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Seeking support

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Media caption‘I would have died without Help to Rent’

For Steve, homelessness started when his relationship broke down.

He moved into shared accommodation and after going into hospital with pneumonia he came home to find the landlord changing the locks.

Soon he was on the streets.

“People think if you’re homeless you must be some kind of addict or a bad person,” he says. “But it takes such a little spark to cause the fire of homelessness. And trying to find help is actually quite hard because it’s not that well signposted.”

Councils have a legal duty to help families, pregnant women and other vulnerable people who find themselves homeless. But as a single man Steve did not qualify as “priority need” and the private rented sector was the most viable option.

Image caption A Help to Rent scheme helped Steve find a long-term home.

But renting in the private sector is expensive.

With most landlords requiring a deposit, a month’s rent in advance and agency fees of up to £350 the costs add up.

Research by homelessness charity Crisis found these upfront costs can range from around £900 for shared accommodation in Yorkshire to over £2,000 for a one-bed flat in London.

This would be a significant amount for anyone, but for someone who is homeless it can be an insurmountable barrier.

This is on top of the fact that most landlords are unwilling to rent to someone on benefits, let alone someone who is homeless – research by Crisis found only 20% of landlords would be willing to let to homeless people.

Eventually Steve was put in touch with a charity in Elmbridge, Surrey, an area he knew.

Elmbridge is in Chancellor Philip Hammond‘s constituency and is one of the most expensive postcodes in the country. Rents and therefore deposits are very high.

Owning virtually nothing except for a few clothes, Steve had little hope of getting the money together for a deposit to rent.

Elmbridge Rentstart helped him find a suitable home and provided a six month bond on his deposit, as well as paying the first month’s rent.

Instead of a cash deposit the charity provides a guarantee to the landlord to cover any damage to the property or unpaid rent, removing the financial risk.

If there is any damage to the property at the end of a tenancy the charity either tries to rectify the issue using volunteers, for example through redecorating, or will pay the landlord directly.

However, they found with the right support deposit deductions tend to be low.

Long-term solution

Rentstart also provided support to help Steve understand the process and the benefits he was entitled to.

“Without Rentstart’s help I would probably have been dead,” he said.

“I wouldn’t have known where to start looking for benefits. I wouldn’t have even known benefits were available. I would have been on the streets in the winter and I probably wouldn’t have seen the winter through.”

The scheme aims to find a long-term solution, matching tenants to suitable homes and providing ongoing support.

“I’ve been living here for four years. And it’s because they did their research,” he explains.

“They didn’t just say ‘well you’re homeless, you’re going here’. I knew the area, I knew the people and I knew where to look for work. I had connections.”

Image caption Chief Executive of Elmbridge Rentstart Helen Watson backs a government-funded rent deposit scheme.

Ahead of the Budget, Crisis is calling for the government to fund more Help to Rent schemes like the one in Elmbridge and a national rent deposit scheme.

This would provide a commitment from the government to guarantee a deposit for tenants who can’t afford to pay one upfront.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said it was investing £950m up to 2020 to reduce homelessness and a further £2bn in affordable housing.

But Helen Watson, Chief Executive of Elmbridge Rentstart, said a government-funded rent deposit scheme would make a huge difference to organisations like hers.

“It would mean the really limited resources we have to hold to have our own bond scheme would be freed up to house more people in other ways,” she says.

The Westminster Policy Institute estimated funding the scheme would cost £31m a year. But Crisis says the long-term annual savings could be up to £595m, by taking pressure off local authority services and preventing people becoming homeless, allowing them to move off benefits and back into work.

The Homelessness Reduction Act, which comes into force next year, places extra responsibilities on councils to prevent homelessness. Crisis says Help to Rent would help homeless people into the private rented sector, taking the pressure of councils.

Immediate help

Helen Watson acknowledges the need for more social housing but says the private rented sector could also offer solutions.

