News round-up – the best of the week’s stories

January 23rd, 2015 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

best of bitterwallet 300x300 News round up – the best of the week’s storiesBitterwallet’s Best of the Week

Child invoiced for not going to a birthday party (read the comments) bw/toddlerbill
Is Amazon really the cheapest place to buy stuff? bw/cheapest
Traffic warden gives ticket to wheelie bin bw/rubbish
Three to buy O2 for LOADSAMONEY? bw/takeover
EE customers to be given £1 million bw/refund
Great Newcastle Brown Ale adverts! bw/superbroon
Who are the worst energy companies? And the best? bw/NRG

Best of the Rest

Wetherspoons slag off EVERYONE. thisismoney/booze
Facebook to go after fake news sites herald/gossipmonger
One million switched banks in 2014 full-timewhistle/switch
Mike Ashley sells Sports Direct stake insidermedia/toon
Google are going into space! telegraph/thegreatunknown
Motorist speeds down motorway with window covered in snow mail/snowjoke

Have a lovely weekend

ready meals 500x373 News round up – the best of the week’s stories

British high street 300x180 Cheap stuff helps the High Street have best Christmas in yearsPeople really went for it shopping-wise in December, according to new results from The Office for National Statistics.

The decline in prices due to supermarkets being at war with each other and snip-some petrol, helped retail achieve its strongest sales in over a decade

Prices in stores fell 2.2% in December compared to a year earlier, the biggest drop since June 2002.

The data is slightly wonky due to figures from 2013′s Black Friday being added to that December’s figures, whereas in 2014, the Friday was accounted for as part of November’s figures.

But it’s all quite promising, as the ONS said overall sales jumped 5% in the three months to December on the same period last year – the biggest increase since 2004, and was far better than them economists had predicted. The supermarket prices fell 0.9% in December, which reflect the price war, but also the general price of living in late 2014, with multiple discounting across the board.

However it’s not all jolliness for retail, as department stores suffered most from the impact of Black Friday with online sales falling year on year for the first time since records began at the start of 2008, and month-on-month volumes fell by 4.5%, the worst decline since January 1996.

Ian Geddes, UK head of retail at advisory group Deloitte, said: “This was a good Christmas with some strong performances, but it seems the real winner was the consumer. Intense competition and deep discounting both before and after Christmas drove sales but will have hit profits hard.”

“When Black Friday comes next year many retailers will think very carefully about how to maximise the unquestionable customer demand while taking into account how it impacted profitability and trading through the Christmas period.”

tax 215x300 Coalitions tax and benefit changes cost us all £489 a yearAlthough it’s only January, all the political parties are upping their efforts with a view on the general election in a few short months’ time. Of course, part of the election campaign is to impress upon the electorate how much better any given party is than all the others, so what the coalition needs like a hole in the head is a national thinktank providing economic evidence of how much worse off the average UK household is as a result of the coalition’s changes to taxes and benefits. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, it’s a fairly sizeable £489 a year.

Of course, that is an average figure, and depending on your personal circumstances, you may have lost more than this, or ended up better off. However, the IFS has also identified broad groups who are likely to have been winners or losers under the coalition regime.

It may come as a surprise to a few, but low-income working-age households have been hit hardest, losing the most under the coalition as a percentage of their income. Also losing out are families with children, who fall within the lowest 10% of earners, who lost £1,223 on average. However, the richest 10% of households also lost £5,350 a year.

So where are the Tories and Lib Dems going to get their votes from? Middle and higher-income households of working age have escaped “remarkably unscathed” from the government’s austerity measures. Those falling into this bracket who don’t own children have actually gained financially from the changes, largely due to increases in the threshold for paying income tax, according to the IFS.

Overall, the poorest households lost around 4% of their incomes, followed closely behind by the next poorest tenth, losing around 3.5% of their income. The richest suffered a loss of 2.5%, a percentage that falls to zero for middle-income households.

Pensioners were “relatively unaffected” on average, as the “triple lock” on the state pension, whichmeant they have been relatively better protected against the economic downturn than those employed, was largely offset by a hike in VAT.

