Saturday, February 29, 2020

Boris Johnson warned over Huawei: US furious at exposure to China risk

The Chinese telecoms giant is set to build a significant part of the UK’s new mobile network in a hugely controversial move. The Huawei warning comes amid anger within the Republican Party and Trump team that Mr Johnson has been snubbing Washington since Britain left the EU. Instead, in a big week for American conservatives, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has been feted at this weekend’s huge CPAC conference as Britain’s “unofficial ambassador” and “godfather of Brexit”. 

The problems come ahead of a big week for Mr Johnson, with negotiations starting with the EU over the future relationship, and the publication of its mandate for US trade talks. 

Those US talks are meant to give Britain an alternative market and so put pressure on Brussels to make a better deal but Mr Johnson’s actions appear to have soured relationships with key American allies who are strong backers of Brexit. The Sunday Express was given exclusive access to Mr Farage’s trip to Washington, where he met senior Republicans to discuss a trade deal and the Huawei crisis. 

Sources in the Trump camp made it clear that the President has not Tweeted about Huawei because “he does not want to embarrass Boris” but the US leader is “furious and upset”. 

They also noted that there is “confusion” over why Mr Johnson has not wanted to come to Washington since Brexit happened on January 31. 

Mr Farage said: “It’s worse than that. The two are not set to meet until the G7 in June and then it will be a brief handshake. Boris needs to be here and it has been noted that he has not come yet.” 

He added: “The words which keep being used are ‘bad faith’ over Huawei, which suggests the British Government promised a different outcome privately.” 

Last month’s decision to allow Huawei to build a chunk of the 5G network came despite warnings that it will hit relations with the US and other allies, who worry about its links to the Chinese state machine. 

The Sunday Express has learned that in the wake of the decision the Australian government cancelled a security delegation to London in protest. 

And in Washington senior figures have said Britain’s sharing information with the US as part of the Five Eyes security set-up, which also includes Australia, New Zealand and Canada, could be under threat. Trump ally Senator Ted Cruz, 49, who met Mr Farage and then hosted him on America’s most popular political podcast, said: “I think the British decision on Huawei was a serious mistake. Huawei is an arm of the Chinese government. 

“The Chinese government is not our friend. It is a communist dictatorship that is investing billions in expanding its global surveillance abilities and Huawei is a direct vehicle for enhanced surveillance by the Chinese government. 

“I hope Britain reconsiders. And if they do not that will force the USA to make some very hard decisions about the extent we are able to share intelligence with Britain. 

“If the British allow Huawei to establish a significant foothold that could reduce our ability to share sensitive intelligence because we are not interested in giving that to the Chinese government.” 

He suggested that a trade deal could still go through but many of his colleagues on Capitol Hill disagree. He said: “I view trade and the national security issues as separate. Regardless of how Huawei is resolved I am confident we will have robust free trade between our nations.” 

But Mr Farage said he had been told by members of Congress that the row could make it difficult for a trade deal to pass. He said: “The Huawei decision has caused real problems here. A US trade deal is not essential to help Brexit succeed but it is very important and helpful.” 

Flamboyant Texas Senator Cruz, a lawyer famed for his exotic cowboy boots, said “America is cheering the British on” over Brexit. He said: “Brexit is an extraordinary development and I think a great deal of Americans are cheering on the Brits and cheering on what is an assertion of sovereignty and independence.” 

He added: “There is strong enthusiasm for deepening relationships between the US and the UK. 

“There are enormous benefits to both and my hope is that strengthening those relationships will have a liberalising influence on both in terms of enhancing economic liberty and economic opportunity.” 

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Friday, February 28, 2020

Oil Plummets in Worst Week Since 2008 Amid Coronavirus Panic

Oil had it worst week since the financial crisis as panic over the coronavirus pandemic battered global markets.

Futures in New York fell 16% this week, marking the biggest weekly drop since December 2008. The viral outbeak showed no signs of relenting, with the World Health Organizationraising global risk to “very high” from “high.” The collapse of financial marketsprompted U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell to assure investors that the central bank is prepared to cut interest rates to mitigate the virus’ threat to economic activity.

“A month ago the concern was only China,” said Pavel Molchanov, energy research analyst at Raymond James & Associates Inc. “This meltdown is a fear of a global pandemic. The risk is we will see the same disruptions we saw in Asia, from travel restrictions to quarantines, materialize all over the world.”

Oil prices have tumbled almost 27% this year on concerns the coronavirus outbreak will dent crude demand. OPEC and its allies have signaled the coalition could reach an agreement to stem the rout before meeting in Vienna next week. Saudi Arabia isreportedly pushing for collective OPEC+ production cuts of an additional 1 million barrels a day, of which it would bear the brunt.

However, Riyadh’s proposal may not be enough to balance the oil market, according to a coronavirus-scenarioanalysis by Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Salih Yilmaz and Rob Barnett. The alliance’s overall compliance with production cuts has not been enough to support oil prices. The re-emergence of Libyan barrels also remains a risk.

“We may be too far deep for any OPEC cuts to have a meaningful impact,” said Peter McGinn, market strategist atRJ O’Brien & Associates LLC. “If the virus keeps spreading, that is just going to keep hurting demand and cause another wave of panic selling. A production cut could give it a bounce, but these lows will persist for the foreseeable future without a vaccine.”

West Texas Intermediate futures for April delivery fell $2.33, or 5%, to settle at $44.76 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Brent for April settlement, which expired Friday, lost $1.66, or 3.2%, to end the session at $50.52 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange. The more active May contract fell 4% to $49.67.

Brent’s so-called red spread — the difference between December contracts in consecutive years — sank deeper into bearish contango, settling at lowest level since 2018.

