‘Brazen’ conmen who targeted park homes jailed

John King (L) and Nathan King (R)

Two brothers have each been jailed for 30 months for conning elderly people into paying for ineffective insulation to be fitted under their mobile homes.

Nathan King, 38, of Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire and John King, 34, from Barnacle near Coventry, had earlier admitted conspiracy to defraud.

They said they could make homes warmer but the bubble pack-style insulation installed was not fit for purpose.

Residents were overcharged with many paying for other unnecessary work.

Nathan King was the sole director of Guardian Park Homes Ltd and was imprisoned for 30 months and disqualified from acting as a company director for five years.

John King played a leading role in the business and was also jailed for 30 months.

Leon Williams, 29, from Coventry worked as their foreman and received a 10 month prison sentence suspended for two years. He was also ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid community work.

The men were sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court after previously pleading guilty to a charge of conspiracy to defraud on the first day of their trial at Teesside Crown Court.

In mitigation the court heard some “legitimate trading” had taken place and all the defendants had expressed remorse.

But His Honour Judge Ashurst described the Kings as “brazen, greedy and unscrupulous men” who had behaved in an “outrageous way”.

“The public would not understand if a fraud of this type was not met with an immediate custodial sentence,” he said.

Cold calls

Police had been called to a park home at Skipton in North Yorkshire in March 2015 by the site manager.

He was concerned an 82-year-old resident who lived alone and was having work done on her property was being misled by workmen who were going to charge her £7,000.

The workers – including Leon Williams – were arrested. Trading standards officers from North Yorkshire County Council launched an investigation and seized Leon Williams’ phone.

It contained numerous postcodes referencing mobile home parks where trading standards officers found further victims who had been defrauded by Guardian Park Homes Ltd.

“Nathan King and John King had been doing the cold calls to park home properties,” said Ruth Andrews, the head of investigations and safeguarding at North Yorkshire Trading Standards.

“When they identified a victim that was going to have the work done they would text the postcode to Leon and the team.”

The gang had worked on park homes in numerous other areas including Bath, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Cumbria and Gloucestershire – which was where the company was based.

‘Danger of collapse’

Park homes look like bungalows but are raised off the ground on metal supports.

Barrie – a pensioner who lives on Teesside – was told by Guardian Park Homes that his property could collapse because its metal supports were rusting.

But a surveyor appointed by trading standards officers later found the anti-rust paint they applied at extra cost was unnecessary and the insulation he had also paid for was useless.

“My first feeling was of anger that they could have done this to me,” said Barrie.

“I couldn’t get underneath that floor myself to see what needed to be done or to check it when it had been done, so I trusted them completely.

“It made me feel frightened to make any more judgements of people, frightened to trust people again to do any more work.”

Twenty-seven victims were included in the court case with losses totalling more than £100,000. They will be getting their money back after trading standards officers discovered a similar amount of money in frozen bank accounts belonging to the Kings.

The Kings found no shortage of people willing to pay to make their properties warmer because there is limited insulation, even in newer park homes.

Extra insulation can be added beneath them or to their external walls or roofs. But Ann Barradine, director of the not-for-profit organisation, Community Warmth, which vets and monitors contractors doing such work, warns that if air vents are blocked, a home’s wooden frame can rot and collapse.

“There are some excellent companies out there that will do it properly, she said. “It is absolutely abysmal that somebody could go into an elderly person’s home and rip them off.”

You can hear more on this story on You & Yours on BBC Radio 4 from 12:15pm on Monday 1st May 2017.

MPs call for end to ‘bogus’ self-employment

Uber Eats

Drivers and couriers for companies like Uber and Deliveroo need full worker rights and not “bogus” self-employment status, MPs have said.

Self-employed status leaves workers vulnerable to “exploitation”, the Work and Pensions Committee concluded after an investigation into the issue.

Staff should be designated as workers, with full rights, by default, MPs said.

In response, Uber said the vast majority of its drivers were happy with their terms.

“Almost all taxi and private hire drivers in the UK have been self-employed for decades, and with Uber they have more control over what they do,” a spokesperson said.

“The vast majority of drivers who use Uber tell us they want to remain their own boss, as that’s the main reason why they signed up to us in the first place.”

Last year an employment tribunal ruled that Uber drivers were wrongly classified as self-employed – the company is appealing against the ruling.

Deliveroo was also among the companies that gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee as part of its inquiry in to the so-called gig economy.