The hardest-hit region was greater London, where households lost an average £1,042, followed by south east England, the West Midlands and north west England.

James Browne, a senior research economist at IFS and co-author of the report said: “Whichever way you cut it, low-income households with children and the very richest households have lost out significantly from the changes as a percentage of their incomes.

“Increases in the tax-free personal allowance have played an important role in protecting middle-income working-age households meaning that those without children have actually gained overall.”

Royal Mail struggling despite strong Christmas

January 23rd, 2015 1 Comment By Ian Wade

Royal Mail Royal Mail struggling despite strong ChristmasPoor old privatised Royal Mail are still having a bit of a struggle, despite the company seeing a 4% increase, and partially benefiting from the collapse of City Link, over the Christmas period.

Royal Mail’s CEO Moya Greene said she has no option but to push through further cost-cutting, amid predictions that 3,000 more jobs will go across the company.

“The sad demise of City Link demonstrates what we have been saying – the UK parcels market remains highly competitive, with significant over-capacity,”

“These conditions – of too many players chasing traffic – will continue to put pressure on prices for the next couple of years. We firmly believe the long-term prospects for the delivery sector remain positive, underpinned as it is by the continued growth in e-retailing,”

Royal Mail managed to deliver over 120 million parcels during Christmas – some even in time for the big day! – a rise of 4% over last year. Its shares rose by 4% on Thursday after it predicted full-year profits would be in line with expectations.

However, despite the rise in the share price, they’ve still lost more than a quarter of its value since the £3.3bn stock market flotation 18 months ago.

Greene reckoned her postmen and women provided an excellent service over the festive period: “This is because we started to plan for Christmas in April, putting investment behind extra sorting capacity with 10 temporary hubs and training around 19,000 extra people.”

The Royal Mail has shed nearly 50,000 positions in the last decade, and another 3,000 are teetering on the brink in 2015.

Npower cut prices, but everyone still hates them

January 23rd, 2015 1 Comment By Mof Gimmers

article 1725351 07264249000005DC 817 468x286 300x183 Npower cut prices, but everyone still hates themA number of energy companies are reducing their prices, and now Npower, after everyone told them that their customer service was beyond woeful, is going to cut their standard gas tariff in the UK by an average of 5.1% from 16th February.

In plain language, you’re going to save around £35 a year if you’re one of their customers.

Thus far, this is the biggest cut announced by a supplier after wholesale prices fell by 20%, which also saw E.On and Scottish Power dropping your bills.

After steady price hikes for years, all of these companies could’ve dropped their prices by greater amounts, but we’ll all have to take what we can get from this absolute shower.

“If there are further falls in wholesale prices, we will keep these under review to see if we can cut further,” prattled Npower chief executive Paul Massara.

Of course you will Npower. We’ve got every faith in you to do the right thing for customers. Either way,

Deals of the Day: Friday 23rd January 2015

January 23rd, 2015 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

deals of the day 300x162 Deals of the Day: Friday 23rd January 2015Can’t be bothered cooking stuff from scratch on the weekend, but want something a bit more suave than an order from a takeaway? Don’t fret. We’ve got just the deal for you  where your belly will be full and you’ll get a bit drunk as well.

Marks & Spencer are doing their Dine In For Two offer again, where you get a main course, side and dessert for £10… and free wine! The offer is on until the 27th January, so don’t muck about and get on it. Have a look here.

EVEN MORE DEALS!

First Direct lifetime tracker mortgage 65% LTV 1.29% plus base = 1.79%
Kingston 64GB Micro SD Card for £19.99
Gigabyte Radeon R9 285 Windforce 2X OC with 3 free games for £149.99
Return Miami flight with Virgin Atlantic for £385.66
Huawei Ascend Y550 1.2 GHZ Quad Core 4G smartphone – unlocked from EE half-price at £35
Medion Akova laptop for £239
Google Play giftcard £50 - £41.70 with code
Samsung 3D smart TV with a two pairs of 3D glasses for £529
Lenovo tablet 8 16GB for £99.99

FOR ALL THE BARGAINS YOU COULD EVER WANT, GO TO HUKD!

