HMRC identified 16,000 workers who were owed a total of £1.7m in back pay.
Among them were 383 Sports Direct staff – short of £167,000 – after the company was at the centre of a storm over its pay, business practices and corporate governance last year.
Two agencies which supplied staff to Sports Direct were also publicly identified.
The Department for Business (BEIS) said Best Connection failed to pay the most of any of the companies named – almost £470,000 to 2,558 workers – while Transline Group had to give £310,000 to 1,421 people.
A Sports Direct spokesman said: “This matter relates to the historical situation in our warehouse that was widely publicised in 2016, for which we apologised at the time.
“We co-operated fully with HMRC to make back payments to Sports Direct staff who were affected.
“We are committed to treating all our people with dignity and respect, and we pay above the national minimum wage.”
The other well known retail brand to pay up was Primark, which was fingered for more than £230,000 owed to more than 9,700 workers.
BEIS said the most common reasons for not meeting the rules included not paying overtime and deducting money for uniforms.
Business minister Margot James said: “There is no excuse for not paying staff the wages they’re entitled to and the Government will come down hard on businesses that break the rules.
“That’s why today we are naming hundreds of employers who have been short changing their workers; and to ensure there are consequences for their wallets as well as their reputation, we’ve levied millions in back pay and fines.”
The general secretary of the TUC union organisation, Frances O’Grady, said: “Today’s list should put the frighteners on rogue employers across the country.
“Pay your staff properly or face hefty fines and get shamed in the papers.
“Bitcoin now seems like a charging train with no brakes,” said Shane Chanel, from Sydney-based ASR Wealth Advisers.
The surging price of Bitcoin has been helped by the upcoming start of the futures market this weekend.
Bitcoin futures will launch on the Chicago-based Cboe Futures Exchange on Sunday. The world’s largest futures exchange, CME, will begin its Bitcoin offering a week later.
But the Futures Industry Association, which includes Wall Street’s largest banks, brokers and traders, has written to the US regulator over concerns that the contracts were approved “without properly weighing the risks”.
“A more thorough and considered process would have allowed for a robust public discussion among clearing member firms, exchanges and clearing houses,” the association said.
While Goldman Sachs is a member of the association, it is also one of the banks that will work as an intermediary to help clear Bitcoin futures contracts for some clients.
A spokeswoman for the investment bank said it was evaluating the risks as part of its due diligence process.
Many big investors have been reluctant to pile into the cryptocurrency market unless it is regulated.
However, the prospect of a Bitcoin futures market has raised hopes that it will be regarded as sufficiently “regulated”.
While bitcoin has become more mainstream in recent weeks, many observers warn the market could be a bubble waiting to pop.
“Bitcoin remains a major gamble as it is very much an asset that remains in uncharted waters, we’ve simply not experienced this before,” said Nigel Green, founder and chief executive of deVere Group.
“An asset that goes almost vertically up should typically raise alarm bells for investors.”
Even a crash or a major correction is unlikely to pose risks to the global economy, some analysts say.
While billions of dollars have been invested in Bitcoin, its $268bn total market value is still small compared to other asset classes.
“To the average person it’s very important because you do not know what you are buying, you think you are buying a genuine product but it’s not really, it’s a counterfeit product that hasn’t been tested for safety standards.
“So, an electrical item you could plug in and it could set on fire for instance or it could have small movable parts that could fall off and choke a small child.”
Jenny Ferneyhough posted a before and after picture on her Facebook page, showing the £5 Primark candle when she first lit it, and another of the candle that had burned halfway down.
With fire across the entire top surface of the pillar, the flames appear to have grown to a height to such an extent they dwarf the remaining half of the candle.
Warning others of the danger, Ms Ferneyhough wrote: “This is a candle I bought in Primark Manchester for £5 on Saturday. I am concerned that it poses a risk to the safety of anyone who owns one, and I have emailed Primark suggesting they recall them.
“In the meantime, I would be grateful if we could spread the word so that no one is put at risk by this. #primark“.