Deliveroo said in a statement: “We receive 10,000 rider applications every week because people are attracted to the flexible way of working that we offer.

“Before Deliveroo existed, many workers in the food delivery business were paid in cash, in the black economy. All of our riders are registered to work legally and pay their taxes in the UK.

“Deliveroo is proud to offer well paid, flexible work to over 15,000 riders. Our riders on average earn well above the National Living Wage.”

In the report by the Work and Pensions Committee, chairman Frank Field said companies were “avoiding all their responsibilities” in order to profit from “bogus self-employed designation”.

“This inquiry has convinced me of the need to offer ‘worker’ status to the drivers who work with those companies as the default option.”

If firms want to class workers as self-employed, they should be made to justify that move, he said.

Those changes would protect staff from “the appalling practices that have been reported to the committee in this inquiry”.

Mr Field singled out Uber and its policy of charging drivers the costs of organising cover if they were off sick.

In its defence, Uber says it contributes towards a scheme that drivers can join, which gives a range of benefits including illness and injury cover.

Mr Field also said that self-employment also caused “substantial” tax losses for the government.

Last year the government asked Matthew Taylor, former head of the Labour Policy Unit, to review employment practices.

The review will look at security, pay and rights and it will also examine whether there are ways to increase opportunities for carers, people with disabilities and the elderly.

Speaking on the subject last year, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “If we are to build a country that works for everyone – not just the privileged few – we need to be certain that employment regulation and practices are keeping pace with the changing world of work.”

General election 2017: May says Tories would not raise VAT

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Theresa May denies “robotic” message

Theresa May says a Conservative government will not raise VAT if she wins the general election.

But the PM declined to back a 2015 Tory pledge that income tax, National Insurance and VAT would not be increased.

Mrs May said she would not be making “specific proposals” on taxes unless she is “absolutely sure” they can be delivered.

She added that her intention was to cut taxes for working families.

Asked whether she would be repeating ex-PM David Cameron’s “five-year tax lock”, covering income tax, National Insurance and VAT until 2020, Mrs May told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “We have absolutely no plans to increase the level of tax.

“But I’m also very clear that I do not want to make specific proposals on taxes unless I am absolutely sure that I can deliver on those.”

Speaking later on the Peston on Sunday show, she added: “We have no plans to raise the level of tax.

“In relation to specific taxes, we won’t be increasing VAT.”

Labour said the Tories had previously increased VAT having promised not to do so.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the Peston show there would be no increases in income tax for “low and middle earners” under Labour, with details to be set out in his party’s manifesto.

“The only increases will be on that higher percentage,” he said, adding that Labour’s manifesto would be fully costed.

On the Marr show, Mrs May suggested the “triple lock” protecting the state pension could be changed, saying state pensions would continue to rise, with the exact method of calculations to be revealed in the Tories’ manifesto.

The triple lock ensures the state pension increases in line with wages, inflation or by 2.5% – whichever is highest.

And she rejected claims she was “in a different galaxy” to the rest of the EU on Brexit negotiations.

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Lib Dem leader Tim Farron: “The prime minister is heading for a colossal coronation on 8 June”

After the 27 EU leaders agreed their Brexit negotiations, the PM said there was “good will” on both sides about settling the issue of EU nationals living in the UK, and Britons elsewhere in Europe.

She said recent comments by EU figures showed that talks could be hard, and stressed her determination to reach agreement on a trade deal at the same time as settling the terms of the UK’s exit.

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron told the Marr show the UK “desperately needs a strong opposition”, saying that Lib Dem success was the only way to prevent the “calamity of hard Brexit”.

A Conservative majority was “not in question” and Mrs May was heading for a “colossal coronation”, he predicted.

He said the decision to call the general election had been motivated by a “cold, calculated desire to do what’s best for the Conservative Party”.

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood told the Sunday Politics show any Brexit plan that threatened Welsh jobs would be “extreme” and “unacceptable”.

Former SNP leader Alex Salmond said his party would provided “real opposition” to the Tories on public spending cuts.

China factory output growth slows

China bicycle factory

Output in China’s factories and mines continued to expand in April but at a slower pace than in the previous month.

The purchasing manager’s index (PMI) was 51.2 in April, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said, down from a near five-year high of 51.8 in March.

A figure above 50 shows growth in the sector, a key driver of wider growth in the world’s second biggest economy.