Facebook cited in a third of divorce cases

January 23rd, 2015 No Comments By Ian Wade

Bitterwallet Facebook censorship Facebook cited in a third of divorce casesFacebook has been cited in a third of divorce cases, according to a law firm’s survey.

Thankfully no one is actually cheating on their partner WITH Facebook, because that would be psychologically troubling.

Leeds law firm Lake Legal said that 66 out of 200 divorce cases they examined, had Facebook mentioned in not too wondrous tones. The main cause of grievances was when partners use the site to track down and befriend ex-shags, or been a bit odd with the truth, with various mutual friends pointing out any posts that they’ve seen from one party that excluded the other.

That’s basic social media etiquette, really. Whatever you do, don’t tell anyone. Least not your online presence. Honestly, there’s no helping some people.

Lake Legal’s managing partner, Lyn Ayrton said: “Social media provides an ongoing log of our lives. The sharing of written posts and pictures, often with geo-tagging, provides a record of activities that can be used in a court case.”

“Social media provides an ongoing log of our lives. The sharing of written posts and pictures, often with geo-tagging, provides a record of activities that can be used in a court case.”

“Often, if a partner refers to an impending bonus, a new job offer, or plans for a holiday, it may provide evidence that they are not telling the truth about their financial position. At the very least, it could call their credibility into question. It’s like having a massive public noticeboard.”

“Somebody said she was not in a relationship with anybody new but then posted a message inviting everybody to a housewarming party for her and her boyfriend.”

Well, they deserved everything they got, there…

Argos in racist doll fracas

January 23rd, 2015 5 Comments By Ian Wade

Argos have found themselves in a row. A RACE row about dolls. So they have.

The original click and collect front, have a white doll priced £10 more than their black and Asian offerings.

The white ‘Maria’ doll, made by French company Corolle Calin, is being sold on the Argos website for £34.99, while Asian and black dolls ‘Yang’ and ‘Naima’ are for sale for £24.99.

‘Yang’.

All the dolls are, like, the same and beautiful inside and of the same dimensions and on the manufacturer’s website all three are sold at the same price of £23.

A mum of three named Lisa O’Reilly from Lincs reckoned: “It’s unacceptable for children to think white is better or more desirable. It’s wrong for our youngsters to grow up thinking non-white skin colours are worth less.”

“There’s enough prejudice in the world already without battling against racist toys.”

Argos blamed it handily on a genuine pricing error and said it was urgently rectifying the problem. Why, even a spokesman chipped in with “[We] can confirm all three dolls will be priced at £24.99″.

So that’s alright then. Nothing like checking these things BEFORE they’re uploaded, eh.

cigarette packets 300x211 Manky lunged fag packets not denting smoking enoughAhead of similar moves over here in the UK, it looks like the whole ‘shoving cigarettes into distressing or plain black packaging’ thing seems to be working in Australia.

The British government looks set to vote on legislation at the next general election.

Australia have had the move in place since 2012, yet there’s been some disagreement as to whether it has made a blind bit of difference.

Australian smokers have been used to buying their snouts in plain packets for a couple of years now, with its depictions of rotted teeth and mank-lung, and so naturally the antis are saying “Hurrah!” and the tobacco industry are saying “Pffft”.

Figures from Australia’s Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Health show that by just about all measures cigarette smoking has decreased since plain packaging was introduced.

It also says that expenditure on tobacco products fell by more than A$100m (£53m, $80m) between December 2012 and March 2014. The figures for the first quarter of 2014 were the lowest ever recorded.

And there’s research that shows a considerable increase in the number of people calling quit-smoking advice lines. The cigarette companies are starting to see a decrease in sales, with Imperial Tobacco claiming the market has declined by 2-3%. Some suggest that this means smokers are fleeing to hooky suppliers with imported fags made up of barbed wire and sawdust. And with the average price for 20 fags in Australia being £12, who can blame them.

It is fair to say that the decline in smoking rates seems relatively small. But anti-smoking researchers say they were never expecting a huge drop-off, and that the plain packaging ruse was more about deterring new smokers from taking up the habit.

