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After lockdowns devastated UK real estate sector, could Covid clauses protect homebuyers and sellers?

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After months of playing down the prospect of an extension to the stamp tax holiday for property sales of up to £500,000, UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak ultimately opted for a bold new set of stimulus measures for the British housing sector in the 2021 budget unveiled earlier this month. In addition to a three month extension to the stamp tax holiday, originally meant to expire 31 March but now running until the end of June, followed by an additional three months of exemptions on some sales to ensure a “smooth transition back to normal,” the Chancellor is now also rolling out a mortgage guarantee for home loans at 5% deposit.

Survey findings from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) suggest the measures come not a moment too soon. Though the housing sector showed strong numbers after lockdown measures were lifted last May, pushing the market to a six-year high, UK lenders all but ensured the recovery would not last by restricting access to mortgages. Coming out of the first lockdown, British banks reduced fixed-rate two and five-year mortgage deals at 95% Loan to Value (LTV) down from 105 to just 15 – with record high repayment fees attached.

As such, after a rush of real estate activity followed the first two months of lockdown and prompted predictions of a real estate recovery in the second half of last year, a dropoff over the first two months of 2021 demonstrated the need for realistic expectations in a pandemic-era economy. RICS found a 29% drop in buyer enquiries in January and a further (if more moderate) 9% decline in February, with surveyors seeing fewer properties going on the market. In sharp contrast to last year’s post-lockdown optimism, many housing market analysts predicted a bearish 2021 before Sunak’s latest announcements – even as real estate agents like Savills reacted to the new budget with fresh predictions of booming prices to come.

Above all else, the outsized impact of Sunak’s interventions on an unstable housing sector points to the important role the UK government has played in mitigating the impact of the pandemic on homebuyers and sellers over the past year. That reality is feeding calls for expanded government action, beyond mortgage schemes and tax holidays, to stabilise the real estate sector and support the individuals trying to take part in it – particularly in England, where the unique ‘property chain’ structure of transactions has left many families in difficult financial straits.

As Beth Rudolf of the UK Conveyancing Association told EuReporter: “Government should have mandated improvements to the home moving process so that transactions would not take 22 weeks on average.  They have everything at their fingertips with [the] regulation of property agents, Law Commission reports on leasehold, and the solutions developed by the Home Buying and Selling Group set up to support the Ministry, but unfortunately there appears to be a belief in certain parts of Government that mandatory regulation is not the answer. We believe that is exactly what is required, because voluntary delivery of change by solicitors and estate agents will not go anywhere near far enough.”

One of the most effective potential measures for buttressing the housing market in the midst of an unpredictable health crisis could be the ‘Covid clauses’ recommended by real estate professionals after the pandemic disrupted thousands of transactions last year. With Covid-19 exposing fundamental flaws with the property chain system, could such clauses offer the Government a first step on the path to more fundamental industry reform?

Repeated shocks to buyers and sellers dampen demand

The Chancellor’s about-face on the original 31 March deadline for the waiver of stamp duty reflects a shift in the Government’s own view of its responsibilities. While the original break led to an increase in house purchases in the latter half of 2020, families attempting to buy in the first weeks of this year faced what the BBC calls “a race to beat the tax deadline,” as the government-driven surge in demand produced delays among surveyors, estate agents, and other real estate professionals. Despite the risk posed to hundreds of thousands of transactions at the ‘cliff’s edge’, and an intense campaign by homebuyers and real estate associations to secure an extension, the Chancellor had repeatedly refused to push back the deadline before the extension finally became part of the new budget.

The experience of the stamp tax holiday, and of the homebuyers who stood to lose tens of thousands of pounds if they failed to complete their purchases before its expiry, echoed the traumatic experiences of thousands of prospective homebuyers and sellers caught up in the first lockdown just under a year ago. As a result of the initial 2020 lockdown, during which the real estate sector was forcibly closed alongside the rest of the economy, a survey by Butterfield found three in ten would-be buyers who had secured ‘mortgages-in-principle’ (MIP) had the rug pulled out from under their feet, losing their exchange deposit as a result of the shutdown coming into effect after the exchange of housing contracts.

The unique nature of the real estate market in England, structured on the basis of ‘chains’ linking together multiple transactions, makes English homebuyers and sellers particularly susceptible to the impact of shocks such as Covid. Buyers who find themselves in the middle of a broken chain, in which their own buyer is no longer able to complete a purchase, are not entitled to recoup the deposit they owe the seller in their further transaction. As one mortgage broker explained to the Times: “[Deposit] agreements in principle are not legally binding. You would hope that in most cases the sellers would be sympathetic and release the other party from the contract at little or no cost, but contractually they are not obliged to do that.”

