Poole has lost his claim for  

Lloyds dismissed Mr. Stewart for visiting "inappropriate" websites on his office computer.  The employment tribunal ruled he had spent "hundreds of hours over a number of years" viewing pornographic images and gambling online.

Lloyds caught Mr. Stewart after he downloaded a virus onto his computer, which rendered it inoperative.  The company fired him from his £54,000-a-year job for gross misconduct.

Mr. Stewart sued, however, for and claimed £45,000 in lost earnings.  He explained he had an addiction to online gambling and accessed the porn sites to distract him from playing poker.  And he argued Lloyds knew employees used the internet for personal use and had no policy banning them viewing inappropriate websites.

Asset Protection Scheme: Treasury Publishes Agreement With RBS

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The Treasury has today published its final agreement with the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) on the bank's participation in the Asset Protection Scheme (APS), along with further detail of the scheme's operation and the assets it covers.

The Treasury has also announced the launch of the Asset Protection Agency that will administer the scheme in order to protect the taxpayer's interest.  Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury Paul Myners said:

Premier League Into Work Scheme Kicks Off

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Top English Premier League football clubs are set to provide hundreds of unique training opportunities to boost the confidence of jobseekers and prepare them for the workplace.

Premier League into Work is based on the successful programme, Support Employment, which is being delivered by 20 Scottish Football League Clubs.

Four English Premier League football clubs - Chelsea, Everton, Portsmouth and Sunderland - will be responsible for the delivery of the Premier League into Work initiative.  They will work with the Premier League, the Department for Work and Pensions and local employers to give jobseekers the skills and abilities they need to find work, while improving their fitness levels and football skills.

New Statutory Housing Guidance

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The Government has given councils more flexibility in how they manage their waiting lists.  New statutory housing guidance makes clear that those in greatest housing need must be given priority.  But it also gives councils more freedom to allocate their homes according to needs specific to their local area.

Councils have said they will use this extra flexibility to prioritise families with local connections, those seeking local employment and to tackle overcrowding and under-occupation in their communities.

Know Your Consumer Rights

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Consumer minister Kevin Brennan has warned consumers to be on their guard from retailers offering deals that seem too good to be true in the run-up to Christmas and the January sales, as part of the Government's "know your consumer rights" campaign.

He has also reminded retailers of their obligation not to mislead customers.

Cases have been brought to the Government's attention recently where retailers have been selling products for a short period at a higher price and then discounting them back down to their usual price, misleading consumers about the promotion.

UK Immigration: Tier 1 Work Visas

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The (MAC) has recommended that the four Tier 1 highly skilled migration routes (i.e., the general, post-study work, entrepreneur and investor routes) of the UK's should be maintained.

The Government's objective for Tier 1 is to attract and retain people who will increase the skills and knowledge of the UK workforce, while maintaining the flexibility of the UK labour market.

For the general route, MAC recommends:

Student Tax Advice: Part 2

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[Continued from Student Tax Advice: Part 2]

  • What is form P38(S)?

Students who plan to work only during the holiday periods, and expect to earn no more than the Personal Allowance (currently £6,475) in the tax year can ask their employer for a , which they should complete and return to the employer at the start of their job - this will entitle them to receive their money tax free.

  • What is form P45?

is given out at the end of a job and shows the pay received and tax deducted between the start of the tax year (6 April) and the date the employment ceased (if before 5 April the following year).  You should keep your P45 in a safe place for future reference.

Student Tax Advice: Part 1

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As many full-time students prepare to find temporary work over the holiday period, they may find that they are in line for tax free income.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is reminding them that they may not need to pay income tax on their earnings, if these are below their Personal Allowance for the year.

The good news for many full-time students who are intending to work over the festive season is that - providing they expect to earn less than £6,475 in the tax year to 5 April 2010 and complete a at the beginning of employment - they will be entitled to receive their money tax free.

Equality Bill Completes Passage Through Commons

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Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, has welcomed the completion of the Equality Bill through the House of Commons.

The Equality Bill sets out groundbreaking new laws which will help narrow the gap between rich and poor; require businesses to report on gender pay; ; and significantly strengthen Britain's anti-discrimination legislation.

Managing The Welfare Impacts Of Migration

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At the British Academy in London earlier this week, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government John Denham gave a speech about "Managing the welfare impacts of migration in times of economic turbulence."

Recent opinion polls show large numbers of citizens in European countries are convinced that migrants place disproportionate pressure on public services, a feeling that is likely to deepen in the shadow of the recession when demand for public services increases.

Mr. Denham had this to say:

Vicks Sinex Micromist Aqueous Nasal Spray Product Recall

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Procter & Gamble have announced it is recalling three lots of its Vicks Sinex nasal spray in three countries: the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom.

