2020-08-01

A simple flat tyre - but this is 2020, so no...

Really boring post for your today...

On cycling out of Bracknell town on one of the cycle paths (see, I do use them when they go where I want), I hit a pot hole. I have been back and looked since and it looks really innocuous, but it was very jarring and my first thought is that it will have killed my tyres.

Unsurprisingly, within half a mile, or so, I had a flat back tyre. Crap!

I got a lift back from Tescos, and later walked in (3 miles) with my cycle repair kit and pump. The puncture was obvious, and not that small, so I used the sandpaper thing on the rubber and applied a self adhesive (skabs) patch, pumped up and cycled home. Perfect, job done.

Next morning, tyre flat! I investigated and it was the patch, it had popped allowing air out the side. WTF? I patched again and it immediately popped when pumping up.

I figured that maybe the glue goes off, this repair kit was a few years old, so ordered more. When that arrived, patched, and the same!

So I ordered a different make of self adhesive patch this time.

Again, popped as soon as inflated. This is mental.

I figured it was on a seam in the tyre, so I carefully trimmed that flat with a scalpel blade and tried again, no joy.

OK, time to go old school. I ordered good old fashioned repair kit with the rubber patches and the rubber glue.

I have probably done hundreds of puncture repairs in my life, and never had this trouble.

To my surprise, that did not work either, WTF?

Just to be clear, and thanks for all of the helpful advice, I did apply glue and wait for it to dry before applying the patch. I also, on some attempts, applied glue to the patch, which I don't normally have to do.

I tried the large patch sideways to cover where it popped, no joy.

I even applied a patch on top of the patch where it popped, no joy.

As an almost last resort I even used some Loctite 480 which is especially for bonding rubber. Close, but still popped.

This really is getting beyond a joke. I have never had this much trouble with a simple patch to an inner tube in my life.

I think I now have six puncture repair kits.

I have ordered a new inner tube, and some would say that should have been step 1, or at most step 2. Well, yes, except this is the back wheel with hub brakes, hub gears, and enclosed chain guard, all of which need removing, and at least one cable needs unhooking (and hence re-fitting and adjusting) and to be honest that seemed like a lot of hassle. Hence trying the simple puncture repair.

I then had a brain wave... This puncture is not a usual puncture. Well, apart from now being a tear around 5mm long because of the number of patches I had removed, it was on the inside of the inner tube, i.e. facing the wheel. This fits with it being pinched when I went over a pot hole - after all the tyres I have are meant to be puncture resistant. So not the usual place to get a puncture, which would typically be from a spiky thing through the tyre and hence on the outside. In fact, it was almost certainly exactly on the part where the inner tube is not going to be smooth when inflated, but actually a step where the inside of the tyre is in the wheel. This may be the clue, and why it only popped when inflated ing the tyre (I could inflate quite a bit outside the tyre with no issue).

My fix! Well, for a start I used the Loctite to weld the tear shut anyway, and applied a rubber patch over that. The trick, though, was a plastic card (credit card sized) bent round on the inside of the tyre between the wheel and in inner tube. A real hack, but magically the tyre inflated, and I have managed to cycle round the block and no sign of it deflating yet.

Yay, sorted, and, bollocks, the front tyre is now flat. That seems to be a much smaller slow puncture which was actually simple to fix with a patch as normal (well, so far).

So yay. I do have a spare inner tube coming tomorrow, and I hope I don't need it.

I would stress that this has taken (I think) 4 days now, and so given my run of luck I fully expect to find both tries flat tomorrow, probably pecked by a crow or eaten by a squirrel or something...

Update: Using a card was certainly a clue, as it lasted a lot longer than anything else, but today (the next day) the back tyre is flat again - so fun with dismantling stuff when the inner tube arrives. FML.

... And someone has "borrowed" my Allen keys, arrrg!

Update: I have two inner tubes and new Allen keys. Yay. I figured I would change front one first. It literally exploded in the tyre at around 50psi. WTF?! So now waiting until tomorrow for another new inner tube. I did not have this on my 2020 bingo card.

Looks like it is a full moon at just before 5pm today - is that a bad sign I wonder?

Update: Finally, new inner tube fitted to the back. All working. Pain in the arse to take it all apart though.


2020-07-16

Account switching (Barclays to Monzo)

As you almost certainly know, there is an "account switching service" which UK banks use. I had never used it before.

TL;DR: Switching works, but it seems Barclays "mess about" for a whole day, losing details of payments and even losing credits down the cracks - yes, money just going missing!!!

Why have I not used it before? well, I have accounts with several banks, and there is really no reason to close an "old" account at any point, especially given the hassle it is to open most bank accounts (Monzo and Starling being obvious exceptions). So why would I "switch"? I can simply start using a new account for some things, simples. I appreciate that some people can't do that quite as easily.

The switching does several things - moving over your Direct Debits, and Standing Orders, transferring the old balance over, and closing the old account. Importantly any credits to the old account are forwarded to the new account.

I was interested in the mechanics of the process. I know from dealing with BACS and Direct Debits that there is a method to advise when an account has changed. As a Direct Debit originator we get told if someone changes their bank account and we are required to update the Direct Debit details. We also get told if we send money to a closed account that we used the wrong details (the money is forwarded).

I would hope there is a process for Fast Payments in the same way...

So here goes...

Setting it up (on Monzo)

Monzo make it easy - they have a button with a simple step by step guide. But there is a snag - the step by step instructions say you need last 5 digits of a debit card on the account. Hmm, the account in question did not have a debit card, so I had to order one from Barclays and wait for it to arrive. However, when I then continued with the process it DOES NOT ask for the card digits because I was moving a business account not a domestic one. I have fed back to Monzo.

I had to confirm the Barclays account, name, and address, and agree some terms, and that was it. Simple. It is then set for 8 days later.

Notifications


Monzo immediately did an in app notice saying it was started, a couple of days later another saying they had confirmation from Barclays, and then on the day a notice saying it was done.

Barclays posted a letter saying I was transferring.

All very slick.

On the day


I was curious as to the timing. Banks (traditional banks) tend to work on banking days. So I expected that it would be everything on 13th (the day before) would be normal, then everything dated 14th would be on new account, with closing balance on 13th being the amount transferred to my new account. To my surprise that was not quite the case.

Barclays were a bit odd, they said they would send printed statements, but that if I had another account and continued access to on-line banking that I would be able to see on there and that they would not send a statement. On the 13th they charged me for sending statements (not checked at office if they did). This was slightly devious as I had cleared the account to £0.00. This unexpected charge would make it overdrawn if I had not checked, and break the switch somehow.

07:09 I sent a £1 fast payment from a Lloyds account to the Barclays account. It arrived as normal, showed on the Barclays on-line banking. So I transferred out leaving £0.00 still. So the switch had not happened yet.

09:00 Monzo popped up and said switch done. So I checked Barclays, and account no longer showing. Seems the switch happens at 9am. Would have been good to know to be honest. It was lucky I had downloaded the CSV for previous day from Barclays before 9am, as I could not after 9am.

10:08 I sent another £1 fast payment. It went, and vanished!

15:34 I get a transfer to Monzo, not with the details of the fast payment I sent, but cryptically BFA ACC SWITCH GLOS reference  RESIDUAL BALANCE from account 20-33-83 88010803...

So I assume Barclays idea of when the switch was done, is not quite the same...