Standardising the Covid clause to protect both buyers and sellers

Even before the start of the pandemic, the cause of one in five property purchase failures was a break in the chain. In 2017, the phenomenon cost homeowners over £500 million a year in unrecovered conveyancing, valuation, brokerage, and survey costs, while also leaving sellers with properties that were harder to sell. Covid-linked lockdowns have increased these risks, with Butterfield finding more than half of buyers surveyed found themselves trapped mid-chain as a result of lockdown. Fully four out of ten buyers were forced to withdraw from their purchase after their offer had been accepted.

While ministers face calls to address the ‘property chain’ system, an interim measure may well be for the UK government to standardise and mandate ‘Covid-19 clauses’ developed as a collaboration between the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government and the Home Buying and Selling Group. While the applicability of such clauses is limited to certain circumstances directly linked to the pandemic, the lived experience of the past year demonstrates its potential beneficial impact on the financial and emotional well-being of thousands of prospective homebuyers. The sector itself has also welcomed the clause, with Beth Rudolf calling it “a great idea, delivered very quickly to support the industry and consumers.”

This new clause, developed with governmental input, is still far from mandatory or universal in real estate contracts, raising the question of whether the Government should be undertaking an effort to promote or even mandate the use of such clauses through the end of the current crisis. Grassroots efforts such as the Campaign for Covid Relief for UK Homebuyers and Sellers (CCR-UK), for example, are urging Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick and the Government to extend “public protection and support” to impacted buyers and sellers by making the ‘Covid clause’ legally mandatory and valid as of the start of the first lockdown last March.

Parliamentary action to expand the remit of these clauses, or to retroactively extend their protections to the thousands of individuals who have already been impacted by painful (but necessary) public health decisions, could also offer the government a more realistic short-term route to delivering concrete action in response to the real estate crisis – while restoring public confidence in the stability of the housing sector and laying the groundwork for broader reform over the months ahead.

All the same, industry leaders such as Rudolf caution that the road to long-term reform will extend far beyond the pandemic. Among the many issues demanding regulatory change: the lack of a mandate for “the upfront provision of information at listing including leasehold, rentcharge, and authority information,” the absence of a requirement for buyers to “prove they can afford the property through a certificate confirming their lender’s decision in principle or source of funds” and for sellers to demonstrate their relationship to the property “to avoid seller impersonation fraud,” and the need for “regulation of property agents and digitisation of the Land Registry, both in terms of applications and machine readable deeds.”

If and when the UK addresses these regulatory shortcomings, industry representatives insist that “once an offer is accepted, the parties can transact on related transactions knowing that everything will go through” – in short, that both buyers and sellers will enjoy a level of certainty that has been sorely lacking from the market since the start of the pandemic.

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'Cruella' sequel is in the making at Disney

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After a successful $48.5 million global take in just under two weeks, Emma Stone has been confirmed for the sequel's line up.

Emma Stone has been commended on her strategic performance that she displayed in the Disney Cruella adaption. The director of the movie franchise Craig Gillespie has expressed how eager he is to return alongside screenwriter Tony McNamara for the sequel. It is believed that upon the sequels return, Stone will be playing a centralised role around the character we are used to seeing from the One Hundred and One Dalmatians. The Cruella de Vil adaptations will follow that of the Disney cartoons, meaning we can very well expect to see the cartoon story adapted into film.

Other announcements for this weekend, is the new series of betting offers today that have been made available to readers of this article. Should you find yourself intrigued, you know what to do.

Cruella the movie debuted on the 28th May within theatres all around the world. Disney fans could also get hold of the title from home, under the Disney+ streaming service that is available, however an early access purchase was needed that equates to $30. While the movie has made some impressive takes in just under two weeks, it's the story line and 1970s punk aesthetic that has really got everyone impressed. 

Jenny Beavan is the academy awards costume designer that takes the limelight for incredible creation and bringing to life the genre and age of fashion here. It has been confirmed by Variety, that the costumes designed by Jenny were in fact sold after production for a collaboration with Rag and Bone. While it is often usual that huge franchises do not give credit to the designers once the clothes have been sold off after filming, it is yet to be confirmed should this affect the academy award winner’s future with the sequel. Sure, filming huge movies such as these provide huge exposure to the talent, but it can also mean to ‘sign your life and rights away on that dotted line’, as Beaven said in conversation with press.

Aside from the internal drama on set, the film has been received very well from all angles of the media. With a 97% audience score on huge film review platforms, the cinema scores for opening weekend rank it as the most popular of all remakes from Disney based cartoons. Film critics and audiences that have yet to see this movie will of course go in with a bias of the beaming success that the movie has had thus far. 