The company said it is taking this step after finding the bacteria B. cepacia in a small amount of product made at its plant in Gross Gerau, Germany.  There have been no reports of illness.  However, the bacteria could cause serious infections for individuals with a compromised immune system, or those with chronic lung conditions, such as cystic fibrosis.  B. cepacia poses little medical risk to healthy individuals.

VAT Returns: Businesses Prepare For Major Filing Changes In 2010

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VAT registered businesses are being urged to get ready for major changes to  return filing and payment starting on 1 April 2010.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has sent a leaflet to all 1.9 million VAT registered businesses to alert them to the fact that from next April those with an annual turnover of £100,000 or more (excluding VAT) will have to file their VAT returns online and pay their VAT electronically.

Under the changes, businesses registering for VAT on or after 1 April 2010 will also have to file their return online and pay electronically, whatever their turnover.

UK Petition Power Beefed Up

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The Government has announced local people will soon be able to demand their councils take action on under-performing schools and hospitals, alcohol disorder, anti-social behaviour and other concerns under new proposals to give teeth to local petitions.

For the first time councils will be expected to respond to petitions and tell residents what action is going to be taken to address their concerns.  No council will be able to ignore a petition or leave it on the shelf because it raises a difficult or challenging issue in the local area.  Today's proposals are the next steps in the Government's drive to ensure problems are solved and residents receive the high quality local services they are entitled to.

Redundancy Rights: Aer Lingus Redundancies May Exceed 1,000

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The Irish airline Aer Lingus, which posted losses of Ä93m in the first half of 2009, has failed to reach agreement on its controversial Transformation Plan to change working conditions, reduce staff members and cut the pay of those earning over Ä35,000 a year.

On Tuesday, Chief Executive Christoph Mueller announced the company had failed to reach an accord with unions over cost-cutting measures.  He singled out the Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA) and cabin crew for failing to compromise.  "Instead of sustainable savings of a structural nature, only temporary savings over a short few years were offered by IALPA," he said.

He added, somewhat ominously:

Consultation On Role & Powers of UK Consumer Advocate

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Consumer Minister Kevin Brennan yesterday launched a , the 'Consumer Advocate,' who will be tasked with ensuring UK consumers get a fairer deal in the future.

This is the latest in a series of announcements by the Government to strengthen the rights of British consumers. 

Back in July, the Government announced as part of the White Paper "A Better Deal for Consumers: Delivering Real Help Now and Change for the Future" - which set out a package of measures designed to give consumers a better deal in the downturn and strengthen their consumer rights.

Trade Union Membership: Blacklisting To Be Outlawed

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It will be unlawful for trade union members to be denied employment through blacklists under plans outlined by Employment Relations Minister Anthony Young yesterday.

The move follows publication of the Government's to a public consultation on employers blacklisting workers for their trade union membership or activities held over the summer, and follows evidence that a number of employers in the construction sector had been unlawfully vetting workers.

HMRC Self Assessment Deadline Approaching

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HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is issuing a reminder to anyone who hasn't yet submitted their 2008-09 self assessment tax return - don't forget, your return must be both on time and online.

The 31 October 2009 deadline for paper returns has now passed, which means you must file your return online by the 31 January 2010 deadline.  If you submit a paper return after 31 October 2009, or you file online after 31 January 2010, you could receive a £100 penalty.

Government Increases Funding For Engineering Apprenticeships

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Making its initial response to the Gibson Review of Engineering Construction the Government has committed to:

  • Provide an additional £4.5 million to fund more engineering apprenticeships and trainees.
  • Work with the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board to ensure that the industry's training levy is fairly applied to all firms working in the industry, including non-UK firms.

As a result of the increased funding, opportunities for young people to train for skilled jobs could double to 1,200 by 2011.

Scrap Tariffs On Green Goods

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Tariffs should be scrapped for green goods like solar powered stoves, water saving showers and wind turbine parts, Gareth Thomas argued yesterday. 

Speaking at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva, the Minister for Trade and Development said the move would encourage the widespread use of environmentally-friendly low-carbon products.  At present, applied tariffs on these products can be as high as 27%.

Constructive Dismissal: Pensioner Brings Claim over Assault

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Pensioner Neville Bould, 68, of Stourport, Worcestershire, has lodged a claim for unfair constructive dismissal, alleging he was physically assaulted on two occasions by employees of a jewellery firm where he worked as a van driver.  He complained about the attacks to police and eventually resigned over his treatment.

"One employee elbowed me, then hit me in the face, took my glasses after they had been knocked off and gave me a V-sign," Mr. Bould told Birmingham Employment Tribunal.

"On another occasion, a different employee struck me on my side as he went past, to such an extent that I felt sick and had to go home and lie down.

"I needed painkillers and went to hospital.  I was left with bruises.  I complained to the management and when I looked in the firm's accident book, the assault was recorded as a collision.

