Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The strange case of the Glasgow Tron Church's domain name

Interesting to note that the domain name "thetron.org" which is used to address the web site of the Glasgow Tron Church lists as its owner:

49 St John Street is the closest street number to the Church of the Holy Rude where Rev James Guthrie was the minister and a prominent covenanter. The postal address 49 strictly speaking serves the adjacent Cowanes Hospital.

To find out about the life of James Guthrie click here.

From another web page:

Guthrie accepted the call to Stirling in 1649, where he remained for ten years. During this time his uncompromising stance on his religious convictions led to the physical division of the Church of the Holy Rude into the East and West Churches. On the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, Charles 2nd ordered the execution of James Guthrie. As the son of a Laird, James Guthrie had the right to die by the axe rather than the noose, but his sentence condemned him to the gallows. He was hanged in Edinburgh on June 1st 1661, and his severed head was displayed in the Netherbow Port for twenty-seven years until removed by Alexander Hamilton, another Stirling minister. Hamilton found Guthrie’s final sermon in the manse years later; it was published under the title ‘A Cry from the Dead’ by Ebenezer Erskine, the Stirling minister who founded the Secession Church. Guthrie’s portrait, chair, and ring are now in safe keeping at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum.

It seems that someone is trying to identify with Rev Guthrie.

Monday, December 17, 2012

How did Littlewoods overpay their VAT?

Given the publicity over interest rates on VAT reclaims generated by the Littlewoods and barclay brothers case I have struggled to find the reason why they received a VAT reclaim of over £400m. It turns out that they were wrongly charged VAT on commission paid to home selling agents between 1973 and 2004.

 From the Deloitte web site:

The Littlewoods case relates to catalogue-based home shopping. Littlewoods distributed catalogues and sold the goods shown in those catalogues through a network of agents. The agents earned commission on sales. This commission was mistakenly treated for VAT purposes as payment for services provided by the agent to Littlewoods. It should correctly have been treated as a discount against the goods. This meant Littlewoods had overpaid VAT between 1973 and 2004, and so Littlewoods reclaimed that VAT from HMRC. HMRC agreed to repay the VAT, leaving the question of how to calculate interest on the repayment. HMRC’s view was that simple interest should be paid at a statutory rate (which, since 1998, has been 1% below the average base rate of leading banks). Taxpayers were then faced with the following difficulty. VAT law did not make it clear whether the VAT Tribunal (which on 1 April 2009 became the Tax Tribunal) was the correct forum in which to seek compound interest. Some taxpayers chose to appeal to the Tax Tribunal. Others chose to seek redress by another route, namely by making a civil law claim against HMRC in the High Court. Littlewoods chose the latter route, and in 2010 the High Court referred their case to the CJEU for guidance. The CJEU’s decision today is the answer to the questions asked by the High Court.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Solutions to Ebay non payment issues

Over the past two years I have seen a large increase in the number of non paying bidders on Ebay. For every five items I sell there is one that does not get paid for. This seemed to start right after sellers were stopped from leaving feedback on buyers in 2010. It also coincided with Ebay starting to market itself more as a shopping outlet on TV ads. People used to companies like Amazon may not realise that bidding is a binding contract and if you are buying used goods from an individual its a private sale you are  not covered by distance selling regulations.

In general there is an expectation by buyers that a sale can be cancelled or reversed at the sellers expense, but Ebay is not Marks and Spencer. I think this affects people like me the mos because I only use Ebay to sell my own unwanted items. I don’t buy things and sell them for profit so I have no profit with which to fund people’s non payment habits.

There are a number of options available to deal with this. I have reviewed them here based on my own experience and then explained how I am trying to deal with it.

Only sell at fixed price with buy it now and immediate payment required.

This is fine of you know the value of an item, but you may not get the best price for it this way and the fees are considerably higher. Because listings run for longer this is only an option if you are going away anywhere while the listing is running.

Use the “second chance offer” facility

If an item has been bid on by several people and the winner refuses to pay you are given the option of offering it as a “second chance” to the first losing bidder. If they don’t respond you can offer it to the third and so on. The problem with this is you don’t know if the original buyer really has refused to pay - there is usually no communication from them - so you have no idea if they are going to pop up a week later and try and pay for it.