16:41 I send another £1, and to my surprise it is not immediately sent to Monzo. It has vanished!

Also, to my surprise, the Fast Payment process has not updated the payee details. Does it lack the simple "wrong account" logic that exists in BACS? That would be really silly, surely? I suppose, as a stretch, the BACS AWACS system is used to update, and so will happen in a day or two.

I emailed my Barclays account manager, and she said "it takes a day to switch" and that it will be all OK tomorrow... Hmm...

Next day


Still no sign of the missing £1.

A download CSV all accounts download from Barclays DOES NOT INCLUDE the old account, so I don't have the transaction on the day of transfer - that is a tad annoying!

08:52 I sent £1.15 from Lloyds to Barclays, and ka-ching, Monzo showed the payment instantly. Monzo shows correct sender sort code and account (i.e. not the Barclays one) and the correct reference. This is working nicely.

The bank details on my Lloyds account have not updated. So looks like fast payment does not have a "push back" to advise the new details. Maybe it uses BACS AWAS, in which case it will be a day or two, so I'll check.

The day after


I checked my Lloyds account, and now the details shown have magically changed to the new account. I assume this was BACS AWACS, but it works. Yay!

Issues


  • It is unclear why Barclays "mess about" for a whole day - surely they could simply set a time, such as 9am, transfer the balance at that time, and relay all payments after that time. It is messy.
  • Whilst a payment in the morning did arrive later as a "residual balance" there are no details. I assume if I had several payments in the morning I would not have seen any details of them, or even how many payments, just a balance. That is crazy. It is fortunate we already had most customers using the new account.
  • The payment in the afternoon is missing still! I will wait and see if it turns up. Of course, customers could have also paid us in the afternoon and also be missing. Very worrying!
  • Of course, I could only download CSVs of my Barclays accounts to the day before, and only because I checked before 9am, so no way to get a CSV of transactions on the day of the switch - also crazy.
My account manager at Barclays says it is the same for all banks - which I doubt. Has anyone else done a bank switch and can they confirm if they have the same fiasco for transactions on the day?

I'll update if I hear any more of the missing £1. I half expected it to arrive 15:30 on 15th, but no, it had just vanished in to thin air. Scary stuff.

Update: After 2 days of nagging my account manager, they say they have found the £1 and sent it to me. However, it has not turned up, even allowing for 2 day BACS (why would they do that anyway), so still chasing. Worrying.

Update: After more chasing, 15:34, 3 days later, they fast payment me the missing £1. Finally.

2020-07-04

New covid rules (England, July 4th)

There are new rules - at almost no notice without any parliamentary oversight, as is now usual!

They have gone for a complete rewrite this time.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020

Basically, gatherings up to 30 people now and more places allowed to be open subject to risk assessments and measures. All a bit wooly if you ask me.

But also special rules for Leicester
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Leicester) Regulations 2020

The way they have defined the area is rather odd, if you ask me. It seems they have picked something, perhaps a distance, or drawn a line, or some such, and then used a tool to make a list of postcodes and addresses. It would seem to me to have been simpler to just cover whole postcode areas rather than have 24 pages listing postcodes and addresses.

The addresses include gems like this on page 34!

PUBLIC TELEPHONE 33M FROM 109 WELFORD ROAD 9M FROM UNNAMED ROAD ROUNDABOUT AT THE JUNCTION OF GUTHLAXTON WAY AND WELFORD ROAD WIGSTON LE18 3TE


I found it on street view.


So no gatherings of two or more people in that phone box!
That, to me, suggests this was really not thought about in any detail.

2020-06-23

Beyond credit cards - is this a way forward?

We all buy things on-line all the time, and use credit or debit cards to pay on web sites all of the time. As a company we have taken cards with orders in the past, but now most of our business is ongoing services paid by Direct Debit.

Recently we changed the main account to which customers can send payment (when not paying by Direct Debit) to Monzo Bank. The reason, as I explained in my blog post, was that we get instant web hooks for incoming fast payments. I suspect this may be possible with some other banks, perhaps with OpenBanking, and that is something we do want to investigate, but it works well with Monzo.

Apart from allowing incoming payments to instantly be assigned to customer accounts, allowing sales and accounts staff to see the money and ship goods, place orders, or remove restrictions on an account, we also introduced a new feature for deposits with orders.

The idea was to take money by bank transfer as part of an order. This helps avoid some fraudulent orders, and means we have money up front. It also means we have bank details to validate correct Direct Debit instructions.

This was rather experimental - we had no idea how customers would react. We know people are familiar with a credit or debit card with an order, but sending money by bank transfer is not something that is at all common. We made it totally optional, but obviously having had payment with order it means we can progress orders a lot more quickly. Sales staff can immediately ship goods without waiting for our accounts department to check credit or get a deposit.

Over time we have gradually added to more and more types of orders and for lower amounts, and even for existing customers if they do not have a direct debit set up or working. In some cases we only ask for £1 or £2 deposit even, in others it is the whole cost of equipment being supplied.

To my utter surprise it is hugely popular - we have now handled many tens of thousands of pounds in this way. I recall only one case of someone specifically declining to pay a deposit with order so far, and I am frankly gobsmacked, this is excellent!

As a merchant

As a merchant this is a lot easier than taking credit or debit cards.
  • No card processing fees.
  • No delay receiving payment.
  • No PCI DSS hassle (yes, obviously we comply with GDPR and have a privacy policy).
  • No risk of a chargeback - it is just like cash.
  • Allows us to validate Direct Debit details for on-going services, reducing mistakes and fraud.
  • No choosing which cards to take or not take as any UK bank can send faster payments.
  • No joke, scam, or fraudulent orders as they don't seem to want to send money up front.
  • No real minimum, though some banks seem to dislike smaller than £1 (card fees often make small purchases by card less cost effective).
Overall it is a stupidly good deal for us - we get payment just like cash but don't even have the hassle or cost of handling cash! We can automate a lot of things, unlike cash.

As a customer

As a customer, are there advantages? Are there disadvantages? As we say, for a start, we make it optional (except in one case where we do see fraud with a particular VoIP service), but people do love it, which is great news.
  • Faster order processing, we have the money so we can go ahead with the order, often automatically (so for VoIP, and L2TP these can be working in seconds any time of day or night, and for broadband the order for lines/circuits are even sent automatically).
  • The UK banking system's "Confirmation of Payee" process means that the customer knows they are paying us, by name, and so they know who has their money (very often unclear when paying by card).
  • If an order does not go ahead, or any other reason for refund, it can be instant, unlike (mostly) with card payments - though it does depend on us sending it back (which we do).
  • If we refund, that is final - unlike cases I am now seeing where a card chargeback is now being disputed by the merchant months later, and I don't know for sure if my chargeback is "safe" yet.
  • The lack of fees helps keep prices low.
  • No need for address match - if wanting to send to a friend you can, as you have paid, just like cash.
Of course there are some disadvantages. With a card, a chargeback is possible, and it is also possible with a credit card for some amounts to hold the card company liable for failure. Obviously this also only works if you have the money and don't need credit from a card.

I really think there are businesses that could operate entirely like this without the need to take credit or debit cards at all. For small companies, especially struggling to recover after COVID-19, this could be extremely useful.

Teething problems?