English Divorce: Collaborative Law & Mediation

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Solicitors Mishcon de Reya recently published research highlighting the detrimental effect of litigation on children following parental separation.  Sandra Davies announced the report's findings in an article in the .  "The court system is becoming more and more clogged with litigants fighting over emotional issues which the courts cannot police," she said.

The report -  - proposes compulsory attendance at "conflict clinics" as a pre-requisite to litigation.  The  goes on to note that many people believe , "which last year accounted for only £13.8m of the £150m spent on divorce and separation," does not represent an effective alternative for dispute resolution since "it fails to work in the best interests of children."

Redundancy Rights: Unscrupulous Employers Target Pregnant Women

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According to a recent article in the "pregnant women are under threat as never before."  The paper quotes Rosalind Bragg, director of charity , as saying: "During the recession, we've seen an increase in the number of women being chosen for  because they're pregnant."

Of course, if an employee is made  whilst pregnant or on maternity leave they may be able to claim  and .

But Ros Bragg cautions: "It's still extraordinarily difficult to pursue an action for pregnancy discrimination.  Whilst the law's clear, it's often very difficult to prove.  Plus women who are in the late stages of pregnancy, or at home looking after a baby, or who have just returned to work, simply don't have the time or energy."  "We're very concerned that some unscrupulous employers are using the recession as an excuse to unfairly target pregnant women and women on maternity leave," she adds.

Back in 2005, the Equal Opportunities Commission (since renamed the ) estimated 30,000 women lose their jobs each year as a result of being pregnant.  It also predicted a million pregnant women would experience some form of workplace discrimination in the five years following publication of the .

The  - a campaign group comprising , , the , , and  - say the Government has failed to collect data on pregnancy discrimination during this period and made little attempt to ensure employers comply with the law.

Social Mobility: Research Shows Class Is As Big An Issue As Race

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The Government reiterated its commitment to tackle racism and race inequality this week.  And Communities Secretary John Denham said yesterday a real commitment to challenging inequality and disadvantage also means tackling the problems faced by white working class young people.

Since the watershed  was published ten years ago, the Government has introduced a number of measures to improve race equality:  the extended laws against discrimination; over 43,000 public bodies were charged with promoting race equality (which has led to a more representative police force and a halving of racially motivated incidents since 1995); in addition, there has been a 20% increase in the number of pupils of Black Caribbean heritage gaining five GCSEs of grade "C" and above.

But John Denham said more needs to be done: "We know that in education, for example, there are greater similarities between black and white working class children than between working class children and their middle class counterparts."

Mr. Denham said that this research highlights the need to continue the progress in education which has seen all disadvantaged children improve their education results above the national average and young Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) children make an even faster improvement.

At the same, entrenched discrimination still remains a real issue, including for BME middle classes.  Research from Manchester University carried out amongst teachers from a BME background shows that half of those interviewed (including 70% from an African background) felt they had been victims of institutional racism in the schools system which had prevented them from winning promotion to leadership roles.

Export Credits Guarantee Dept. Extends Fixed Rate Export Finance

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Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD) today announced that it will be extending its Fixed Rate Export Finance (FREF) scheme to 31 March 2011.

ECGD is the UK's export credit agency and works with exporters, project sponsors, banks and buyers to help UK exporters trade with confidence, by providing insurance against non-payment risks and guarantees for bank loans to buyers of UK goods.  It also provides insurance against political risks to UK investors in overseas markets.

ECGD's FREF scheme enables UK exporters to offer medium and long-term finance to their overseas buyers at fixed rates of interest.  The interest rates applicable to the FREF scheme are subject to international arrangements, established through the OECD, and are adopted by all major export credit agencies.

Crackdown On Housing Fraud

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The Government has launched a national crackdown on social housing fraud to recover up to 10,000 council and housing association homes fraudulently sublet and occupied, and release them to those in real need.

The Audit Commission has suggested that the number of social homes unlawfully acquired or sublet could range from 1 in 100 to as many as 1 in 20 in some inner-city areas - totalling as many as 50,000 homes nationwide.

Fraudulent tenants earn thousands of pounds a year by unlawfully subletting their properties at higher rental rates.  Sub-tenants may not know about the fraud but 80% do not qualify for a council or housing association home.  If caught both the tenants and sub-tenants will lose their tenancy and could lose their right to future social housing.

147 councils have signed up to the Government's crackdown on housing fraud, including every council in London.  As part of the crackdown, the Government will distribute £4 million to help councils and local housing associations set up anti-fraud initiatives - including special hotlines and crack squads to investigate allegations of fraud.

Burglary UK: Additional 15,000 Homes Secured

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An additional 15,000 vulnerable people's homes are to be secured against burglary - bringing the number of households helped through a £6.5 million scheme to 60,000 Home Office Minister Alan Campbell announced yesterday.