Client Weekly Update – 20 January

Credit-card problems spark concern over Islanders’ access to mortgages and loans

Credit card companies are pulling out of Jersey because they cannot check customers’ details on a central register and the trend could spread to mortgages, loans and other financial services, the Jersey Consumer Council has warned.

Islanders have been left frustrated after having their applications for new cards refused when their old ones have expired and in some cases have described having their account closed despite having a good credit history, JCC chairman Carl Walker said.

Mr Walker said the problem had arisen largely because there was no single electoral register, listing all residents in Jersey, which would allow the finance companies to check applications.

He said: ‘We have worked very hard to try and get clear answers as to why this is happening, not only to Jersey residents but also to those in Guernsey and the Isle of Man. ‘It would seem, in Jersey’s case, that the inability of credit reference agencies to prove or check easily who people are, particularly those who have no credit history from living in the UK, is a huge stumbling block.’

Mr Walker explained that in the UK all citizens, whether or not they were entitled to vote, were listed on a single digital electoral register.

The register allows credit reference agencies, working for banks and finance companies, to check that applicants for cards or loans are who they say they are. But there is no such central list in Jersey, with each parish holding its own electoral list.

‘Credit agencies are not going to ring round all 12 parishes to try to work out who’s who,’ Mr Walker said. ‘Experian, one of the UK’s leading credit reference agencies, told us that many applications would be successful if it had better access to Islanders’ data. ‘We are very concerned that this trend from UK banks could spread towards mortgage applications, loans, credit and other finance-related services.’

The council believes that other factors could be exacerbating the problem for potential customers in the Crown Dependencies.

After the 2008 financial crisis many British banks and lending corporations decided to ‘ring-fence’ their business, confining their operations to the UK only. Mr Walker said that pursuing individuals who had failed to repay their debts was also seen as being more complicated through Jersey’s court system than in the UK.

Despite this, he said that many people preferred to use credit cards instead of debit cards as they offered greater protection. Mr Walker said: ‘It’s much better to purchase online with a credit card than with a debit card. You are safer from scammers.’

No tax rises to fund pay increases, says minister

Tax hikes will not be necessary to cover a 7.9% pay rise for public sector employees, the Treasury Minister has said. Deputy Ian Gorst said that there was ‘sufficient money’ within the government’s approved spending plans to fund the pay awards but did not reveal where £10 million in agreed savings in each of the next four years would be made.

He was speaking after leading business figure Kevin Keen raised concerns over the rise and warned that employers may have to consider cutting staff numbers or other costs if they felt pressure to emulate the increase for their staff. Deputy Gorst said he was ‘confident’ that the government would not need to raise taxes to fund the pay increases.

In December, the States Assembly approved the Government Plan, which acts as the public spending blueprint for the next four years.

The Treasury Minister said: ‘In the Government Plan… we had the budget allocations for this year. There are reserves put aside to fund pay rises and other contingencies through the year. ‘The States Employment Board has been negotiating with various pay groups – some pay groups have settled and there are still ongoing negotiations. ‘There is sufficient money allocated within the Government Plan to fund a pay settlement across the pay groups at 7.9%.

‘The Government Plan was agreed by the States in December and if we live within those parameters – which I am very committed to doing – there are no plans within that Government Plan to raise taxes.’

The Prospect and Unite unions, which represent around 3,500 government employees between them, voted overwhelmingly to accept an offer of 7.9% – below the current inflation rate of 10.4% – from the States Employment Board. The police have also voted to accept an identical increase, while negotiations with other pay groups – such as teachers – remain ongoing.

Further talks between the teaching unions and the SEB are due to take place this week, while the Royal College of Nursing has confirmed it is putting an unspecified offer to its members.

In October, chief executive Suzanne Wylie said the government would undertake a series of ‘value for money’ productivity reviews to bring public spending back under control, to help make £10 million of savings a year for the next four years. The Government Plan also includes £30 million of ‘necessary and contingent funding’ to recover from the pandemic this year.

Push for online filing of tax forms

Islanders are being advised to file their 2023 tax return online. Currently 48% of people have chosen to submit their returns via the website. This year, a new digital ID verification system has been launched – called JerseyMe – which has been designed for Islanders who do not have smartphones and may require additional assistance in activating their digital accounts. Videos of example tax returns being completed, for a retired couple and a single employed person, have also been created to help.

Comptroller of revenue Richard Summersgill said: ‘We receive customer feedback each year both on the one gov account activation process, and the tax return form itself. We’ve worked closely with the government’s modernisation and digital team to respond to what our customers have told us, both improving our online tax return form, and making one gov accounts, needed to use our form, more accessible.’

‘I’m confident the addition of the JerseyMe option, improvements to [the] Yoti option for digital identity, and changes to our tax form, will benefit customers. ‘I also hope our new demonstration videos may take the mystery out of the online tax form and encourage customers to give online filing a try.’

Meanwhile, the traditional paper returns are due to start being delivered to homes this week, with Islanders receiving their copy at some point over the next two weeks.

Islanders can find more information about online filing as well as help with their paper returns at or by calling 440300.

Government announces end to a number of Covid measures and services

An end to PCR testing, closure of the Covid helpline and the de-activation of the Jersey Covid alert app are amongst the measures announced by the government today as it continues to scale back its response to the virus. The changes will see the management of Covid move from an emergency response into pre-existing services. As part of the announcement, the Airport testing centre will close and weekly Covid data updates will cease.

Professor Peter Bradley, director of Public Health, said:

‘In 2022, we announced the phased de-escalation of our Covid-19 response, and I am pleased we have been able to make this decision to step down more of these measures. ‘Our priority is and always will be the health and safety of Islanders and the changes we’re announcing today continue our move towards the sustainable management of Covid-19.’

