Council isn’t budging on bridge credit after residents hit ‘brick walls’


By Matt Dennien
Updated

Brisbane City Council has no plans to change eligibility requirements for its Go Between Bridge toll credit scheme despite fewer than 1000 residents being granted the subsidy and others hitting unexpected impasses while trying.

Most of the 9000 vehicles that had used the nearby Victoria Bridge daily have re-routed to the William Jolly Bridge, with patronage on the Go Between remaining about 10,500 trips a day and sparking calls from the RACQ for better incentives and discounts for the “under-utilised asset”.

Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey has weighed in, calling for a loosening of the criteria to more renters and private vehicle owners.

The scheme was rolled out alongside the closure of nearby Victoria Bridge to general traffic in late January as part of the $1.2 billion Brisbane Metro project, to help residents south of the CBD with the potential increased cost of crossing the river.

Those in the 4101 postcode suburbs of Highgate Hill, South Brisbane and West End could be granted the $100 annual credit, which would be added to their Linkt account and reviewed each year for a maximum of four years. The council then pays this subsidy to administrator Transurban.

While 2016 census data showed about two-thirds of the 23,000 people who lived in the area rented, well above the Queensland and national averages of closer to 30 per cent, those applying for the scheme must have six months remaining on a tenancy to be eligible.

Others have discovered utes and vans were ineligible for the credit even if only used for personal travel.

One resident, Lucy Gabb, had applied for the scheme only to hit “brick walls” and be told in emails seen by Brisbane Times that her single-cab ute, along with dual-cab varieties and vans, were not included.

“It’s not that much of a big deal but it was just frustrating because I had to do all the legwork to find out,” she said. “If they had said straight away you weren’t eligible, I wouldn’t have applied.”

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Credit Suisse moves to liquidate Whyalla steel mill, Tahmoor Coal


“Upon appointment the liquidators’ immediate focus would be to work constructively with all key stakeholders (including employees, customers, suppliers, unions, creditors, and government) to stabilise operations while undertaking an urgent review of the financial position, trading outlook, and funding requirements of the underlying businesses.”

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“As part of this process we will be assessing all options capable of providing long-term going concern outcomes for the businesses,” Mr Crawford said.

The potential liquidation of the entity that owns Whyalla will come just five years after the mill’s former owner Arrium was plunged into administration.

Credit Suisse has already appointed McGrathNicol as a receiver to Greensill’s Australian parent company to recover a bridging loan it provided to Greensill that was secured by shares in the local Greensill company.

Last month, Greensill’s administrators from Grant Thornton told a creditor’s meeting the company could face as much as $5 billion in claims from creditors, including a cohort of German banks, as administrators raised the prospect of the once high-flying group heading into liquidation.

Grant Thornton also indicated at the hearing that Greensill could also be headed for liquidation with no rescue plan being prepared and the sale process already failing to find an appropriate buyer for Greensill’s operating business.

In a statement released on Tuesday evening, Mr Gupta’s GFG Alliance said any proceedings brought on behalf of Credit Suisse would be vigorously defended.

“GFG Alliance’s Australian Mining and Primary Steel (MPS) business, which includes Onesteel Manufacturing Pty Ltd and Tahmoor Coal Pty Ltd, does not conduct any financing with Credit Suisse and has not sold receivables to Credit Suisse. We do not propose to comment on legal proceedings further.”

“GFG Alliance is in constructive discussions with Grant Thornton, Greensill’s administrators, and other stakeholders to negotiate a consensual and amicable solution on the way forward, which is in the best interests of all stakeholders. MPS is well advanced in preparations to refinance its Greensill facilities in the very near term.”

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Fewer than 1000 residents take up council offer for Go Between toll credit


By Matt Dennien

Fewer than 1000 residents have been granted a toll credit for Brisbane’s Go Between Bridge since the scheme opened in January to help some of those south of the CBD after a shake-up of inner-city river crossings.