Her snaps of the white and silver Xmas candle bursting into flames soon went viral, with her post shared over 250,000 times.
Ms Ferneyhough said that while the candle burned normally for a couple of hours, it then started to burn right across the top.
She said: “We were monitoring it but it got to the point where it was dangerous and we thought we should post a picture of it because we thought ‘this is serious now’.
“We just thought people should know that if you left it it could be dangerous, especially if it’s around other Christmas decorations or cards.”
Primark have since removed the product from sale and say they are investigating the matter.
A spokesman for the discount chain said: “We take the safety of our customers and quality of our products very seriously.
“We are removing the product from sale while we investigate this complaint as a matter of urgency.”
On the Primark website, in a customer service section entitled “Candle Care”, Primark have posted an image of the information stickers they say should be on the bottom of each candle.
“Great night last night, how much do I owe you for the dinner? £25? Here you go.”
It’s a conversation most of us have had in person, but these days it’s happening increasingly on social media.
The chat could take place on Facebook’s Messenger service and finish with a simple click to transfer the cash between friends.
The payment service has just been launched in the UK, although the country is already some way behind China and the US in the widespread adoption of social media payments.
But will it disrupt traditional banking?
“There’s definitely a trend towards mobile payments moving into social media,” says Charlotte Crosswell, chief executive of Innovate Finance, an organisation that represents the UK’s global financial technology community.
Big players such as Facebook and Google are already enabling payments through their platforms, she says.
“The success of companies such as Paypal’s Venmo app in the US, which allows users to share their mobile payment messages on social feeds, has spurred on incumbents to create similar offerings such as the Zelle app.”
Venmo allows payments to be made within mobile apps, but crucially, allows users to follow each other’s accounts and add comments.
“It wasn’t just another payment app when it launched, it socialised payments so you could pay a friend for your share of dinner and add a comment that your contact could see, such as ‘great restaurant’,” explains Tony Smith, head of financial services research at Ipsos.
Zelle was created by a group of US banks and credit unions to offer similar capabilities. And there are others appearing. From December, for instance, Apple Pay users in the US have been able to send and receive money to and from each other in messages.
Facebook, meanwhile, extended its person-to-person Messenger payments capability to the UK in November. It was introduced in the US in 2015, but the timing of the UK launch, just ahead of the holiday season, was no coincidence.
“Our research shows the top reasons for sending money include celebrations, social, and festive occasions,” says David Marcus, head of Messenger.
Social media companies know that if they can persuade people to do more transactions through their platforms it will strengthen the relationship with, and reliance on, their brands.
“All the big monster tech companies have a desire to inject themselves into every element of their users’ daily lives,” points out Michael Kent, founder chief executive of global money transfer app Azimo.
One effect could be even more High Street bank branches disappearing, believes Mr Kent.
“Soon it will be unusual to see a bank or money transfer shop on a High Street. You’ll see a lot of them disappear.”
Marieke Flament is managing director of Circle, an app that allows payments through text messages.
She believes China has developed the model that the rest of the world will follow.
“In less than 10 years they’ve created their own financial ecosystem, and the behaviour of making money transactions using a phone is completely normalised,” she says.
As a result, “the way we handle money is going to be fundamentally different”.
Two rival mobile payment services, Tencent’s WeChat and Alibaba’s Alipay, have been hugely successful in China.
Alipay alone has 520 million active users, but its dominance has come under pressure recently from WeChat Pay.
Three years ago, Alipay controlled 80% of the mobile payments market, now its share is just 54%, as WeChat has grabbed a 40% of the market.
Outside China, the US social media giants can only look on in envy.
Meanwhile in the Nordic countries, person-to-person payment apps, such as Swish in Sweden and Mobilepay in Denmark, are very popular.
But the rapid growth of social media payments won’t damage the banks, believes Michael Rolph, co-founder of yoyowallet, a UK-based mobile payments loyalty app. Instead, they’ll see it as an opportunity.
“Banks will be happy to see the movement of money into digital form rather than cash,” he says, pointing out that moving coins and notes around is an expensive and time-consuming activity.