So ultimately, if it’s hardly having much affect in Australia, will it really win people over here?

national minimum wage 300x199 More trouble with Pensioner Bonds  NS&I website is taking money willy nillyThese NS&I Pensioner bonds are proving more trouble than they’re worth-almost- with yet more reports of people with spare cash being unable to bung it into the new Government-supported market leading savings bond. Now, however, in addition to people not being able to get on to the website or through to the phonelines, it seems NS&I are taking investors’ money more than once, leaving people tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket, and unsure as to whether they have even invested.

The problems seem to stem from the fact that the NS&I website has been creaking under the weight of the increased traffic from wealthy pensioners. When the website crashes, or applications ‘time out’owing to lack of server space, it seems neither the customer nor NS&I  are sure whether applications and payments that are in-progress  actually go through or not. One investor from Chichester believed her repeated attempts to open one bond with the maximum £10,000 deposit had been unsuccessful. Yet when she checked her bank account, £20,000 had been taken, twice the maximum permitted investment for one bond.

More disturbingly, NS&I told This is Money it was ‘very worried’ as it didn’t know why the second payment had been taken and is now investigating the missing money.

Another case involves a Scottish man who attempted, attempted to deposit the maximum £40,000 into the bonds last week for himself and his wife. Apparently the  website crashed a number of times during his attempts to take out the accounts and he was told his bank had refused one of the transactions. However, this proved not to be true, and NS&I has actually taken £60,000 from his account. When challenged, NS&I said it could take up to 21 days to refund the £20,000.

Other investors have complained about £10,000 investments being taken twice, or cash leaving their account, but receiving no confirmation of investment, leaving them unsure as to whether they have invested or not. And if not, where has their money gone, and will they get it back in time to make a genuine investment?

While it perhaps harder to muster sympathy for someone who’s bank will allow an erroneous £20,000 transaction than for someone who doesn’t have enough money to pay their heating bill, it is still appalling that the NS&I website can be so unfit for purpose. Experts have been predicting a rush for these bonds for some months, so if there were any concerns with the website, there was time to make the system more robust in advance.

So have any Bitterwallet readers ventured into Pensioner Bonds? Did your transaction go smoothly?

Argos dole out budget tablet and mobile

January 22nd, 2015 1 Comment By Mof Gimmers

argos logo 300x230 Argos dole out budget tablet and mobileRemember Bush? No, not the fella who ran America even though, remarkably, he had less braincells than Reagan – the people who used to make tape-eating stereos? Well, they owned wholly by Argos these days and together, they’ve developed , two devices which they say are ‘budget-beating’.

Argos will sell them for just £49.99 and £79.99 and both devices will run on Android, obviously.

The cheaper model is a mobile that has a 4-inch display, 4GB of internal storage and a 5-megapixel camera. It’ll have interchangeable covers too. The more expensive device has a slightly larger 5-inch display and 8GB of internal storage.

Argos mobile phone buyer, Nick Clarke, said “The new Bush smartphone is the answer for technology beginners or digital veterans on a budget. Affordable and easy to use, people can use these phones for both their work and personal life as it holds two SIM cards, making it one of the most flexible smartphones on the market.”

There’ll also be a 4G enabled Alcatel OneTouch Pop 2 device too, selling for £99.95 and SIM-free, which also has a ‘power bank’ back-up for when your battery is running low.

In addition to all that, Bush will be selling tablets as well as mobiles, with one of them having an 8 inch screen and a slightly bigger version with a 10-inch screen. The MyTablets will also run on Android.

Things are heating up in the budget technology stakes!

Twitter Logo1 Twitter to start telling you what youve missed, like a needy show offOne of the things that made Twitter so likeable when it first came out, was how unfussy and simple it was. While other social networks were fiddly and filled with over-complicated algorithms and such, Twitter kept things tidy and basic.

Then, they started tinkering and messing about, annoying everyone in the process. And they aren’t stopping, now they’ve announced a new feature which is designed to recap tweets you might have missed while you were away from the app.

This means that, instead of just showing a chronological list of most recent tweets, the iOS app will display the top tweets since you last opened the app. Initially, this is only being rolled out on Apple devices, but it’ll be on Android in no time, that’s for sure.