Brisbane City Council announced the subsidised travel scheme in September before the long-flagged closure of nearby Victoria Bridge to general traffic on January 24 as part of a plan to make it car-free under council’s $1.2 billion Brisbane Metro project.

Most of the 9000 vehicles that had used the bridge daily have re-routed to the William Jolly Bridge, in line with council modelling, with patronage on the city’s shortest toll road remaining almost unchanged at an average 10,500 trips a day over a 25-day period to mid-February.

Since the $100 subsidy scheme was opened on January 1, almost 1000 applications have been granted to residents within the 4101 postcode suburbs of Highgate Hill, South Brisbane and West End. About 23,000 people called the area home in 2016, according to census data.

The scheme works by providing a credit to the Linkt tolling account of residents and tenants in the area who have applied through council, which will pay the subsidy to administrator Transurban. It will run for four years, with residents required to reapply each year for a total of $400 credit.

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Infrastructure committee chair David McLachlan said the toll credit was provided for residents directly affected by the Brisbane Metro construction closure of Victoria Bridge.

Cr McLachlan said the most effective way to deal with traffic congestion was to get more people onto public transport, which remains at 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

“Unlike the Victoria Bridge, which is a connection into the heart of the CBD, the Go Between Bridge was designed to divert traffic around the city and link to the Inner City Bypass,” he said.

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Credit Suisse braces for financial hit from Greensill collapse


The level of oversight and risk management at the bank’s asset management division is under scrutiny, particularly as Gottstein had ordered a review of the Greensill funds last year.

He said he was scrutinising the structure and internal position of the asset management unit, which is part of the Credit Suisse international wealth management division.

Gottstein said the closed supply chain finance funds had received an additional $US800 million since their suspension.

This brought current funds to $US1.25 billion on top of the amount already repaid to investors, and the funds continued receiving cash “on a daily basis” as the underlying receivables and notes reached their term.

“I cannot promise a specific result,” he said at the Morgan Stanley Financials Conference, of efforts to return proceeds at maximised value to investors. “But I can promise that we will undertake all our efforts to reach the best possible outcome for our supply chain fund investors.”

Supply-chain financing, or reverse factoring, is a method by which companies can get cash from banks and funds such as Greensill to pay their suppliers without having to dip into their working capital.

The collapse has put fresh pressure on Credit Suisse chief executive Thomas Gottstein who has been trying to move Credit Suisse on from a string of bad headlinesCredit:AP

Greensill had large exposure to one client, GFG Alliance, which is controlled by steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta and has started to default on its debts, according to Greensill’s insolvency application. Gupta said on Friday GFG was in talks with Greensill’s administrators on a standstill agreement to pause its debt payments to Greensill for an agreed period.

Costs ‘impossible to estimate’

The saga overshadowed an otherwise strong start to the year for Credit Suisse, whose shares opened up 1.8 per cent as it said it had achieved the highest level of pretax income in both January and February in a decade.

Andreas Venditti, analyst at Bank Vontobel, said the bank was facing a loss of confidence among investors.

“Investors have been reassessing the risks to which the bank is exposed. In a worst-case scenario the bank faces years of litigation,” he said.

“It is currently virtually impossible to estimate how high the direct costs of the case will be for Credit Suisse. Investors don’t like uncertainty.”

Three Credit Suisse investors, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, told Reuters they were concerned about the fallout.

An investor in the bank’s debt said the main financial risk was to Credit Suisse’s reputation, which it said was a key asset for the wealth management business.

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One Credit Suisse shareholder said it should fully compensate investors in the supply chain funds. A second said that, as well as reputational risk, it was worried about the effect on the bank’s future asset-raising and its credentials in the growing business of socially responsible investing.

Credit Suisse declined to comment beyond its statements.

The bank has hired external firms to help deal with regulators and insurers amid questions over the contracts that underpinned Greensill’s security. It has also recovered some $US50 million of the $US140 million bridge loan, it said.