“The banks are not going to be disrupted in a way they won’t be needed anymore,” he says.
“They will continue to facilitate money between people and borders, even if the majority of the movement is through social media.”
The theory of the frog and the saucepan is well known.
It holds that, if a frog is dropped into a saucepan of boiling water, it jumps out. However, if the frog is placed in a panful of tepid water that is slowly warmed up, the theory has it that the frog will not notice and is eventually cooked to death.
The financial equivalent of this experiment has been taking place since 2012, with millions of Britons participating as the frog. But next year the water starts to warm up. The outcome will provide clues as to whether one of the most important, ambitious and potentially far-reaching policies pushed through by the UK Government during the last decade is working.
Five years ago the Coalition government, continuing work begun by the Blair and Brown governments, pressed the button on ‘auto enrolment’. This obliged every employer to set up a workplace pension scheme into which all employees over the age of 22, earning more than £10,000 annually and not already in such a scheme would be automatically enrolled – unless the worker specifically asked to opt out.
Under the scheme, a minimum 2% of a worker’s earnings are contributed: 1% from their employer, 0.8% from the employee and a further 0.2% in tax relief.
Thus far, the scheme is reckoned to have been a success, with some 800,000 employers having enrolled getting on for nine million people into a workplace pension. Fewer than one in 10 employees have opted out. The big test, though, comes next year.
From April, the minimum contribution rises to 5% of a worker’s earnings, with 2% coming from the employer, 2.4% coming from the employee and a further 0.6% in tax relief. Then, in April 2019, the minimum contribution rises to 8% of earnings, with the worker putting in 4%, the employer chipping in 3% and tax relief a further 1%.
And this is where the frog and the saucepan analogy comes in. Question one is whether employees notice that their take-home pay is falling gradually as a result of their pension contributions rising.
The chances are that they will.
Take, for example, a 30-year old woman earning the average annual salary of £27,000. At present, she is paying £22.50 per month into her workplace pension, which includes £4.50 of tax relief. When the contribution rate rises next April, that will rise to £67.50 per month, of which £13.50 of tax relief is included. And when the rate rises again in April 2019, her contribution will increase to £112.50 per month, of which £22.50 is tax relief.
In other words, in the absence of any pay rise, the woman will be taking home £36 a month less next April than she was the month before. And in April 2019, her take-home pay will fall by a further £36 a month. It is impossible to think that this will not be noticed – although the increases in the personal allowance (the sum a worker may earn before paying income tax) by Chancellor Philip Hammond in last month’s Budget will mitigate that to an extent.
One good reason for workers to stay in the scheme is the tax relief still available on pension contributions. It currently allows workers to shelter £40,000 a year from the taxman.
Question two is whether, akin to a frog jumping out of the saucepan as the water heats up, workers start to opt out of their workplace pension schemes when they notice their take-home pay is falling.
The Government will hope they do not. The whole point of auto enrolment was to ‘nudge’ lower paid workers into making some kind of provision for their retirement. The biggest single cause of pensioner poverty is a lack of any retirement savings other than the state pension and auto enrolment, a policy conceived by Labour and implemented by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, was an attempt to tackle it.
Efforts have been made to calculate the extent to which increasing numbers of employees will opt out of their workplace pension scheme. The life insurance and fund management firm Royal London, which currently administers more than 5,000 workplace schemes, has noted that opt-out rates under the current arrangements are lowest among the under-30s, at around 7% of the workforce, but highest among workers aged 50 and over – one in four of whom have been opting out. That may be because older workers already have other retirement savings in place.
It is the reaction of younger workers that will be crucial. Workers aged between 22 and 29 have signed up under auto-enrolment in greater numbers than any other age group, which is encouraging, although the insurer Aegon recently reported that two in five millennials still have no pension provision in place.
Employers and the Government need to be banging the drum a lot harder to promote the benefits of workplace pensions in the run-up to the contributions rising next year.
