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New UK legislation for 2017

3rd March 2017

Legal documents

Several pieces of legislation, including a minimum wage increase and the ban of microbeads, will be introduced in 2017. With so many legal changes already being introduced this year, Law Absolute has created a round-up of some of the most important legislation coming into force.

Ban on microbeads

Ban on microbeads

Microbeads and small pieces of plastic found in some toothpastes and body scrubs do not biodegrade and are not filtered out by water treatment plants. Environmental campaigners have pushed for a ban on microbeads and as a result, the government is introducing a complete ban by the end of 2017. Tesco has already pledged its support by banning microbeads.

A joint statement from environmental investigation agency, Fauna & Flora International, Greenpeace UK and the Marine Conservation Society, said: “Many countries around the world, from India to Korea to New Zealand, are now looking at banning microplastics in products that can end up in the sea, and they’re now looking to the UK to provide a model of how best to do that. By implementing a robust and comprehensive ban of microplastics in all products which can reach drainage, this government can have a truly global impact.”

However there is concern among campaigners that there are loopholes in the legislation that will render it ineffective in some cases. The microbeads coalition added: “We’ve already seen the problematic loopholes in the US legislation, which limited the ban to rinse-off products that perform an ‘exfoliating function’ and ended up allowing other types of products containing microplastics to keep pouring into our oceans.”

The ban follows a successful environmental change by introducing a 5p charge for plastic bags, which decreased the amount of plastic bag waste on beaches by 40 per cent.

Minimum wage increase

The minimum wage for workers over the age of 25 will rise to £7.50 in April 2017, an increase of 30p. Those aged 18-20 will see smaller increases too, with the minimum wage rising to £5.60, as well as 21-24 year-olds with an increase to £7.05. Overall, the government is aiming to boost the minimum wage to £9 per hour for over 25s by 2020. Unfortunately the minimum wage still isn’t enough to meet living costs, according to campaigners such as the Living Wage Foundation.

In a statement following the announcement of the increase, Katherine Chapman, director of the Living Wage Foundation, said: “We welcome any pay rise for low paid workers, especially now in these uncertain times with speculations about food and other prices set to rise. The reality is however that a fifth of UK workers aren’t paid enough to live on. There’s still a gap between the government minimum and our real Living Wage of £8.45 in the UK and £9.45 in London, which is based on what families need to earn to meet everyday costs.”

Letting agent fees to be scrapped

Letting agent fees to be scrapped

In his 2016 Autumn Statement, Chancellor Phillip Hammond confirmed plans to ban letting agents from charging fees to tenants. According to Citizens Advice, the fees cost on average £337 per person, with some as high as £500 in London. These fees can cover referencing, putting together contracts, credit checks, inventories and “administrative costs” such as phone calls and postage.

Since the Chancellor’s announcement, there has been little development on the proposed ban. The Association of Residential Letting Agents has called on the government to consider spreading the cost across the first six months of a rental agreement, rather than a total ban. In an article by What Mortgage, David Cox, managing director of ARLA, said: “When the Chancellor announced a full ban on letting agent fees in the Autumn Statement, we called the measure draconian and a crowd-pleaser. We stand by that. Nonetheless, we believe that ARLA’s proposal to spread the cost of fees across the first six months of a tenancy will guard against the numerous unintended consequences of a full ban, while also finding a solution that works best for the customer.”

Campaign group Renters Rising has argued that an increase in rent would not occur if letting agent fees were banned, as proven in Scotland: “Luckily, we don’t have to rely on economic theory to know what will happen after a ban. We have a test case right on our doorstep. Fees were banned in Scotland in 2012. Housing charity Shelter has carried our detailed research on the impact of the ban and found that landlords in Scotland were no more likely to have increased rents after the ban came into force than landlords elsewhere in the UK.”

Reforms to anti-homelessness legislation

In 2016, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid announced the government’s support for reforms to existing legislation to strengthen councils’ duties to stop people ending up on the streets. These new reforms to laws surrounding homelessness will give local authorities the responsibility of securing accommodation for people at risk of homelessness.

Graeme Brown, interim chief executive at Shelter, said: “These welcome improvements to homelessness legislation will mean councils have to try to help anyone facing homelessness and that no one feels they have been turned away without any support. However, on its own this bill will not significantly reduce homelessness.

“At Shelter we’re all too aware that the largest cause of homelessness is people not being able to find somewhere else to live once their tenancy comes to an end. Soaring rents and welfare cuts mean homes are often simply no longer affordable for people.

“To truly tackle homelessness, the government needs a broader strategy that involves reversing the freeze on housing support in the short term, and in the long term building homes that people on lower incomes can actually afford to live in.”

Ban on using rape victims’ sexual histories in court cases

Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts recently introduced a private members’ bill to protect rape victims from being cross-examined in court about their sexual history. The introduction of the ‘rape shield law’, similar to US legislation, has attracted cross-party support and passed its first reading in February.

The bill was drafted by Claire Waxman and Harry Fletcher, who lead the Voice4Victims campaign. Claire said: “Voice4Victims has heard from scores of victims of rape who are being subjected to unfair cross-examination. They are being asked about their appearance and past sexual history, which is not relevant to proceedings and only being used to discredit the victim’s voice. The Bill would address this and therefore, ensure victims have the confidence to come forward and report.” Those in legal positions in the UK should be aware of this proposed legislation as it moves through the parliamentary stages in 2017.

Cigarette and tobacco branding changes

Cigarette and tobacco branding changes

Two years ago, shops were banned from openly displaying cigarettes. In May 2016, reforms to EU laws on selling tobacco were introduced and retailers were given 12 months to phrase out logos and bright colours. All packets will now have to be dark green. Packs of 10 cigarettes and pouches of tobacco smaller than 30g will also be banned. The new legislation is aiming to reduce the number of smokers across the EU by 2.4 million.

New levy for funded apprenticeships

In April, a new levy on big businesses to fund three million apprenticeships will come into force. The 0.5 per cent “payroll tax” is set to raise £3 billion per year. This levy only applies to businesses with a salary bill of more than £3 million a year in order to protect smaller businesses. The money must be put towards new and existing apprenticeships or in-job training which allows over-16s to learn on the job while working towards nationally recognised qualifications.

Booster seats to be banned for smaller children

By law, all children must use a car seat until they’re 12 years old or 135cm tall. From March 2017, a legislation amendment will mean “backless” booster seats will be banned for children shorter than 125cm and weighing less than 22kg, for safety reasons. It’s worth noting that the new rules will apply only to new purchases, so drivers won’t be fined for using a booster seat bought before March this year.

Car tax changes

Car tax is changing, but maybe not in the way everyone hoped. From April, only 100 per cent electric cars will be exempt from vehicle tax. Every other vehicle will be charged at a tiered first-year rate based on CO2 emissions and a £140 flat fee for every following year. For those hoping to buy a low emission petrol or diesel car, which currently has no vehicle tax with CO2 emissions lower than 130g/km, this is bad news. Fortunately, if you already own a car, or if you buy one registered before April, there will be no change in charges. This has sparked an increase in car registrations, according to This Is Money.