Excuse rate higher than normal for jury duty

MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – More than one in 10 Mobile County residents called to jury duty for next week have sought and received permission to be excused, according to court officials.

Mobile County Presiding Circuit Judge Michael Youngpeter told FOX10 News that that is a higher-than-usual rate, although he added he cannot say how many cited COVID-19. He told FOX10 News last week that he anticipated that.

“We’re figuring that there will be a higher percentage of people that will, you know, have to be excused for health reasons or other reasons,” he said.

Court officials are drawing from a larger pool because of uncertainty over how the novel coronavirus pandemic might affect participation. Youngpeter said the summonses break down like this: 102 were postponed; 57 have been excused; 12 failed to meet the qualification requirements and 23 could not be delivered because of bad addresses.

The judge said 174 have logged into the new juror website run by the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts.

New juror questions include:

  • “Have you recently tested positive for COVID-19?
  • “Are you experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or otherwise sick?”
  • “Have you been exposed to someone who has tested positive or who has symptoms?”
  • “Are you caring for someone who is positive or experiencing symptoms?”
  • “Are you afraid to be in a room with a large number of people?”

Those questions and the online screening system are part of a comprehensive plan to resume jury trials, which have been suspended since March because of the pandemic. Jurors will report to the Mobile Civic Center instead of Government Plaza in order to keep occupancy low in the courtrooms and hallways.

Once selected for a jury, jurors will hear the evidence form seats spread out in the gallery instead of in the jury box. Spectators will watch the proceedings on monitors in other courtrooms.

Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich has expressed concern that the pandemic might make it harder to find jurors – and make sure those jurors represent a cross-section of the community.

“If we can’t get juries down here to serve on jury duty, you know, the end result would be that judges will begin letting defendants out on bond, because they are entitled to a jury trial, and they are entitled to have a jury trial,” she told FOX10 News.

Youngpeter is confident about Monday, at least. He said he will need about 45 people to get a jury for the criminal trial, plus another 18 for the grand jury. As for future weeks, when the number of trials escalates, it remains for be seen.

Fuel price shock: Fuel duty increases could be as high as 5p per litre this autumn

Fuel duty charges loom set to increase dramatically, putting to an end a 10-year freeze the Conservatives maintained since first taking office in 2010. Treasury sources say a 5p increase could be announced by the Chancellor, sending shockwaves to motorists.

Conservative MP, Robert Halfon has warned the increase could impact badly on the cost of living for families.

Others in the Conservative Party have previously stressed that the plan could alienate traditional left-wing voters that defected to the party at the last election.

Leading campaigners against the charge, FairFuelUK has warned that the “regressive tax hike” would hit low-income drivers hard.

Howard Cox, founder of the campaign said: “Do not make the world’s highest-taxed drivers, the fiscal fall guys in a post-pandemic recovery budget.

“And hiding behind a green driven agenda to hike a regressive tax will be disingenuous and hit low-income drivers hardest.

“Instead, put much more money into people’s pockets.”

Fair Fuel UK says that if fuel duty charges had continued to increase from 2011 onwards the current value would stand at 83.33p per litre.

This would have been a 43.8 percent increase on the current fuel duty price of just 57.95 pence per litre.

The changes will come as a double hit to motorists who have had to deal with gradually increasing fuel costs over the past couple of months.

Unleaded petrol costs have increased by around 9p per litre from just 104.87pence at the end of May to 113.22p.

Diesel prices are up around 7p per litre with costs rising from 111.7pence in May to 118.14p per litre.

Fuel duty increases are just part of a massive tax hike reported to be up to £20billion to deal with gaps in spending.

Other areas set to be affected by increases include capital gain tax, corporation tax and the pensions triple lock.



Fuel duty increase rumours attacked as changes could have a ‘large impact’ on families

Fuel duty costs could rise by up to 1p per litre to generate an extra £295million in revenues from the pumps. Treasury officials are set to be targeting the fuel duty freeze which has been in effect for over a decade.

This is higher than Slovenia on 70.2 percent and Italy and France who have tax rates just above 69 percent.

Mr Cox said: “Do not make the world’s highest-taxed drivers the fiscal fall guys in a post-pandemic recovery budget.

“And hiding behind a green driven agenda to hike a regressive tax will be disingenuous and hit low-income drivers hardest. Instead, put much more money into people’s pockets.

“The extra consumer spending to drive up GDP, and all that goes with it, will help the economy recover quickly, the environment long term, and restore confidence in our beleaguered Government.

