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Southport & Mersey Reporter® covering the news on Merseyside.

Date:- 15 October 2007

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CONSUMERS could be hit with swingeing penalties from late credit card payments as a result of the post strike unless they take the initiative themselves, warns personal finance comparison site

“Those borrowers who put cheques in the post to their lenders over the last ten days or so stand to incur a late charge as their remittances languish in the Post Office’s overflowing depots,” says chief executive Richard Brown.

In the league table of lenders’ unpopular punitive measures, credit card late payment charges make borrowers’ blood boil. Despite the Financial Services Authority’s move last year to coerce lenders to reduce fines from around £25 to £12, borrowers still bristle at being charged a disproportionate amount for missing their due date, even by a day.

“With little or no deliveries this week and a huge backlog of post to be dealt with, millions of people could be affected unless they pick up the phone to their lender and stamp out the possibility of being treated as a bad payer,” says Brown.

Don’t rely on a 3rd party – the quickest solution to the problem is to make payments online or walk into a bank, he advises.  “Many borrowers who never make late payments are likely to find themselves tripped up by the breakdown of the postal service and will end up paying for something that is not their fault.  Card companies should be taking steps to identify those borrowers who regularly stick to the rules and ensure they are not punished for something that’s out of their control. If they don’t, they will be making a huge windfall from others’ misfortune.”

And it’s not just credit card companies that could be benefiting from the post strike. Some utilities companies such as BT also slap on a late payment charge for customers who don’t meet their deadline. All consumers should double check their bills and statements when they eventually do land on the doormat as the due date could be much sooner than they think.

“Many firms are willing to bargain with disgruntled customers and may agree to reduce the fine when asked, but the onus is on the borrower to make the call and ask the question,” adds Brown.  “A permanent way of avoiding late charges is to set up a monthly direct debit. Losing a bill, going on holiday or simply forgetting – all can result in a nasty fine so the failsafe way to avoid paying money for nothing in the future is to set up a regular arrangement. And what’s more many companies will even offer a discount to those customers who are willing to pay in this way,” he concludes.

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Merseyside leads the way in sustainable tourism as New Zealand imports the best of British.

A system pioneered by businesses in Merseyside has been adopted on the other side of the world as part of a scheme to encourage and promote sustainable tourism in New Zealand.  Tourism chiefs at Qualmark, New Zealand's marquee of quality have been so impressed by the work being carried out by the UK-based Green Tourism Business Scheme that they've decided to take on board their practices.

Standards adopted by at least 23 leading Merseyside businesses as part of GTBS, the UK's leading accreditation body for sustainable tourism, have been at the forefront of the new scheme being introduced down under.  Devonshire House Hotel in Liverpool, Suits Hotel Knowsley in Prescot, Thornton Hall Hotel in Wirral, along with the Acorn Venture Farm in Kirkby, are among those which have helped pioneer the expansion of the Green Business Tourism Scheme across Merseyside and now the standards they have set are being copied across the world.

Members of the GTBS have to achieve a minimum standard from more than 120 separate measures to qualify for a range of Bronze, Silver and Gold awards. The scheme's assessment criteria focus on a wide range of areas from ensuring best management practice and energy saving right through to buying local produce and caring for wildlife and the landscape.  The standards set by GTBS, Britain's leading sustainable business accreditation scheme, provides the sort of verifiable criteria that bosses at New Zealand's Qualmark scheme are looking to inject into their assessment systems by the start of next year.

"We have made significant progress in the past fortnight as we've had the benefit of working with two specialists in environmental tourism - Andrea Nicholas and Jon Proctor of the Green Tourism Business Scheme, a national sustainable tourism accreditation scheme operating in the UK," said Geoff Penrose, Qualmark's Chief Executive.

Along with a number of New Zealand-based organisations, the GTBS is assisting Qualmark in ensuring that the criteria being developed for New Zealand tourism businesses is best-practice and reflects standards already tested and adopted in a key market for the Kiwis. The new standards will form part of their existing quality assurance assessment measures.

"Working with the Green Tourism Business Scheme has gained us further insight into what 'responsible tourism' really is. We've also focused on learning how tourism operators can benefit from introducing business practices that have both environmental and economic benefits. The experience that Andrea and Jon bring to New Zealand's tourism industry is particularly relevant, especially in terms of how environmental management relates to the tourism sector," says Mr Penrose.

The Green Tourism Business Scheme's 'Green Tourism' programme has been operating in the UK for 10 years.

"Over that time, we've witnessed a huge increase in the demand for sustainable tourism worldwide, particularly a system that manages its impacts on the environment in key areas such as waste reduction and energy use.

That demand is likely to grow and we in Britain are at the forefront of providing the skills and knowledge to meet that demand." said Andrea Nicholas of GTBS. 

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