I have tried this method a few times and never had any response from anyone I have made a second chance offer to. It may work for you, but it hasn't for me.

Phoning the bidder

I have never done this as the items I sell are usually low value, but its possible to get the buyers contact details from Ebay and phone them. I am not sure what good this would do though.

Report the non paying bidder

It is possible to report the non paying bidder to Ebay in the resolution centre. This will not get the item paid for, but it will get you a refund on your final value fee. You won’t get the listing fee back, but as the item has not sold you may be able to relist it free anyway.

Automatic Unpaid Item Assistant

This is how I deal non paying bidders, as it reduces the time involved in reporting non payers and stop the buyer leaving negative feedback. You will find full instructions for setting it up on this page on the Ebay web site.

The process works like this:

  • The auction ends.
  • I use the “send invoice” function to send the buyer an invoice.
  • If it is not paid within four days a dispute is automatically started.
  • If the buyer does not pay within three days Ebay marks a strike against them and refunds my final value fee.

The advantage of this is that many sellers have their accounts set to block bids from people who have had multiple non payment strikes.

How to block bidders who have a history of not paying for items.

Do the following:

  • Sign into My Ebay
  • Click on the Account tab
  • Click Site preferences and scroll down to Buyer Requirements.
  • Edit this to add: “Have received 2 unpaid item(s) recorded on their account within 12 month(s)” and “Have a Feedback score of -1 or lower.”

This will prevent repeat offenders from being able to bid on your auctions. If all Ebay accounts were set like this by default the non paying bidder problem would be significantly less.

X-Factor Voting Figures

I don't normally comment on these sort of things, but the voting figures from this year's X-Factor (2012) have been released and make interesting reading from a behavioural perspective.

Although Christopher Maloney was massively in front from week one he lost his lead in week eight after Ella Henderson was knocked out. Her vote seemed to entirely transfer to James Arthur along with bits of everyone elses.

So does this mean that viewers were voting for who was the best singer or who was most likely to win? I suspect, that like political elections, there is a strong tendency to want to vote for the winning candidate.

Click on image for larger version

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Are Christian Concern really Concerned Christians?

I don't normally pay much attention to Christian Concern (full title Christian Concern for our Nation). Their repeated theological ambulance chasing just doesn't strike me as the sort of thing Jesus would do, but I do follow them on Twitter and I noticed that their recent response to a consultation by the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority  on Medical Frontiers contains no mentions of God, the Bible or any issues of faith or theology. You can download a copy of their full response from this page on the Christian Concern web site (although to be fair neither does the Church of Scotland's reponse).

I then had a look at Christian Concern's campaigns and there was nothing specifically Christian in very much of it. I suppose I was hoping for some theological reflection on the great ethical issues of our day, but I was disappointed. Their opinions are not any different from those of the average Daily mail reading UKIP voter.

Their Choose Life campaign web site doesn't seem to have anything specifically Christian on it. Their other campaigns seem to be heavily weighted towards issues of human sexuality.

Their Not Ashamed campaign seems to equate getting into trouble for being insensitive at work with suffering and persecution. maybe they would like to move to Pakistan, Iran or even Israel - where Christians really do suffer from repression and persecution.

Given that "Christian" Concern does very little theological reflection and seems to operate more as a business  I thought it would be interesting to look into their finances and see where the money comes from.

Faith Truth and Hope
Christian Concern grew out of the Lawyer’s Christian Fellowship which is a registered charity and can't get involved in politics. Christian Concern is not a charity, but it IS a limited company: CCFON Ltd. As a limited company rather than a charity it is very difficult to find out where its funding comes from.

Interestingly Christian Concern do solicit charitable donations through a separate charity called Faith, Truth and Hope (Registered charity 1121897). According to the Charities Commission web site Faith Truth and Hope had an income of £195,499 during 2010/11 and spent £192,484 of that.