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“But by hitting drivers more in their pockets will drive Tory voters away from the once popular Boris.”

Changes to capital gains tax, corporation tax and the pensions triple lock are all under consideration by the Treasury.

Updates will be needed in some areas to deal with a deficit expected to be over £300 billion this year.

It is expected the fuel duty savings since 2010 have helped save motorists an average of £1,200 across the last decade.

He warns that a “needless rise” will have a large impact on the cost of living for many families as they recover from the pandemic.

He said: “Don’t let the taxpayer millions that funded half-price meals in August, be partly paid for, using an unnecessary hike in fuel duty.

“Such a needless rise in this levy will impact badly on the cost of living for families, increase inflation, hit businesses and jobs hard.

“It will even swell costs for our hard pressed public services, including the NHS.”



Property for sale: Stamp duty holiday sparks moving frenzy UK area amid coronavirus

Properties are flooding the marketed in the southern commuter belt thanks to the stamp duty holiday. This is according to new data from biggest property Rightmove.

Hertford, Wickford, St. Albans and East Grinstead make up the top five, which are all within a 70-minute train commute of Central London.

Will this amount to cheaper prices? It seems unlikely.

Increased demand in these towns, measured by people phoning and emailing estate agents, is also massively outstripping the growth of available stock.

Demand has increased by at least 50 percent year-on-year in each of the top 10 locations, but available stock for sale is not matching this demand, meaning there is still an imbalance despite the new stock coming on.

Nationally, demand has risen by 61 percent compared to the same period last year.

Almost 94,000 new listings were brought to market across London, the South East and East of England between July 8 and August 16.

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This is over 31,000 more than the same period in 2019.

This latest data follows a Rightmove study from July which revealed that homes priced between £400,000 and £500,000 in the southern commuter belt have an increased chance of selling as this is where buyers are set to make the biggest savings thanks to the stamp duty holiday.

Rightmove’s property expert Miles Shipside said: “We always knew that the stamp duty holiday was going to be a big incentive for people to get moving this year.

“It’s certainly sparked a home-moving frenzy across commuter towns in the south of England.

“Thousands of sellers are being tempted to come to market in these areas for a number of reasons.

“Firstly, lots of buyers stand to make pretty sizeable savings thanks to the stamp duty holiday – particularly in the southern commuter belt – so now seems as good a time as any to press ahead with home-moving plans.

“We’re also seeing a growing trend of people looking to move out of urban areas and into smaller towns, with homeowners in built-up areas reassessing their housing needs and looking for places with more outside space.

“Lastly, proximity to a station doesn’t seem to be as important as it once was, meaning sellers in these commuter towns are looking to move a little further afield as working from home becomes a more permanent way of life.”

Stamp duty property sales boost – where to find a house for sale now top 10

  1. Harlow, Essex +121 percent
  2. Hertford, Hertfordshire +113 percent
  3. Wickford, Essex +105 percent
  4. St. Albans, Hertfordshire +100 percent
  5. East Grinstead, West Sussex +98 percent
  6. Basingstoke, Hampshire +96 percent
  7. Tonbridge, Kent +95 percent
  8. Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire +94 percent
  9. Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk +94 percent
  10. Wokingham, Berkshire +93 percent

Which are the cheapest commuter towns to buy in. 

A report by property site Zoopla earlier this year discovered a total of 10 areas which would give city workers a good bang for their buck.

The cheapest areas to live outside of London include towns like Grays and Leagrave.

Also on the list are Crayford, Basildon and Harlow.



Buy to let property: Stamp duty cut fuels investment – mortgage calculator for landlords

Buy to let allows Britons with the capital to invest in property, renting the homes out to maintain them. Initially Britons were put off by changes to tax that meant buy to let was a less attractive prospect.

Now stump duty has ben cut landlords are likely to reinvest in the market. Should you?

Howsy, a letting management platform, showed by to let income is down by 13 percent.

Rental prices have been falling as the economy is hit by the coronavirus, meaning less people can afford to rent, someone aspiring landlords will need to be aware of.

On the other hand, at the higher end of the market landlords can save £15,000 on stamp duty.

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For those thinking buy to let is their preferred option for investment, various buy to let mortgage calculators exist to assist aspiring landlords.

One such, by Habito, will tell Britons how much they could borrow and what they monthly mortgage cost might be on a buy-to-let basis.