“With the private rented sector you can pick where you want to live. So if you’ve got problems in a particular area because the network’s not good and you’re trying to recover from a drug or alcohol problem, somewhere else, perhaps where you can find work, is a really good solution,” she says.

“Of course we need more social housing but the private rented sector is a good solution when it’s properly managed by the right sort of organisation.”

Tom Say, a senior campaigns officer at Crisis, agrees.

“We absolutely need to build more social housing but that’s a long term goal. It will take years to build that new housing to get the stock we need,” he said.

“There are homeless people that need help right now and this is a quick way for the government to help those people.”

Steve now works for Elmbridge Rentstart himself, spending his evenings locating homeless people in the area who might be in need of help. He says the Help to Rent scheme changed his life.

“Without the support and guidance it gave me, I’d be worse off than the guys I go out and help.”

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New Northern penalty fares will tackle ticket evaders on the Airedale and Wharfedale lines

ANYONE caught without a train ticket on the Airedale and Wharfedale line could face a penalty fare of £20 from next month.

Train operator Northern is getting ready for the latest phase of a campaign to get all its customers to buy their tickets before they get on board.

The penalty fares system that is already in motion in other parts of the country, will start on the district lines from December 6.

It means any customers travelling without a ticket on a Northern train from that date anywhere between Leeds and Bradford Forster Square, Leeds/Bradford and Ilkley, or Leeds/Bradford and Skipton, could be penalised on the spot.

Posters are going up at stations and leaflets will be handed out to rail passengers to explain all about it.

Tim Calow, chairman of the Aire Valley Rail User’s Group said in principle it is important to stop people without paying but more ticket machines were needed at stations first.

“There are some stations such as Silsden and Steeton where there is only one machine, a five minute walk from other platforms and in Cononley people from the village wanting to go to Skipton will have to cross the level crossing twice to get a ticket first.

“I’ve had e-mails from Northern saying they plan to put in more machines but I doubt it will happen before December 6.”

Paul Barnfield, Regional Director for Northern, said: “The penalty fares are a natural extension of the Buy Before You Board Campaign we launched last year.

“Sadly there is still a minority who believe they have a right to travel without buying a ticket.

“Their actions reduce the overall income of the rail industry and, as a result, reduces the money available to invest in further improvements to the railway.

“Everyone who travels by train should have a valid ticket or pass. Or must be able to demonstrate they have made every effort to buy a ticket before they boarded.

“If they are unable to do either of these then, from December 6, our authorised collectors will be on hand at stations along the routes to either issue £20 fines or ask customers to pay double the cost of a single ticket to their destination.”

Penalty fares have been used by a number of train operators across the country for more than 20 years. The scheme works to a national set of rules which include signs and warning notices at stations. There is also a clear appeals process which has been tried and tested by the industry. Go to northernrailway.co.uk/penalty-fares to find out more.

Passengers without tickets to be hit with on-the-spot fines

RAIL passengers travelling without a ticket on two routes in the Bradford district could be hit with on-the-spot fines in a fresh crackdown on fare dodgers, a rail company has announced.

A team of ‘authorised collectors’ will be positioned at stations along the Airedale and Wharfedale lines to issue £20 ‘penalty fares’ to ticketless travellers.

Train operator Northern is bringing in the changes as part of a campaign to get all its passengers to buy their tickets before they get onboard .

The penalty fares system – already used by other train operators in different parts of the country – will start in the Bradford district on December 6.

It means passengers travelling without a ticket on a Northern train from that date anywhere between Leeds and Bradford Forster Square, Leeds/Bradford and Ilkley, or Leeds/Bradford and Skipton, could be penalised on the spot.

Other stations on those routes include Frizinghall, Shipley, Keighley, Baildon and Guiseley.

Northern says it has invested in new state-of-the-art ticket machines at all stations on the two lines. Posters are going up at stations, while leaflets will be handed out to rail passengers to explain all about it.

Tim Calow, chairman of the Aire Valley Rail User’s Group said that, in principle, it was important to stop people travelling without paying, but more ticket machines were needed at stations first.

