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Deadline today for cat owners to microchip pets or face fine | UK News

Millions of cat owners in England face a fine of up to £500 if they fail to get their cat microchipped and registered on a database under new laws coming into force from today.

The legislation applies to cats aged 20 weeks and older – but of the estimated nine million pet cats in the country, up to 2.2 million are still not chipped, according to data from the charity Cats Protection.

It costs between £20 and £30 to have a cat microchipped by a vet, the charity said.

Around a quarter of owners who have failed to get their cats microchipped said it was because their pet does not venture outdoors, and around 14% said it was identifiable by its collar, according to research by the charity.

Owners found not to have microchipped their pet will have 21 days to have one implanted or face the financial penalty.

The mandatory scheme aims to make it easier for lost or stray pet cats to be reunited with their owners.

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Madison Rogers, head of advocacy, campaigns and government relations for Cats Protection, said: “Some owners think they are never going to go through the trauma of losing their pet cat, but in the last year 115,000 pet cats in England went missing and never returned home.

“Cats are nimble and extremely agile and can easily slip out without us noticing.

“Many lost cats live a frightening life on the streets. No food, no water, no shelter, no veterinary care and constantly at risk of severe injury or death from many hazards such as cars and wild animals.

“Collars can easily drop off, become damaged so that the address details become unreadable and, if they are not quick release, can become snagged on obstacles like tree branches, causing injuries to the cat.

“A microchip is safe, stays with your cat for its lifetime and is linked to contact details that are stored safely in a database.”

Nutmeg, a cat owned by Sandra Sinclair, a teacher from Tooting in south-west London, was found wandering the streets of Ascot in Berkshire, 30 miles away from home, after going missing.

The feline was reunited with his family after his microchip was scanned by Cats Protection.

Ms Sinclair said only Nutmeg will ever know how he got to Ascot, but added the family were “relieved” they had him microchipped.

Read more:
Microchipping pet cats – what you need to know

Alice Potter, cat welfare expert at the RSPCA, said: “We have seen cats coming into our care who are sadly not microchipped and may never be reunited with their owners.

“On average, 11% of all cats coming into the RSPCA’s care are still not microchipped.

“We’ve also rescued cats who have been microchipped but the details haven’t been kept up to date, which is arguably even more frustrating as it means cats spend a long time in our care whilst we fruitlessly try to contact the owner with out-of-date information.

“However, we’ve also seen countless stories of cats that have been reunited with their owners thanks to a tiny microchip – showing what this change of legislation will achieve for animal welfare.”

Phone scam warning: EE network issues urgent message to users today | Science & Tech News

Millions of mobile phone users are being warned of potential text scams in the lead-up to Christmas, peaking today on what is being dubbed “Super Saturday”.

The BT-owned EE network has said cyber criminals could try to take advantage of the busy last-minute shopping period to issue delivery-style scams, suggesting parcels are waiting to be dropped off or their delivery has been missed.

The techniques could trick recipients into clicking links through which they may unwittingly install malware (malicious software), or be taken to a phishing page aimed at harvesting personal and financial data.

EE said it managed to block around three million SMS scams that were heading to customers’ phones on this day last year.

The company anticipates it will stop up to five million such scams this month. It also said it had blocked more than 45 million scam texts so far in 2023.

EE said in a statement: “The most common SMS scams in December are delivery-related, as shoppers rush to organise last-minute parcels in time for the holiday period.

“These include missed delivery or track delivery text scams, which prompt customers to click on links that give criminals the opening they need to steal consumers’ data or money.”

Phone scam. Pic: Alamy
Image:
Pic: Alamy

The firm is urging consumers to remain scam-aware, especially over the next couple of weeks, when the stress of holiday preparations could “cloud judgement and result in people dropping their guard”.

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Jonny Bunt, EE’s director of regulatory affairs for the consumer division of BT Group, said: “Super Saturday is set to be the busiest day of the year for high-street retailers.