Oil market drivers
  • Gasoline futures fell 1.1% to settle at $1.3955.
  • TheU.S. will sell up to 12 million barrels of oil from its emergency government stockpile just as global crude demand takes a hit from the spreading coronavirus.
  • Thevolume of crude that will be shipped to China from West Africa next month is set to drop by at least ten million barrels as the demand destruction caused by the coronavirus hits home.
  • The Trump administration is ready to unleash the full impact of sanctions on Chevron Corp.’s operations in Venezuela as the U.S. seeks to further squeeze the Maduro regime.
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Lion Air puts $699m IPO on hold as global equity markets tumble: Sources

SINGAPORE (REUTERS) – Indonesia’s Lion Air has deferred plans for an initial public offering (IPO) due to a sharp fall in global stock markets, people close to the matter said on Friday, as the spreading coronavirus sparks worries of a global pandemic.

A decision on the up to US$500 million (S$698.7 million) IPO of one of Asia’s largest budget airlines was expected by the end of February after banks completed investor presentations in global financial centres earlier this month.

Two people said Lion Air, which was set to launch the IPO as early as March, would consider a float only when markets stabilised. The people declined to be identified because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Lion Air had no immediate response to a Reuters request for comment. The carrier has toyed with an IPO for about five years.

This week, global share prices plunged on fears of sustained global economic impact as the coronavirus spreads beyond China, with about 12 countries reporting their first virus cases in the past 24 hours.

Airlines have slashed capacity due to weak demand as virus-related disruption to international travel batters the sector.

Lion Air is part of the Lion Air Group, which has airline joint ventures in Malaysia and Thailand, aircraft maintenance facilities and a freight business.

The pre-marketing for the IPO included a combination of face-to-face meetings and phone calls because travel was restricted owing to the coronavirus, the people said.

Morgan Stanley, one of two international banks on the deal, declined comment. There was no immediate comment from the second bank, BNP Paribas.

Reuters has reported that the spread of the coronavirus has put key meetings and roadshows on hold and several auctions of Asian assets were facing delays or reassessment.

Lion Air, which has 112 planes, planned to use proceeds from the IPO to fund longer-term leases more akin to owning planes, as well as general operations. It has large outstanding orders for new jets from both Boeing and Airbus.

The carrier, which vies with state-run airline PT Garuda Indonesia for dominance in its home market, has been seeking to win over investors for more than a year since the fatal crash of one of its Boeing 737 MAX jets in 2018.

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Thursday, February 27, 2020

MDC Partners deal makes One World Trade Center 93 percent leased

It’s goodbye, Midtown, hello World Trade Center for media giant MDC Partners.

The publicly traded firm, led by CEO Mark Penn, has signed a lease for just under 200,000 square feet on floors 64 to 69 at One World Trade Center, owned by the Port Authority and the Durst Organization.

The deal was negotiated so deeply under the media radar that the talks weren’t previously reported.

It makes the 2.9-million-square-foot tower more than 93 percent leased. MDC will be its third-largest tenant after Condé Nast and GSA.

The asking rent was $69 per square foot, remarkably less than similar sky-high space uptown.

MDC will move partner units from buildings in the Plaza District, the Grand Central district and other parts of Midtown.

MDC is a holding company for advertising and marketing agencies such as 72andSunny, Bruce Mau Design and The Media Kitchen. It’s “a partner company, not a parent company,” as it describes itself.

Penn said the move “into such a modern, iconic and purpose-built space is a key component of our strategy to enhance interagency collaboration.”

The lease further strengthens the overall downtown office market, which recently achieved a lower vacancy rate than Midtown for the first time since 9/11.

It also validates 1 WTC managing partner Durst, which has patiently and methodically leased up nearly all of it since it opened in 2014.

MDC was repped by JLL regional chairman Peter Riguardi with his firm’s Howard Hersh, Michael Berg and Brad Lane.

The landlord was repped by Durst’s Eric Engelhardt and Karen Kuznick and by Newmark Knight Frank’s David Falk, Jason Greenstein, Peter Shimkin, Hal Stein and Travis Wilson.

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Budweiser parent lost $170M profit from Coronavirus in first two months of 2020

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University of Miami Herbert Business School dean John Quelch discusses his January visit to China and says the coronavirus has substantially grown over the course of a month.

The world's biggest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev SA said Thursday that it  lost $170 million in profits during the first two months of 2020 because of the coronavirus epidemic as it reported a fall in net profit.

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The company–which houses Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona among its brands–said it estimates the loss of revenue in the period is $285 million due to the Covid-19 epidemic and that it continues to monitor developments.


The company made a net profit for the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2019 of $114 million compared with $456 million for the comparable period last year.

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Revenue for the quarter fell to $13.33 billion compared with $13.79 billion for the comparable period in 2018 and forecasts of $13.67 billion, taken from FactSet and based on 10 analysts' estimates.


Normalized earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization–one of the company's preferred metrics which strips out exceptional and other one-off items–was $5.34 billion, compared with $6.02 billion and a forecast of $5.69 billion, taken from FactSet and based on seven analysts' forecasts.

The company said total beer volume rose 1.6 percent to 142 million hectoliters. In North America total beer volumes rose 2.8 percent, it said.


The board has kept the final dividend at EUR1 a share, taking the total payout for the year to EUR1.80 .

Write to Ian Walker at; @IanWalk40289749

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Stock futures wobble as investors remain focused on coronavirus spread outside China

Stock-index futures were slightly lower Wednesday after flipping between gains and losses as investors looked for a respite from a selling stampede that’s sent equities sharply lower over the past four days amid rising worries about the spread of COVID-19 outside of China.

Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average YM00, -0.14% were off 113 points, or 0.4%, at 27,003, while S&P 500 futures ES00, -0.03% gave up 9.35 points, or 0.3%, to 3,122.25. Nasdaq-100 futures NQ00, +0.02% were off 32.50 points, or 0.4%, at 8,821.75.

The Dow DJIA, -3.15% on Tuesday dropped 879.44 points, or 3.2%, to 27,081.36, while the S&P 500 SPX, -3.03% shed 97.68 points, or 3%, to close at 3,128.21. The Nasdaq Composite COMP, -2.77% dropped 225.67 points, or 2.8%, to finish at 8,965.61. Tuesday’s decline was the fourth straight for all three major indexes.