Obviously the process was not without some issues, but we have it quite slick now. Most issues are around people who simply cannot type a correct payment reference.
  • Monzo very quickly fixed a Confirmation of Payee issue with our company name, and are working on the missing ampersand at present.
  • We created a system to allocate a payment reference (account number on our system) without customer details yet, and ensure that did not then change later for future payments.
  • We created a system so that the ordering process can check for incoming payments on such an account number cleanly and get bank details for setting up Direct Debit.
  • We created a system to refund (by BACS at present) any deposit if the order does not complete. Hopefully in future we'll have a faster payment means to refund, and I can do it manually (as I have been).
  • We had to decide how much money to charge - if just a deposit for good will and Direct Debit details, or if paying the total up front. We fine tuned how much we ask in each case over some months depending on the type of service, the risk to us, the goods being supplied, etc.
  • We decided to make the up front payment whole pounds to try and avoid typing errors, and this has worked well - we are selling ongoing services so any balance of pence just ends up part of the first Direct Debit. This will obviously not be the case when just selling goods (which we plan to do also).
  • We discovered just how bad people are at typing a payment reference correctly - it is a real shame that the Confirmation of Payee system does not allow us to send a regex for the reference! However, when a payment is wrong, we can easily immediately return it with "Wrong reference". This worked well and for once customer they resent with the right reference, all during the order process!
  • The real time payments, and the payer name and bank details, also help allow us to easily tie up a payment with an order if a customer does make mistakes. We allow the customer to say carry on without deposit and flag that they had issues with the order. That has worked well for those few cases.
  • We have introduced a checksum system that makes it easier to ensure a wrong payment does not simply go to someone else's account (easy to spot, but more of a nuisance as we email that customer confirming payment). Sadly we do not yet have a means to instantly automatically return such payments, but one day we will I am sure.
  • Not really for new customer orders, but we have added a system to automatically email a statement to any existing customer paying - we also set a system to cancel any pending Direct Debits that are possible when applying the new payment. We even set the system to automatically remove restrictions on service automatically once payment arrives. Customers have used this to pay by bank transfer instead, and the system is totally automatic now!

Barcodes?

I have suggested before that we need barcodes for this, and someone has pointed to a draft RFC (here).

This is similar to what I proposed in 2017. If it actually becomes an RFC that may be a good start to people actually understanding them. We just need banking apps to start handling payto: URLs and things will be a lot simpler.

2020-06-17

Logic puzzle?

Someone posted on a Facebook group this image, and said that "My pedantic 8 yo needs to know whether Sophie is included in the total."


Now, the answer is that is pedantic 8 yo does not actually need to know whether Sophie is included in the total or not in order to answer the question. i.e. whether Sohpie is a passenger or not.

Now, to me that is blindingly obvious. What puzzled me is not, for a change, trolls on the Internet, but that so many people (indeed, I think all but one) comment that she may be the bus driver and suggesting that matters. One person said to put the answer and "assuming Sophie was driving the bus". It seems almost everyone assumed that it mattered if she was a passenger or not, and hence if she was included in the total.

I would to normally do this, but I'll explain the incredibly simple logic just to be clear to anyone that is in some doubt somehow.

  • If she is a passenger, there are 17 passengers INCLUDING Sophie, and 21 are added making 38 total passengers including Sophie, as she is a passenger.
  • If she is not a passenger, there are 17 passengers NOT INCLUDING Sohpie, and 21 are added making 38 (plus Sophie who is not a passenger).

Either way the answer is 38.

Of course, what the pedantic 8 yo should have asked (and kudos for asking questions at all), is are all the "people" that got on "passengers". After all, if they are, then why not say "21 more passengers get on"? Why use a different word ("people") in that part of the question.

Yes, if Sophie is one of the 21, and not a passenger (e.g driver), then just like any other case where the 21 are not all passengers, it changes the answer - but that because the 21 are not all passengers rather than Sophie's status as such.


2020-06-15

Linked households and musical chairs

I was not sure whether to post this as people seem to think it is just about finding loopholes in the law to work around it, which it is not. We should all be taking this seriously and considering our own circumstances, and of those with which we might interact, and trying to be as safe as possible.

This is more about showing how badly thought out, and how badly drafted, these laws are.


Laws being brought in on emergency powers with almost no notice and zero parliamentary scrutiny. There is no excuse for this. The stages of relaxing lock down could have been considered, with the relevant legislation, months ago and agreed by parliament with agreed levels when each stage would come in to law. That would have meant everyone impacted by the changes would know what to expect well in advance, and the police would know what laws were coming so they could police them. Importantly the objectives and wording of each stage could have had careful scrutiny to avoid the stupid errors that we have seen in version after version of these laws.

However, today's new legislation is here. I.e. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 as of 15th June 2020.

It includes a little gem on linked households, a fun new concept. Basically, this extends the idea of a household to allow two households to be linked. That then allows them to have indoor gatherings with members of both households and even allows sleep overs at either house, which is what some people have been eagerly await for obvious reasons.


This sounds simple enough at first glance - ignoring children, two households (where one is only one person) can be linked if all the adults agree. Once linked you stay linked unless the rules for allowing linking break. Once unlinked, that is it, you can't link to any other household, a sort of link-ban, forever! What is hard to understand?

Well, there are several layers of issue here :-

Which household to choose, and who is left out?

Even taking the rules entirely as intended this poses problems. My household is 5 adults, and we know, between us, several other single person households with which we may want to be linked. Which do we choose? Who do we piss off by not choosing. How do we all agree on which we choose (as required). When do we choose - as this is permanent, do we wait until we need to have a link because we want to have someone at one or other household? What if we choose too soon and want to change our mind?

Does this make for the new chat up line: "how would you like to link households with me?", or the new euphemism "those two are linked households"?

No changing your mind, or is there?

There is no changing your mind - the rules are clear - even causing the link to terminate does not then allow linking by either household with any other.

Well, we assume not - but could you get a link annulled? perhaps on the basis that is was not consummated, by which I mean there was never an indoor gathering with members of both households present, i.e. there was no reliance on the linked household for any activity to be legal. Surely that would be valid, and as not terminating the link, it would allow the households to pick others to now link with maybe? Nothing outlaws that, does it? It basically does no mention that possibility. When is the link created - when parties agree the link? or when parties rely on the link to be legal in what they are doing (sleep over?). Or is it when they are caught relying on the link to be legal in what they are doing?

No record of linked households - Schrödinger's link?

Of course the issue of annulling a link is not really important - if all members agree that they are no longer linked, then who is to say that they ever were? Only if everyone is prepared to say they were linked, or had that on some sort of record, it only takes one person to say "we never agreed to be a linked household" and you cannot really prove the households were linked. So if you did link households, and then decide to change your mind, what is basically to stop you?

Essentially, until you are caught out you do not have to say you are a linked household.

Blackmail?

This, of course, opens some issues. If two households are linked, and someone is caught, i.e. seen by nosy neighbours entering someone else's house, then they can say they were linked with them (assuming one or other of the households is a single person, and so allowed). But that only really works if all members of the household agree. If even one of them says it is not agreed, the link did not happen, and you are nicked (fined). So now there is an opportunity, if you are questioned over such activity, for it to be worth something to you for the people in the household to agree the households were linked. A chance for blackmail, at least to the value of the fine.

What is a household even?

Defining an household should not be hard, and was not that important before. Essentially it is pretty obvious, a group of people all living in the same house. But the new rules create a state related to households, the state of being linked, and that means it matters what a household is, and was, and how it may change, or be created or dissolved and if that state moves or persists. It is not quite so simple is it? Remember, that moving house has been allowed all along, but assumed that simply staying over night is not moving house one day and moving back the next, so it is presumed you have to move house for several days at least to have actually moved house.

To add to the fun, children are exclude from the counts in the households. Except that there is a magic grey area. The single household can have children that are 18 after 12th June, and still count as children. However the other household which has no limits on number of adults could find they have an extra adult for a child becoming 18 after 12th June, and that adult has to have agreed to the link for it to be valid. What if they now don't agree, or did not agree when they were a minor. Why have children defined at a date for one part of the rules and not another part?

Moving house

Moving house is perhaps the biggest issue with this, and the whole concept of a household.

Let's make a scenario in order to try and work this out. Again, ignoring children.
  • Single household A is linked with two person household B
  • Single household C is linked with three person household D
  • There is an empty house E
So, some questions to consider and not all answered by the law. What is the answer I wonder?

Person from house B moves to house A. This is clearly that they have left one household and joined another. Household B is now the remaining person from household B. Household A is now the group of A and that person. The two households meet the requirements for linking still (one is single) and assuming they all agree, they stay linked. Good, something pretty clear and obvious.

Person from house D moves to house C. This is clearly that they have left one household and joined another. Household D is now the remaining people from household D. Household C is now the group of C and that person. Now the two households are no longer allowed to be linked as there is not a single person household, so the link is broken and both households are now link-banned. Note that this person could sleep over at household C, but somehow need to make sure that they don't move house to household C if they want to stay linked. Fine line?

Person from house D moves to house B. This is clearly that they have left one household and joined another. Household D is now the remaining people from household D. Household B is now the members of B and the person that moved. Both the A-B and C-D linked households remain valid as they each have one single person household. Is that true under this law?

Person from house A moves to house C. This is clearly that they have joined a new household, and household C is now both of them. This breaks the A-B link as A no longer has a single person (it has none, does it even exist any more), so A and B are link-banned. This breaks C-D link (as C is no longer a single person), so C and D are link-banned.

Person from house A moves to house D. This is clearly that they have joined a new household, and household D is now all four of them. This breaks the A-B link as A no longer has a single person (it has none, does it even exist any more), so A and B are link-banned.  This does not break the C-D link. However, now, as this person is part of the C-D linked household, a sleepover at household C is allowed as long as it is not moving house. Now, try explaining how this is different to the scenario above where this person moved to house C. They are in the same place, but the C-D link now remains. This is an anomaly.

Person from house A moves to empty house E. Is this moving from one household to another, and so the A-B link is broken? Or has household A moved, and the A-B link (now E-B) remains?

If we consider in the above that the A-B link is broken, is the now empty house A still a household, and still link-banned. If someone now moves in to household A, are they now link-banned, or could they link to another household? Does that impact then house price of house A?

If we consider the house itself to hold the household when empty, what happens if link A-B is broken. A and B are link-banned. What if person in house A moves to household D? Do they carry the link-ban with them and so break the C-D link, or are they just part of the linked household D now? What if they then move to empty house E? Have they created a new household, or is their original house A link-ban still attached to them? What if they move back to house A, are they link-banned?

Cannot police

Basically there is zero way the police could police this. At best they could come down on an obvious "house party" or group of people from several households, and take some action as an illegal indoor gathering. They almost certainly need to be in a case where we are talking more than two households to have any chance of it suddenly being a linked household they are looking at.

Laws that cannot possibly be policed are bad, and this is an example of bad in so many ways.

2020-06-11

Confirmation of Payee

UK banks have been rolling out a new confirmation of payee system recently.

The idea is relatively simple - when paying someone using your bank app or web site, you put not only the sort code and account number, but also payee name (the name of the person or business you are paying). The system can then advise if you have that right, or a "close match" which can then let you confirm the exact name.

As I have said before I think this is problematic at best - banks usually have shortened (18 characters) names for accounts, but companies and people have longer names, trading names, may use initials, or have joint accounts, and so on. It means a match may not work.


It may help typos, but then that is what check digits are for, but what concerns me even more is that scammers will simply change their tactics - telling their marks a different payee name, perhaps justifying as the holding or parent company, etc. That will then match. Indeed, I expect scammers to be slick and make paying them really easy, but normal businesses and individuals to run in to problems.

Just to highlight how stupid this is - I sent a payment from Barclays to Monzo, and Barclays set the payer name in that case to KENNARD AJ. I then sent payment back on Monzo, and it went through confirmation of payee on the (pre-filled) details, and Barclays failed to validate KENNARD AJ as my account name, not even a suggested alternative, even though it is what they sent!!!

This type of stupidity, where you have pre-filled or known correct details totally failing, will get people just doing "click through" of errors and warnings as a matter of course, just like cookie warnings. Some people will have so much trouble they tell payers "just ignore any errors". However, the fraudsters will know exactly how to make it work perfectly and what to tell people. This almost makes it worse than before!

Of course, as you may know, my company is Andrews & Arnold Limited, and like other companies with an ampersand in the company name, we have the occasional issue. Some times it is silly things like a delivery address on a parcel saying Andrews & Arnold Ltd or some such, but some times it is more severe, such as BTs back end systems simply not working for us initially as they forgot to escape the ampersand in XML.

I should not have been surprised, obviously, that the new confirmation of payee system would have issues. I am however shocked at quite how bad it is, and how it seems that several different banks are broken in different ways.

First off, the good guys - Lloyds bank. The app allows me to enter Andrews & Arnold Ltd as the company name, and confirms it is correct - yay!

 

Well done Lloyds, but other banks are more of a challenge!

Barclays web page was OK, but the app does not allow you to even type an ampersand in the name. This is crazy as an ampersand is not some new fangled unicode emoji, but something that is valid in ASCII, BACS, Fast Payments, even old fashioned mechanical typewriters. Apparently it dates back to the 1st century AD!

It seems Nat West mobile app allows an ampersand but then does not match, and we have reports of the same from Co-op bank.

The other odd issue is that when the account does not match, in some cases, the actual account name is advised, and you can pick that. The problem is that what gets advised is ANDREWS ARNOLD LIMITED,ANDREWS ARNOLD LTD



Of course, this long string with something like our name (missing ampersand) twice, does not then match even though it is what was suggested.

The solution?


Update1: By the end of the day of reporting this, Monzo had made a change that helps. The suggested name is now just ANDREWS ARNOLD LIMITED, and using the suggested name now works. This should stop customers having problems as they don't have to ignore the warning now.

Monzo are still working on the ampersand in the suggested name.
Barclays have not said any more, but obviously they need to allow ampersand to be typed.

P.S. It will be fun if ever Companies House allow unicode... Andrews ⅋ Arnold, anyone?

2020-06-07

Mental health

I am no expert, and as I get older I start to understand some of the issues that can happen - but just touching the surface.

It is a strange subject in some ways - so many things in life we can try out and see for ourselves. I love that science and mathematics are things you can try and test and see and intuitively understand if you try. But mental health is not quite so easy.

You can't really experiment on others, or yourself, and see how it works. I wonder how people that do work with those with mental health issues cope themselves even. They may not be experimenting but they are experiencing the issues of others.

The lockdown, and isolation, we all face in the last few months has been unexpected, and is pretty much unprecedented for most people alive now. It is a change in the way we interact with other people, and that is new and different for most of us.

Interacting can be face to face, or via telephone, email, video call, irc, chat, etc. I am someone that does not interact a lot face to face - I spend my days in my "man cave". I do interact a lot by text means normally, but not a lot face to face. I am not a very social person, usually. Someone said I was asocial rather than anti-social.

So I expected that the degree of isolation would be no problem - I was not quite right on that. Just the little bit of social interaction almost every day (mainly cycling to Costa and having breakfast and a coffee) was enough, and now that is gone. Should that matter?

Video calling is a boon, it helps, but even that is more effort that it seems it should be, even just a few clicks on a portal. Going for a walk, even with no interaction with others, does help, but feels like hard work.

These are strange times, and I expect this is all something we can work to live with. I find some days I am fine, and some days I am not. I have my wife, and some of my family, here with me, but there are people that are really on their own. I wonder how they cope.

It is strange finding mental health is a thing I can observe and study in my self, but not an easy subject to study, and one that may mean drinking too much on occasion as well.

This must be a huge issue for those considering manned space missions in the future.

2020-06-01

The new rules (Wales, June 2020) - a little different to England

The new rules (here) come in two force 1st June, and are similar to those in England, but not quite the same. These are the main changes that I can see.

Section 8 covering leaving home is replaced. This now covers leaving or staying outside your local area, and being indoors with someone not of same household or carer. This is different to England which simply covers sleep-overs. There are a similar (non exhaustive) list of reasonable excuses as before. There is also an 8A which, unlike England, requires you to work from home if you can.

There is a similar restriction on gatherings, but unlike England allowing up to 6 outside from any household, 8B restricts to two households maximum in Wales.

What does this mean:
  • Like England, gatherings from different households indoors are not allowed, except for some reasonable excuses. Note, Wales has a non-exhaustive list of excuses for such gatherings, so slightly better than England.
  • Like England, being outside is now fine in itself - but you are restricted to your local area - so no trips to Barnard Castle for the Welsh. This means we could expect some police checks on people driving still, maybe, as they may want to check you are not outside your local area.
  • Like England, gatherings are still not allowed outside, but the restriction is more than two households, not more than 6 people as in England.
  • Welsh has not added the elite athletes exceptions present in English legislation.

I am unsure how this works if someone in England leaves their local area and goes to Wales. The Welsh rules cover being away from your local area, so that is probably not allowed.


2020-05-31

The new rules (England, June 2020) - Barnard Castle trip definitely legal now!

We heard a lot on the news of the rules being relaxed, but in practice the actual rules are what is in the law, and finally we can see that here from tomorrow (1st June).


Firstly, from me personally: The virus is still out there, you can spread it and have no symptoms, and people can die if you do, including people you care about! Please wash hands as much as you can! Please stay away from other people as much as you can! Please try and do work from home if you can!

So, what are the key changes?
  • Relaxed rules: The previous restrictions on "leaving home" and "being away from home" have gone, replaced with restrictions on "staying overnight somewhere away from home". There are a similar list of exceptions with a few minor changes. This basically means "going outside" is allowed, no need for reasonable excuse now.
  • Enhanced rules: The previous restrictions on "gatherings" has been extended to cover private as well as public, and has been better defined. It covers "indoors" of 2 or more people (yes, 2 people is a gathering), and "outside" of more than 6 people. The definition has been cleaned up. Previously private gatherings were not restricted as long as you were away from home with reasonable excuse (including, to everyone's amusement, to "exercise" with one person from another household).
  • Changes: The exception for work purposes is now just that - no longer says you should work from home if you can. We also see elite athletes allowed in various exceptions. Several additional types of venues are now allowed to open.

What this means...
  • We should have seen the end of random police stops, and road blocks, as being outside is allowed as normal now, unless a gathering of more than 6 (so the Westminster Bridge clap remains illegal).
  • You can gather with up to 6 people outside even if all from different households, and social distancing is still not a legal requirement (but please do it!). This means you can gather in someone's garden as that is outside.
  • You cannot "gather" in someone else's house, even as just 2 people not from same household, without one of the excuses/exceptions applying.
  • Employers may be asking more people to come back to offices and work, as the requirement to work from home where possible no longer exists. They still need to meet normal Health and Safety rules, but how that plays out is not as clear cut. It is quite possible that an employer could make an assessment that means temperature check, masks, and hand sanitisers is all they need, who knows.
  • There is no issue with travelling, even to Barnard Castle, as leaving home and being outside is simply allowed now. The only issue is if you travel far enough that you would have to stay overnight in a place other than your home - though simply driving over night is probably allowed.
  • This is ENGLAND ONLY which creates odd effects on the border.
It is also worth noting that whilst section 6 has a non-exhaustive list of "reasonable excuse", allowing some wiggle room (e.g. a drive to check your eye sight), section 7 does not. The allowed reasons for a gathering are a complete list, meaning no wiggle room.
Is it sensible? Maybe, from what I have been reading (on the Internet) the risk of transmission is way lower outside, the fresh air, wind, UV light, and more space, all helping reduce transmission risk. So the restrictions being on "inside" does make more sense, so maybe we have more sane rules at last. We'll have to see.

2020-05-20

Case study: Payments and trust (Monzo)

Credit (and debit) cards are immensely useful, and I am even more appreciative of them after the fiasco with a holiday refund. Amex were great.

But there is always a balance of trust with customer and supplier, and a range of ways to manage that. Cards provide a good means to handle suppliers that fail. Direct Debits also offer some high level of bias towards the customer, which is very important because of how easy it is to collect payments. This ability to claim for a mistake helps ensure Direct Debits are rarely used for fraud.

For the most part, whichever type of payment is used, where supplier and customer are both honest, all goes well. Sadly when one or the other is not so honest, or even something unexpected, like a global pandemic, happens, the way you pay for things matters.

But some times, as a supplier, you want a reliable payment that you know cannot be clawed back or reversed. This is, of course, a huge bias towards the supplier, and away from the customer, but it is also rather "traditional" in that cash payment was always irreversible.

Bank transfers via BACS, or fast payments, provide this - they are like cash, and generally impossible to reverse as the person paying. Obviously the person paid can send money back if they want. They do create an audit trail, you know where the money went (unlike cash), which helps with any possible fraud.

As a business we do a lot with Direct Debits. This puts a lot of control in the hands of the customer who can make a DD guarantee claim at any time, and we would have to reimburse the bank. Thankfully this is rare, but it does allow some opportunity for fraud by a rogue customer using someone else's bank details. This is one reason why suppliers are expected to check the bank details of new DD instructions where they can. That is not so easy.

Thankfully Monzo have opened up an interesting new option for us - a deposit by fast payment!

We have started asking for a deposit, for new accounts, optionally, for some services (VoIP and L2TP). Just £10 paid by bank transfer as part of the order process. We see it instantly, and it provides the bank details for setting up the Direct Debit for on-going payment.

We have even set it up so that we will automatically send the money back in a few days if the order does not go through.

Whilst we face very little fraud, we have found some services, like VoIP, have had issues. Providing the service instantly, even in the middle of the night, means that false/fraudulent details do not show up for a couple of days, or much longer. Until now we have actually blocked some types of out-of-hours VoIP orders because of this, which is not ideal.

Taking payment by card would be an option, but that too is rather biased to the card holder, and does not allow us to validate bank details for Direct Debit. We have had cases of card fraud too.

The deposit is optional, but we are making it so that the order can go ahead instantly if you make a deposit. At the end of the day this is not about the £10, it is that a scammer will not want to send any money. If it is their account, those account details can go to the police if there is fraud. They are creating much more of a paper trail by sending money. Of course if they have compromised someone else's account they can send a deposit, but I am sure they have more interesting things they can send money towards than our services in such cases. I hope so.

This means we have opened up the VoIP ordering at any time of day if you pay a small deposit. Ongoing payments are then by Direct Debit, which give the customer a lot of control if we do anything wrong, but we are able to ensure we have the right bank details that match the deposit. It seems to me to be a good trade off - the trust/risk is biased to us for first £10 and then to customer ongoing by Direct Debit.

We have been running it for a few days, and in spite of it very clearly being optional, so far, every new customer has chosen to pay a deposit - which is really great news. Apart from one test we ran to ensure we do auto-refund, nobody has given up on an order after paying a deposit, either.

It is a very different approach to taking credit cards, which is so common these days, and I think it is working well. And it is all down to Monzo providing the instant feedback for us via a web hook for the incoming payment.

If someone does not want to pay a deposit, that is fine, but it means accounts staff checking the order during office hours, and adds a small delay. So it is a choice people can make if they want, either way.

I am really pleased that Monzo have meant this is now possible. It is a shame the major existing banks did not think it worth while providing this level of control and information to their customers really. Well done Monzo!

P.S. Sales pitch - if you are a business and need this type of integration, we know people that can help you (some A&A customers we work with).

2020-05-16

Holiday refund

Like many, in those heady care-free days of 2019, I booked a holiday, and now it is not happening.

If you are stuck without a refund for your cancelled holiday, do keep reading for some of the options I explain below.

The amount does not really matter - for anyone booking a major holiday, whether a few hundred pounds, thousands, or tens of thousands, it will be a lot to them. That is how we all work. There is a BBC article about a school holiday firm not refunding people - it seems to be happening a lot. In my case, having had debt in my life in the past, I try to make a rule of not spending money I don't have. Sadly, this holiday was for my family (those that can sensibly go on a cruise) and co-ordinating a cruise they all were happy to go on, with dates they could all go, for 7 people, was not easy. So when I managed it I snapped it up, extending my mortgage to pay for it. If I had any inkling about 2020 I would not have done that, obviously. So, in short, like everyone else stuck with an intransigent holiday firm right now, this is a lot of money to me.

When the "lockdown" started we had no idea how long it would last. The cruise was planned for June, and my grandson is so looking forward to it - I even made him a countdown clock he has by his bed with days, hours, minutes, seconds to the cruise on it. We sort of hoped it would still be on, but understandably we were concerned at going on a cruise due to the close quarters of so many people.

NCL had cancelled some cruise, but not ours. Then they launched a Peace of Mind scheme. This allows you to cancel up to 48 hours before sailing for a credit of what you paid against a future cruise by 2022. This is great deal compared to their normal cancellation policy/terms. I can see a lot of people going for this, especially with the perceived dangers of being on a cruise.

But this was, itself, a bit cunning. It means that lots of people leave their money with NCL, voluntarily, rather than getting a refund. Well played NCL.

I did consider it, but sadly it makes no sense for me. The effort of organising 7 people and a date and the right cabin was hard enough - I have been trying for years. The chance of that cabin coming up at all is slim, and it being on a suitable date to a suitable destination is pretty much zero. The time limit means that even if I found other suitable cruises, we would end up wasting some of the money. So no, I decided to wait. That said, I was getting concerned in case NCL waited until the last minute to cancel.

Finally, on 24th April, they cancelled the cruise. This was, in many ways a relief. Given the financial uncertainty facing us all, I would rather put the money back on my mortgage than spend it on a cruise. Also, I was uncertain a cruise was a good idea at all at the moment. So, yes, phew, I could get my refund.

However, the wording of the NCL notice cancelling the cruise was odd. It said they would give me a "refund" by way of a cruise credit and 25% bonus, and that if I wanted the "lesser refund" of just what I paid, I could fill in a form (not yet available) and wait 90 days. Well, no, the terms are crystal clear and have no ambiguity at all - they have to refund me within 14 days, simple as that. Obviously I could choose to agree alternatives, but if not, it is refund. In light of the wording I contacted them, on Twitter, and Facebook (and once I found the email address) by email.

I got a ticket reply saying they would answer in 48 hours. But nothing, not for 5 days, and then only confirming their idea of a cruise credit or refund in 90 days.

A few days later my NCL account page showed a cruise credit, but even with a 25% bonus it was around half of what I had paid, and expired next March. That is not a good deal!

This got silly with various exchanges, with them continuing to refuse to acknowledge their own contract terms.


Then they posted that "Terms and conditions are subject to change". I was fuming! Nothing in their contract allows them to change terms like this.

Obviously a change to the contract like this would not normally be legal. Even if their terms allowed such changes that would probably fall foul of consumer protection legislation. The Competition and Markets Authority are also looking in to this. This makes it clear that refunds should always be a clear option and paid in a timely manor.

They backed down a bit, saying the terms at the time I booked do apply, but still refusing to acknowledge that they have to refund me in 14 days. They really went in to "head in sand mode"...

Am I being reasonable? Are they?

One thing to get out of the way is the question of whether I am being unreasonable. After all, these are somewhat unprecedented times.

If you have ever been on a cruise (not just NCL) you will know how petty they can be - even an "all inclusive" cruise, sold using those exact words, will find you able to drink as much whisky or wine as you like, but paying $5 for a bottle of water or a coffee. It is unbelievable, and takes a lot of getting used to.

All I am asking is the they do what they agreed, nothing more, and this is what they agreed in the case of "circumstances beyond our control" such as "epidemic". This was not something they did not foresee in their contract. Given how petty they are I feel entirely justified is simply asking that they do what they agreed, nothing more, nothing special. And I fully endorse that they are offering a range of alternatives for those that want them, including bonus credits and discount holidays. Well done.

But one has to think of the bigger picture. If everyone expected them to do what they agreed (something we used to call "normal" for contracts), they would go bust, wouldn't they? Well maybe, but they are offering attractive alternatives, and if many take those, they have it covered, one would hope.

One argument is that holiday companies are having to wait for refunds from their suppliers, and hence unreasonable to expect them to pay up as per their terms. This is not a good argument, as it basically means a short term cash flow issue for a business, which is exactly what a loan is for. The government are even backing business loans for just this sort of reason. It is not fair to expect consumers to lend money, interest free, without any choice in the matter. In my case it is literally costing me interest!

So, basically: if they had asked to borrow my money; if there was clear protection in case they go bust; and if they were paying competitive interest on the loan; then maybe I would consider it reasonable. Otherwise, no, sorry, even in these circumstances (especially in these circumstances) I do not think they are being reasonable.

What are my options

There are some options, and this is perhaps where this blog post will be helpful to others in the same situation.

Waiting / taking up their offer

One option is to accept what they say, agree new terms waiting 90 days for a refund, or accepting the cruise credit. As I say, a cruise credit is unlikely to be something I could use in the time limit, but my main concern is whether they go bust, and if they do, it is unlikely I will ever see my money from them. So no thanks.

Dispute/chargeback

This is a useful one if you pay by card, as the card schemes all have a dispute/chargeback process. Basically it allows you to dispute a charge and if agreed, to get the money back.

The only issue is that it can take a couple of months, it seems. I also get the feeling it is reliant on the card company getting the money back, so if the company goes bust before the dispute is resolved, it may not work.

When I got the message about terms changing, even though several days to go before the 14 days were up, I took that as them saying they would not honour the contract, so I put in a dispute on Amex - why not?

Holiday Insurance

Holiday insurance may be an option. It has possible issues, and this is one for the lawyers to comment on I am sure. I bet every insurance company has a team of people making sure they know exactly where they stand.

One possible issue I have heard, and cannot be sure of, is what happens if I pay for someone else to go on holiday. Does my insurance cover that, after all, if they don't get the holiday I have not lost out. Does their insurance? After all, they have not lost money. In my case this was a holiday for 7 people - would I only get my share back from my holiday insurance?

I also don't know what happens if you accept a cruise credit instead - you have not lost out then, so does insurance cover it. If they later go bust, it is the credit, not a holiday that you have lost. I have no idea if that is covered.

I also hear that some insurers no longer cover COVID-19 issues for holidays booked after a certain date (mine was well before).

It remained an option for me if all else fails. 

Consumer credit act

This is a biggie - if you pay by credit card you have extra protection, as the card company end up jointly liable with the supplier for providing the goods and services. Liable for the whole lot even if you only pay part (e.g. a deposit) on a credit card. And this liability is on the card company even if the supplier goes bust. So long term this is a massive consumer protection for you.

Obviously it could take time, which is no help if you need the money now, and sadly it does have an upper limit, which won't be an issue for most people.

What I don't know if whether accepting a cruise credit would remove this option - one for the lawyers to comment on.

County court

This is always an option when someone breaks a contract, and the Money Claim Online web site makes it quite easy. It costs a bit, but that is added to the claim.
  • In a perfect case, you issue a claim and the defendant coughs up. This happens a lot when the defendant is simply in the wrong, and they know it, like NCL do.
  • In a slightly less perfect case you issue a claim and they ignore it. Two weeks later you get judgement by default (one click on the web site) which takes a day or so. At that point you can pay for bailiffs to go round and collect money or goods. NCL have a Southampton office, or maybe the bailiffs could find an NCL ship in a UK port :-)
  • Sadly if they do put in a defence, no matter how daft, it goes to a hearing, which takes time. It probably takes a lot more time in "lockdown" as well.
Given my options, and the time the Amex dispute could take, this was a real consideration. I even sent a formal "notice before action" after I had waited 7 days to allow me this option (you have to do that before you take someone to court giving them time to pay up instead).

Statutory demand

One option I had forgotten, and was suggested on twitter, was a Statutory demand.

The principle is simple, any company that cannot pay its debts as they become due has to be wound up. If you are owed more than £750 you can serve a Statutory Demand for the money. They get a few weeks to pay, and if not, then you have to go to court and get a winding up order, forcing the company in to liquidation.

This is tricky, if they don't pay you wind them up (which costs money) and may not see any money. The idea is that no company ignores a Statutory Demand, and would rather pay what, for them, is a relatively small sum than be forced in to liquidation.

One issue is that NCL (Bahamas) Ltd is a UK establishment of a foreign company. Given a UK office, I may be wrong, but I am reasonably sure I could take them to court and even send bailiffs - I have no idea if it is possible to actually wind up such a thing.

So I decided to basically rule this out, especially as I have never done one before.

What happened

Amex are stars! What can I say!

I put in the dispute on the web site - it is simple - find the transaction, answer a couple of questions and put in a one line description. I did that.

The next day, I got around to making up a PDF with screen shots of the terms, and discussions to prove I had tried to resolve it and that the cruise was cancelled, etc. This is to upload on to the dispute.

But I could not find the dispute, it was not there. I checked "closed" disputes, and there it was. I was about to get cross at them rejecting my dispute, but clicked on it to see :-


Wow, just wow, this was in under 24 hours. I had not even loaded my "evidence" yet. What can I say. A couple of days later it shows on my Amex app. A quick message to Amex, and the credit is being sent to my bank.

I really have to thank Amex for making that such a quick and easy option. I am really impressed with their customer service. This was causing a lot of stress for me, and is such a weight off my mind now.

Two weeks later, NCL still show the cruise credits and no indication of the chargeback, they even called me trying to get me to book more cruises with my cruise credits, and they really did not understand the whole concept of being in breach of contract. Crazy. It may be some time before we remotely consider a cruise, let alone with NCL.

2020-05-06

Cycle lane logic?

There are number of separated cycle path / footpaths on the estate where I live, and I use these a lot, both walking and cycling. As a cyclist I always notice the people walking on the wrong side :-)

However, I wondered if there was any logic to the way the sides are chosen. So I decided, on my walk this morning, to take a few pictures and see if there was indeed any logic to it.

I am not sure there is.

The first one is off the main road outside the estate, so at that end there is no preference for which side would be better as a cycle lane. However, at the other end (2nd image) one side goes on to the footpath and the other on to the road. It makes sense that the side that goes on to the footpath is the footpath, and so it is, very logical.


The next one is not so obvious. On one end, one side goes on to the footpath straight on, and the other at right angles. However, on the other end (2nd picture) one side has no footpath, so makes sense to be the cycle lane, as shown. Not that daft.


The next one is much more obvious. As you see on the approach (1st picture) the foot path continues in to the cycle path and serves several houses, so pretty much has to be the footpath side. The other end is just on to the road, so no preference. Good choice.


This final one does annoy me when cycling. At one end (1st picture) it is just on to the road, but at the other end (2nd picture) the left side has no path, it goes on to the road, yet they have chosen to make the cycle path the other side, with a give way. OK, they would have had to put the pole the other side, but that is the sign saying which side is which.


So maybe there is no logic at all and it is just random, who knows.

2020-05-02

JSON all the things

I have a feeling that industry is moving away from XML and towards JSON...

Just a feeling, but even HMRC, who used to used XML for VAT and do for RTI, have moved to JSON for MTD (VAT).

Fundamentally XML is too complicated - especially with name spaces. The options in XSD (which is the common way to define what is valid in an XML file) is also a bit of a mess - defining the order of the XML objects even, which is a pain if you ever work with any XML. JSON does not expect values in an object to be in any order (just in an array).

JSON is simpler in many ways, but there are differences. The type of a simple value can be more than just text (as you have in XML), it can be null, boolean, number, or text. Javascript tents to just convert between things seamlessly in most cases. It does get to be fun in arrays where each value can be a different type, even an object or array itself.

JSON also makes it a lot easier to create and process using languages like Javascript, obviously.

As it happens, at A&A, we have been working on new APIs for our control systems (more on that another day), and these are all JSON based too. But this week I have started on some work on the accounts system.

I now have JSON for documents, i.e. invoices. We currently allow customers to access invoices in XML, PDF, Plain text, and HTML, and as of now also JSON. You can ask for a JSON attachment to be automatically included in your invoice emails if you wish - digitally signed, obviously.

Whilst we have loads of work behind the scenes improving the way the accounts work, this JSON interface should be pretty stable now.

2020-04-23

Be reasonable

Update: New rules 13th May change the examples that are reasonable.

This is a blog about a little bit off the way laws are drafted. I am not an expert on legal drafting, and not a lawyer - however, laws are meant to be understood - as a member of the public I should be able to work out if something I am about to do is legal or not, even if that means I need a bit of help to understand the way laws are written. I'd be delighted in any feedback from those that are experts.

I'm picking, topically, on section 6 of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 as amended. In particular, it basically says, in 6(1) that you need a reasonable excuse to leave home.

So that gives us a test - is my excuse a reasonable excuse or not. If that is all it said, it would be somewhat open to interpretation, and my view could be very different to yours. This is an issue where one party is a policeman and disagrees on what is and is not reasonable.

Of course, I would hope, being public health legislation, not public order, that any excuse that does not pose a public health risk should be considered reasonable. It is shame there is not paragraph clarifying the basis of a reasonableness test. Surely taking your household for a drive to a secluded spot for a picnic should be reasonable, clearly, as not a health risk as you do not interact with anyone. Even more reasonable if you ensure well serviced car, enough fuel, and driving carefully. Sadly this is not so simple, and we know the police are quite clear on that not being reasonable, so we need clues. We need to know how to apply this reasonableness test.

6(2) of the regulations helps, it defines reasonable as including... and a list of things. The use of the word "including" here is very important as it means it is a non-exhaustive list. It means some thing may be reasonable but not on the list. Sadly it gives no real idea how to tell if things not listed are or are not reasonable. So, for example, I would consider feeding a horse reasonable, but that probably comes under 6(2)(h) as a legal obligation under animal welfare laws.

This is where a computer programmer and a lawyer would diverge somewhat. To a computer programmer the rules in 6(2) are simple tests - if you pass any then you are reasonable. If not then there is an implicit final "generally reasonable" test, but the wording of the tests in 6(2) would not have any bearing on that "generally reasonable" test.

However, the wording does matter. The items in 6(2) are not simply positive things. They do not say "this is reasonable" and "that is reasonable", no, they say "this is reasonable except in this case", and "that is reasonable, if another thing applies".

This is quite clever in a way as it uses examples to couch the boundaries of the test, to say what goes in and what goes out - where the line is drawn.

So, for example, 6(2)(ga) to visit a burial ground or garden of remembrance, to pay respects to a member of the person’s household, a family member or friend; says visiting a burial ground is reasonable, but only in some cases. It has caveats, and they matter. It is was just that visiting a burial ground was reasonable the clause would not go on to say member of the person’s household, a family member or friend at all, so this means that visiting someone you don't know is not in fact reasonable.

So even though 6(2) is a non exhaustive list, using "includes", every restriction or caveat in the clauses in 6(2) effectively define the edge - line beyond which something is not reasonable, for those things that are listed.

Looking at 6(2)(b) to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household; the caveat is either alone or with other members of their household matters, and so exercise with someone else is not reasonable. As I say, as a computer programmer it would be different - exercise with someone else would simply fail 6(2)(b) but a "generally reasonable" test would not consider why it failed 6(2)(b), or that 6(2) has a test relating to exercise in it with caveats. However in English, those caveats start to matter as we list "exercise" and they say where the line is drawn. Exercise itself is not something not listed, and so possibly also included, because 6(2)(b) does cover exercise.

Looking at 6(2)(f) to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living; seems to clearly relate to doing work (or volunteering, etc) but it has a caveat of not being possible to do it from where you are living. Again, the clause covers working, so you would not consider it reasonable to go out to work when you can do it at home - even if that is not a public health issue.

Of course, the use of "includes" does allow for something completely different to be reasonable and not be in the list. Ideally something that is obvious to all that it is clearly reasonable. But anything that is in the list with deliberate constraints clearly defines the boundary and implied directly what is beyond that boundary and hence not reasonable.

Sadly, 6(2)(f) also has the caveat "to travel", which directly implies that outside of that caveat, working away from home at all is not a reasonable excuse.

Sadly, on that last point, as 6(1) now needs an excuse to simply be outside, it suggests doing work that is not travelling for work, outside your home, is no longer reasonable.

Oddly even 6(2)(k) in the case of a minister of religion or worship leader, to go to their place of worship; is a problem as such a minster can go to their place of worship, but then no longer has a reasonable excuse to be there, or even to travel back home!

Some clauses just muddy the water, like 6(2)(l) to move house where reasonably necessary; effectively defining reasonable excuse as a thing that you need to do because is reasonably necessary! That is not helpful...

P.S. Stay home!

2020-04-22

Going to work?

Update: Fixed on 13th May

Drafting legislation is obviously a complex issue, and needs a lot of work.

As we have seen, the regulations for COVID-19 are badly drafted, with many things people consider "loopholes". The original legislation was, after all, done in a rush.

Thankfully the civil servants have has several weeks now to carefully draft some amendments to fix some of the issues, so these should be really good now, obviously.

Some issues:-
  • Previously you could leave home for one reason but then did not have to have a reason for being "outside". I.e. you could leave for exercise and then decide to go and have a picnic. As long as not a gathering of more than 2 people not from the same household in a public place, that was legal, even if the police said it was not and fined people.
  • Previously if you have a party at your home with lots of friends, it was clearly a gathering, but not in a public place, so you (at home) were not breaking the law. Any of your friends that left where they live with reasonable excuse and then decided to come to your party would also not be breaking the law. Even so, police would break up parties and fine people.
  • Previously if you left home for exercise, went to the park, you could sit on the bench for a while, even have lunch. What mattered is why you left home.
The changes at 11am today address some of these, and are listed here.

They fixed interesting things like in paragraph (1)(b), for “over the age of 18” substitute “aged 18 or over”; and in sub-paragraph (i)(iii), for “Department of Work” substitute “Department for Work”.

But one of the changes is this :-

(4) In regulation 6—
(a)in paragraph (1), after “leave” insert “or be outside of”;


This means that it now reads :-

6.—(1) During the emergency period, no person may leave or be outside of the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.
This covers a lot of previous loopholes. Now you no longer just need an excuse to leave where you live, but to be outside (yes, your garden is still counted as inside your home for this). So the picnic is not longer valid, and neither is the house party (not because a gathering, but because the people there have no reasonable excuse for being outside their own home). Sadly it may also mean the rest during a long walk is a problem. I am actually a tad surprised that "returning home" is not in itself a reasonable excuse.

However, what concerns me is that they did not update the actual list of reasonable excuses having now changed the context.

Notably the reasonable excuse: (f) to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living;

Now, previously, it was OK to leave home to "travel for the purposes of work" (if you could not do that work at home), and, having left home with reasonable excuse, you could, well, do the work!

Yes, the list is not exhaustive, but given how the police seem happy to fine people when they were covered by the list it is tricky doing anything not on the explicit list. Arguably the specificity of the use of the word "travelling" for work in the list highlights anything other than travelling as not being "reasonable". A simple fix would be to remove the "to travel" part, so "for purposes of work" (where you can't do it from home) would be covered, including any travelling.

But the excuses don't list actually "doing work", or "being at your office", or anything that is not actually "travelling". And this reasonable excuse has to cover not just leaving your home, but being outside your home.

So now it seems they have plugged the loophole allowing a picnic, but made supermarket workers illegal sat at their tills. Indeed, if you are an MP sat in parliament right now, which of the reasonable excuses do you have for not being at home?

Really? This is the competence level of our current parliament?