“With deliveries piling up on the doorstep, scammers will be looking for ways to take advantage of the festive frenzy.

“As one of the UK’s first lines of defence against SMS scam texts, we have clear sight of the threat level here at BT and EE and are already seeing a concerning spike in delivery scams in particular.”

It has issued some tips on how to stay scam safe:

• Never click on a link in a text from an unknown source
• Trust your instincts, and if something looks suspicious, there’s probably a catch
• Keep your device software up to date
• Never give out bank details, passwords or security codes on a website you’ve linked to
• If your bank phones you, consider calling them back on a published number or using the 159 service
• If you get an expected call from someone, if in doubt put the phone down and call back on a number you trust
• If you receive a suspicious text, forward the phone number and incident to 7726, free of charge, for your mobile provider to investigate
• Once reported, block the number and notify others of the scam, so they can avoid falling victim.

UK weather: 5cm of snow and -10C possible today, with three Met Office warnings in force | UK News

Parts of the UK could see up to 5cm of snow today, with temperatures set to fall as low as -10C (14F) in some areas.

Three yellow weather warnings are currently in place, with Met Office forecasters warning that colder conditions will persist into the weekend.

The whole eastern coast of the UK, stretching from Scotland to East Anglia, is under an alert for snow and ice until 11am this morning.

The scene in Northumberland yesterday
Image:
The scene in Northumberland yesterday

Check the latest weather forecast where you are

Commuters are being told that journeys by road and rail could take longer than usual, and untreated icy patches could cause slips and falls.

Warnings for ice are also in force across parts of Northern Ireland and southwest England until 10am, with treacherous conditions possible as temperatures fall below freezing following showers.

The bout of wintry weather made its presence felt on Thursday, with dozens of schools in Cornwall either partially or fully closed.

Several crashes were also reported on County Durham’s roads because of snow.

A widespread frost is forecast for this morning, with overnight temperatures plunging to -6C in southwest England, -8C in Wales, and -10C in Scotland.

Temperatures are also unlikely to recover during the day, with a maximum of just 5C (41F) anticipated across the South.

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The UK Health Security Agency has issued amber cold health alerts in five regions – the East Midlands, West Midlands, North West, North East and Yorkshire and the Humber – until 5 December.

It fears there could be a “significant” impact across the health and social care sector.

According to the Met Office, the UK is likely to remain in a northeasterly air flow for several days to come, meaning it will stay cold well into next week.

National Highways is urging motorists to plan their journeys, keep an eye on the weather forecast, and take extra care on the roads.

Its national network manager Dale Hipkiss said: “Freezing conditions bring so many hazards such as snow and ice, please take every possible step to understand your journey in advance and allow extra time when travelling.

“Keeping a kit of essential items like a torch and warm clothes in your vehicle can be vital.”

UK weather: Heatwave to reach dramatic climax today – with yellow warnings for thunderstorms in place | UK News

The heatwave will reach a dramatic climax on Sunday – with a yellow warning for thunderstorms in place across large parts of the UK.

Temperatures are set to head above 30C (86F) once again in parts of southern England – with much cooler conditions expected as a new week begins.

But further north, the Met Office is warning that thunderstorms could bring disruption, and a risk of sudden flooding in some areas.

Find out the weather forecast where you are

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UK heatwave soon to end?

A yellow warning is in force from 2pm to 11.59pm – covering much of northern England and Northern Ireland, alongside parts of Scotland and Wales.

“Unlucky locations” could see up to 70mm of intense rainfall in the space of a few hours – with “additional hazards” of frequent lightning and large hail.

Saturday was provisionally the hottest day of the year so far – with highs of 33.2C (92F) recorded at London’s Kew Bridge.

And Sunday is set to prolong the record for the longest consecutive stretch of September days above 30C, with temperatures above this threshold for the seventh day in a row.