There are many good reasons why employees should remain in their schemes. The greatest of these is that, so long as they do, their employer will be contributing to their pension. Another is the tax relief still available on pension contributions, which currently allows workers – other than top-rate taxpayers – to shelter £40,000 a year from the taxman. The third, of course, is the reduced the risk of being impoverished in retirement.
The digital currency Bitcoin is rallying at phenomenal speed, leaving many high and others dry in markets around the world. But why are prices higher in India than elsewhere? The BBC’s Devina Gupta explains.
While the Bitcoin bull run has been welcomed by many, financial regulators in emerging economies are still trying to find a way to understand it.
The central bank of China has shut down Bitcoin exchanges in the country. Indonesia and Bangladesh have banned its use as a payment tool.
In India the government has made it clear that, while it doesn’t recognise Bitcoin as “legal tender” like paper money, there are no guidelines on Bitcoin trading.
In the absence of any specific legal framework, online Bitcoin trading platforms are operating freely, even as the Indian central bank is getting jittery.
It has issued its third warning this week, cautioning “users, holders and traders of virtual currencies including Bitcoin” of “economic, financial, operational, legal, consumer protection and security-related risks”.
But is anyone listening?
Experts claim that demand outweighs supply in India, pushing the Bitcoin price in the country up to 20% higher than international prices.
There are at least 11 Indian Bitcoin trading platforms online which claim that about 30,000 customers are actively trading at any given point of time. With a simple click, an investor can open an account and choose whether to purchase an entire Bitcoin or a fraction to trade with.
What is Bitcoin?
There are two key traits of Bitcoin: it is digital and it is seen as an alternative currency.
Unlike the notes or coins in your pocket, it largely exists online.
Secondly, Bitcoin is not printed by governments or traditional banks.
A small but growing number of businesses, including Expedia and Microsoft, accept Bitcoins – which work like virtual tokens.
However, the vast majority of users now buy and sell them as a financial investment.
“Last year this time we had 100,000 registered customers. Now we have gone up to 850,000. The price is surging and from my analysis the people who are investing in Bitcoins are investors who have big pockets and are willing to take risks on their portfolio,” Satvik Vishwanathan, co-founder of Unocoin, told the BBC.
And it’s not just online trading. Some Indian e-commerce platforms have started recognising the digital currency as well. FlipKart and Amazon are already giving customers the option to convert Bitcoin into regular currency and purchase goods with it.
But at the end of the day, Bitcoin is just an open software with a digital code. Is it more secure than depositing money in a bank?
“There is no architecture to hold the Bitcoins safely, so right now people are taking a physical print out and keeping that in a locker. What the government can do is start a global wallet registry so that we know who is transacting and where the transactions are being done. If my Bitcoin is stolen then with this global wallet at least you can track it,” Vishal Gupta, co-founder of Diro Labs, told the BBC.
But the time for just issuing warnings may be over.
With the popularity of Bitcoin, other digital currencies like Ethereum and Litecoin are also attracting Indian investors. So is it time for the government to make its policy clear?
“There are revolutionary changes in this sector and huge progressive moves here. Technology is always ahead of government and is a big disruptor. It is important that we keep pace with technology and make regulatory changes. It is an issue that finance ministry has to debate and do inter-ministerial discussions to take it forward,” Amitabh Kant, the CEO of India’s premier think-tank Niti Aayog, told the BBC.
Every high has a low. A look at the past five years of Bitcoin shows several stomach-churning moments where it has tumbled by 40% to 50% in a single day without any warning. The April 2013 Bitcoin meltdown where the currency fell by over 70% overnight from $233 to $67 still haunts many.
But perhaps the biggest shot in the arm for Bitcoin investors is the recent green light from the US for futures trading. This decision has fuelled the recent Bitcoin rally. But Wall Street banks are raising concerns and heavyweights like Warren Buffet have red flagged Bitcoin as “a real bubble”.
This leads us to the big question: Is the digital currency an idea whose time has come or is it destined for disaster?
“This once again shows that the UK’s product safety regime is simply not fit for purpose and the government can no longer continue to allow it to fail,” said Alex Neill, managing director of Which? home and product services.