The first quarter of 2017 has seen an acceleration in China’s GDP growth as well as a rebound in retail spending.

Robust trade data has also helped ease concerns about the strength of the economy following last year’s slowdown.

“Although the PMI has dropped slightly, we can also see the steady accumulation of positive factors,” NBS analyst Zhao Qinghe said in a statement.

Mr Zhao also highlighted increased production of consumer goods and improvements in small business activity as positive signs for the economy.

However analysts said growth may slow in the second quarter.

“The still-high output and new orders sub-indices suggest growth momentum likely remained resilient in April, albeit slower than in a strong March,” Zhao Yang of Nomura said in a note.

“Looking ahead, we see downside pressures looming and maintain our call for a shallow slowdown through the course of this year.”

Betty Wang of ANZ Research wrote in a note that the April data “suggests that China’s manufacturing activity might have retreated from its peak” in the first quarter.

Ford-GM gap isn’t as wide as it looks

DETROIT — Detroit’s two largest automakers are heading in opposite directions so far this year, with General Motors’ record profits defying signs of a U.S. market slowdown, while Ford spends big on recalls and on technology it hopes will pay off later.

Their first-quarter results — GM earnings up 34 percent, Ford earnings down 35 percent — reflect the companies’ strategies to grow sales today and to stay relevant in the future, along with the fact that GM is at the peak of its product cycle while Ford weathers a lull.

They aren’t necessarily emblematic of how each company will look later in the year, when GM will halt some of its most profitable plants for retooling and Ford anticipates hitting its stride. But GM does expect to have the better year, saying it will meet or beat its 2016 performance, even as U.S. industry sales soften.

“GM is really starting to get the scale that a company that makes 10 million vehicles a year should get,” said David Whiston, an analyst with Morningstar Inc. “They’ve got all the crossovers getting redone this year, and then new pickup trucks next year. GM dominates the full-size SUV segment, too, and those are extremely profitable vehicles that are well in demand right now.”

Across town at Ford, which had its best quarter in company history a year earlier, executives say last week’s earnings report doesn’t tell the whole story. They said Ford’s pretax profit for the rest of 2017 will be about even with or possibly better than a year earlier. Including the first quarter, though, Ford expects to fall short of last year’s $10.4 billion pretax profit, second-best in company history.

“We know the timing of our spending regarding engineering and building prototypes and we also know our launch cadence,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, said in an interview. “We’re pretty confident that we understand our costs for the year, and we mentioned that the large cost increases in the first quarter are what you’ll see for most of the year.”

GM plant downtime

In contrast, GM’s results will take a hit this year, when it has scheduled 10 weeks of downtime at multiple North American factories to retool for redesigned pickups and crossovers. CFO Chuck Stevens said the downtime will happen in the third quarter and reduce output by about 60,000 vehicles.

Because automakers book revenue as vehicles are shipped to dealers, rather than when dealerships sell them, the downtime could have a significant impact on GM’s third-quarter performance. It’s also boosting GM’s results now, as the company’s dealerships amass extra inventory in preparation.

Stevens said GM will have “another strong year” overall but warned that the third quarter will be “weaker than normal.”

Ford’s first-quarter profit was pinched by charges for recalls, continued investment in new mobility services and higher parts costs for some 2016 launches. Hinrichs said prices for steel and other materials rose more than expected.

“We’ve seen some rising commodity costs and we’re responding to that with cost reduction actions across the company,” he said.

Ford doesn’t expect any more growth in U.S. sales, but it’s benefiting from strong demand for pickups and SUVs — segments in which Ford is investing and updating its products, including the recently redesigned Super Duty and freshened Escape.

“We’re assuming the industry in the U.S. comes in a little less than last year, but still in the mid-17 million range,” Hinrichs said. “We’re very confident the plan we have in place to deliver the $9 billion of pretax profit is a good plan and one we’re working on intensely.”

Wall Street doubters

Amid the differences, one common trait between Ford and GM is that neither has gotten much respect on Wall Street lately. Both companies’ shares have been sluggish, and last week’s results did little to generate enthusiasm among investors.

For GM, it was the eighth consecutive quarter in which its results topped analysts’ expectations. Brian Johnson, an analyst with Barclays Capital, called the performance “a solid step forward in disproving its doubters,” but shares of GM barely moved.