“There are some stations such as Silsden and Steeton where there is only one machine – a five minute walk from other platforms, and in Cononley people from the village wanting to go to Skipton will have to cross the level crossing twice to get a ticket first.

“I’ve had emails from Northern saying they plan to put in more machines but I doubt it will happen before December 6.”

Paul Barnfield, regional director for Northern, said: “The penalty fares are a natural extension of the Buy Before You Board Campaign we launched last year.

“Sadly there is still a minority who believe they have a right to travel without buying a ticket.

“Their actions reduce the overall income of the rail industry and, as a result, reduces the money available to invest in further improvements to the railway.

“Everyone who travels by train should have a valid ticket or pass, or must be able to demonstrate they have made every effort to buy a ticket before they boarded.

“If they are unable to do either of these then, from December 6, our authorised collectors will be on hand at stations along the routes to either issue £20 fines or ask customers to pay double the cost of a single ticket to their destination.”

Mr Barnfield spoke of the measures that have been introduced to prevent well-intentioned passengers falling foul of the new crackdown.

He said: “We have invested in new state-of-the-art ticket machines at all stations on the Airedale and Wharfedale lines.

“These machines offer a full range of fares – including discounts.

“With online and mobile ticketing, as well as ticket offices at our staffed stations, there is really no reason for anyone to board a train without a valid ticket.

“For customers who want to pay by cash, our ticket machines will issue Promise to Pay notices which can be exchanged (along with a cash payment) for a ticket when on board the service or at the next available ticket office.”

Penalty fares have been used by a number of train operators across the country for more than 20 years.

The scheme works to a national set of rules which include signs and warning notices at stations. There is also a clear appeals process which has been tried and tested by the industry.

The new scheme seems set to replace a previous ‘failure to purchase’ system, which had prompted complaints from passengers.

Go to northernrailway.co.uk/penalty-fares to find out more about the new scheme.

Jail for man who faked £7m will to cheat charity

Paul CoppolaImage copyright CIARAN DONNELLY
Image caption Paul Coppola was jailed for two years for faking the will of his relative Desiderio Coppola

A man who faked a relative’s will to prevent a charity benefitting from a multi-million pound legacy has been jailed.

Paul Coppola, 65, admitted forging the signature of Desiderio Coppola just days before his death in October 2011.

The deceased had wanted his £7m estate to be divided between his family and the balance left to the charity, Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Coppola was jailed for two years at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

The court was told that Coppola had known his second cousin, Desiderio Coppola, all his life and that the accused had referred to him as “uncle”.

In July 2010 Desiderio Coppola made a will bequeathing much of his estate to his friends and family, including £100,000 to Paul Coppola.

No mention

It also gave instructions that tenants of business premises that he owned were to be offered the chance to buy them.

Mr Coppola also stated that the residue of his estate was to go to Medecins Sans Frontieres, the charity that provides medical assistance in war torn regions and developing countries.

However, days before his gravely ill relative’s death, the court was told that Paul Coppola presented a new will to the family that made no mention of the charity.

It also made no reference to the business premises and instructed that the remainder of the estate be paid to Coppola, of Waverley Park Terrace, Edinburgh.

Image copyright Scottish Courts
Image caption Coppola was jailed for two years at Edinburgh Sheriff Court

Fiscal Ann MacNeill told the court that the day after Desiderio Coppola’s death, the accused contacted his goddaughter, Elvira Fearn, to tell her about the content of the faked document.

The fiscal said: “Although she had no knowledge of the wills or the deceased’s intentions, she was suspicious of the will because she was aware that the deceased hated to pay tax and she did not believe that he would have omitted Medecins Sans Frontieres completely and left the residue to the accused as there would have been a large tax liability to pay.”

She added: “Elvira Fearn was of the opinion that the changes to the will reflected the accused’s allegiances rather than the wishes of the deceased.”

Several days after the death, friends and family held a meeting with Coppola, where he was asked how the new will had come about.