The British Standards Institution (BSI), which is responsible for standards, said it had already tightened up the rules on the way that fridges and freezers are tested.
However, it will be more than a year before those rules come into force.
“BSI has been a driving force in getting more stringent fire safety requirements included in any revision of the standard at both European and international level,” said Scott Steedman, director of standards at BSI .
“We have already achieved a certain level of changes made in the newly amended international standard.”
Which? has already advised consumers not to buy fridges or freezers with plastic backs. In a list published earlier this year, it recommended householders chose metal or aluminium laminate-backed appliances instead.
It has also appealed to manufacturers to stop making appliances with plastic backs.
The London Fire Brigade has campaigned for a change in safety standards for more than five years.
The Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances (AMDEA) said there were 43 million fridges and freezers in the UK and fires were rare.
A spokesperson said the issue was about fire retardancy, rather than the self-combustion of appliances themselves.
Border officials have seized £1.5m worth of counterfeit Calvin Klein pants, along with fake Dyson fans, Superdry hoodies and Nike shoes.
The authorities are using the hauls to highlight the risk of buying cut-price, substandard counterfeits at Christmas.
The Intellectual Property Office is also using humour to fight the fakes.
It has created a Youtube series in which a couple sing about their 12 days of rashes, injuries and humiliation due to dodgy Christmas gifts.
The daily updates feature warnings about “copy floppy” boxer shorts, perfume that “smelt like sick” and “risky whisky” containing anti-freeze.
Every year dire warnings are issued over the dangers posed by fake goods, from poisonings to electrical fires.
The Intellectual Property Office hopes that by taking a more light-hearted tone they will reach consumers who have ignored their previous messages.
In the run up to Christmas a surge in counterfeits enters the country, from designer watches to children’s toys, as shoppers, keen to save money at a costly time of year, are either hoodwinked or turn a blind eye to the lack of authenticity.
And border officials step up their efforts to block them, employing huge x-ray machines to check that the items inside shipping crates match the accompanying documents.
“Counterfeiters will counterfeit anything,” said Sean Gigg, Border Force higher officer at Southampton Dock. “It’s based on supply and demand.”
“It can be anything from cosmetics to jewellery to watches to the latest toys but also undergarments as well.”
Among the items seized in recent weeks are:
•1,440 Superdry hoodie tops worth approximately £100,000
•16,000 Gillette Mach 3 razor blades worth approximately £143,840
•82,320 Calvin Klein underpants worth approximately £1.5m
•450 Dyson fans and Apple chargers worth approximately £182,500
•1,530 Pandora charms worth approximately £45,900
•379 Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund football shirts worth approximately £16,149
•48 pairs of Nike Vapormax trainers worth approximately £5,760
•2,112 Spiderman, Pokemon and Hello Kitty hand held fans worth approximately £31,680
By highlighting the range of products seized, the authorities hope to alert consumers to the chance that if a price is too good to be true for a sought after item, the product probably isn’t genuine.
While designer handbags are perennial favourites, other faked items vary from year to year following fashions, suggesting counterfeiters have an understanding of the market to match the top retail buyers.
Back in 2013 officials seized mock-versions of Beats by Dr Dre headphones and Ugg boots.
In 2015 fake – and dangerous – hoverboards were a big problem. Last year saw a lot of Harry Potter wands, Nike Air Max trainers and Pokemon, Nintendo and Minecraft cuddly toys being stopped.
The IPO said it hoped to grab attention “rather than be seen as shaking a stick” by trying a more light-hearted approach in its video this year, in the hope that it will be shared on social media.
However Ros Lynch, director of copyright and enforcement at the Intellectual Property Office, said the underlying issues were ultimately very serious.
“Those involved in counterfeiting are in the business to take advantage of consumers and make huge profits in the process.
“The goods are often of inferior quality, dangerous and the proceeds can be used to fund other serious organised crime.
“Counterfeiters have a total disregard for safety or quality, and even if items look genuine at first, they may end up being a dangerous or inferior copy.”