“It’s not fair, as we believe GM deserves to be better rewarded for overall strong results and execution,” Johnson wrote in a note to clients Friday, April 28. “But unfortunately sometimes the prevailing market sentiment can be overly difficult to fight.”

Nissan’s new design chief on following a legend

Alfonso Albaisa
Title: Senior vice president, global design, Nissan Motor Co.



First language:Spanish

Education:Bachelor’s degree in industrial design from Pratt Institute, 1988

First car:1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

NEW YORK — Alfonso Albaisa admits his new job at Nissan Motor Co. is daunting.

Not the part about taking over global design oversight last month, which includes design for all things Nissan, such as dealerships, office buildings and public displays. After nearly 30 years with Nissan, Albaisa, 52, says he is ready for all that.

What’s daunting is the part about filling the shoes of his mentor, Shiro Nakamura, the automaker’s design chief since 1999.

Nakamura delivered nearly two decades of Nissan’s history, including the first Murano, the 370Z, GT-R, Juke, Infiniti Q50 and FX35 crossover, now called the QX70.

“I’ve got to follow Shiro,” Albaisa says with an eyes-wide look of emphasis. “How does anybody do that?”

Albaisa is the automaker’s first non-Japanese design director. The historic moment leads him to ponder the difference between his design instincts and all of those who came before him at the company.

“There is clearly Japanese thought and sensitivities in the look and shape of our cars,” he says. “But what does it mean today to be a Japanese car company? Especially for Nissan, which has so many Westerners involved in directing the company?”

After heading Infiniti design, Albaisa will now manage a design force of 700 around the world, working on vehicles that range from small Japan-only kei cars, to American-sized sedans and trucks and even large commercial vehicles.

The first vehicle that will bear Albaisa’s stamp as Nissan design chief will take the stage in January at the Detroit auto show, he says, declining to say what it will be.

There are 30 vehicle design projects in the works of varying global scale. First up are Nissan’s body-on-frame vehicles, as well as a new initiative for Renault and Nissan to deepen their alliance collaboration on light commercial vehicles.

He says his approach to the creative process will differ from what Nissan’s studios around the world are used to.

At his first design meeting as the new boss last month in Japan, Albaisa dispensed with the usual formal meeting room ambiance of chairs and desks. Instead, sofas were brought in and designers sat around in clubby comfort.

“I want to encourage more casual collaboration,” Albaisa said, talking to Automotive News during the New York auto show.

In recent years, Nakamura was steering more responsibility to Albaisa, who was named executive design director of Infiniti in 2014, and corporate vice president for design business management and global strategy last year. He started with Nissan’s California design studio in 1988, just after graduating from Pratt Institute in New York. A Florida native and son of Cuba-born parents, Albaisa has spoken in recent years of wanting to bring a Latin flavor into the designs he was overseeing at Infiniti. By that, he meant introducing more emotion and flair in the styling, he has said, adding that the influence would begin to emerge in 2016 and 2017.

Last month in New York, Albaisa presented the Infiniti QX80 Monograph concept, what he called a design study for the next-generation QX80 SUV. He pointed out that the concept’s sides and creases were intended to suggest human muscle, an effect that he said evoked the sculpture of Auguste Rodin.

Under Nakamura, Albaisa also oversaw the most recent redesigns of the Maxima and Murano. The global Micra subcompact was Albaisa’s project.

But as Albaisa moved up the ladder of global design leadership, Nakamura urged him to set down his pencils and focus only on managing the company’s creative talent.

“I was still designing,” Albaisa said. “Shiro told me, “You have to stop designing now.’ I don’t know if can. I’ve wanted to design my whole life.”

As a mentor, Nakamura allowed Albaisa to do as he pleased, Albaisa says.

“It was sort of a Peter Pan existence for me, getting to design when I wanted to,” he says. “But those Peter Pan days are now over. We have a lot of work to do.”

Designer’s career
1988: Joined Nissan’s San Diego studio

2004: Design director at Nissan Design America

2005: Product chief designer at Nissan Motor Co., Japan

2007: Vice president of Nissan Design Europe, London

2010: Vice president of Nissan Design America

2012: Director for Nissan global design strategy, passenger cars

2014: Infiniti executive design director

2016: Corporate vice president for design business management, global strategy

2017: Senior vice president in charge of global design

Alfonso Albaisa
Title: Senior vice president, global design, Nissan Motor Co.