Worries about the rapid spread of COVID-19 outside of China continue to hang over markets, analysts said. The number of confirmed cases and deaths outside China has continued to rise, particularly in Italy, Iran, Japan and South Korea. Stocks extended losses Tuesday after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Americans should prepare for the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S.

“All these developments add further credence to our view that the effects of the virus may not prove as temporary as many initially believed and that the economic wounds could well drag into Q2,” said Charalambos Pissouros, senior market analyst at JFD Group, in a note.

“With the spreading outside China appearing to be out of control at the moment, and with the world’s largest economy signaling that it is not immune to the virus, we believe that there is still room for equities to keep sliding, and safe havens to attract flows,” Pissouros said.

Analysts said stocks may be due for a near-term bounce from the rout. Losses were particularly sharp Monday and Tuesday, with the Dow falling 6.6% over the past two sessions, the S&P 500 down 6.3% and the Nasdaq off 6.4%.

For the S&P 500, the two-day decline was the largest since August 2015, while the slump was the biggest for the Dow since February 2018 and the largest for the Nasdaq since June 2016, in the wake of the Brexit referendum.

The economic calendar s light, featuring data on new home sales for January at 10 a.m. Eastern.

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Vodafone pushes ahead with TPG tie-up as ACCC appeal deadline nears

Chief executive of Vodafone Inaki Berroeta says he will push ahead with the $15 billion Vodafone and TPG Telecom merger as the deadline for an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission appeal to the Federal Court approaches.

Mr Berroeta said he had no update on whether the ACCC would appeal the decision, but announced he would commence the roll out of its new 5G towers within weeks before focusing on broader integration of the two businesses.

Vodafone will switch on its first 5G towers within weeks, pushing ahead with plans for its merger with TPG despite the possibility of the ACCC appealing the Federal Court’s decision to allow the tie-up.Credit:Louie Douvis

“We are very excited to be pushing ahead with our plans for 2020 by delivering our first 5G sites within weeks, with the initial rollout to continue throughout the year,” Mr Berroeta said.

Several thousands of 5G sites are expected to be built in the next few years, following the merger with TPG.

Earlier this month the Federal Court threw out a ruling by the ACCC that the tie-up between the two telecom giants would harm consumers. The ACCC has until March 12 to decide whether to appeal the decision.

Mr Berroeta's plans were revealed as the company released its full-year financial result, posting a revenue decline of 3 per cent to $1.18 billion. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation grew by 6.9 per cent to $1.178 billion for the year, while the company fell to a net loss of $279.3 million. The company said it was impacted by delays caused by the Federal Court case and a ban on Huawei infrastructure.

"Last year we were facing a lot of uncertainty on the market," Mr Berroeta said.

"On the one side, we didn't have clarity around our network vendor [Huawei]. With that decision there was the opposition to the merger which gave us uncertainty around the available spectrum we would have in the future."

Mr Berroeta said the company had incurred a large amount of costs relating to the Huawei ban.

"The cost for us really has been the fact that we had to delay our 5G plans by one year," he said. 

Average revenue per user fell by 4.9 per cent for the full year to $33.35. Mr Berroeta said the company's intention was to offer "attractive" pricing propositions, but he would not disclose plans for its pricing strategy. 

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Monday, February 24, 2020

Stop treating casinos like 'adult Disneyland', inquiry told

An internationally renowned gambling expert has told Australian governments to stop regulating casinos as if they were an "adult Disneyland" given their vulnerability to being infiltrated by organised crime.

The NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority's public inquiry into revelations Crown Resorts went into business with junket tour operators linked to Asian crime syndicates spent its second day of hearings further picking apart gaps in how casinos are regulated in Australia compared to other jurisdictions.

Casinos could not be treated the same as “any other industry” because of the risk of criminal infiltration, the inquiry has been told. Credit:Phil Carrick

I. Nelson Rose, an expert in gambling law and Professor Emeritus at the Whittier Law School in California, told the inquiry casinos were more vulnerable to criminal infiltration than "any other business", due to the "enormous" amounts of cash passing over their tables.

He took aim at a review of NSW's casino legislation which the government ordered after it granted James Packer's Crown Resorts a licence for a new casino in Sydney, which is set to open its doors early next year.

The government supported most of the 2016 "modernisation" review's recommendations, including moving to light-touch "risk-based" regulation, rather than firmer "prescriptive" regulation, and using casinos' own probity checks as the primary way to vet its junket partners. It is also reconsidering the need for five-yearly probity reviews.

Professor Rose said the review set out with the objective of making casinos profitable and treated casinos "as if it were any other industry" in spite of the risks they carried.

“I’m not an anti-gambling person – what I am opposed to is people thinking it’s just an adult Disneyland," he said.

“Self-regulation does not work for the casino industry. There’s too much cash, and there’s too much opportunity for things to go wrong.”

Victoria has also moved towards self or "co-regulation". The gaming authority used to regulate junkets, for instance, but it is now left up to Melbourne's Crown Casino to check the probity of its tour business partners.

Professor Rose said casino regulation should be "this is the law, this is the regulation and no we're not going to loosen it just because you would make more money". 

Professor Rose agreed with evidence given on Monday by Asian gambling regulation expert Paul Bromberg that the best way to regulate junkets – which bring wealthy Chinese to gamble at overseas casinos while also extending credit and collecting debts at home – was for regulators to licence and continuously review them.

Unlike NSW and Victoria, junkets were licensed in Singapore – which still had one of the most profitable casinos in the world – while junkets had been banned entirely in Japan, he said.

"I think the casino doesn’t really have the capacity or the perhaps desire to regulate them in the way the government would," Professor Rose said.

The inquiry led by former Supreme Court of NSW judge Patricia Bergin was called in response to revelations by Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes last year that Crown went into business with junkets with links to money launderers, crime gangs and foreign influence agents. 

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NASA confirms quakes, aftershocks are common on Mars

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s newest Mars lander has confirmed that quakes and even aftershocks are regularly jolting the red planet.

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Scientists reported Monday that the seismometer from the InSight spacecraft has detected scores of so-called marsquakes.

