Sunday, 15 June 2014

I don’t follow any sport, don’t have a favourite team, don’t really care who wins what.
With ONE exception: being Italian, I support and follow Italy at the football World Cup!
And what a great game they started with: England provided a challenging and energetic game, but eventually they couldn’t beat Italy.
Great start!

Passport Renewal Saga – 2

Friday, 13 June 2014

According to the Guardian (http://goo.gl/td4MAV), for passport renewal application from within the UK, they have only gotten as far as opening the ones from 21st May.
Given that ours was received by the passport office on 2nd June, it explains why the online status is still (as of this evening)”Awaiting information from the applicant”: they haven’t opened it yet, so they don’t know they already have it!
That’s about 3 weeks behind (assuming that applications normally are opened pretty much straight away when they are received), which is the quoted target time.
Not bad considering that only a few days ago the government was still denying the existence of a backlog.

Car hire – how much?

Thursday, 12 June 2014

I wanted to hire a car during my holiday, and got quotes from various suppliers. I was a bit worried about the excess I might have to pay if I accidentally crashed the car, but the rental company offered a “Super Cover” which would bring the excess payable in case of accident to zero, but they weren’t quoting how much it was, they would only say it would be added at the rental location.

So before going ahead with the rental booking, I rang customer services, and asked them how much that would be. I was quoted “around €100, depending on rates at the time” (about a couple of months away).

I eventually decided to go ahead with the booking, as it was still cheaper than the quotes I had from competitors, with similar insurance coverage, and same level of car.

So far so good. I got to the rental location, got the car (which I was very happy with), and all was fine. However, at a certain point during my holiday I had a look at the rental agreement I was given at the location (I was just handed an envelope, and the car keys, nothing to sign as I am on the company’s loyalty program).
To my astonishment I found a raft of extra charges for things I hadn’t requested (it took a bit of googling to find out what they all were), which brought the total of my rental costs to more than double of what I had already pre-paid. One of this was down to the satellite navigation system (which I had specifically NOT requested, as I had my own with me), and the rest were insurance covers.

So when I got back to the rental location to return the car, I pointed all of this out to the rental company representative. He agreed to remove the satellite navigation charges there and then, but said he couldn’t remove the other charges, and that he would make a note on the agreement for his colleagues in customer service to sort out.

Needless to say, the next day I got the invoice by email, and all the extra charges (minus the sat-nav) were still there. I promptly rang customer services to give them all the details, and complain about being invoiced for all sort of things I had not requested and not I agreed upon.

I was told they would need to get the rental agreement (the paper version!) from the rental location, and then they would make a decision about refunding me (oh, did I I mention that my card had been charged already?), and they would get back to me within 5 to 7 working days.

Well today is the 8th working day since, and I finally received an email apologising for the incorrect charges, and confirming a refund.

I have to admit I was quite sceptical about getting a refund, and was wondering whether it was worth me spending time trying to get it. I have to say although I shouldn’t have been in a position to have to go through all of this in the first place, that it was definitely worth pursuing a refund.

A happy ending for once!

Passport Renewal Saga – 1

Thursday, 12 June 2014

I recently went on to the passport office website to get information about renewing my daughter’s passport. I found out the new ‘beta’ service, and I thought I would give that a go.
After completing the online application, having the photos done, form and photo countersigned, all was sent off to the passport office in Liverpool, and the wait started.
Then the day after the application was sent off, the news headlines started talking about the huge backlog at the passport office, long delays for passport application processing, and government ministers reassurances that all is under control. Apparently the subject featured at PMQ too.
Although fortunately we have no travel plans in the near future, I still thought it might be interesting to document this renewal application. So here we are.
When I completed the online application, the status went to “Awaiting information from the applicant“.
I was expecting this to change, once my application was received, which happened on Tuesday:

Proof of delivery

Delivered on Tuesday

However nothing has changed yet as of writing this post on Thursday:

Application Status

Still unchanged 2 days after the application was delivered.


Check back soon for the next post in the Passport Renewal Saga.


Saturday, 15 February 2014

The recent days have been a useful reminder that our perception of our situation, depends very much on out point of view, and that sometimes it is a good exercise to get some perspective by looking at other people’s situations, and looking at things from their point of view (or at least trying).

For example, today I am a bit upset because the winds have been blowing all night, and have kept me awake half the night. However, in the morning, when I looked out of the window, I saw that my garden fences had not been blown away, like the ones of our neighbour (ours did get blown away twice in the last couple of years, but not this time).
So, putting things in perspective, I can’t complain too much. Then I was looking at the news, and there was a lot of coverage about all the floods, and that added a bit more perspective to my sleepless night, as my ground floor is not underwater, and my street is not flooded.
Then the article I was reading had a link to a commentary about climate change, and it mentioned that the recent storm in the Philippines killed a few thousand people, which again put all the flood disaster news into perspective.