‘Much grief’

The fiscal said: “The accused explained that he found out that the deceased was due to leave the majority of his wealth to charity and that he had persuaded the deceased to change his will.

“He said the deceased had agreed to change the terms of his will.”

In June 2012 confirmation of the will was granted and a total of £1.2m was paid to friends and family who had been bequeathed specific amounts.

By March 2013 Coppola had received a property from the estate in Edinburgh’s Raeburn Place, which he sold for £290,000. He also received a further property in the city‘s Waterloo Place.

Coppola also received more than £270,000 from the estate into his bank account in October 2013.

However, weeks later lawyers went to the Court of Session in Edinburgh and successfully raised an action to have the will set aside.

Coppola chose not to defend the action.

The police were informed and lawyers then took over administration of the estate and began trying to recover money that had been due to the charity.

Coppola later admitted to officers that he had forged the signature of his relative.

Sheriff Frank Crowe told him: “Your actions caused much grief, inconvenience and disappointment to the other legatees and your friends and uncertainty to the tenants of properties which were rented from the deceased.”

The sheriff told Coppola he would have faced a three-year jail sentence if he had been convicted after trial, but it would be reduced in view of his early guilty plea.

Sacha Baron Cohen offers to pay ‘Borat’ mankini fines

Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat in a mankini with thumbs upImage copyright PA

Sacha Baron Cohen has offered to pay fines for six Czech tourists who were arrested in Kazakhstan for wearing nothing but ‘Borat’ inspired mankinis.

The group had posed for photos in the capital city of Astana.

On 14 November, local media reported the tourists had been fined 22,500 Tenge ($67; £51) each for their “indecent” appearance.

The notorious one-piece was made famous by the English actor’s character, Borat, a fictional Kazakh TV presenter.

“To my Czech mates who were arrested. Send me your details and proof that it was you, and I’ll pay your fine,” the comedian wrote on Facebook.

Image copyright informburo.kz
Image caption The Czech men were detained for “minor hooliganism” after posing in freezing temperatures

Borat actor offers to pay mankini fines

Baron Cohen’s 2006 comedy film Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, follows the character of Borat Sagdiyev as he travels to the US to make a documentary.

The film earned the actor a Golden Globe award but also attracted controversy.

Kazakhstan banned the film and sales of the DVD and the authorities threatened to sue him.

But in 2012, the Kazakh foreign minister publicly thanked Baron Cohen for boosting tourism in the central Asian state.

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Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sacha Baron Cohen as Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev

Mankinis could get you in trouble closer to home too.

In 2012, mankinis and other “inappropriate clothing” were banned in Newquay in a bid to reduce crime and shed the Cornish seaside town’s stag party reputation.

‘Outsourced’ workers seek better deal in landmark case

Catering workerImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Outsourced workers are are often low paid staff, such as caterers and security guards

A group of 75 workers, including porters and receptionists, are going to tribunal to gain more rights at work.

As outsourced employees, they are supplied to the University of London by a facilities company, but do not receive the same benefits as those employed directly.

The university does not accept they should be a “joint employer”, which would allow for better entitlements.

The case could affect around 3.3 million outsourced workers in the UK.

Many big organisations pay facilities companies to provide workers who are often low paid, such as cleaners or security guards. This allows them them to control the way people work, determining their pay and conditions, whilst avoiding many of the legal responsibilities of being an employer.

Making ends meet

Henry Chango Lopez is an outsourced worker at the heart of the campaign, which could become a game changing legal challenge for millions of people around the country.

He works as a porter at the university, but is employed by the business services company Cordant, and has two jobs to make ends meet.

“I start my day at 4am,” he said. “I travel from Hertfordshire to Southwark in London to do two hours cleaning work.

“Then I go straight to my main job as a porter at the University of London, where I work from 8am to 3pm.”

Image caption Mr Lopez wants the University of London to accept “joint employer” status

Mr Lopez is part of the group, which also includes security guards and post-room staff, seeking a tribunal ruling that the university is recognised, along with Cordant, as their “joint employer”.