A series of research papers focus on the 174 marsquakes noted through last September. Twenty-four were relatively strong — magnitude 3 to 4 — and apparently stemmed from distant underground triggers. The rest were smaller, with uncertain magnitude and origin. Even the stronger quakes would not have posed a hazard to anybody on the planet’s surface, researchers said in a press conference.

The overall tally has since jumped to more than 450 marsquakes, most of them small, InSight’s lead scientist, Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in an email.

The basic cause of Martian quakes is a long-term cooling of the planet, which makes it contract, fracturing its brittle outer layers, Banerdt told reporters. But it’s not clear what detailed mechanisms bring on specific quakes, he said.

While the team cannot rule out meteor impacts, the source of the tremors appears to be underground, according to the researchers. Nevertheless, Mars-orbiting spacecraft are on the lookout for signs of recent impacts, and InSight’s cameras scan the night sky for meteors. So far, they’ve come up empty.

Banerdt said he had hoped to find larger quakes, which are useful for probing deeper under the planet’s surface. In an email, he said, “Another year of observations will be needed to complete the goals of the mission.”

InSight landed in a small crater in Mars’ Elysium Planitia in November 2018. Its French seismometer was placed directly on the volcanic plain the following month.

This region has especially turbulent weather, with dust devil-like vortexes.

The lander still has another year of geologic observations for a total of two years, which is about a full Martian year. There likely are more quakes occurring than the seismometer is registering because interference from wind and other weather conditions can mask the measurements.

And while no marsquakes with magnitudes greater than 4 have been detected, that doesn’t mean they aren’t occurring, according to Banerdt.

Banerdt describes Mars as moderately active from a seismic standpoint, more than the moon but less than Earth. The findings are close to initial predictions. The moon’s seismic activity is known thanks to instruments left behind a half-century ago by the Apollo astronauts.

“Knowledge of the level of seismic activity is crucial for investigating the interior structure and understanding Mars’ thermal and chemical evolution,” Banerdt wrote in an overview article in Nature Geoscience. The journal as well as Nature Communications feature four papers from the InSight team.


Other key findings: The first magnetic measurements from the Martian surface show a local magnetic field that’s 10 times stronger than detected from orbit, and weather instruments have found a surprisingly dynamic atmosphere around the spacecraft.


While the French seismometer is exceeding expectations, a German-built probe has had trouble burrowing into Mars. The probe has barely penetrated a couple of feet. Scientists have not yet given up on the mechanical mole, which keeps popping out of the ground.


The mole was supposed to burrow 16 feet into Mars to measure the planet’s internal temperature.


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EnergyAustralia's profit collapses in 'trying year' for power market

A series of power plant outages, stiff retail competition and the rollout of government caps on household power bills have led to a dramatic 50 per cent cut in EnergyAustralia's profit.

EnergyAustralia, one of the nation's three major generator-retailers, contributed $295 million to Hong Kong-listed parent company CLP Group for the 2019 calendar year, down from $574 million the year before.

EnergyAustralia managing director Catherine Tanna.Credit:Louise Kennerley

"There’s no question last year was difficult, one of the most trying we've had," managing director Catherine Tanna said. "Our results show that."

The results highlighted the severity of the hit to Australian power companies from state and federal governments' introduction of regulated retail price safety nets in mid-2019, known as "default market offers", the company said. EnergyAustralia last year announced a $1.2 billion write-down to its retail business as a result of the impact.

Lower electricity generation from its major power stations, including the Yallourn coal-fired power plant in Victoria's Latrobe Valley and the Mt Piper coal-fired power plant in New South Wales, were also highlighted in the company's results. Both planned and unplanned, the outages drove a sudden drop in carbon emissions generated by EnergyAustralia, the country’s second-largest polluter.

Ms Tanna pointed to the company's best-ever safety performance, its market-leading portfolio of grid-scale batteries and $180 million investment in upgrades to power plants ahead of the summer peak demand season as achievements not recognised in profit numbers.

"They don't show the great work done by our people and their unshakeable dedication to the things that matter – safety, customers and decarbonising our power assets," she said.

"We're excited by the work we’re doing on our pumped hydro, energy recovery and new gas-fired projects … these are examples of the generation assets that can underpin the energy system as big coal plants retire."

Ms Tanna said EnergyAustralia was "looking forward to 2020. "There's a lot to do, but I’m convinced we’re on the way to an energy system that works," she said.

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Sunday, February 23, 2020

TSA stops employees from using TikTok for social media posts

Navy bans TikTok app

Ret. Army Brigadier General Anthony Tata talks about how the Chinese-based social-media app poses a cybersecurity threat.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Transportation Security Administration said Sunday it has stopped allowing employees to use the China-owned video app TikTok to create social media posts for the agency after the Senate’s top Democrat raised concerns about potential national security issues.

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New York Sen. Chuck Schumer sent a letter Saturday to TSA Administrator David Pekoske, months after news reports that the U.S. government launched a national security review of the app, which is popular with millions of U.S. teens and young adults. Schumer also cited a Department of Homeland Security policy prohibiting TikTok on agency devices.

The TSA said in a statement Sunday that a "small number of TSA employees have previously used TikTok on their personal devices to create videos for use in TSA’s social media outreach, but that practice has since been discontinued.”

In his letter, Schumer said national security experts have raised concerns about TikTok’s collection and handling of user data and personal information, locations and other content. He also noted in the letter that Chinese laws compel companies to cooperate with China’s government and intelligence collection.

“Given the widely reported threats, the already-in-place agency bans, and the existing concerns posed by TikTok, the feds cannot continue to allow the TSA’s use of the platform to fly,” Schumer said in a statement to The Associated Press.


Over the past few months, the agency has posted a number of videos reshared on other social media platforms such as Twitter, which have amassed hundreds of thousands of views.

The agency said it never directed viewers to TikTok or published content directly to the platform, despite videos reposted on other TSA social media accounts having the TikTok logo in the bottom of the screen. The agency said it had an “active and award-winning presence on several social media platforms.”


