Couples must register their partnerships to gain the new rights
BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday, 3 April, 2004, at 1204 BST.
The programme was repeated on Sunday, 4 April, 2004, at 2102 BST.
Gay and lesbian couples will have the opportunity to secure similar legal rights to married couples under the new Civil Partnership Bill.
After registering their partnership at a civil ceremony, the couples will gain a range of new rights and responsibilities, including the same tax treatment as married couples, social security and pension benefits; and full life assurance recognition.
To discuss the bill, we were joined by Equality Minister Jacqui Smith, Money Box listener Ron Strank, Louis Letourneau from Isis Financial Planners Ltd; and Nigel Shepherd, Head of Family Law at Addleshaw Goddard.
Post Office loans
Customers at Post Offices across the UK can now apply for personal loans of up to £25,000, following its launch of a range of new financial products.
Over the next 18 months the Post Office also plans to offer motor insurance, a credit card and savings account, as a result of its venture with the Bank of Ireland.
Mike Johnson reported on the strategy behind the plans, and asked if the products would be a good deal for consumers.
New bankruptcy rules
People who apply for bankruptcy can now be discharged after 12 months, following changes to the Enterprise Act, which took effect on Thursday.
Other changes to the law include the introduction of restriction orders on dishonest, reckless or blameworthy individuals of up to 15 years; and creditors will now have no legal claim on a bankrupt person's home after three years.
With this relaxation in the rules, will we see a rush of applications for insolvency? We were joined by Nick Hood of insolvency practitioners Begbies Traynor to discuss the Act and its implications.
Second home council tax rise
People who own more than one property are facing a big rise in the council tax they pay for their second home.
Until now, these unoccupied residences have enjoyed a 50% reduction on the tax, but from now on local authorities will be able to charge up to 90% of the standard rate.
We were joined by Money Box listener Neil Towers who rents a flat in Norwich - where he works - and also owns a home in London.
We also spoke to Norwich City Council Deputy Leader Hereward Cooke, and the BBC's Local Government Correspondent John Andrew.
House price surge gathers pace
Property prices jumped 2.2% in March, according to the UK's biggest mortgage lender, the Halifax.
Producer: Jennifer Clarke
Presenter: Paul Lewis
Reporter: Mike Johnson
Web Producer: Nathalie Knowles