Four British energy suppliers face investigation into claims of misselling

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Four British energy suppliers face investigation into claims of misselling

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem), the regulator of the electricity and gas markets in Great Britain, has launched an investigation into four of the largest British energy suppliers over suspicions that they not be complying with face-to-face and telephone sales regulations. The four organisations facing scrutiny could be fined up to 10% of their annual turnover if it is found that they are breaking sales regulations. Scottish Power, npower, Scottish and Southern Energy and EDF Energy are all to face questioning by the organisation.

Ofgem has urged customers of the four companies to alert the energy regulator, “if they are concerned about the sales approach any domestic suppliers have taken when selling energy contracts, either face-to-face or by telephone,” according to a statement. “As part of the investigation process Ofgem will examine any evidence of non-compliance and consider whether there are grounds for exercising enforcement powers.”

New regulations on sales tactics by energy suppliers were recently introduced, and, Ofgem has said, energy suppliers must be “proactive in preventing misselling to customers both face to face and over the phone. Also, if suppliers are selling contracts face to face they must provide customers with an estimate before any sales are concluded. In most circumstances customers should also receive a comparison of the supplier’s offer with their current deal.” Only one in five consumers consider energy suppliers to be trustworthy, and 61% of people feel intimidated by doorstep sales people from energy companies. According to the organisation Consumer Focus, “complaints have declined since new rules came into effect this year, but suppliers still seem to be flouting the rules. Some customers are still being given misleading quotes and information, which leave them worse off when they switch provider.”

The newspaper The Guardian has reported that “householders are reporting that sales agents working for the energy suppliers are giving them misleading information and quotes which leave them worse off when they switch supplier.” Consumer Focus has said that if energy companies continue to break the rules, they could be banned from doorstep-selling completely. The report goes on to say that “new figures from helpline Consumer Direct show that while the number of complaints has fallen since last year, about 200 cases of mis-selling are being reported each month.” However, Scottish Power said it insists on “the highest standards possible for all of our sales agents”, and npower told the Financial Times that it was “confident that the processes we have in place mean that we comply with our regulatory obligations”. EDF added that it was “fully compliant with all obligations regarding sales of energy contracts”.

According to the regulator, the obligations are serious and must be followed by energy supplies, or they will face “tougher sanctions than those available under more general consumer protection law.” Ofgem has published a guide advising consumers what they should do should an energy salesperson contact them in person of by telephone. Improper sales tactics are still common in the industry—in 2008 an Ofgem investigation found that 48% of gas customers and 42% of electricity customers were worse off after switching supplier on the doorstep. Npower was fined £1.8 million in 2008 by the organisation, and Ofgem insists that they are “committed to taking action” over improper sales activities by energy companies. “Suppliers have existing obligations to detect and prevent misselling and new licence conditions were brought in following our probe to further increase protection for customers,” said Andrew Wright, a Senior Partner of the regulator. “We expect all suppliers to comply with these tougher obligations but if our investigations find otherwise we will take strong action.”

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Head of energy at Consumer Focus, Audrey Gallacher, called the investigation “a welcome step … to address years of customers getting a bad deal on energy prices on their doorstep. While many doorstep sales people will do a good job, the pay and rewards system continues to encourage mis-selling, despite years of regulation and voluntary initiatives. If better advice for customers and enforcement of the tougher rules doesn’t end the flagrant abuse of this form of selling the big question will be whether it should be completely banned.” Christine McGourty, director of Energy UK, which represents the leading gas and electricity companies, said that “the companies involved will collaborate with the Ofgem investigation and are awaiting further details from the regulator. Any sales agent in breach of the code will be struck off the approved energy sales register.” Which? chief executive, Peter Vicary-Smith, has said he considers the situation “shocking”, saying that the investigation “will do nothing to improve consumer trust in energy suppliers. We’re pleased that Ofgem has promised tough measures against any firms guilty of mis-selling. We hope it uses this opportunity to tighten rules around telesales so they are in line with those for face to face sales.”