First language:Spanish

Education:Bachelor’s degree in industrial design from Pratt Institute, 1988

First car:1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

Mazda wants new CMO to lead upscale climb

A Detroit advertising veteran is taking the reins of Mazda Motor Corp.’s marketing efforts in the U.S., as the automaker attempts to rework its image and push upward toward the premium tier.

Dino Bernacchi, 47, begins May 1 as chief marketing officer for U.S. operations. He will oversee “all aspects of brand communications” domestically for the Japanese auto-maker — particularly related to customer experience.

He enters Mazda at a precarious time, as it attempts to move from its youthful “Zoom-Zoom” image into a higher tier where it can sell higher-priced, more upscale vehicles under the “Mazda Premium” brand identity and its 2-year-old “Driving Matters” tag line, which so far has failed to evoke the passion of its predecessor.

“They’re trying to find their unique niche in the Japanese automotive landscape. To be as they are now is kind of like an alternate to Honda, Toyota and Nissan.”
Jessica Caldwell


“As customer tastes and expectations change, and Mazda moves itself to a new, more premium position in the industry, it is critical that Mazda be laser-focused in our approach to how we tell our proud brand story at every touch point in the customer’s journey with us,” said Masahiro Moro, Mazda North American Operations CEO, in a release announcing Bernacchi’s appointment.

Mazda’s new hire mirrors last week’s move by Kia, which hired another Detroit marketing veteran, Saad Chehab, to lead its U.S. marketing. Chehab, the creative mind behind some of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ most memorable ads, joins Kia ahead of the launch of the Stinger GT, a performance car that Kia hopes will solidify its image as a legitimate producer of luxury vehicles, and not just value-priced small cars.

The newly created chief marketing officer role at Mazda adds a position between Moro, who also acts as Mazda’s global chief marketing officer, and Russell Wager, vice president of marketing for Mazda North American Operations. Wager, who will report to Bernacchi, will continue to oversee Mazda’s “external communications activities.”

Mazda spokesman Thomas McDonald said Wager will retain his day-to-day responsibilities and “traditional marketing roles,” while Bernacchi will focus on the overall Mazda Premium brand positioning and long-term strategy. Bernacchi, he said, was “absolutely not” hired to take over Wager’s position.

Bernacchi has spent 23 years in marketing and communications positions at such companies as Harley-Davidson Motor Co., General Motors, Visteon Corp. and Detroit-based advertising firm Campbell Ewald.

Finding a niche

The addition of Bernacchi doesn’t necessarily mean a change for Mazda’s overall marketing efforts but an additional focus on them, according to Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis at Edmunds.

“They’re trying to find their unique niche in the Japanese automotive landscape,” she said. “To be as they are now is kind of like an alternate to Honda, Toyota and Nissan.”

Mazda’s products, Caldwell said, have made significant strides in recent years and increasing customer experience and marketing are “really the next step” for the brand.

“Mazda is trying to define their own niche in the same vein as Subaru,” Caldwell said. “Not outdoorsy, but driving, handling and experience to be a driver’s car.”

Subaru’s progress highlights the hill Mazda must climb. Having commanded the loyalty of adventurous consumers who value utility and practicality, Subaru has seen its market share grow from 1.4 percent in 2008 to 3.5 percent in 2016, according to the Automotive News Data Center. And that’s while demanding higher average transaction prices with far lower incentive spending than other mainstream brands.

In that same period, Mazda’s market share declined to 1.7 percent from 2 percent.

Amati project

This is at least Mazda’s second major push in 25 years to establish itself as a more premium offering.

In October 1992, the automaker pulled the plug on a planned luxury brand called Amati that was expected to begin selling cars through a network of 50 dealers in 1994.

The project — initially meant to compete against then-startups Lexus and Infiniti — was canceled due to the amount of funding needed to start a new brand.

Kelley Blue Book executive market analyst Jack Nerad, who led communications for Amati, said it’s going to be tough for Mazda to drive itself into that premium space.

“It strikes me that they’re trying to do what they were doing in the ’90s,” he said. “It’s difficult to establish Mazda as being premium to Toyota or Honda. That’s just not how people feel about that brand.”

May vows to protect pensions from ‘unscrupulous bosses’

Theresa May

Theresa May has announced plans to protect pensions from “unscrupulous” bosses if she wins the election.

The Tories will pledge to increase the powers of regulators over company pensions, including fines for employers who deliberately underfund schemes.

