North Ayrshire and Arran MP, Patricia Gibson, has been kept busy during the weeks of lockdown, and here reports on several issues on which she has continued to press the UK government:
UK GOVERNMENT URGED TO BACK CONSUMERS AMIDST TRAVEL INDUSTRY TURMOIL
Arran’s MP Patricia Gibson, SNP spokesperson Consumer Affairs, has urged the UK Government, to which such matters are reserved, to financially guarantee refunds for consumers facing cancelled travel plans.
There is a need to strengthen consumer protection as turmoil in the travel industry grows, putting at risk consumer claims for refunds.
Mrs Gibson said:
“The travel industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
“With travel plans disrupted or cancelled indefinitely and airlines and travel firms in increased difficulty, it is vital that the UK Government establishes a Government Travel Guarantee Fund to strengthen the rights of customers and ensure the survival of the industry.
“Many Arran constituents who a few weeks ago looked forward to a holiday in the sun may now have lost much of their income and are reliant on a refund to help get by.
“The travel industry must also look to ensure that there is capacity to respond to customers affected, so that people are not left with calls which take an eternity to reach someone and emails unanswered for days.“
HOUSEHOLD ENERGY BILLS RISE DURING LOCKDOWN
North Ayrshire and Arran MP Patricia Gibson, SNP spokesperson for Consumer Affairs has called on the UK Government – to which such matters are reserved – to support struggling households as new research estimates that household energy bills have increased by an average of £32.31 per month under lockdown.
Usage of household appliances, heating and lighting while people are effectively confined to their homes has increased considerably. Price comparison site Comparethemarket.com found that 72% of consumers surveyed have increased energy use during the lockdown, with 48% citing family members working from home.
The site estimates the extra usage could lead to a 37% rise in average energy bills, pushing up household bills by £32.31 per month, or £387 a year.
Mrs Gibson said:
“With so many people at home during the current crisis, it is so surprise that home energy use has increased.
“There is no denying that high energy costs can seriously impact people’s financial resilience and this at a time when millions of people are already struggling on a reduced income because of the lockdown.
“People should use this time at home to check if they are getting the best deal from their domestic energy provider, although not all consumers can engage in the switching process. Suppliers need to do more to ensure that these customers are not trapped in poor deals.
“Prices can also depend on their payment method, over which consumers don’t always have control. Electricity and gas consumers across Scotland using standard credit and prepayment meters face bills approximately 10% higher than those able to use direct debit and this must be addressed.
“Across the UK, 70% of customers are on a default standard variable tariff, which means that 16 million homes are paying more for their energy than they should.
“Energy is an essential utility and the UK Government must act to protect those who are currently very poorly served and overcharged, including greater encouragement of switching to cheaper providers, particularly at this time of national crisis.”
BRING HOME OUR SEAFARERS
North Ayrshire and Arran MP Patricia Gibson has called on the UK Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps MP, to do more to ensure the safe return of Merchant Navy seafarers unable to return home due to the global health pandemic when decisions not to change crews were taken. Due to port and air route bans for individual travellers, these mariners have been unable to return home, while relief crews cannot be brought in. This means some have been trapped on board their ships for over 120 days!
After being contacted by family members concerned for their loved ones’ welfare, Mrs Gibson said:
“With around 2,000 UK seafarers believed be stranded on board their vessels in various locations around the world, families of these seafarers understandably feel that they are our forgotten key workers. Merchant shipping handles around 95% of the UK’s internationally traded goods, playing a crucial role in our economy.
“With their time on board longer than expected due to the global health pandemic some seafarers have been onboard their vessels for over four months, with no apparent end in sight. There is now growing concern for mariners who find themselves in a very stressful situation, separated from families who fear for their physical and mental exhaustion.
“I have formally raised this with the Secretary of State for Transport, urging that all necessary action is taken to bring these seafarers home to their families at this difficult time.
“My voice has also been added to calls from the UK Chamber of Shipping urging the UK government to become the first in the world to sign up to the International Maritime Organisation’s new plan to ensure crew changeovers can resume.
“Given the difficulties seafarers have already endured, getting them home back to their families must now be a priority.”
Tax Exiles Avoid Paying Millions During Lockdown
Arran’s MP, Patricia Gibson, has demanded that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) ensure that millionaire tax exiles stranded in the UK pay their taxes like everyone else.
Travel restrictions left some very wealthy people classed as “domiciled” abroad (non-dom) for tax purposes at risk of incurring higher tax liabilities for exceeding the days they can reside in the UK.
However, they are now allowed to spend 120 days in the UK, rather than 60, without a tax penalty.
“Across the UK people are making sacrifices; many have lost their livelihoods or been driven into debt as the economy has contracted through the imposition of a lockdown needed to deal with the pandemic.
“Both the UK and Scottish Government are spending billions on supporting employment and businesses. It is therefore shocking that the UK Tory Government has reverted to type and allowed a privileged, wealthy elite to gain a tax advantage at the expense of everyone else.
“The Chancellor must ensure that HMRC does not allow non-doms an extra 60 days in the UK without paying their way. The NHS and the economy needs tax revenue to support it and non-doms must pay their share.”
Tax law barrister Jolyon Maugham added:
“Effectively HMRC is pretending that these non-doms are not here, even though they are!”