SNP Westminster Energy spokesperson Mike Weir MP, however, said that the investigation “does nothing to tackle the real problem of fuel prices which leave many Scots facing great difficulty in heating their homes … Rather than tinkering around the edges Ofgem should be looking at how to reduce prices for vulnerable households.” Gareth Kloet, Head of Utilities at Confused.com, one of the UK’s biggest and most popular price comparison services, also welcomed the inquiry. “It is unacceptable for energy companies to mislead customers like this,” he said, adding that Confused.com has previously “urged energy providers to either stop the practice of doorstep selling or make it very clear to households that better deals are available online. There is no reason why door-to-door salesmen can’t show people online deals and even help households switch to them.”

“Our research reveals customers could end up paying £167 more than they need to as door-to-door salesmen are unable to offer the discounts that are applied online. The changes that have been made to date are a welcome addition to safeguard customers; however this review has been much needed for a long time. Hopefully it will mark the end of customers being overcharged and missold,” Kloet continued. “Our message to energy consumers remains the same: they should shop around online to make sure they’re getting the best deal possible and turn these salesmen away.”

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Brazil’s Minas state stops sales of Toyota Corolla

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Brazil’s Minas state stops sales of Toyota Corolla

Friday, April 23, 2010

Minas, one of the largest states of Brazil, has stopped the sale of the Toyota Corolla over safety concerns.

The move was made after nine Corolla customers reported that their cars automatically accelerated. The state public prosecutor’s office said in an online statement on Tuesday that the problem is blamed on accelerator pedals sticking underneath floor mats. Local government said the issue was “putting in danger the lives of occupants”.

According to the prosecutor’s office, sales of Corollas may resume when Toyota alters the floormats in its current models. Toyota has recalled over eight million vehicles worldwide due to acceleration problems.

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BP: New cap on Gulf of Mexico oil well in place

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BP: New cap on Gulf of Mexico oil well in place

Thursday, July 15, 2010

For the first time since April 20, no oil is flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, though the halt may be temporary, as integrity testing began on a new sealing cap. The cap was installed on a leaking well in an effort by the BP energy company to contain oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. The previous containment cap, which was removed Saturday, had a much looser fit than the new one and allowed oil to escape into the Gulf. It took about three days for the cap to be removed, the site prepared, and the new one to be slowly lowered into position.

The energy company had planned to begin running integrity tests Tuesday to measure the performance of the well under pressure. The tests were delayed a day for further analysis, but clearance to proceed was given Wednesday afternoon, then a leak in a choke line had to be repaired. BP senior vice president Kent Wells announced at his Thursday afternoon briefing that the final valve on the cap assembly started to close at 1:15 PM Thursday and was fully closed at 2:25 PM, finally shutting in the oil flow. If the tests show that the well is strong enough, the sealing cap valves will likely remain closed. If the well cannot be safely closed from the top, the new cap is designed to funnel almost all the oil to ships above while two relief wells are constructed for a permanent fix. After the old cap was removed, oil flowed freely into the waters of the Gulf until the present cap was installed at about 7:00 PM CDT Monday (00:00 UTC Tuesday).

BP has stated that this oil containment system has never been deployed at the current depths, nor has it been tested in the conditions that it will be expected to operate in. During the testing period, which could last anywhere from six to forty-eight hours, all undersea oil containment systems will be temporarily suspended. The company made clear that, even if the tests succeed, this does not mean that oil leakage has permanently ceased.

Doug Suttles, a BP executive, explained that during the test, the well pressure will be carefully monitored. Suttles said at a Monday briefing that the ideal would be for tests to show high pressure around the seal, indicating that no oil is escaping. He also stated that on the other hand, the pressures could be lower than anticipated, leading to the assumption that the well is damaged and is leaking oil and gas into surrounding rock. If this were to happen, keeping the cap shut could further damage the well. The solution for this scenario is to reopen the valves and funnel most, if not all, of the oil to ships above.

Drilling of the first relief well was suspended until completion of the integrity test. Kent Wells explained at his Wednesday morning briefing that the first relief well is now 4 feet from the original well and there is a remote possibility that the pressure test could open a path to the relief well. Drilling of the second relief well has stopped at 16,000 feet so as not to interfere with the first well and to keep routing options open in case the first relief well fails. Even if the pressure tests do succeed and the main well is shut, work on the first relief well will continue until it intercepts the main well. When this occurs, mud and cement will be pumped into the well for a permanent seal. Containment and clean up operations will continue even after the relief wells are finished to deal with oil already released.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill began on April 20 when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing eleven and marking the start of the worst offshore oil spill in United States history.