‘I want to reassure Islanders that they will continue to be supported if unwell or concerned about Covid-19, however how they access this support will revert to pre-pandemic routes and contacts.’ He added: ‘Although we are scaling down our response, Covid-19 is still with us and will be for the foreseeable future. I therefore urge everyone to continue following the guidance, stay at home and do an LFT test if you feel unwell, and if you are eligible for any of your vaccines, book an appointment or drop into the Vaccine Centre.’

Minister: ‘We don’t want residents to live under constant fear of flooding’

Grand Vaux will be at the ‘front and centre’ of efforts to improve the Island’s flooding resilience, the Infrastructure Minister has said as homes were left under several feet of water. Just 24 hours after Islanders contended with the aftermath of severe gale-force winds, Jersey was hit with an onslaught of rain which caused flooding in several locations including Vallée des Vaux and Rue de la Maîtrerie in St Martin.

The area around Grands Vaux – which has suffered flash-flooding in the past – was the worst hit, with at least 20 households evacuated by Tuesday afternoon and the government confirming that a further 30 households would need to leave their homes. In some cases residents were evacuated with the use of an inflatable liferaft.

Infrastructure Minister Tom Binet has said that there was ‘a lot of pressure’ on the Island’s drainage systems and that the government was looking at how this could be improved. St Saviour’s Parish Hall was being used as a base to provide evacuees with hot food and drink, while temporary arrangements were made to house them.

Deputy Binet said he would be speaking with officers ‘at the earliest opportunity’ to assess potential flooding resilience measures – with a focus on Grands Vaux. ‘There is a lot of pressure on the drainage system in Jersey,’ he said. ‘We need to install new chambers to hold surface-level water. ‘Given what has just happened, Grands Vaux is going to be at the front and centre of our thinking as to what can be done. We don’t want residents to live under constant fear of flooding.’

Commenting on whether climate change might be contributing to the problem, he added: ‘It would be strange if it was just a coincidence. We have to accept that we are having more extreme-weather events. A lot of [government] departments are taking a very serious look at climate change.’

Cezary Kochan, who lives in the Pillar Gardens estate, said that he had seen ‘nothing like it’ in the seven years he had lived in the area, adding that the water was waist-deep in some sections. ‘There would be [flooding] maybe ankle-deep, but never this. About six or seven cars are covered up to the window level by the water,’ he said. ‘We have got quite good community spirit going on – we helped each other, shifting all the sandbags we could find around and trying to protect the houses, moving motorbikes if we could.’

Health warning issued following Grands Vaux floods

Islanders are being advised to stay away from flood water, which could cause rashes, gastrointestinal illness and tetanus, among other diseases.

People are also being urged not to swim in the sea until public health officials confirm it is safe to do so. The warnings have been issued after areas of Grands Vaux suffered severe flooding earlier this week, which resulted in dozens of people being evacuated. A clean-up operation is now under way.

Professor Peter Bradley, director of public health, said:

‘There is a risk from flood waters across the Island that can contain many substances harmful to health. Obviously these waters can contain bacteria and viruses. ‘The flood waters may also contain other chemicals [it has picked up] as it has flowed through the affected areas, so it is very difficult to say what it might have been contaminated with. ‘That is not to alarm anyone, as any such chemicals would have been diluted, but there is still a potential risk and so it is safer to stay away from it.’

Warning signs have been placed at various locations across the Island, both in flooded areas and at coastal sites. Meanwhile, sewage and other contaminants may still be making their way into the ocean following the flooding, with Islanders being warned to avoid sea swimming until public-health guidance changes.

Professor Bradley added: ‘The overspill being directed into the sea is very diluted. Once it reaches the sea it is diluted further and benefits from the tidal ranges. In addition to the overspill there will be contamination found naturally from animal faeces that will have been washed into the sea. ‘Islanders are asked to refrain from sea swimming until Saturday morning.’

Theatre’s ‘landmark’ moment

Planning application for the £11.5 million restoration of the Opera House has been heralded as a ‘landmark in its history’ by the theatre’s retiring chair. Further details of the project to restore the Grade-2 listed building have now been published and include a modern glazed structure alongside the historic façade to allow expansion of the restaurant area next to the theatre, redecoration of the auditorium, refurbishment of the historic dome and improvements to the dance studio.

The plans also feature essential maintenance to ensure safe public access to facilities which have been closed since the start of the pandemic.

Opera House chair Pierre Horsfall said: ‘It’s a landmark position in the Opera House’s history and it’s been a hard slog to get here but we are actually at a point where the future is going to be fantastic but we still have to be a bit patient,’ he said, adding that the board would display a programme of events outside its Gloucester Street headquarters while the restoration work took place.

Economic Development Minister Kirsten Morel confirmed that the target for the completion of the work – which he said would create a fit-for-purpose, state-of-the-art facility – remained the end of next year. He was unable to confirm what funding would then be made available to the theatre following publication last year of proposals for different operating models.

But he said it was essential that sufficient sums were given ‘not just to subsidise a programme but also to make sure [the theatre] can be maintained’. ‘One of the reasons we are in this situation now is because there has been a lack of investment by successive governments over the last 20 or 30 years since it was redone in the 90s and that can’t happen again,’ he said.

Market update

European markets are higher today with shares in France leading the region. The CAC 40 is up 0.62% while Germany’s DAX is up 0.48% and London’s FTSE 100 is up 0.17%.

Futures tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average hovered above the flatline. S&P 500 and Nasdaq-100 futures gained 0.2% and 0.7%, respectively.

Asian markets finished broadly higher today with shares in Hong Kong leading the region. The Hang Seng is up 1.72% while China’s Shanghai Composite is up 0.76% and Japan’s Nikkei 225 is up 0.56%.