Credit Suisse said that its asset management division, which sold the funds to investors, was working with Greensill’s administrator, Grant Thornton, and with other parties to facilitate the recovery of funds.

Japanese insurer Tokio Marine, which provided $US4.6 billion of coverage to Greensill credit notes through an Australian unit, is investigating the validity of those policies. A person with knowledge of the matter has said these were directly linked to the Credit Suisse funds.

Reuters

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Capital Region Farmers Market credit Canberra community for them bouncing back post-COVID




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Short-term lender protests credit changes



Australia’s largest short-term lender has launched a nation-wide campaign to have changes proposed under a major overhaul of the National Consumer Credit Protection Act scrapped.

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Lawmakers weigh new child tax credit expansion


Halfpoint Images | Moment | Getty Images

A Democratic proposal to expand the child tax credit for one year could give qualifying families up to $300 per child per month.

But like all direct payments made by the government as part of Covid relief, some are questioning whether the aid will be too much or too little.

One of the strongest objections to the Democrats’ proposal came from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who wrote in an op-ed this week that it is “not a pro-family policy, no matter how much Democrats will claim it to be.”

The child tax credit expansion is aimed at reducing child poverty. Research has indicated President Joe Biden’s plan could help cut today’s rate in half, particularly for minority families.

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Unemployment benefits: What Democrats want in a stimulus package
Meet the student loan borrowers refusing to pay their debts
Obamacare exchanges reopen Monday. How to get a low-cost plan

Still, others like Rubio are skeptical.

“If pulling families out of poverty were as simple as handing moms and dads a check, we would have solved poverty a long time ago,” Rubio wrote.

As with other direct payments, such as stimulus checks, the debate on how the child tax credit is structured has focused on whether those who are hurting the most financially will truly benefit.

Some experts say the Democratic plan could also enrich those at the top of the qualifying income thresholds.

How Democrats’ child tax credit would work

The child tax credit helps parents under certain income thresholds financially provide for their children.

Today, it amounts to $2,000 per child for those who earn up to $400,000 if they are married and $200,000 if single.

Because it’s a tax credit, it lets parents reduce their federal tax liability. (This is not to be confused with a deduction, which lowers adjusted gross income.)

House Democrats’ proposal, which was released this week, calls for raising the credit to $3,600 per child under age 6, and $3,000 per child for those up to and including age 17.

The bill would make it so families can opt to receive payments monthly, instead of having to wait for one lump sum at the end of the year. Families could receive up to $300 per month per child under 6 and $250 per month per child ages 6 to 17.

Eligibility for fuller payments would be based on income. So single parents with adjusted gross income up to $75,000, heads of household with up to $112,500 and married couples filing jointly with up to $150,000 would qualify.

The credit would phase out for those making above those levels, where it would be reduced and then plateau at $2,000 per child. It would be capped for individuals with $200,000 in income and couples with $400,000, the same thresholds in place for the credit today.

“The idea is the current $2,000 that people get per kid still phases out the same way,” said Steve Wamhoff, director of federal tax policy at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Protecting the credit for those making up to $400,000 is also in line with Biden’s campaign promise not to raise taxes for people making under that level of income.

Why lower income households would benefit

The legislation also takes aim at changing existing rules to make it so that lower-income families can access the credit.

To do that, it eliminates the $2,500 minimum income requirement and makes the credit fully refundable. That would give access to families who currently receive no credit or a reduced credit.

“That represents a pretty big shift, I think, in the goal of what the credit was trying to do,” which is help working families, said Garrett Watson, senior policy analyst at the Tax Foundation.

Estimates have found such a change could lift 9.9 million children nearly or completely above the poverty level. Many of the children who would benefit would be Latino, African-American or Asian-American.

Yet some conservatives have spoken out against the proposals.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, (left) and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., at a March 4, 2015 Capitol Hill news conference to introduce their proposal for an overhaul of the tax code.