Following the BHS pension scandal, corporate takeovers could be blocked where the solvency of the company scheme appears to be threatened.

Meanwhile, Labour has unveiled a plan to strengthen rights at work.

Billionaire Sir Philip Green sold BHS for £1 in 2015 and a year later it went into administration with a £571m pension deficit.

Earlier this year, he agreed with the Pensions Regulator to pay £363m to settle the company’s pension scheme.

Mrs May said: “Today I am setting out our plans, if elected, to ensure the pensions of ordinary working people are protected against the actions of unscrupulous company bosses.

“Safeguarding pensions to ensure dignity in retirement is about security for families, and it’s another example of the choice in this election.”

The Pensions Regulator would also be able to impose large fines on bosses who “wilfully left a scheme under-resourced”, she said, and company directors could be struck off in more serious cases.

The Tories will also consider a new law to make it illegal to intentionally or recklessly put a pension scheme at risk.

In an interview with the , Mrs May criticised Labour leader Mr Corbyn, saying he was “weak, unstable, nonsensical and floundering” and said Labour had launched seven “conflicting” Brexit plans.

Meanwhile, Labour has announced a 20-point plan to end the “rigged economy” in the workplace.

The plan includes giving all workers equal rights from day one; pledges to ban zero-hours contracts; guaranteeing trade unions a right to access workplaces; raising the minimum wage; banning unpaid internships; and amending company takeover rules to protect employees’ pensions.

Mr Corbyn is expected to address the National Association of Head Teachers conference in Telford later.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: “These policies will be the cornerstone of the next Labour government’s programme to bring an end to the rigged economy that many experience in workplaces across Britain.

“The scandals of six million people earning less than the living wage, and four million children growing up in poverty, are not inevitable.

“It only takes a change of government to bring these outrages to an end.”

Triple-lock: Call for pensions policy to be revamped


One of the key figures behind the introduction of the triple-lock pension policy is calling for its revamp.

Steve Webb, pension minister from 2010 to 2015 and now a director at mutual insurer Royal London, has proposed a “middle way” on state pension policy.

Under triple lock, the state pension rises each April to match the highest of inflation, earnings, or 2.5%.

However, it is becoming increasingly expensive to maintain and some have called for it to be scrapped.

A recent review by former CBI director-general John Cridland, who was appointed as the government’s independent reviewer of state pension age last year, recommended that .

The Conservatives have not committed to maintaining it.

The Labour Party has said it will keep the policy in place through the next parliament.

In his report for Royal London, Mr Webb proposed that the government retained the triple-lock for pensioners who retired before 6 April 2016.

Those retiring after that date would have their pension increases linked to earnings only. The report said the move would save almost £3bn per year by 2028.

It also said that, as newly retired pensioners are on average £100 per week better off than those aged over 75, the policy would increasingly target money on the older, poorer group.

“There’s a big difference between pensioners who retired 20 years ago… for whom the state pension really matters, and someone who just retired,” Mr Webb said.

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Angus Robertson: “Will the PM give a clear and unambiguous commitment to maintaining the triple lock on the state pension?”

Mr Webb says his proposals would control costs and give pension increases to those most in need.

“This is the first time that someone has said anything other than scrap it or keep it,” Mr Webb told the BBC.

He said the triple lock had delivered “big improvements” to pensioner incomes since 2010, but political parties would be concerned about the long-term cost implications of the policy “on top of increased spending on health and social care associated with an ageing population”.

But Tom McPhail, pensions expert at stockbrokers Hargreaves Lansdown, said the plan added a layer of complexity to pension policy.

“It would be better to review the triple-lock; the level of the state pension, which was set too low; and state pension ages as a complete package,” he said.

He added: “The challenge has always been how and when to move away from the triple-lock without upsetting a key constituency of voters.”

Green heating system accused of causing ‘fuel poverty’

A wide shot of a housing estate seen through a thermal imaging camera.

A heating system meant to reduce bills is leaving people in fuel poverty, according to campaigners and residents.

The government wants millions of us to get heat and hot water from “district heating networks” to help meet carbon reduction targets.

But residents on some networks say they are more expensive than traditional heating and have been beset with problems.

Providers are working to tackle issues and say some schemes work brilliantly.

Instead of having a gas boiler in every home, heat networks send heat and hot water to numerous properties along a system of underground pipes from one central communal heat source.