The concept has existed in various forms for decades in the US. It allows outsourced or franchise employees in some circumstances to legally compel client companies or franchisors to enter into collective bargaining agreements. However, it has to be shown that these companies have sufficient “control” over the employees.

If established in the UK, unions could collectively bargain the pay, terms and conditions of outsourced workers with the “joint employer” – the employer that chooses to outsource. That employer may find it difficult to then justify inferior terms and conditions for its outsourced workers.

The workers are being supported by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain.

Its general secretary, Dr Jason Moyer-Lee, said: “For all intents and purposes, the outsourced workers at the University of London work for the university. It is the entity which essentially decides what their pay and terms and conditions are going to be.

“So, unless the workers can negotiate directly with the university, they can’t really negotiate at all over their pay and terms and conditions.”

‘Enormous’ impact

UK law has never recognised the concept of “joint employers” for the purpose of negotiating workers’ terms and conditions.

Specialist employment lawyer Daphne Romney QC said that if it did, “it would be enormous”.

She added: “There would be about 3.3 million outsourced employees whose terms and conditions would improve because they would be on the same terms and conditions as the people they work alongside everyday but who are directly employed.

“And for the employers, of course, there would also be an impact because it would be more expensive to improve those terms and conditions.”

Mr Lopez said his life would “change massively” if the principle was recognised, stopping him having to work two jobs and seeing a big improvement to his pension.

But the university does not agree it is responsible.

In a statement, the University of London told the BBC: “The university does not employ any of these workers and does not accept that the relevant legislation recognises the concept of joint employment.

“We have therefore not agreed to the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain‘s request for recognition.”

£800 million less spent in county through public sector pay squeeze, a union says

THE public-sector pay squeeze has resulted in a reduction in spending in Yorkshire and Humberside this year by £800 million, according to new figures published by a union.

The data has been obtained by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) which has listed the loss of spending power across the UK over the past seven years.

The analysis shows that Yorkshire and Humberside’s public-sector workers today are earning, on average, £2,292 less each year than if their pay had risen in line with inflation.

As a result, the union states that since the pay caps began in 2010, full-time public sector workers in Yorkshire and Humberside have had £5 billion less to spend in the local economy.

TUC Regional Secretary for Yorkshire and Humberside Bill Adams said: “The public sector pay squeeze has hit communities across Yorkshire and Humberside hard. And that means less money spent on our high streets and in local businesses.

“The pay cap is a false economy. The Chancellor must use the Budget to give all public sector workers the pay rise they have earned, and end these artificial pay restrictions.”

Recent TUC polling shows that one in seven – 15 per cent -public sector workers skipped meals this year to make ends meet. And one in four say they couldn’t pay an unexpected bill of £500.

West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce spokesman Mike Cartwright said: “We cannot comment specifically on the cap itself, as most of the businesses that we represent are in the private sector.

“However, most observers would recognise that there is a direct correlation between capping pay and the pace of economic growth in any given area.

“Areas with a higher proportion of public sector workers would, therefore, be more affected. The pay squeeze is not good for economic growth, but in recent years public sector budgets have been cut, and many areas of the private sector have been hit by increasing costs, more competition, skills shortages and other additional uncertainties.”

British Gas scraps standard tariff for new customers

British Gas vanImage copyright Getty Images

Energy giant British Gas will scrap its standard variable tariff (SVT) price category by April for new customers.

It comes after draft legislation designed to lower the cost of energy bills was published by the government.

The Draft Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariffs Cap) Bill would give energy regulator Ofgem the power to cap SVTs.

Rival energy firm E.On has already said SVTs will no longer be the default option for customers coming to the end of their existing tariffs.

SVTs are usually among the most expensively priced tariffs. British Gas is estimated to have about six million customers on the tariff.

‘Comprehensive’

Announcing the change, Ian Conn, chief executive of British Gas parent firm Centrica, said: “We have long advocated that the end of the Standard Variable Tariff is the best way to encourage customers to shop around for the best energy deal.”