Website Money Facts has a buy to let rental yield calculator to work out the expected yield for a landlord on a yearly or monthly basis.

The UK’s buy to let hotspots have been revealed post lockdown by an online broker. 

Mojo Mortgages has analysed popular buy-to-let postcodes across the UK and detailed where the best yield hotspots currently are, and the places to avoid.

The North West is one of the best regions that is currently generating high yields.

There are a number of profitable pockets in Liverpool City Centre that are generating yields of more than 10 percent.

Bradford and Sunderland follow Liverpool, generating yields of eight percent and nine percent respectively.

What is more, buying now could be a good option as prices are set to rise according to one expert.

Director of House to Buy Fast, Jonathan Rolande, said the stamp duty cuts will cause property inflation.

He added: “It will prompt people to move if has an end date and can’t do any harm.

“As they say it will kick the can down the road, people will buy like mad then resent paying the stamp duty.

“With incentives such as a cut on stamp duty or the help to buy scheme, all it does is fuel property inflation.”



Chancellor's stamp duty holiday gives 'surprising spike' to home values

Prices rocketed 3.8 percent year-on-year in July to hit the record. Property experts knew the Chancellor’s cut in stamp duty was a shot in the arm for the struggling sector after it was frozen during lockdown. But they were surprised by the spike in house prices. Announced at beginning of last month and running until next March, buyers of homes worth up to £500,000 will save as much as £15,000.

It has persuaded buyers and sellers in all areas to flock back to the property market, rejuvenating the sector.

The cost of a three-bedroom semi jumped by 1.6 percent – or £3,770 – month-on-month to £241,604. This is up from £237,834 in June.

Russell Galley, managing director of Halifax, said: “Following four months of decline, average house prices in July experienced their greatest month-on-month increase this year, comfortably off-setting losses in 2020.

“The average house price in July is the highest it has ever been since the Halifax house price index began in 1983.

“The latest data adds to the emerging view that the market is experiencing a surprising spike post-lockdown.”

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay said: “Buying a home is the biggest financial investment most people will make in their lives and we want people to feel the economy is secure enough for them to take this step.

Rishi Sunak

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (Image: Andy Buchanan/PA Wire/PA Images)

“A secure home is one of the most important things in life. And so is job security. So what’s great about the stamp duty cut that we announced in July – raising the threshold to £500,000 – is that it helps with both of these priorities we all share.”

Islay Robinson, chief executive of Enness Global Mortgages, said: “The stamp duty holiday has been the property market equivalent of Black Friday, bringing a massive influx of buyers who may otherwise have been sat on the fence until next year.

“It isn’t just the average home buyer that’s hitting the market for a discounted spending spree either.

“Demand has spiked at all tiers with high-end and foreign buyers also scrambling to secure themselves a deal.

“The off-shoot of this is a rebound in property price growth and, with the cost of borrowing remaining very favourable, it’s unlikely to let up anytime soon.”

James Forrester, managing director of estate agent Barrows and Forrester, added: “The stamp duty holiday has acted as a property market vaccine against pandemic-based apprehension. While a relatively short-term fix to a potentially long-term issue, it allows us to traverse the traditionally quieter periods of Christmas and the start of a new year, at which point the worst should hopefully be behind us.

“The stamp duty holiday has helped kickstart the market and rescued it from the depths of pandemic decline.”

The housing market has gradually been reopened after restrictions were imposed earlier this year as part of the coronavirus response.

Monthly property transaction data from HMRC shows a rise in UK home sales in June.

Mortgage offers were also up, according to Bank of England figures.

The number of approvals in June was 40,010, following the low of 9,273 in May – a 331 percent month-on-month rise.

And results from the latest poll of surveyors point to a recovery emerging across the market.

Buyer demand, sales and new listings all rallied following lockdown-related falls, said the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

New buyer demand has moved to a balance of +61 percent compared to -7 percent and -94 percent in April and May respectively.

And newly agreed sales figures have moved into positive territory for the first time since February, with a net balance of +43 percent, from -34 percent in May.

Jeremy Leaf, a London estate agent and former residential chairman of the RICS, said: “We are pinching ourselves as strong pent-up demand for most types of property, especially small houses, and much of it brought forward by the stamp duty holiday, is supporting an upsurge in the number of sales agreed.

“Looking forward, we are being told the housing market revival will be tested by rising unemployment and the imminent end of the furlough scheme. But there’s not much evidence of a slowdown at the moment.”