This could be a mini-power station in the middle of a housing estate, or waste heat from a recycling plant or a factory.

Those living on the Myatt’s Field North Oval Quarter estate get heat from a small power station in a building known as the submarine. The system, run by E.on, was installed when the estate was redeveloped.

Uzoamaka Okafor, chair of the residents’ association, said the problems were causing a lot of distress, particularly to elderly and vulnerable residents.

She said some smart meters did not work, which meant people were being sent high estimated bills, including some who were being asked for hundreds of pounds a month.

She said: “It’s been riddled with issues, from intermittent hot water and heating, a number of outages, to concerns around high estimates bills, customer service and technical faults.

“There are lots of residents that do not put their heating on at all; they go to bed early. I’ve bought one resident blankets, because she’s so distressed about bills she doesn’t want to put the heating on.”

Residents said some people were having to choose between heating and eating.

, written by Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action and Stuart Hodkinson from the University of Leeds, said there had been heat outages on 48 days in four years.

It detailed individual cases of vulnerable people left without heat for weeks and months on end.

It also details the case of Edward Connell, an elderly man thought to have been suffering with a form of dementia who told people he was struggling with high bills. He died of heart failure in October. The report said there was no food in his flat when he died.

In February, after a meeting with E.on about problems on the estate, residents were sent a letter of apology by the head of the company’s heat division, Jeremy Bungey.

A spokesman told the BBC E.on did not agree with all of the points raised in the report, but acknowledged there had been issues.

He said many had been resolved some time ago. He urged anyone with problems with their smart meter to get in touch.

In relation to Mr Connell, he said: “This is clearly a very sad case, but we have no insight into the wider circumstances of his death and the factors which may have led to it.”

He said the company had spoken to Mr Connell a number of times when he moved into the property in 2015 and that in June, after providing a manual meter reading, he was found to be in credit.

At the moment, 200,000 people rely on district heating, but the government is championing the system and has put up £320m in seed funding to encourage more heat networks to be built in towns and cities across England and Wales.

It wants 18-20% of heat to come from district heating by 2050, in a bid to help meet carbon reduction targets.

According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy website, heat networks “have the potential to reduce heating costs, “.

But some customers say they have not seen the promised savings, and a traditional gas boiler would be much cheaper for them.

Charles Montlake, who lives in New Capital Quay, Greenwich, has district heating in his flat which is also provided by E.on.

He was given £669 in an out-of-court settlement with the energy giant after he lodged papers with the small claims court saying he had been overcharged for his heating for a year.

E.on says it believes it offers Mr Montlake value for money.

Unlike traditional energy customers, people like Mr Montlake on district heating cannot go to Ofgem to complain about bills, because district heating is currently largely unregulated.

Customers can go to the energy ombudsman and a body set up by a number of providers called the Heat Trust, but their powers are limited.

And while traditional power users can switch suppliers if they are not happy with pricing or customer service, those on district heating are locked into long contracts.

Mr Montlake told 5 live Investigates: “Our contract is for 25 years, so our current alternatives are move or don’t use heat.”

Ms London said she had come across contracts locking customers in for 40 and even 80 years, and estates where those who owned their own homes were moving house because they could not afford the mortgage and the heat bills.

She said the problem was particularly acute for people on low incomes, like some of those living on the Myatt’s Field North Oval Quarter estate.

She said: “It’s some of the worst fuel poverty we’ve seen.

“We’re afraid the same thing is going to happen to heating systems all over the UK, where people are actually not able to cover their heating costs and they’re going cold and potentially even losing their lives, as well as their health, as a result.

“The industry has to be regulated, it is absolutely not acceptable that it should be a wild-west situation where companies can do what they like.”

Tim Rotheray, director of the Association of Decentralised Energy, said: “Across the country, these schemes have been lifting people out of fuel poverty and making cold homes warm.

“But any evidence of unhappy customers is a serious concern.

“A good experience for customers is not only vital for them, but also for the future of the industry.

“We recognise the new and changing nature of this industry means that sometimes quality and customer service standards are not good enough. The industry has tackled these issues head on.

“In March we launched a new task force, attended by consumer groups, investors, developers and observed by government and Ofgem.

“The group is examining both industry and regulatory options to ensure all aspects of consumer protection can be an integral part of enabling new investment.”

To hear more about this story, tune into on Sunday April 30 at 11am or listen to the .