The trustees are listed as:

  • Rob Andrews 
  • Andrea Rose Minichiello Williams (also a director of their limited company CCFON Ltd)
  • David John Clark (also a director of their limited company CCFON Ltd)

According to their Annual Report and Accounts to 30th June 2011 Faith Truth and Hope sponsored policy consultations on these issues:

  • Civil Partnerships in Religious Premises
  • Public Sector Equality Duty
  • Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act
  • Marital Property Agreements
  • European Commission on Human Rights Reform 

Their income was made up of:
  • £177,100 of voluntary income (donations)
  • £18,399 of tax reclaim from the government under gift aid (so they are not averse to taking a bit of Government cash when its offered)

£186,596 of this was paid to CCFON Ltd for "related work carried out on its behalf".

The limited company had a turnover of £711,438 in the year to 30th June 2011.

You can view download a copy of the company's 2011 accounts here.

If I am reading these correctly (and I might not be - so be warned) two of the directors of CCFON Ltd who are also trustees of Faith Truth and Hope are receiving salaries of £31,951 and £45,451 respectively.

Click on image to see a larger version

There are also payments being made to the Christian Legal Centre which shares the same two directors.

I don't know where the other £500,000 plus comes from. They must have big donors, but who?

Update 9th December 2012

According to this article Christian Concern has joined forces with the Alliance Defence Fund to run the Wilberforce Academy.

The following article from the Guardian sheds some light on the issues:

Questions have been asked about from where the centre – and its sister organisation, Christian Concern For Our Nation – obtain funding. Accounts show both organisations have little in the way of income.
Williams said all of the centre's work was done on a pro bono basis by committed Christian lawyers and that what money it had came in small donations from more than 30,000 people who received its regular email updates. "We never ask clients for money," she said. "Very often they fear losing their case and having to pay the costs of the other side. Part of our ministry is to ensure they are not burdened with that."
Close observers of the centre believe it is adopting the tactics of wealthy US evangelical groups, notably the powerful Alliance Defence Fund, which, through its Blackstone Legal Fellowship, trains an army of Christian lawyers to defend religious freedom "through strategy, training, funding and direct litigation".
The ADF, which according to filings had an income of almost $40m last year, is funded by prominent benefactors including Erik Prince, founder of the Blackwater private security giant, the Covenant Foundation, which is financed by a leading member of the Texas Christian right, James Leininger, and the Bolthouse Foundation, a charity that rejects evolution, insisting "man was created by a direct act of God in His image, not from previously existing creatures".
The ADF has joined forces with the Christian Legal Centre and Christian Concern For Our Nation to launch the Wilberforce Academy in the UK, which aims to train delegates "for servant-hearted, Christ-centred leadership in public life" having equipped them "with a robust biblical framework that guides their thinking, prayers and activity in addressing the issues facing our society". Several of its delegates have already gone on to work for the legal centre and Christian Concern.
"The ADF are a fantastic organisation," Williams said. "We have been inspired by their work and that of the Blackstone programme, which seeks to raise a new generation of lawyers to defend Christianity in the public sphere. They've got some of the best attorneys in this field and we have the great privilege of hosting them, but they don't pay anything towards the academy."
Those who attend the academy programme, held at an Oxford college each year, say it increases their enthusiasm for using the law to defend the Bible. A typical comment on its website reads: "For the past four years I have sensed God calling me to the legal profession and during the Wilberforce Academy I was humbled to realise that, although we may feel like David facing Goliath, given the right weapons we may step boldly up to the task ahead."

Updated 15th January 2013
Evidence of further links between the Alliance Defence Fund (now renamed Alliance Defending Freedom) and CCFON from this page on the ADF web site:

Alliance Defending Freedom provided funding for the case of Nadia Eweida in the domestic courts. In 2011, Alliance Defending Freedom and former Slovakian Prime Minister and key figure in the Velvet Revolution Jan Carnogursky intervened in defense of the four Christians. Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Paul Coleman was present at the counsel’s table during the September 2012 European Court of Human Rights hearings alongside Barrister Paul Diamond. Diamond is lead counsel in the Chaplin and McFarlane cases and one of nearly 2,200 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom.