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Queen's Speech: Plan to simplify pensions and rights

image captionThe state pension changes have been brought forward from 2017 to 2016

Changes to the state pension and clearer rights for consumers are among the government's plans featured in the Queen's Speech.

The legislative programme brings together a string of proposals that have already been through a period of consultation.

A consumer Bill of Rights will beef up protection for digital purchases.

And new legislation covering energy, water, national insurance payments, and intellectual property is included.

Pension overhaul

The speech has outlined plans to simplify both the state pension and consumer rights.

This includes a flat-rate state pension of about £144 a week, which is planned to start for new pensioners from 2016.

The new flat-rate pension replaces the current basic pension of £110 a week, plus various means-tested top-ups.

The change involves merging the state second pension with the basic state pension.

As part of this change, derived entitlement to the basic state pension - where someone receives a married person's pension or a widow's or widower's pension based not on their own working life but the National Insurance record of their spouse or civil partner - will also go.

This is currently claimed by about 1.7 million people, including 220,000 people who are receiving it while living overseas. About 70% of payments since 2010 were to men living overseas who married women who had a UK National Insurance contribution record.

Faulty goods rules

A draft Consumer Rights Bill, to be published in the summer by the government, will bring together a range of consumer protection that has built up over time.

It will also update the law to introduce new protection for consumer who buy digital content, such as e-books, digital music, games and software.

The draft bill will also outline detail such as amount of time consumers have to return faulty goods for repair, replacement or refund.

Trading standards officers will also be given the power to seek compensation from the courts on behalf of consumers.

Consumer groups have welcomed the plan to change the law which they regarded as outdated, and to simplify legislation to make it easier for consumers to be aware of their rights.

The Trading Standards Institute (TSI) said it welcomed the move, but urged the government not to dilute the powers of trading standards officers powers to enter premises unannounced, currently part of the plans.

Caroline Flint, Labour's shadow energy secretary, said that the plans failed to address issues such as excessive charges on private pensions, and costs affecting consumers such as high rail fares.

Business highlights

On energy, there will be legislation aimed at incentivising businesses to invest in new sources of low-carbon power, from wind farms to nuclear power stations.

The Bill will also set up a "capacity market" aimed at ensuring continuity of electricity supply during periods of peak demand.

Other highlights of the legislative programme include:

  • A National Insurance Contributions Bill that aims to reduce business employment costs with the introduction of a £2,000 Employment Allowance. The Bill will also crack down on the use of offshore payroll companies as way of avoiding employer NICs.
  • A Deregulation Bill to "reduce the burden of excessive legislation on businesses" by repealing existing laws that no longer have any "practical use".
  • The Intellectual Property Bill aims to make it easier for businesses to protect their intellectual property, particularly their designs, with the introduction of a Unified Patent Court that most EU countries have signed up to.
  • The Water Bill aims to make Britain's water supply "more resilient" in the face of increasing droughts and floods through the creation of a national water supply network. The Bill also aims to encourage competition by allowing business customers to switch their water and sewerage supplier.

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