Getty Images

Rubio and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, released a joint statement this month calling for Congress to expand the child tax credit without “undercutting the responsibility of parents to work to provide for their families.”

“We do not support turning the Child Tax Credit into what has been called a ‘child allowance,’ paid out as a universal basic income to all parents,” Rubio and Lee said. “That is not tax relief for working parents; it is welfare assistance.”

Together, the senators have put forward an alternative proposal for raising the credit to $4,500 per child under 6, and $3,500 for older children. Work, however, would be a key requirement under the plan.

Yet other experts argue that the key point of the Democrats’ plan is making the money more accessible to families to help fight poverty. Therefore, tying the benefit to income would be counterproductive.

“Is the goal to reduce child poverty or not?” Wamhoff said. “And if that is the goal, then you give assistance to families with children. It’s pretty straight forward.”

But as parents under the same $150,000 income threshold for married couples also stand to get full $1,400 stimulus payments for both them and their children, many families could be in for a big pay day if the current coronavirus relief package goes through.

Altogether, some families could qualify for as much as $10,000 in direct payments, estimates Bill Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“I think we need to do something,” Hoagland said. “But I think there needs to be a better targeting and coordination here between the direct payments and the child tax credit.”

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Hotel check-in with credit cards: How hotel pre-authorisations work


It’s one of the main causes of shock and awe among travellers. You’ve just arrived at the hotel where you’ve booked a room and the check-in clerk asks to take an imprint of your credit card to pay for any incidental charges you might incur. This is a pre-authorisation, a pre-auth in hotel speak, and it’s likely to happen even if you’ve paid for the full price of the room in advance.

They might also tell you that a pre-auth is not a charge and they’re right, but it places a lock-down on some of your funds. Your available balance on your credit card is reduced by the amount of the pre-auth. If you’ve handed over a debit card it’s even worse, the funds evaporate instantly from your account. The reservoir of funds that you can withdraw from an ATM or use to pay for restaurant bills or anything else takes a hit.

The pre-auth amount varies from hotel to hotel, country to country. Even hotels within the same group do not apply the same pre-auth amount but anywhere between $50-150 per night is within the ballpark. For example at the Courtyard by Marriott London Gatwick Airport hotel, the pre-authorisation figure is £50 ($102) per night per room. Stay in a glossy six-star establishment such as the Raffles group’s Le Royal Monceau in Paris and the pre-authorisation charge for a stay of just three nights and the pre-authorisation for a recent guest was €1200 ($1850).

See also: Rules to stealing toiletries from fancy hotels

The total amount that a hotel blocks in the form of pre-auths from its guests adds up. Assume a medium-sized hotel with 250 rooms with an occupancy rate of 70 per cent. On any one day therefore 175 rooms are occupied. If the average stay is 2.5 nights and if the hotel’s pre-auth is $100 per room per night, the hotel has effectively locked down guests’ funds to the value of $43,750.

Apply that same metric to a major hotel group such as Marriott International, which now has 1.1 million rooms following its acquisition of Starwood, and at any one time they’ve put a hold on close to $200 million of their guests’ money. So what is the hotel doing with all that loot? Answer: nothing. They can’t because they don’t actually own the funds that have been pre-authorised, they’re sitting in financial limbo. Not until if and when the pre-authorisation is converted to a charge, which happens at check-out, will the funds be transferred to the hotel’s bank account.

What’s wrong with a pre-auth you might think? The hotel has to guard itself against the cost and inconvenience of chasing guests who incur charges and then can’t or won’t pay.

Note that the pre-auth comes with a sunset clause. Unless the hotel converts the pre-auth funds to a charge the pre-auth is cancelled within a specified period of time and funds are unblocked from the cardholder’s account. The actual length of time a merchant can maintain a lock on funds in a pre-auth varies depending on their merchant classification code (MCC code) but five days is standard. After it expires a pre-auth can only be renewed with the consent of the cardholder.