Although the development only applies to new customers, Mr Conn said the company was keen to move all its customers off the SVT.

“We will contact all of our customers at least twice a year to encourage them to move away from the SVT,” he said.

British Gas contacted all its SVT customers in the first half of 2017, and it says that 10% switched away from the tariff.

The company has also said it will:

  • Provide new offers “to respond to customers’ changing needs”
  • Proactively offer customers a choice of fixed-term tariffs at the end of their contract
  • Introduce a new fixed-term default tariff
  • Contact customers on legacy Standard Variable Tariffs and offer them better deals
  • Introduce simpler bills for all customers
  • Improve customer service

Mr Conn told the BBC‘s Today programme that it had been working on these proposals “for many months now”.

And he denied that action had been taken because of government threats to impose price caps on the energy market.

“We have been saying for the past 18 months that we need to end ‘evergreen’ contracts – those which don’t have an end date,” Mr Conn said.

He said the new measures announced were “a comprehensive set of actions”.

“But we also need a fairer way to pay for the changing energy system by removing Government policy costs from energy bills,” he added.

Budget 2017

Festival goersImage copyright Getty Images

More young people are voting than at any time in the last quarter of a century.

But that resurgence is favouring the Labour Party.

Just two years ago, the split in support between Labour and the Conservatives among 18 to 29-year-olds was fairly even, 36% to 32%.

But in June’s general election that gap widened dramatically, with Labour taking a 64% share to the Tories’ 21%, according to pollsters YouGov.

So with the Budget coming up on 22 November, where could the Chancellor take action to attract the younger voter?

Housing

The number of young people living at home has been rising.

In 1996, around 2.7 million, or 21%, of those aged between 20 and 34 were living at home. That figure has risen to 3.4 million or 26% in 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics.

For young men the proportion is even higher, at 32%.

That rise is partly due to more young people staying in education and training, but also due to the increased costs of buying or renting a home.

In October, Prime Minister Theresa May promised to fix the “broken” housing market and earmarked another £2bn to build council houses and affordable homes for rent.

But Labour and housing charities said the plan would only help a fraction of the 1.2 million families awaiting housing.

Pay

For decades after World War Two young people could expect to be better off than their parents at comparable ages.

But some data shows recent generations have been doing worse than their predecessors.

If you look at the chart below, the age at which Baby Boomers and Generation X, started earning £400 per week consistently fell. But for millennials that age started to rise.

However, more recent data shows that pay for younger people has been holding up well over the past 10 years. Younger generations have seen pay growth that is roughly comparable to older workers, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. Pay for younger workers has been supported by rises in minimum wage.

Education

It’s not all grim news for today’s young people. They are going on to higher education in greater numbers than previous generations.

In 1950, just 3.4% of the population had been to university.

As the chart above indicates, there has been a dramatic rise in higher education participation since then.

In England, the higher education participation rate for 17-20 year olds rose to 42% in 2016, from 33% in 2006.

However, there are questions over whether there is demand for those graduates.

The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) estimates that for those who left in the 2015 university year, 48% ended up in non-graduate jobs six months on.

But at least the jobs market is strong. The unemployment rate has fallen to 4.3%, the lowest in 42 years.

Debt

But that higher education comes at a cost. Tuition fees were first introduced in 1998 and since then have risen to £9,000 in England. In Scotland young people do not pay university tuition fees.

If you include that student debt, then young people have very high levels of unsecured debt.

The chart above is based on recent survey data analysed by PWC. It found that on average 25 to 34-year-olds hold debt equivalent to more than 50% of their income.

Of course you could argue that student loans are not as onerous as other forms of debt, as it is only paid back once the student gets a job earning more than £21,000 a year.

Nevertheless it has a financial burden that previous generations have not had to carry.

In October, the government announced that tuition fees in England would be frozen at £9,250 a year. It will also raise the earnings threshold at which graduates have to start paying tax to £25,000 in April 2018.

Gaia Pope’s relatives pay tribute after body find

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