Some of the videos are musical parodies about what can and cannot be brought on an aircraft, while others advertise services like TSA's expedited screening program known as PreCheck. In one of the videos, a TSA spokeswoman with Nutella spread on her face is showing different containers of the chocolate-hazelnut spread to detail which one can be brought in carry-on luggage.

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Bluescope flags coronavirus impact, profit dives

Australian steel company Bluescope has warned that its China operations are likely to be "heavily impacted" by disruptions stemming from the coronavirus in February and March, as it reported a 70 per cent fall in its first half profit.

The ASX-listed steel maker has seven manufacturing facilities in the world's most populous nation, with 32 sales and marketing offices and about 2000 employees.

Bluescope boss Mark Vassella.Credit:Louie Douvis

While the company limited talk of significant impact to only February and March, it said that the rate of recovery across the rest of the year "remains unclear at this point".

Bluescope's reported net profit after tax was down 70 per cent to $185.8 million, which the company attributed to lower prices for the steel it produces, combined with higher raw material costs. Underlying EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) was $302.4 million.

“The $302 million underlying EBIT showcases yet again that BlueScope’s turnaround and transformation is real. The result is more than creditable in light of the weaker cyclical spreads and is a tribute to our strong team of 14,000 employees across 18 countries," said Bluescope chief executive Mark Vassella.

"Importantly, it confirms BlueScope is now a resilient, global company with a strong balance sheet and high-quality assets," he said.

The company declared an unfranked interim dividend of six cents per share, to be paid on March 31.

The company has forecast that its second half underlying EBIT will be similar to the first half, which was $302.4 million.

“Underlying demand across our major markets is generally stable, however the economic impact of COVID-19 has created uncertainty for our Asian businesses and Asian steel spreads in the near term," Mr Vassella said.

More to come

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U.S. firm Hughes fears Indian closure, bank disruptions over unpaid fees: letter

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – U.S. satellite broadband provider Hughes Network Systems may have to shut its Indian operations due to unpaid levies owed to the government, which could put thousands of banking services at risk, a company letter seen by Reuters showed.

India’s Supreme Court late last year ordered a number of telecom companies, including Hughes and larger firms like Vodafone, to pay billions of dollars owed to the government.

Hughes’ India unit provides services to defense, education and banking sectors in the country and told India’s telecoms minister in a letter dated Feb. 20 that it faces bankruptcy as it can’t pay the 6 billion rupees ($84 million) it owes.

The closure of the company could disrupt connectivity at more than 70,000 banking locations and many critical satellite networks in the Indian navy, army and railways, Hughes’ India President Partho Banerjee said in the letter, which was seen by Reuters.

“We are facing a huge demand … which by no means is serviceable by us and is in fact pushing our company towards bankruptcy & closure,” Banerjee wrote in the letter.

“This is an SOS request,” he added. The company says the government’s telecoms department had made an incorrect calculation of the dues more than a decade ago which has ballooned to $84 million with interest and penalties.

Hughes, when approached by Reuters for comment, would not comment on the substance of the letter but said in a statement it “remains committed to India” and would continue to provide services to its customers.

India’s telecoms ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Vodafone Idea, which owes $3.9 billion in dues, interest and penalties, has already warned of a potential exit, putting at risk 13,000 employees and billions of dollars in bank loans.

India’s claim for unpaid dues followed a dispute with companies over how adjusted gross revenue, a percentage of which companies need to pay to the government as fee, was calculated.

While the $84 million Hughes owes is significantly smaller than the sums owed by larger peers, a company document from December showed it was still more than three times its net worth in India.

“This, if not resolved, will make the operation unviable thus rendering many customers like banks, other enterprises and critical government networks without any connectivity,” the company said in a separate December letter to the government.

Hughes, which is part of U.S.-based satellite group Echostar Corp, said in December 2018 it had been chosen to provide high-performance satellite broadband system for India’s naval communications network.

The company also provides communication services to more than 30 public and private banks in India, according to its website.

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Saturday, February 22, 2020

Federal prosecutors probing if Boeing pilot knowingly lied to FAA: NYT

Attorney Feinberg distributing $50M for Boeing victim compensation

Victim Compensation Attorney Ken Feinberg discusses Boeing 737 Max victim compensation programs and plans to distribute $50 million to crash victims.

Federal prosecutors investigating Boeing Co (BA.N) are examining whether the U.S. planemaker knowingly misled the Federal Aviation Administration while it was seeking approval for its 737 MAX jet, the New York Times reported, citing two people familiar with the matter.

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Boeing said it was cooperating with the U.S Department of Justice investigation.

The prosecutors have questioned several Boeing employees in recent months, focusing on whether Mark Forkner, a top pilot at the company, intentionally lied to the regulator about the nature of new flight control software on the jet, according to the report.

In this Dec. 16, 2019, file photo a worker looks up underneath a Boeing 737 MAX jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)


A lawyer for Forkner did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Forkner had said he might have unintentionally misled regulators, in a series of internal messages from 2016 that became public in October.

The messages appeared to have been the first publicly known observations that the MCAS anti-stall system behaved erratically during testing before the aircraft entered service.


Boeing 737 MAX aircraft at Boeing facilities at the Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington, September 16, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson


The comments by Forkner, who has since left Boeing, were among those pinpointed by U.S. lawmakers in hearings in Washington as evidence that Boeing knew about problems with flight control software before two crashes of its 737 MAX aircraft in October 2018 and March 2019 killed 346 people.

Bloomberg News reported late on Friday that the planemaker had put three employees who worked with the former chief technical pilot of the 737 MAX on administrative leave, with the employees being notified of the action last week.

Boeing shares closed down 1.8% at $330.38.


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Friday, February 21, 2020

Google Play Store malware subscribes to premium services without your permission

DNC rolls out new Google calculator ahead of Nevada caucuses

Campaigns prepare for chaos; former Nevada state GOP chair Amy Tarkanian weighs in.

A popular smartphone virus that subscribes Android users to premium services without their consent keeps appearing in the Google Play app store, new research shows.

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A malware application known as the Joker family or "Bread" keeps reappearing in the Google Play store despite its known presence and threat to users' bank accounts, researchers at cybersecurity company Check Point Research discovered.

"It's a sort of malware that has the ability to subscribe a victim to a premium service without consent," Aviran Hazam, Check Point's head of mobile threat intelligence, told FOX Business. "A premium service is a service you subscribe to that you have to pay for on a weekly or daily basis, like a fact-of-the-day or horoscope app."

Google Lego wall / Google

Check Point discovered four malicious Joker apps downloaded more than 130,000 times.

First, Joker identifies victims' geographic locations and phone numbers. Then, Joker identifies the premium services available near the users' locations. Next, the malware subscribes victims up for a service using victims' phone numbers.


When the service sends a verification code text message to the users' phone numbers, Joker has the ability to hide that verification message from the victims and inserts the required code. Meanwhile, Joker remains hidden on users' devices.

The only way for victims to unsubscribe for these premium services is to notice unrecognizable charges to their banks and manually cancel the subscriptions.

Google Play store logo / Google

Hazam said that Joker's exact goals aren't known to Check Point, but it is likely that "they gave some sort of financial connection" to the services to which it subscribes its victims.

Google confirmed to FOX Business that it has taken down the malicious apps. The tech giant took down 1,700 unique Joker apps from Google Play before they were ever downloaded by users, according to a Jan. 9 blog post.


Joker has "used just about every cloaking and obfuscation technique under the sun in an attempt to go undetected," the blog post reads. "Many of these samples appear to be designed specifically to attempt to slip into the Play Store undetected and are not seen elsewhere."

Google said in a more recent blog post that it has "stopped over 790,000 policy-violating app submissions before they were ever published to the Play Store" since it released a new policy in 2018 to stop apps from accessing victims' private messaging and call log data.

"Google has been putting many resources into fighting this," Hazam said, adding that the issue is still present in the Google Play store and extremely persistent.


"The much bigger threat in this area is the persistence in which we observe how the Joker family keeps infiltrating Google Play," Hazam explained. "If you remove one app, another will show up. Joker keeps infiltrating Google Play on a daily or weekly basis."

Check Point also discovered relatively new "clicker" malware, or viruses that mimic user "clicks" on advertisements, called "Hacken" and "BearCloud" on Google Play. The research company said it found an increase in activity and scale of Hacken and BearCloud operations with 47 new apps available on Google Play that were downloaded more than 78 million times by users.

"The Haken malware family was installed on over 50,000 Android devices by eight different malicious apps, which all appeared to be benign," Ran Schwartz, Check Point threat prevention product manager, said in a statement. "The apps were mostly camera utilities and children’s games,"


Those applications have been removed from Google Play too, he said.

But this does highlight that despite ongoing efforts to secure the Google Play Store against malicious apps, completely eliminating the risk of users getting a malicious download from the store is not going to happen quickly," Schwartz said. "There are nearly 3 million apps available from the store, with hundreds of new apps being uploaded daily, which makes it difficult to check every single app is safe."

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Only way to stop Amazon Alexa recording you at home is to BIN it, experts warn

IF you don't want Alexa to record private conversations in your home then you shouldn't have one.

That's the verdict from cyber-experts who say the only way to truly keep your audio out of Amazon's hands is by ridding your home of Alexa.

Amazon Echo speakers are an amazing gadget that can make your home life easier and more interesting.

But the price you pay is privacy: Amazon stores your Alexa recordings, and sometimes sends those voice clips off to humans.

This creates a privacy nightmare, as these conversations can be private – mistakenly picked up by Alexa.

"If you don't want to be recorded, don't buy one – it’s as simple as that," said cyber-expert Keith Geragthy, of edgescan, speaking to The Sun.

"We don’t realise how often we discuss sensitive information out loud.

"Remember that it is likely multiple devices in a modern home environment that are recording, not just your Alexa speaker."

Earlier this week, an ex-Amazon exec admitted that workers do listen to your conversations through Alexa.

And he said he turns his Alexa speaker off when he wants to have a "private moment".

You can turn this "human grading" off in your settings, and even delete your recordings – but the audio is still saved in the first instance.

Sadly, the only way to stop that is to bin Alexa completely.

"While it may seem like Alexa or Google Home is in your house, all of the data you share with that device is transmitted to the cloud, and specifically to Amazon or Google," Paul Norris, a cyber-expert at Tripwire, told The Sun.

"The easiest way to avoid these risks is simply not to buy the devices."

He added: "It is of course good housekeeping to delete old recordings."

One option for paranoid users it to keep your Alexa microphone switched off except when you're using it.

The microphone button on your Alexa physically disconnects the mic from the electronics, locking the system down completely.

Turning the microphone off – is it just too hard?

Here's what cyber-expert Tim Mackey, of Synopsys, told The Sun…

  • "While users of voice activated devices appreciate the convenience they provide, those same users rarely think of the potential security issues associated with persistent recordings.
  • "This is due in large part to the convenience factor provided by the devices.
  • "Assuming a device has a manual off switch for its microphone, that will only be effective protection for voice recordings, but will require the user to manually enable the microphone as required.
  • "Eventually the self-imposed usability speed bump will become sufficiently inconvenient with the result the microphone remains on indefinitely."

But that takes away the speaker's ease of use – rendering it largely pointless.

"Chances are that many users will forget to turn it off again," said Hugo van den Toorn, a cybersecurity expert at Outpost24.

"This is the classic trade-off of usability vs security/privacy.

"If you want to limit the potential (over)exposure of your data, it means that the product will be less user-friendly.

"In this case, enabling and disabling a microphone, which is actually marketed and developed as a device that is always-on.

"Like a butler you can – at any time – make any request. So is it worth keeping the microphone off by default?

"For some privacy minded users it might, for the majority of users it will likely just be cumbersome."

If you want to boost your Amazon Echo privacy, read our Alexa settings guide now.

In other news, we reveal the best Alexa tips and tricks.

A terrified mum says her Amazon Echo speaker urged her to kill herself.

And Amazon recently launched an Alexa ring and a smart oven.

Do you trust Amazon to properly protect your privacy? Let us know in the comments!

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Ireland in CHAOS: Who will be the next taoiseach as Leo Varadkar steps down?

On Thursday evening, attempts in the Dáil to elect a new taoiseach ended in tatters after voting fractured along party lines. Ireland’s parliament was attempting to elect a new prime minister after this month’s general election failed to produce a majority for any party.

There were four nominations for the post, including Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Mary Lou McDonald, nominated by Sinn Féin.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan were also nominated by their respective parties.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald had the highest number of votes in her favour, with 45, but a majority would require 80.

Micheál Martin polled 41 votes, while Mr Varadkar received 31 votes, and Eamon Ryan was left with 12 votes in his favour.


  • Leo Varadkar vows to stay on for decisive EU Brexit trade talks

So what next?

Following the failure to choose a new taoiseach, the Dáil will be suspended for about a fortnight to allow negotiations on government formation to continue.

Mr Varadkar will continue as caretaker taoiseach until negotiations have completed.

He and the previous government will remain in place until a new government can be formed. 

Speaking after the result, Mr Varadkar said: “The responsibility is now on all of us to make sure we provide good government and indeed good opposition.”

In 2016, it took parties 70 days to agree a government structure, and things are looking set to be equally difficult now.

Micheál Martin criticised Sinn Féin for taking aim at his party’s policy on not going into government with it.

He said: “Some parties claim that they uniquely represent the people and deny the mandates of other parties.


  • At least EU like me! Varadkar ‘eyeing up Brussels role’

“We reject the idea that there is no limit to be set to the compromises that you should take.

“We believe that a new government must also show urgency in relation to Europe and Northern Ireland, as we can all see an enormous amount of work is required in relation to securing Northern Ireland’s special economic status and Dublin must return to being a leader in the work of challenging sectarianism and building reconciliation.”

However, Mary Lou McDonald said this election represented a turning point and that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which have led every Irish government since the 1930s, were reluctant to give up power.

She said: Change also means that the old order must pass and you see, that’s really what the problem is here.

“Government formation is also about power and who wields it and the reality is that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have run the show for almost a century and they’re not minded to let go.”

Ms McDonald also said a vote for her party was not a “protest vote” but a vote for it to be in government.

Eamon Ryan said he respected the mandates that his colleagues from other parties had been given and those who voted for them.

There were demonstrations and celebrations outside the home of the Irish parliament in the hour before the 33rd Dáil sat for the first time, with protestors delivering messages about homelessness, healthcare, and the Middle East.

Source: Read Full Article

Industrial technology trade show in Singapore renewed for 5 more years

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) – Trade show Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific will be held for another five years in Singapore, with German organiser Deutsche Messe also setting up its regional headquarters here.

On Friday (Feb 21), a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), German event organiser Deutsche Messe, and local partner SingEx to hold the trade show here from 2021 to 2025.

This renews the commitment under an initial MOU signed in 2017, to hold it from 2018 to 2020. Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific is the Asian edition of the world’s largest manufacturing trade show, Hannover Messe.

As the trade show grows in prominence as Asia-Pacific’s flagship manufacturing fair, “we are confident that it will become a powerful platform in accelerating the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies across the region”, said Singapore Economic Development Board assistant managing director Lim Kok Kiang.

In a separate MOU signed with the STB, Deutsche Messe will open its South-east Asian headquarters, Hannover Fairs Asia-Pacific, in Singapore. The headquarters will provide greater support and expand their trade fairs in the region.

Under the partnership, the STB and Deutsche Messe will work together to develop and anchor new events in Singapore.

“We aim to have a solid long-term foothold in the booming South-east Asia region and market our existing portfolio here directly. Singapore’s geographical location and strong MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) ecosystem make it an ideal destination from which to expand our presence in the region,” said Ms Katariina Rohrbach, director of the new regional office.

As for new trade shows, Ms Rohrbach said that they “are working on new topics”, with market research and feasibility studies required before launching a new trade fair.

STB chief executive Keith Tan said: “Our partnerships with Deutsche Messe and SingEx reflect confidence in Singapore’s economy and the prospects of our MICE industry. We look forward to working with them to create and grow new best-in-class events in Singapore.”

Said STB director of exhibitions and conferences Andrew Phua: “With advanced manufacturing being a potential driver for Singapore’s future growth, “it is imperative that we continue to anchor an event to catalyse the adoption of advanced manufacturing in Singapore and the region by bringing in leading industry players as well regional buyers and sellers.”

“Business events such as Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific also remain an important part of our tourism growth strategy,” he added.

Noting the success of the first two editions of the show, with exhibitor numbers rising 32 per cent to 350 and attendee numbers up 53 per cent to 23,000 in 2019, Ms Rohrbach said: “Our goal is to have a long lasting, very successful Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific and trustful partnership with our partners STB and SingEx. That is our commitment and that is why we signed a MOU for five years.”

This year’s edition of Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific, from Oct 20 to 22, will be focused on small and medium enterprises, and workers, said SingEx Exhibitions executive director for events James Boey.

The event’s Learning Labs will focus on the use of drones in logistics, and 3D printing demonstrations. There will be a new precision machining zone featuring smart machining, and an investment zone featuring industrial parks. SingEx is also working with Deutsche Messe to explore new initiatives such as a Future Hub segment for visionary concepts, added Mr Boey.

Source: Read Full Article

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Universal Credit: Are you missing out on more than £13,000 of free childcare?

If a parent is claiming Universal Credit, they may be able to claim up to 85 percent of their childcare costs. This could be a maximum of £646 per month for one child, or up to £1,108 per month for two children or more. Usually, a parent can claim with a partner so long as both are in work. However, it may be possible to get childcare support if one person is not working and unable to provide childcare themselves because they have limited capability for work, have caring responsibilities for a severely disabled person or are temporarily absent from the household.


  • Universal Credit: How bad things can get with advanced payments

To receive this support, Universal Credit will need to be received along with one of the following:

  • Statutory Sick Pay
  • Statutory Maternity Pay
  • Statutory Paternity Pay
  • Statutory Shared Parental Pay
  • Statutory Adoption Pay
  • Maternity Allowance

To determine eligibility for childcare support, the claimant will need to speak to their designated work coach.

They will need to provide them with their personal details as well as information on the childcare provider and the full costs of their childcare.

It should be noted that, as with all universal credit payments, the childcare support is paid in arrears.

This means that the claimant will need to pay for the costs upfront themselves and then the Universal Credit system will pay the money back.

If these upfront costs are an issue it is possible to receive a flexible support fund to help. This will need to be discussed with the work coach.

Childcare support can be fairly flexible. It is possible to claim for childcare costs for the month before the claimant starts work if they have accepted a job offer.

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On the other side of this, if the claimant stops working DWP should be contacted because support with childcare costs can be claimed for at least a month after the employment ends.

This is designed to help maintain childcare while the claimant moves between jobs. The government appears to recognise that raising children while balancing work can be a difficult task.

As Will Quince, the Minister for Welfare Delivery, detailed: “Any working parent can appreciate the difficulties of having to balance a job with looking after the kids, and I want to make it easier for parents who want to go back to work after having children.


  • Universal Credit: What is work allowance? How earnings affect payment

“With Universal Credit, childcare payments are much more generous than the old benefit system. For lots of people childcare costs can be a barrier to going back to work, but I want parents to know that help and support is available.

“To see if you’re eligible for over a thousand pounds a month to help with childcare, visit”

The government provides further support of childcare online. They provide tools to find nursery school places, registered childminders and early education schemes.

It should be noted that any changes in circumstances should be reported to the government as soon as possible.

Changes in circumstances could result in payments being reduced or even halted entirely if they’re not reported.

The Government detail that changes in circumstances can include:

  • Finding or finishing a job
  • Having a child
  • Moving in with a partner
  • Starting to care for a child or disabled person
  • Moving to a new address
  • Changing bank details
  • Rent going up or down
  • Changes to a health condition
  • Becoming too ill to work or meet a work coach
  • Changes to earnings for the self-employed
Source: Read Full Article

Private equity firm buys controlling stake in Victoria's Secret

New York: Victoria's Secret – beset by falling sales and uncomfortable questions about its billionaire founder – is being sold off.

Victoria’s Secret founder Leslie Wenxer has come under intense scrutiny for his links to the late sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein.Credit:AP

The company's owner, L Brands, said that the private equity firm Sycamore Brands will buy 55 per cent of Victoria's Secret for about $US525 million ($785 million). The Columbus, Ohio company will keep the remaining 45 per cent stake.

Shares of the parent, L Brands, slid 14.6 per cent in premarket trading on Thursday.

The selling price signifies a marked decline for a brand with hundreds of stores that booked about $US7 billion in revenue last year.

Sales at its stores are in decline because competition is increasing and tastes are changing.

Victoria's Secret suffered a 12 per cent drop in same-store sales during the most recent holiday season. It said on Thursday same-store sales declined 10 per cent at Victoria's Secret during the fourth quarter.

L Brands has also come under scrutiny because its CEO, Les Wexner, has ties to the late financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was indicted on sex-trafficking charges.

Wexner will step down after the transaction is completed and become chairman emeritus.


Source: Read Full Article

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Benefit cap: If the income limit is hit it could affect payments and other benefits

The government have a benefit cap in place to limit the total amount a person could receive. The cap applies to most people aged between 16 and the state pension age, which will be rising in October to 68. Some people who claim many benefits may inadvertently receive more than the cap. If this is the case their payments may be reduced by the government. According to the Money Advice Service, the maximum amount a claimant can receive in benefit income is dependant on where the claimant lives. The amount is higher for people who live inside London.


  • Universal Credit: What is work allowance? How earnings affect payment

The maximums are also impacted by the type of household. If the household is made up of a couple or if the claimant is a lone parent who has children living with them and they receive housing benefit, than the maximum benefit will be higher.

In these circumstances, the maximum amount that can be received is £1,916.67 a month for claimants living in London, or £1,666.67 a month for claimants outside London.

Money Advice Service provide links to the London Councils website which provides an interactive tool that details exactly what areas qualify as within London.

If the claimant is a single person and has no children that they are responsible for they could receive £1,284.17 a month as a maximum if they live in London.

They’ll be able to receive £1,116.67 outside of London. While the benefit cap will reduce the total amount of income received, it will only reduce this income from certain benefits.

The specific benefits the cap affects include:

  • Bereavement Allowance
  • Child Benefit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • Housing Benefit
  • Incapacity Benefit
  • Income Support
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Maternity Allowance
  • Severe Disablement Allowance
  • Widowed Parent’s Allowance (or Widowed Mother’s Allowance or Widow’s Pension if started before 9 April 2001)
  • Universal Credit

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There are other caveats where the cap will not affect the claimant. It will not affect anyone over the state pension age.

The claimant will not be affected by the cap if they or their partner get working tax credit, universal credit if it’s received due to a disability or health condition which prevents work, universal credit for being a carer or get universal credit and the partners combined earn more than £569 a month after tax and national insurance contributions.

On top of this, the claimants will not be affected if they, they’re partner or any child under 18 living with them gets:


  • Savers could receive a £1,200 bonus from this government account
  • Armed Forces Compensation Scheme
  • Armed Forces Independence Payment
  • Attendance Allowance
  • Carer’s Allowance
  • Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
  • Employment and Support Allowance (if you get the support component)
  • Guardian’s Allowance
  • Industrial Injuries Benefits (and equivalent payments as part of a War Disablement Pension or the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme)
  • Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
  • War pensions
  • War Widow’s or War Widower’s Pension

Evidently, there are a lot of elements to the benefit cap system and it could be easy for claimants to lose track.

The government seems to recognise this as they encourage claimants to call the department for work and pensions directly for assistance.

On top of this, the Money Advice Service provides many tips for those worried about losing income.

They provide a video detailing what should be done if a person is worried about covering their rent. There is also advice given for applying to a local authority for a discretionary housing payment and drawing up budgets.

Source: Read Full Article