Further, according to a Marriott spokesperson, “Credit card holds are typically released within 24 hours of checking out.”

See also: TripAdvisor names best hotel in the world for 2016

That sounds fine, but what that means is that the hotel has advised the financial institution that the pre-auth has been cancelled. Getting the cash back into your account is another matter. It can take several days after you check out for that to happen, or even longer. In its Booking Terms & Conditions, the Mantra group advises “The pre-authorised amount is set aside by the card issuer for a period of up to 14 days from the date of pre-authorisation.”

The problem is not the hotel, it’s the financial institution behind your credit or debit card. When the hotel has notified the financial institution to unblock the pre-auth it’s in their interests to drag their feet. If that institution can delay handing back your pre-auth for a few more days it can use those funds for another purpose, and that’s what it does.

There are a few lessons to take away from this. First off, use a credit card rather than a debit card for the pre-auth. When you check out, use the same card to settle your bill or it can take even longer for the funds to be restored to your account. There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that it’s better to make a charge against your pre-auth, however small. This requires the hotel to make a charge against your pre-auth and your card issuer will refund the difference, although it can also happen that the hotel will regard whatever you’ve charged to your room as a separate charge from the pre-auth.

Another way around this problem is to use cash for the pre-auth. When you check in, the cash should be sealed in an envelope and held until your departure, minus any amount owing. That works most of the time, although cash carries its own set of risks, and if the pre-auth is to cover the room charge as well as incidentals the amount could be substantial. The hotel might also insist on local currency, although US dollars or euros will usually get you through.

See also: What hotel concierges services can do for you
See also: How to be a better hotel guest



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Universal credit: Labour presses PM for action ahead of benefit vote



Labour says the PM should give millions a helping hand by extending the £20 universal credit uplift.

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Westland Insurance Announces Partnership with Blackstone Credit


SURREY, British Columbia, Jan. 12, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Westland Insurance Group Ltd. (“Westland”) is pleased to announce that it has entered a partnership with Blackstone Credit (“Blackstone”). Westland has refinanced its existing debt with a new long-term debt financing led by Blackstone, which includes a committed and undrawn debt facility for acquisitions. Blackstone Credit, one of the world’s largest credit-focused asset managers, invests in a wide range of companies across sectors and geographies.

“We are very excited to be partnering with Blackstone Credit,” said Jamie Lyons, President & Chief Operating Officer of Westland Insurance. “Through this partnership, we are extremely well-positioned to accelerate our organic and inorganic growth strategy and to accomplish our goal of becoming Canada’s leading insurance brokerage. The Blackstone partnership allows us to continue investing in our employees, communities, and product offerings while remaining a family-owned, independent, and proudly Canadian company.”

The transaction closed on January 5, 2021. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. KPMG Corporate Finance Inc. acted as exclusive financial advisor to Westland.

About Westland Insurance Group

Westland Insurance Group is one of the largest and fastest-growing independent property and casualty insurance brokers in Canada. With a national network of over 150 locations and 1,700 employees, the company continues to expand coast to coast. Westland’s brokers provide expert advice to home, business, farm, life, and auto insurance clients. Since its founding in 1980, Westland has remained a family-owned company that is committed to supporting its local communities. For more information, please visit westlandinsurance.ca

About Blackstone Credit

Blackstone Credit is one of the world’s largest credit-focused asset managers, with $135 billion in AUM. They seek to generate attractive risk-adjusted returns for their clients by investing across the entire corporate credit market, from public debt to private loans. Their capital supports a wide range of companies across sectors and geographies, enabling businesses to expand, invest, and navigate changing market environments. Blackstone Credit is a division of Blackstone. For more information, please visit blackstone.com

Media Contact:
Westland Insurance Group Ltd.
Cari Watson, VP Customer Experience
604-543-7788
communications@westlandinsurance.ca
www.westlandinsurance.ca

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