Now I don’t really want to pontificate to people who have lost their homes, or their livelihoods, and say to them that they shouldn’t complain because there are other people who are worse off. What I want to say is that when I think it’s all going wrong, adding a bit of perspective can actually change my whole outlook.

Coup or not Coup?

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

When is a coup a coup, and when isn’t?

In Egypt the military have recently taken over the government, and arrested the country’s president (not quite the democratic process prescribed by the country’s laws and constitution), however many people claim this is not a coup, but a step to get the country’s democracy back on track (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-23242777).

In Italy, because the judiciary has determined to apply the law, and try and avoid breaching the statute of limitation term for proceedings against a defendant (as the law dictates), they are being accused of effectively staging a coup (http://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2013/07/09/processo-mediaset-pdl-contro-cassazione-brunetta-colpo-di-stato/651026/). The reason for this is that the defendant happens to be a renowned politician (who although found guilty of criminal offences several times in the past, has benefited from statute of limitations terms, thanks to the peculiarities of the Italian justice system, see http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procedimenti_giudiziari_a_carico_di_Silvio_Berlusconi).

Now according to the Oxford Dictionary, a coup (French word for “blow”, used in the French expression “coup d’état”) as a “sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government”.

Let’s see how this applies.
In the Egyptian case, the existing government lost power, as it was seized by the army. It was sudden, as it happened in a matter of a few days. It was illegal, as it did not follow the procedures established by the laws and the constitution in force in the country, and there was violence as there were fatalities (although some argue less that there could have been).
In the Italian case, the government is still in power, so no power seizure happened, that straight away goes against the definition of coup. Furthermore there is no question of illegality, as the fact being condemned as a coup is in effect a consequence of applying the law (by definition applying the law cannot be illegal!).

So again, what is a coup and what isn’t? My opinion is here. What’s yours?

Tax avoidance

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The government these days (and politicians from all sides) are going after businesses and wealthy individuals who arrange their affairs in such a way to reduce their own tax bill. This is decried as immoral (as it is not illegal since the law allows it).
In the past week executives from companies like Google, Amazon, and Starbucks have been summoned by parliament to give account of their tax avoidance schemes, and been given a good thrashing by MPs.
And of course, with most people who are not in a position to do anything to reduce their tax bill, especially in times of austerity, pointing fingers at those who don’t pay their way (like we have to do), allows politicians to score serious points.

However, anser me this honestly: if you could cut in half your tax bill, in a legal way, without making it ineffective (i.e. without having to pay an accountant more than he could save you in taxes), and in a fairly simple and immediate way, wouldn’t you do it? Really?

Well, I would as well. And the reasons might be different for different people. I might just be selfish (while I might not be ready to admit it so bluntly), and want more of my hard earned money to spend for myself and my family. More importantly for me, I hate to see how lots of my tax money is spent by the government.

For example, the UK have spent billions in the past decades on a war in Iraq, and a war in Afghanistan (neither of which the electorate wanted, but the government didn’t listen!). Where did the money for that come from? Taxes (and borrowing, that needs to be repaid with tax money).

I have lost count in recent years of how many failed IT projects the government has paid for, and allowed to flounder through sheer incompetence. And how was all that paid for? Tax money.

And have we forgotten the MPs’ expenses scandal? Only in the last few days another former MP has been found guilty in the courts for fraudulent claiming money she wasn’t entitled to. And right now they are debating increasing MPs salaries again (why shouldn’t they be paid the average national salary, so they wouldn’t loose touch with most of their constituents?). How is that to be funded? You have guessed right: tax money.

This week we are going to vote for people to fill the newly created posts of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), which will cost an arm and a leg. Who asked for these positions to be created? I didn’t, and before these were announced, I never heard anybody asking for them.

One could come up with lots more examples of public money being squandered. Now the people who are responsible for spending our tax money so unwisely, are the same people who are complaining that they aren’t getting more from individuals and businesses who use legal loopholes to avoid giving it to them. What I would say is that if you don’t want people to engage in tax avoidance schemes, you should first be responsible with the money you are already getting, and not treat it as if if was yours to waste, because it isn’t. It is our money that you are so often flushing down the toilet.

So if tomorrow I were to win the lottery (in case I remembered to play it), I will go and talk to an accountant, and see how to set my affairs up to manage (legally of course), to have the least of it wasted through government negligence, incompetence, and bad choices I disagree with. And if the only way to do that is to reduce my tax bill, so be it. And I will probably find a different way to contribute to my the community where I live, there are lots of organisations (charities and businesses) who do amazing work, and don’t squander money (because they will go out of business if they do, unlike the government). And I won’t feel in the least guilty about it, with good peace of the Public Affairs Committee, and Margaret Hodge.