Posted: February 19th, 2019 by

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Rower Tuijn halfway across Pacific in record attempt

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Rower Tuijn halfway across Pacific in record attempt

Monday, July 9, 2007

Dutch adventurer Ralph Tuijn has reached the halfway point of his attempt to be the first person to row across the Pacific Ocean unaided.

The 16,000 kilometre journey from the coast of Peru to the seaside city of Brisbane, Australia, the widest section of the Pacific, has never been crossed absolutely unaided by a rower, and Tuijn says just nine people have rowed it even with assistance.

Tuijn reached the central point of his crossing, an insignificant point of water in the ocean, 111 days after setting off from Peru in March. He has been making good progress, and has since cut his estimated time of arrival in Brisbane by a month.

The Dutchman, who now expects to reach his destination on October 20, has kept in touch with those tracking his movements through daily internet postings from his laptop computer, including his wife Winnie. His boat, the Zeeman Challenger, is a seven-metre custom plywood vessel.

Tuijn has overcome a variety of obstacles to reach the halfway point. He is suffering from the constant attention of sharks, who often bump his boat and disrupt his attempts at sleep. One particular shark, dubbed ‘Gomulka’ by Tuijn, has been trailing the adventurer’s boat for extended periods.

He has also accidentally burnt himself when he spilled hot water on his foot whilst trying to make coffee, apparently also from a shark ‘bump’. He is also forced to manually pump water for cooking and drinking after his automatic water pump broke down not long into his journey.

“Physically everything feels great and I can’t help feeling that I could do this for 500 days, but mentally it’s still hard to be on your own for such a long time”

His vessel has no motors or sails, but relies on his physical rowing power to move. The boat does have a solar power system to provide energy for his laptop, a telephone and a global positioning system.

Tujin, who is raising money for a children’s home in Mumbai, India, is rowing at an average speed of 58 kilometres each day. His diet consists of freeze-dried foods and fish, which are keeping him physically well-conditioned despite tiring mentally.

Tuijn is a serial adventurer and experienced rower. He has rowed across the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, as well as cycled across Russia and the icy terrain of Greenland.

Posted: February 19th, 2019 by

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Thai court strips ex-Prime Minister of $1.4 billion

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Thai court strips ex-Prime Minister of $1.4 billion

Friday, February 26, 2010

Thailand’s Supreme Court today ruled that the family of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra be stripped of 46.3 billion baht (US$1.4 billion) in frozen assets, more than half of a contested $2.3 billion fortune. According to the court, the seized assets were illegally gained while Thaksin was Prime Minister; specifically, his familial involvement and connections with Shin Corporation.

In a statement released by the court, the judges said that Thaksin had adjusted government policies to favor telecommunications businesses, including Shin Corporation, a large telecommunications company owned by Thaksin, and his family, and sold to a Singapore investment firm in 2006. Additionally, Thaksin was alleged to have deposited shares held in Shin Corporation with family members whilst in office – a move to avoid, under Thai law, illegally holding any company stock while Prime Minister. Additionally, he was found to have unfairly promoted a $127 million loan to Burma – benefiting a satellite communications firm controlled by his family.

In a response from an undisclosed location outside Thailand, Thaksin contested the ruling, claiming the case was politically motivated and that, “the court was used to get rid of a politician.” In his remarks, he said that he came by his wealth legally, and he would continue his fight against both the ruling and the party that ousted him in 2008. In Thailand, Thaksin’s red-shirted supporters publicly opposed the verdict; although, no significant disturbances have been reported despite government warnings over the possibility violence. Instead, protesters say they plan a mass demonstration against the ruling sometime in March.

Posted: February 19th, 2019 by

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Switzerland: charges dropped in the Aubonne bridge affair

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Switzerland: charges dropped in the Aubonne bridge affair

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Nyon — The prosecutor did not withhold complains for “simple” and “severe” physical harm by negligence against gendarmes Poget and Deiss in the trial of the Aubonne Bridge affair. Verdict will be given of Friday in the morning.