David Westgate, chief executive at Andrews Property Group, said: “Continued low supply, exceptional post-lockdown demand and the stamp duty cut have injected a real energy into the market.

“We expected a rebound when the country emerged from lockdown but not one this pronounced.

“In some areas prices are edging up given the sheer volume of demand. Everyone home loan approvals between May and June knows that there is a significant amount of economic uncertainty ahead, but for now the property market is firing about as well as it could.” However, Miles Robinson, head of mortgages at online broker Trussle, pointed to the difficulties faced by first-time buyers as they struggle to get on the housing ladder.

He said: “It’s important to consider that rising house prices may be positive for the market, but some groups of home buyers will not necessarily see this as good news.

“First-time buyers are facing challenging times. Many may feel locked out of the market.”



Property market has 'highest house prices ever' as stamp duty freeze sparks 'mini boom'

The property market has slowly started up again as coronavirus lockdown restrictions continue to ease. The government cuts to stamp duty have helped the housing market bounce back as house prices have been sent “rocketing”.

Managing director of Halifax Russell Galley said: “Following four months of decline, average house prices in July experienced their greatest month on month increase this year, up 1.6 percent from June and comfortably offsetting losses in 2020.

“The average house price in July is the highest it has ever been since the Halifax House Price Index began, 3.8 percent higher than a year ago.”

The report explained the “highest prices ever” could be down to the cut in stamp duty and this has made the housing market appear promising.

He continued: “The latest data adds to the emerging view that the market is experiencing a surprising spike post lockdown.

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“As pent-up demand from the period of lockdown is released into a largely open housing market, a low supply of available homes is helping to exert upwards pressure on house prices.

“Supported by the government’s initiative of a significant cut in stamp duty, and evidence from households and agents suggesting that confidence is currently growing, the immediate future for the housing market looks brighter than many might have expected three months ago.”

Property experts have commented on the increase and explained buyers are now in a “purchasing frenzy”.

Director of property investment company Track Capital Tobi Mancuso said: “The housing market has been on a rollercoaster of ups and downs in the last few months, but the stamp duty freeze has sent prices rocketing.

“June saw the average UK house prices decrease by 0.1 percent followed by a 1.6 percent increase in July as chancellor Rishi Sunak’s move sent buyers into a purchasing frenzy causing a mini boom.”

With many lockdown restrictions being lifted, the expert explained many will be looking for a new property.

Tobi added: “Lockdown has given thousands of cooped-up home-owners time to look around and realise they need more space, and we’re seeing some of that pent-up demand released now along with investors looking to put their money into the more stable asset class of property.

“We’re expecting a busy month as buyers stay home instead of jetting off abroad and use their time here to shop for new properties.”

While the market is looking promising right now, the Halifax HPI showed that its future could still be uncertain.

Russell added: “Looking further ahead, there is still a great deal of uncertainty around the lasting impact of the pandemic.

“As government support measures come to an end, the resulting impact on the macroeconomic environment, and in turn the housing market, will start to become more apparent.

“In particular, a weakening in labour market conditions would lead us to expect greater downward pressure on prices in the medium-term.”



Property expert Phil Spencer admits concern over stamp duty holiday ‘cliff edge’

The housing market has been one to watch in recent months as experts worried it would never recover from being put on hold during the lockdown. But while the government has introduced a new stamp duty holiday to help get the economy moving again, property pro Phil Spencer has revealed he has worries about the scheme. The expert spoke with Christine Lampard about the new rules. 

The housing market has seen an impressive recovery in recent months after it was allowed to reopen following the initial lockdown period. 

This is thought to be down to pent-up demand over the first strict few weeks of lockdown, as well as people trying to cash in on the stamp duty break.

But while Phil said the holiday is “certainly an incentive”, he hinted that it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right time to buy. 

He added that it would also depend on what you feel is likely to happen to the economy further down the line, as it could be a risk to buy now if house prices do crash. 

However, some of those working in the industry fear that fuelling demand with the temporary cut isn’t enough. 

When the holiday was announced, Managing Director of Barrows and Forrester, James Forrester commented: “A bold move by the chancellor and one that will no doubt stoke the fires of homebuyer demand with such a large proportion of those transacting due to benefit.

“This shot in the arm should ensure top-line demand and price growth remain immune to any unseasonal downward trends and implementing this initiative from the get-go avoids any short-term decline in transactions.