Some third party apps, when you re-open Twitter, kick off where you left it, but now the official app will curate the top tweets that would have missed among the flurry of people slagging off TV shows and the like. If the feature is anything like Facebook’s algorithm-driven news feed, then there’s going to be huge amounts of people complaining about it, as Twitter has always been good for being a real-time feed, unlike Facebook’s complete mess of a timeline.

“If you check in on Twitter now and then for a quick snapshot of what’s happening, you’ll see this recap more often; if you spend a lot of time on Twitter already, you’ll see it less,” the company’s blog post said.

Jarringly, there’ll be no way to turn the feature off either.

eBay cutting a load of staff

January 22nd, 2015 No Comments By Ian Wade

ebay eBay cutting a load of staffebay are cutting a load of jobs. The forum for old toot and hooky goods is shedding 2,400 staff in the first three months of 2015.

This comes after news that they are about to split away from their long running association with PayPal.

ebay dropped the news when they were unveiling the fourth quarter earnings report and they bugled in a statement that it wanted to refocus the businesses and ensure it was “set-up to compete and win”.

The online jumble sale also said it has made an agreement with activist investor, Carl Icahn, to give investors a greater say in its PayPal business once it is spun off in the second half of this year, as eBay also announced that it was considering a sale or public offering of its enterprise unit.

Fancy that.

They must be doing something right though as the company’s share price went up this morning. How to get ahead in business – sack a load of people and sell off your financial arm.

Metro Bank expand but yet to make a profit

January 22nd, 2015 3 Comments By Ian Wade

Picture 5 Metro Bank expand but yet to make a profitMetro Bank are planning new openings.

The fuss-free so-called ‘challenger’ bank has also had nearly half a million people open accounts in the last year. On top of that, it also saw its deposits soar from £1.3bn to £2.9bn, with lending growing to £1.6bn from £754m.

Since the bank’s launch in 2010, it has opened 31 branches across the south east of the UK and now plans another 10 during 2015, including branches in Brighton, Southend and Harrow.

Metro Bank’s appeal is that it would rather focus on service rather than compete with the bigger banks in best buy charts for savings and the like. They also offer existing customers the same deals as new customers, by now kowtowing to cheap deal gimmicks. The bank’s best offering at the moment is a two-year fixed-rate cash Isa paying 1.8%, which creeps into Moneyfacts best buy deals behind the Post Office’s 1.95% rate.

Craig Donaldson, chief executive of Metro Bank, said: “2014 was another great year for Metro Bank. Throughout the year we saw substantial growth in deposits and lending, and the number of personal and business customers joining the banking revolution has continued to increase. As we start a new year, we’re excited to continue innovating and providing a real banking choice to the British people, as well as maintaining our commitment to deliver the best in service and convenience.”

Watch you don’t get hacked by WhatsApp Plus

January 22nd, 2015 2 Comments By Mof Gimmers

whatsapp Watch you dont get hacked by WhatsApp PlusHave you been using an app called WhatsApp Plus? Well, stop that at once! You see, WhatsApp have banned some users from using the app for 24 hours because it is a third party application and it violates the ‘terms of service’.

WhatsApp have asked their users to uninstall WhatsApp+ and install the authorised version of WhatsApp from official website or Google Play if they want to resume normal service. This other app isn’t related to WhatsApp, which means it has code that isn’t supported by the company and, worse still, if you get hacked and your details and photos leak, they won’t be taking any responsibility for it.

So if you’ve been sending photos of your junk to people through this third party app, you’re asking for trouble.

WhatsApp are treating the Plus app as malware and, in their FAQ section, they’ve said: “WhatsApp Plus is an application that was not developed by WhatsApp, nor is it authorised by WhatsApp. The developers of WhatsApp Plus have no relationship to WhatsApp, and we do not support WhatsApp Plus. Please be aware that WhatsApp Plus contains source code which WhatsApp cannot guarantee as safe and that your private information is potentially being passed to 3rd parties without your knowledge or authorization.”

In short – stop using it, alright? Good.