Cruella will join the long list of movie adaptations that have made huge success and grossed large amounts of money in their opening weekend. Examples of such movies include Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. It is believed that titles such as Peter Pan and Wendy, Pinocchio and The Little Mermaid are in the works next. For the latest updates on their release ensure you keep up to date with lifestyle news releases.

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Corporate tax rules

Big-tech companies to be given historical changes to their international tax agreements

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Recently, some of the richest landmarks and countries of the world, have come to an agreement concerning the closing of international tax loopholes that have been endorsed by the biggest multinational corporations. Some of these tech companies have the largest share prices within the stock market, such as Apple, Amazon, Google and so on.

While tech taxation has long been an issue that international governments have had to agree on between themselves, betting too shares similar problems, especially due to its increase in popularity and allowed legalisation globally. Here we have provided a comparison of new betting sites which follow through on the correct taxation laws and legalities necessary for international usage.

During the G7 summit- which our last reports spoke about the topic of Brexit and trade deals, representatives of the United States, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, Italy and Japan, came to a unified agreement to support the global corporation tax rates of at least 15%. It was in agreement that this should happen as these corporations should pay taxes where their businesses are in operation, and to the land they operate in. Tax evasion has long been propagated using initiatives and loopholes found by corporation entities, this unanimous decision will put a stop to hold tech companies responsible.

This decision is believed to be years in the making, and the G7 summits have long wanted to reach an agreement to make history and reform the global taxation system for the rising innovation and digital age that is on the horizon. Making companies like Apple, Amazon and Google take accountability, will keep taxation in check for what is estimated to be the surge of their developments and involvement overseas. Rishi Sunak, the United Kingdom’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, has mentioned that we are in the economic crisis of the pandemic, companies need to hold their weight and contribute to the reformation of the global economy. Reformed taxation is a step forward in achieving that. Global tech companies such as Amazon and Apple have massively increased in shareholder prices for each quarter after the major drop last year, making tech one of the most sustainable sectors to obtain taxes from. Of course, not all would agree on such comments, being that taxation loopholes have long been a thing and issue of the past.

The deal agreed upon will put massive pressure on other countries during the G20 meeting that is to occur in July. Having a base of agreement from the parties of G7 makes it very likely that other countries will come to an agreement, with nations such as Australia, Brazil, China, Mexico etc. who are to be in attendance. Lower tax haven countries like Ireland will expect lower rates with a minimum of 12.5% where others may be higher depending. It was expected that the 15 percent tax rate would be higher at the level of at least 21%, and countries who agree with this believe that a base level of 15% should be set with possibilities of more ambitious rates depending on destination and region that multinational companies operate and pay taxes from.

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Flutter Entertainment joins the Indian gambling market

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The Indian gambling market continues to grow, and it has received a big boost recently, with one of the biggest names in gambling joining the market. Flutter Entertainment, who operate many casinos and sportsbooks including Paddy Power and Betfair, have joined in by buying a stake in Junglee Games.

It is reported that Junglee Games is the third largest rummy operator in India, so they have gone in and taken one of the leading local operators. Although this is a company that have had plenty of success, you can expect investment from Flutter, in a bid to take even more of the market.

The deal sees Flutter now owning 50.06% of Junglee Games, with the value set at £48 million.

Big news for Indian gaming

The move that has seen Flutter invest in the Indian market could be a big one for the industry as a whole. Some of the bigger players are already involved in India, though Flutter is a new and bigger name that is now on board.

This is their first move into the market but may not be their last. Either further investment from Flutter Entertainment, or further investment from elsewhere because Flutter have joined would be significant and continue the push forward of the industry as a whole.

There is a changing landscape in Indian gambling, with many new operators getting involved to try and take their slice of the market share. This luckydice guide to gambling in India shows exactly what is on offer for those who want to sign up and play, and the list keeps on growing.

The future of the Indian gambling market

With a move as big as this one, the future of the Indian gambling market certainly looks a lot brighter. There is real growth in Indian gaming and sports betting, and that could be boosted further if Flutter Entertainment either invests heavily in Junglee Games or they bring some of their other brands to the country.

There is also the chance that other big names will be taking a look at the market, as they try to follow in the footsteps of Flutter. A look at the world news will show companies investing in many different parts, but they are often not the only ones doing that. Other companies follow suit and also invest in the same areas, because it is a time where they are predicting growth.

Over the coming months, it will be very interesting to see if any other gambling operators turn to the Indian market, either to set up their current brands in that area, or to buy a brand already performing in the area and try to push that forward.

As the market continues to move forward, this move from Flutter Entertainment to get involved could act as an accelerator for the situation, fast forwarding things because they themselves, and potentially others, are investing in the country and the gambling market that it currently has. This could be a big moment for the Indian gambling scene. 

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