Britons are being urged to make the most of the warmer weather, as conditions are set to become more typical for this time of year.

Read more:
This heatwave was very unusual – here’s why

Showers and longer spells of rain will begin to sweep in on Monday – and it’s shaping up to be rather unsettled in the South on Tuesday.

Sky’s weather producer Chris England said: “It will be cooler and fresher for many, still quite muggy in the South East, although not as hot as recently.”

Bibby Stockholm: Asylum seekers may be housed on barge from today – as govt unveils new migration policy | Politics News

Asylum seekers could start being housed on the Bibby Stockholm barge as soon as today – with the government announcing further measures to combat illegal migration.

About 50 people are expected to be in the first group of migrants to board the vessel docked in Portland Port, Dorset, despite local opposition.

Inside the Bibby Stockholm barge

Protesters in Portland in Dorset after the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge arrived from dry dock in Falmouth, Cornwall, where it is due to house migrants. Picture date: Tuesday July 18, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Migrants. Photo credit should read: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

The developments come as the government begins a so-called “small boats week” – with a series of announcements on the issue that Rishi Sunak has promised to solve.

Fines for employers and landlords who allow people who arrive by illegal means to work for them or live in their properties are to be hugely increased.

Civil penalties for employers will be increased up to a maximum of £45,000 per worker for a first breach and £60,000 for repeat offenders, tripling both from the last increase in 2014.

Landlords face fines going from £1,000 per occupier to £10,000, with repeat breaches going from £3,000 to £20,000. Penalties relating to lodgers will also be hiked.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick told Sky News that the Bibby Stockholm will accept its first occupants “in the coming days”.

The Home Office did nothing to dampen suggestions the arrivals could come on Monday. Various expected dates have been given and then missed in the past, however.

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Labour ‘stuck with barges’

Politics latest: ‘Crying shame’ not to use private sector in NHS

Mr Jenrick offered a guarantee that it is a “safe facility” after the firefighters’ union warned it is a “potential death trap”, citing concerns including overcrowding and access to fire exits.

“We hope that the first migrants will go on to the boat in the coming days, I’m not going to give you an exact date – but very soon,” he said.

He said increasing the numbers on the barge to the capacity of about 500 is still the plan despite concerns from the Fire Brigades Union over the vessel initially designed to house about 200.

The government is also reconsidering plans to fly people who arrive by unauthorised means 4,000 miles to Ascension Island, according to multiple reports.

Read more:
Labour on Bibby Stockholm barge
Social media giants to crack down on posts encouraging migrant crossings

Home Secretary Suella Braverman (centre) tours a building site on the outskirts of Kigali during her visit to Rwanda, to see houses that are being constructed that could eventually house deported migrants from the UK. Picture date: Saturday March 18, 2023.
Image:
Home Secretary Suella Braverman (centre) tours a building site on the outskirts of Kigali during her visit to Rwanda

The proposals to use the British Overseas Territory are apparently being considered by ministers and officials as a “plan B” if the Rwanda plan fails.

Deep in the South Atlantic, the volcanic island could house an asylum processing centre as an attempt to reduce the number of small boats crossing the Channel.

The plans to remove asylum seekers who arrive by unauthorised means to Rwanda have been stalled by legal challenges that will end up in the Supreme Court.

Energy bills to fall from today but will still cost almost double pre-crisis levels | Business News

Households will pay less for their gas and electricity from today but bills will still be almost double what they were before the energy crisis.

The average household energy bill will fall by £426 a year from 1 July after Ofgem dropped its price cap following tumbling wholesale prices.

People had been advised to submit meter readings before midnight on 30 June to ensure they are paying the lower prices as soon as they come into effect.

Cost of living latest – Huge drop in UK house prices predicted

Those who could not are advised to do so as close to the date as possible, taking a time-stamped photo as proof.

The industry regulator is cutting its price cap from £3,280 to £2,074.

The change is a relief for consumers who have seen typical bills rocket upwards from £1,271 a year in October 2021 due to soaring power prices driven by the post-pandemic recovery and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Households have been partly shielded from the most recent rise in prices by the government’s energy price guarantee (EPG), which limited annual energy costs to £2,500 for the average household.

Ofgem’s latest cut means its cap will again govern household bills, with the guarantee no longer applying.

The change in the cap will result in a typical reduction of £426 from £2,500 to £2,074 – a fall of about 17%.

The energy price cap sets a limit on the maximum amount suppliers can charge for each unit of gas and electricity.

The headline price cap figure is an average across households rather than an absolute cap on bills, so those that use more will pay more.

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Record amount withdrawn from savings

Which? Energy editor Emily Seymour said: “While the new price cap will see typical bills drop by around £500, energy bills will still be almost double the amount they were before the energy crisis began – which will be unaffordable for some households.

“If you are concerned about struggling to pay higher bills, there is help available. Speak to your energy provider about a payment plan you can afford and check to see if you qualify for any government schemes.”

Ms Seymour added: “Fixed deals are starting to return to the market for existing customers of some suppliers. We wouldn’t recommend fixing anything higher than the unit rates in your current deal or for longer than a year.

“If you are offered a deal, then it’s really important to check the tariff’s exit fees in case you want to leave that deal early if the price cap comes down.”

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Energy price cap reduction explained

A spokeswoman for Energy UK, which represents suppliers, said: “The fall in the price cap from July will be welcome news for customers who have had to face record energy bills over the last year amidst a steep rise in the cost of living and for whom the government’s bill support has been crucial in preventing even bigger difficulties.

“However, bills remain much higher than they were 18 months ago and many customers will continue to struggle, especially following the removal of some of that support.

“If – as the current projections indicate – annual bills of £2,000 plus become the new normal, it underlines the importance and urgency of the energy industry, Ofgem, government and consumer groups working together to put in place targeted support for those most in need next winter.”

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Household energy bills are expected to fall again, to below £2,000 a year from October, according to the latest forecasts.

Energy industry consultancy Cornwall Insight said it thinks the price cap on energy bills will fall to £1,978.33 from October from July’s £2,074, but rise again from January to £2,004.40, based on Ofgem’s current measures.

However, the regulator is adjusting its definition of the average household’s consumption from October, down from the current 2,900 kWh a year for electricity to 2,700 kWh, and from 12,000 kWh for gas to 11,500 kWh, to reflect consumers using less energy to cut costs in the face of high prices.

Based on Ofgem’s adjusted definitions of average usage, Cornwall Insight has forecast that the regulator will announce price caps of £1,871 a year from October and £1,900 from January.

The big interest rate rise: Who will be affected today – and how much worse could it get? | Business News

The Bank of England’s interest rate has increased by 0.5 percentage points – a figure that was bigger than expected.

The 13th consecutive increase came as a shock to most economists – but financial markets had forecast, to a greater degree, that a bolder move against inflation was warranted.

Here, Sky News explains the thinking behind the bank’s decision, and the immediate implications for your family finances as the cost of living crisis continues to evolve.

Why is the bank hiking so aggressively?

Put simply: the inflation number on Wednesday came in so hot – remaining at 8.7% during May – that the bank felt it had no choice but to act more aggressively.

The data from the Office for National Statistics also showed that so-called core inflation, which strips out volatile elements such as energy and food, was on the rise rather than easing.

It’s a particular worry for the bank as it suggests price rises are becoming more engrained in the economy.

Governor Andrew Bailey has spoken out on “unsustainable” company profit margins and levels of wage rises, at 7.2%.

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Chancellor: ‘We need to be patient’

But why impose more hardship on me?

It is perverse, isn’t it, that in acting to end the cost of living crisis as quickly as possible, the bank is imposing even more costs on millions of people.

Its only tool to utilise this is through a rate rise.

The bank, which has a 2% inflation target, wants to see the annual rate of price growth stabilise around that level – so its aim in making borrowing more expensive is to curb demand in the economy.

Who is affected today?

The dwindling number of households on standard variable rates (SVR) or trackers – those that are linked to the Bank of England rate – will see their mortgage bills go up almost straight away.

According to Moneyfactscompare, a rate rise of 0.5 percentage points on the current average SVR of 7.52% would add approximately £1,576 onto total repayments over two years.

Those on tracker deals, at an average of almost 5.5%, will see their monthly bills rise by just over £47 per month.

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Labour has ‘five-point’ mortgage plan

What about fixed-rate residential mortgage customers?

There were just over two million households on SVR or trackers early last year as bank rate started to creep further up.

The bulk are now on fixed-rate deals of either two or five years’ duration – but those costs have been surging, too.

Because of growing market interest rate expectations, funding costs for lenders have been going up in the process, forcing banks and building societies to pull their best deals, sometimes within days, and keep repricing.

That has been particularly acute this month, with the average two-year fix just passing 6% on Monday and hitting 6.19% on Thursday, according to Moneyfacts.

How are buy-to-let mortgages faring?

The majority of the two million such mortgages are on fixed-rate terms.

Rising bank rate expectations, again, only places more costs on lenders.

They pass them on to landlords who, in turn, make their tenants pay for it through their rent.

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What’s keeping inflation so high?

How much worse could this get?

Financial markets currently see UK bank rate hitting 6% early next year.

That is a whole percentage point higher than it stands at today.

By implication, it tells us that fixed-rate deals have further to run above their current levels.

Read more:
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Mortgage misery: What is causing the crunch, will it get worse and what can you do if you are struggling?
‘Eyewatering’ hit to 1.4 million, mainly young, mortgage customers ahead, IFS warns

Surely savers are benefiting?

Banks have been accused by consumer groups and MPs of being quick to pass on rate hikes to their mortgage customers but slow to recognise the rises in their savings rates.

Building societies have had the better press than banks generally.

Rachel Springall, finance expert at Moneyfactscompare.co.uk, said of the current market: “A flurry of savings rate competition and consecutive Bank of England base rate rises continue to improve the savings market.

“Those savers earning variable rates of interest who take time to review their existing pots may find more attractive returns are available elsewhere, as their loyalty has not been rewarded.

“The top easy access accounts pay around 4%, with the market average around 2%, however, some of the biggest banks pay much less.”

Tens of thousands of university staff on strike today – with more to come | UK News

Tens of thousands of university staff are set to go on strike today – the first of three walkouts planned for this week.

Some 70,000 members of the University and College Union (UCU) are set to take part in the action, spanning 150 universities across the UK.

Lecturers will be among those not turning up to work as a dispute over pay, contracts, and pensions continues.

Strikes are also set to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday.

It comes after the union’s higher education committee voted to continue action last week, and not to put the latest proposals from employers to a vote of its members.

Unions including the UCU had said that a deal with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) had been reached “on terms of reference for detailed negotiations”, including on pay and workload.

Read more:
Who is going on strike in 2023 and when?

But hopes of a breakthrough were later quashed by the UCU’s higher education committee.

Raj Jethwa, Universities and Colleges Employers Association chief executive, said the agreement “reflected the employers’ genuine desire to positively reset industrial relations in our sector”.

“There is a tangible offer on the table from employers to negotiate on the issues at the heart of this dispute,” he added.

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Monday marks the start of a seventh week of strike action by higher education workers.

Thousands of ambulance workers go on strike today – as junior doctors announce when they will stage walkout | UK News

Thousands of ambulance workers are going on strike today in their ongoing dispute over pay and staffing.

The strike will involve more than 11,000 members of the GMB union in England and Wales, along with some members of the Unite union.

It comes as the number of health workers taking industrial action continues to grow, with junior doctors set to go on strike next month.

Speaking on behalf of ambulance workers, GMB national secretary Rachel Harrison said they will walk out “because this government is tin-eared”.

“It has been over a month since the government engaged in any meaningful dialogue,” she said.

“They are missing in action and refuse to talk pay.”

She added: “Solving the issue of pay is vital if we’re going to stem the tide of dedicated healthcare workers leaving the profession.”

GMB members

Junior doctors in the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) have said they will strike in England on Wednesday 15 March.

Some 97.48% of members voted in favour of what will be the first strike in the union’s history.

HCSA president Dr Naru Narayanan said: “Junior doctors have held together patient care amid a spiralling staffing crisis.

“In return for this huge emotional, mental and physical toll they’ve been subjected to a decade of real-terms pay cuts totalling over 26%. Enough is enough.”

Read more:
Who is taking industrial action in 2023 and when?
Rising public support for unions, poll suggests

Around 45,000 junior doctors who are members of the British Medical Association (BMA) have also been balloted on strike action – with the result due at the end of February.

The BMA has warned it will stage a three-day strike if there is a “yes” vote.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “As part of a multi-year deal we agreed with the BMA, junior doctors’ pay has increased by a cumulative 8.2% since 2019/20.

“We also introduced a higher pay band for the most experienced staff and increased rates for night shifts.”

Steve Barclay  leaves after attending a cabinet meeting in Downing Street
Pic:AP
Image:
Steve Barclay said ‘it is time unions engaged constructively’. Pic: AP

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Strikes are in nobody’s best interests and only cause further disruption for patients, despite contingency measures in place.

“It is time unions engaged constructively with the pay review body process for 2023/24 and cancelled strikes so we can move forward and continue tackling the COVID-19 backlog.

“I’ve been clear throughout that I remain keen to keep talking to unions about what is fair and affordable for the coming financial year, as well as wider concerns around conditions and workload so we can make the NHS a better place to work.”

Nurses will continue their action with a 48-hour strike starting on 1 March, with the Royal College of Nursing saying it has received £250,000 in public donations since starting its campaign in December.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: “There isn’t a person in this country whose life hasn’t been impacted by a nurse and that’s why the public are with us every step of the way.”

Around 500 migrants crossed Channel to UK today | UK News

Around 500 people crossed from France to England across the Channel today, according to Sky sources.

Groups of people wearing life jackets and some wrapped in blankets were pictured being brought into Dover, Kent, on a Border Force boat.

A record 45,728 made the crossing on small boats last year, up more than 60% on the previous year.

Government figures show 592 migrants have crossed the Channel so far this year, but the activity was only recorded on three days in January.

Some 1,339 made the journey in the first month of 2022.

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, onboard a Border Force vessel, following a small boat incident in the Channel. Picture date: Wednesday January 25, 2023.

It comes as MPs heard flights sending migrants to Rwanda may not take place until later this year at the earliest amid ongoing legal action.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said the government still hopes to restart flights “as soon as possible”, but said it was “right” to wait until court appeals have concluded.

Asked when the government hopes to restart flights to Rwanda, Mr Jenrick told MPs: “As soon as possible. It obviously remains the government’s policy. We see it as an absolutely critical way of deterring people from making the dangerous crossing and changing the business model of the people smugglers.”

The migrants arrived in Dover, Kent
The migrants boarded a coach at the immigration processing centre in Kent

High Court judges ruled the policy was lawful last month, but so far efforts to launch it have been mired by legal action.

Mr Jenrick said an appeal “will be heard later this year” and added: “We look forward to defending the government’s position once again as robustly as possible and hope, and expect, that we’ll have a similar outcome in the Court of Appeal.”

Asked to confirm if the government was waiting for the appeal to conclude before any flights will start again, he said: “Yes. It’s right that we await to the outcome of the British courts… then obviously the government will decide how to proceed once we have the final judgment.”