“The only criticism is, perhaps, that the government has once again focussed on fuelling demand rather than addressing the more pressing issue of housing supply. While this will help boost house prices, it will do little to address the supply and demand imbalance and the problem of affordability that many are already facing.”

Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis also warned his fans in a recent newsletter that the stamp duty cut isn’t necessarily reason to believe now is the time to buy. 

He urged buyers to “ensure the financials are sound, don’t overstretch yourself, pick a budget and stick to it”, and noted that while mortgages are cheap, you’ll need a bigger deposit to get one. 



UK fuel duty decline sparks fears Chancellor could ‘recoup losses' with price increase

UK fuel duty on diesel was worst affected with overall revenue declining by 49 percent over April and May in a devastating decline. The Treasury took just £2.1billion in duty across April and May compared to the £4.5billion they earned in 2019.

“The temptation for the Chancellor might be to recoup some of the losses by increasing fuel duty, but with the country staring down the barrel of one of the sharpest recessions on record such a move would risk choking any economic recovery at a time when drivers and businesses are most struggling.

“This perhaps gives the government a glimpse into the future of when fuel duty revenues start to decline more sharply with the rise of electric and other alternatively fuelled vehicles.

“Treasury officials might want to start thinking about how the Government approaches such a scenario considering fuel duty normally generates around £27bn a year.”

Just £1.5billion worth of duty was generated on diesel fuel over April and May compared to £2.9billion in 2019.

Although there were rumours the charge would be increased, Mr Sunak said people “rely on their cars” before making the popular decision to not increase costs.

There were fears the government could have increased the tax by around two pence per litre to 59,95p.

This would have generated an extra £4billion on funding and would have helped the government to meet its zero carbon target.

The Treasury revealed that freezing the tax for another year would mean drivers have saved £1,200 since 2010.

FairFuelUK founder Howard Cpox has pushed the Chancellor to “resist increasing tax” and even urged the Chancellor to slash costs to get people back on the toads.

Posting on Twitter last month, the campaigner saud: “@RishiSunak, resist increasing tax on hard working drivers.

“Get economy motoring with a cut in VAT and fuel duty. Put money back into all our pockets.

“The lockdown decline in fuel duty revenue is temporary, stimulating growth is permanent.”



Prince Philip health update: Secret of Duke's robustness exposed as he resumes public duty

Prince Philip is due to make a rare retun to his public duties on Wednesday to transfer onto Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall his role as Colonel-in-Chief of The Rifles. The Duke of Edinburgh officially retired from royal life in 2017 and has since limited his appeareances to family events, including Princess Beatrice’s wedding last week. Royal commentator Roya Nikkhah suggested Philip’s temporary return to the public showed the prince’s deep commitment to the Royal Family, suggesting his duties are what “keeps him going.”

Ms Nikkhah said: “Absolutely incredible. He looked superb in pictures last week. Ram-rodded at the age of 99.

“And today, three years after he actually retired from public life, he’s coming out to do an engagement in person at Windsor Castle. He’s handing over his role as Coloner-in-Chief of The Rifles to Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.

“I think at the age of 99, he’s still coming out to do the most important engagements for him – the Armed Forces, that’s very dear to him. What a guy.”

She added: “I think it also keeps them going a bit, that sense of duty is just ingrained in them.”

Philip sparked significant concerns about his health in December after Buckingham Palace confirmed the Duke was taken to hospital shortly before Christmas.

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The palace reassured the transfer was a mere precautionary measure to monitor a pre-existing condition and the prince was discharged in time to join his family at Sandringham to celebrate the holidays.

The Duke of Edinburgh has repeatedly been praised for his devotion to the Queen and his duties, which he discharged regularly for over 70 years.

And on Wednesday he is due to press pause on his retirement to take part in a virtual ceremony during which he will pass on one of military roles to his daughter-in-law, the Duchess of Cornwall.

The ceremony will adhere to social distancing rules, with Prince Philip joining the virtual event from Windsor and Camilla from Highgrove House in Gloucestershire.

Describing the event, Buckingham Palace said: “The Assistant Colonel Commandant, Major General Tom Copinger-Symes, will offer the salute and thank The Duke of Edinburgh for His Royal Highness’ 67 years of support and service to The Rifles, and their forming and antecedent Regiments.

“The Buglers will then sound The Rifles Regimental Call, followed by the ‘No More Parades’ call, to mark The Duke of Edinburgh’s final ceremony as Colonel-in-Chief.”

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