Contents

  • 1 Facts
  • 2 Plaintifs
  • 3 Prosecutor
  • 4 External links
  • 5 Sources

Posted: February 14th, 2019 by

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Moscow celebrates Victory Day with military parade

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Moscow celebrates Victory Day with military parade

Monday, May 11, 2009

On May 9, Moscow heralded its celebrations of Victory Day with one of the largest military parades seen since the fall of the Soviet Union through the Red Square and the streets of Moscow. Signifying the defeat over Nazi Germany in 1945 in World War 2, Victory Day continues to be one of the most poignant and emotional celebrations and national holidays in Russia. Estimates of more than 27 million lost lives during the war continues to leave a vein of sadness in Russia.

Victory day began early in Moscow with inner city streets being closed from 6am and the major entrance of Tverskaya Ulitsa completely locked down with all access to non-military blocked until the end of the parade. Tens of thousands of people lined the upper parts of Tverskaya to see the exit of the military as well as the air force fly-over on their entrance to Red Square. In total more than 9,000 troops, 69 planes and a huge collection of armored vehicles, tanks, and massive anti-aircraft missile defense systems ensured that Moscovites and the rest of Russia will remember Victory Day 2009.

In scenes reminiscent of the end of the war military bands played around the city until all hours of the night. At Leningradsky station departing veterans and widows danced and celebrated with younger generations whilst loudly singing the national anthem. As trains departed, staff handed out flowers in recognition of the contributions made and loud cheers were heard across the many platforms. In a touching event it seemed to bond the generations of yesterday and today.

Preparations for the military parade began months ago with regular rehearsals in Alabino including the erection of a mock Red Square and Kremlin to ensure authenticity. Final dress rehearsals took place in Moscow on May 7 including a full practice of the air show. On display for the first time was the S-400 air defense system which is capable of intercepting airborne targets at ranges up to 400 kilometers (249 mi).

Following the official parades and ceremonies, Red Square and the the inner city was opened to the public, albeit under extreme security and an ever watching eye from Interior Ministry troops. During the afternoon there was an estimated crowed of over 100,000 which entered Red Square to admire the parade ground and decorations, including the official stand for the dignitaries.

Closing the festivities was a series of fireworks in fourteen different locations throughout Moscow including the grand display over the Kremlin and Red Square.

Posted: February 14th, 2019 by

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Wallace and Gromit sets destroyed by fire

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Wallace and Gromit sets destroyed by fire

Monday, October 10, 2005

The sets and props of popular claymation characters Wallace and Gromit have been destroyed in a warehouse blaze this morning in Bristol, UK.

The disaster comes only days after the US release of Nick Park‘s latest film featuring the characters, The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, which topped the box office chart and took US$16.1 million (GB£9.1 million) over the weekend. The film is scheduled for UK release this Friday.

Sets and models from the new film escaped as they had not yet been added to the Aardman Animation collection hosted in Bristol. Among the damage caused by the blaze, the character Morph was lost; for many UK children the appearance of this character in Tony Hart‘s BBC art programmes was their first introduction to stop motion animation.

The warehouse, located near Bristol’s central railway station, dated from the Victorian era and was formerly part of Ismbard Kingdom Brunel‘s Great Western Railway.

Ten fire crews attended the blaze, in which flames shot 100ft into the air, from 0600 BST into the afternoon, but were unable to prevent the collapse of the roof, interior walls and all three floors of the building.

An investigation will begin once the building has been made safe.

Posted: February 11th, 2019 by

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Suicide bomber assassinates prominent Shia cleric in Karachi, Pakistan

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Suicide bomber assassinates prominent Shia cleric in Karachi, Pakistan

Saturday, July 15, 2006

A suicide attacker detonated a bomb near the home of a prominent Pakistani Shia Muslim cleric in Karachi yesterday, killing the cleric and two other people, police said.

The death of Allama Hassan Turabi is likely to raise tensions in Karachi, which is often the scene of violence between Shias and Sunnis. Allama Turabi had narrowly escaped an attempt on his life in April 2006 when a bomb was exploded just after his car crossed the area. He was the leader of a Shia party, Islami Tehreek Pakistan, and a vice provincial chief for Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal Sindh (MMA), an opposition religious coalition.

Manzoor Mughal, a police investigator, said a lone attacker on foot had detonated the bomb at the gate of Allama Turabi’s house as he was getting into a car. He died of his injuries at a private hospital in Karachi, and his guard, a cousin, and the attacker, were also killed. It was initially reported that the attacker was in a car. Mr Mughal said police had collected body parts, including the head of the attacker.

About 300 youths gathered near Allama Turabi’s house after the blast, weeping and chanting slogans against the US and Israel. Reports said that public buses were damaged and set alight in disturbances following the killing, and one person was reported killed. Hours before the attack, Allama Turabi had addressed an anti-Israel rally organised by the MMA. The MMA is strongly opposed to the US led War on Terror and Pakistan’s support of it.

Posted: February 9th, 2019 by

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Feared toll of Indonesian floods, landslides up to 130; dozens missing as bridge swept away

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Feared toll of Indonesian floods, landslides up to 130; dozens missing as bridge swept away

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Heavy rains in Indonesia yesterday triggered widespread flooding and landslides across the nation. It has emerged that last night a bridge was swept away by the swollen river it stretched across, leaving around 40 to 50 people missing in Madiun, East Java. Meanwhile, the total toll of those known or feared to be dead has reached 130.

According to local police chief Supardi in a telephone conversation with Xinhua the flood waters weakened a foundation, resulting in the collapse. At least twenty motorcyclists, car drivers and passengers are thought to be dead, but as of midnight, no bodies had been recovered. However, three bikes have been retrieved. 100 rescuers have been dispatched to the scene. Continuing heavy rain forced the search to be abandoned temporarily.

Java as a whole is the worst affected island; in addition to the bridge collapse most of the landslides occurred in two Central Java districts. Health ministry official Rustam Pakaya told reporters that at least 28,000 people have been forced to abandon their homes in central Java, although exact figures are not yet available. The Red Cross commented that 45,000 East Javanese people have been similarly displaced. Thousands are seeking shelter in mosques and other public buildings.

Landslides buried houses and made roads impassable, while hundreds police officers, military personnel, local officials and volunteers have been digging with farm tools and even their hands to search for survivors. Heavy machinery is available but the road conditions have prevented it arriving at the areas where it is required. Jakarta has dispatched aid in the form of five tonnes of biscuits and instant meals, ten tonnes of baby food and multiple boats.

Heru Aji Pratomo, head of the disaster management centre in the worst-hit district of Karanganyar has confirmed the recovery of twelve more bodies. This brings the total confirmed death toll in the area to 48. He said that most bodies were recovered from three metre deep mud and required heavy digging machinery to retrieve. 28 remain missing.

Local resident Siswo told AFP “Suddenly I felt my house shaking, and I thought it was an earthquake. When I got outside, I saw that the houses next to mine were already covered by earth,” and that it struck twelve neighbouring houses.

In the next district, Wonogiri, disaster management centre head Sri Mubadi told reporters they had retrieved two more bodies, reaching a total of six, with eleven more missing. He also confirmed that they currently have no access to heavy equipment.

In Tawangmangu about 1,000 rescuers were also searching for bodies and survivors without the aid of heavy machinery. Three more bodies were retrieved today.

Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir toured a Karanganyar village, at which time he commented that he felt the disaster had been caused as a form of divine revenge, saying “This was likely caused by immoral acts going on here,” and “This could be a lesson to be learned.” The 69-year-old served two years after being linked to the 2002 Bali bombings, before having his conviction overturned last year.

Chalid Muhammad, director of Walhi, an Indonesian environmental group, had a different opinion. “For five consecutive years landslides and floods have occurred in Java, claiming many lives. The main trigger is ecological destruction caused by deforestation, forest conversions and chaotic spatial planning,” Chalid told Reuters.

“There have been no adequate efforts by the government to protect the people from disasters. When the landslides happened officials were on holiday and there was no access of heavy equipment to the affected areas.”

Posted: February 9th, 2019 by

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