When salads aren’t the healthy option…

July 30th, 2014 1 Comment By Thewlis

tomatoes 300x225 When salads arent the healthy option...Last year we all discovered that sometimes things lurk in our food, or in some cases, replace our food entirely (Findus Lasagne anyone?) Of course, unidentifiable meat in processed products will always contain an element of risk, but you can’t get more risk-free than a salad can you? There’s nowhere for any nasties to hide. Or so you’d think. New research from the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) shows that some ‘healthy’ high street salads contain more salt than two and a half Big Macs.

CASH surveyed 650 ready-to-eat salads available for purchase from supermarkets, restaurants, cafés and fast food restaurants and found almost four out of five, 511 products,  contained more salt than a packet of crisps (0.5g/portion).

Of the eating out salads:

Pizza Express’ ‘Grand Chicken Caesar Salad’ contains an astonishing 5.3g salt/serving, the equivalent of two and a half Big Macs, which is almost a whole days’ worth of salt (6g) in just one meal.

Pizza Express’ ‘Warm Vegetable & Goats Cheese Salad’ containing 5g salt/serving – four fifths (83%) of the maximum recommended daily intake.

Wagamama’s ‘Lobster Super Salad’ contains 4.5g salt/serving – three quarters (75%) of your salt limit for the day in just one meal.

Nando’s ‘Mediterranean Salad with Chicken Breast’ sounds healthy, purely by dint of including the word ‘Mediterranean’ but still contains a whopping 4g salt/serving.

A McDonald’s ‘Crispy Chicken & Bacon Salad’ has MORE salt (1.3g vs 1.2g), fat (19g vs 8g) and calories (380kcal vs 250kcal) per portion than a McDonald’s Hamburger. Although why anyone would expect to see a vegetable in a McDonald’s anything is the bigger mystery.

Of the supermarket salads, examples of those with the largest amount of salt/serving include:

Morrisons ‘Chicken & Bacon Pasta Salad’ 2.8g salt/290g serving

Marks & Spencer ‘Chicken, Bacon & Sweetcorn Pasta Salad’ 2.58g salt/380g serving

Boots ‘Delicious Simply Tuna & Sweetcorn Pasta Salad’  2.25g salt/300g serving

John West ‘Light Lunch Moroccan Style Salmon Salad’ 2.2g salt/220g serving

CASH found that, despite what you might otherwise think, over one in ten (15%) salads would get a red (high) colour for salt, and two thirds (69%) would receive an amber (medium) colour.

Victoria Taylor, Senior Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, says: “It’s not unreasonable to think that if you pick a salad it’s going to be a healthy choice. But this survey shows in some cases what you see might not always be what you get. A colourful salad full of vegetables may look like a healthy way towards your 5-a-day but what you can’t see is the salt content which, in some cases, could amount to almost a whole day’s worth in one portion.”

Sonia Pombo, a nutritionist at CASH added her cheery two penneth, “Say the word ‘salad’ and you tend to imagine a bowl of healthy stuff nestled amongst some leaves, but…food manufacturers and restaurants continue to add unnecessary salt to the dish, which not only alters the taste and makes you feel bloated, but more seriously, can lead to high blood pressure – the main cause of strokes and heart attacks.”

If salt intake is a concern for you, or even if it’s not, CASH have developed a free app that can analyse the salt content of packaged food and suggest lower-salt alternatives. You download the Foodswitch app and use the SaltSwitch function to scan the barcode. And you might not have a heart attack.

ofgem logo1 Energy bills to fall by £12 a year – maybe Rejoice, rejoice! It looks like we’re set to save…er…£12 a year on our energy bills thanks to new Ofgem rules to cap spending on British power networks. We’re rich! Rich beyond our wildest dreams!

Ofcom has approved a £17bn upgrade for the UK’s electricity networks over the next eight years – but customers will save because the budget is lower than the energy companies have previously been allowed to spend.

£111 of our annual fuel bill is currently set aside to pay for network upgrading and maintenance. Ofgem say this will drop to £99 under the new cap.

But not everybody will save the same amount. It depends on what company runs the power network in your area. In the North West you could be getting a saving of £26, while customers in the South East might only get a piddling £5.

And also there’s no actual guarantee we’ll see this mythical £12 saving at all, as apparently private companies are quibbling with Ofgem about other aspects of the bill.

But, you know, we’ll take what we can get. Now all we have to do is find something to spend this imaginary £5-26 (or maybe £12 on). But don’t go mad at the shops, because you might not get it at all.

Ain’t life grand?

Aldi: hot on the wheels of Waitrose

July 30th, 2014 3 Comments By Ian Wade

aldi logo 252x300 Aldi: hot on the wheels of WaitroseAldi. They’ve only become the sixth biggest supermarket in the UK.

The cheery budget supermarket is edging closer to overtake Waitrose as the place to be, according to hot fresh data from Kantar.

Aldi has managed to lure more and more customers who’d previously sniffed at its very existence, as apparently record numbers of yer middle class types are switching allegiance from the likes of Tesco and Morrisons.

Latest figures show the German-owned chain rose 32.2% in the 12 weeks to 20 July, to now have 4.8% of British food shoppers clambering for wetsuits and weird-yet-cheap pickles. This is an increase from their 3.7% of last year.

Waitrose meanwhile hold firm with 4.9%.

Director at Edward Garner, whose name could almost rhyme with Kantar (if you’re a bit tipsy from Aldi’s special cheap whisky) said: ‘Aldi’s 32% growth rate has lifted its market share to 4.8%; this is a new record for the retailer and means it has nearly caught up with Waitrose.’

As for the other supermarkets, Sainsbury and Asda held on to their market share, recording growth of 1.2 per cent and 0.9 per cent respectively.

It’s also good news for Lidl, who’ve leapt up their market share from 3.1% to 3.6%.

The Kantar data also shows Tesco has suffered its worst sales decline in at least two decades, with a fall of  3.8%, making it the chain’s steepest decline since comparable records began in 1994.

Aldi’s success has been down to keeping things relatively simple, selling a range of 1,500 lines as opposed to the 40,000 that the bigger supermarkets offer.

That, and looking less like a depressed Iceland.

£10 charge for London diesel drivers

July 29th, 2014 No Comments By Lucy Sweet

pollution £10 charge for London diesel drivers Boris Johnson – Foursquare Mayor of the Bullingdon Club chophouse – is considering charging £10 for each diesel vehicle to enter London from 2020, in a bid to tackle the city’s monstrous pollution levels.

Low emission zones might become widespread in major cities as efforts increase to oust clapped out old diesel vehicles, which are responsible for the majority of stinking local air pollution.

Boris would pile the £10 charge on top of the existing Congestion charge, meaning that lorry and van drivers would be forking out £20 minimum to enter Central London. And if you’re in a diesel car made before 2006, you’ll also have to raid your wallet.

However, if your white van or lorry meets Euro 6 emission standards, you won’t have to pay.

It comes as Labour proposes plans to introduce a network of UK-wide low emission zones. If not, most British cities will be choked up with dangerous levels of pollution by 2030, and we’ll all probably choke to death.

Boris’ environment lackey, Matthew Penchartz, said: ‘We want to see an unwinding of incentives that have driven people to diesel. Euro engine standards on emissions have not delivered the savings expected, meaning we now have a legacy of a generation of dirty diesels.’

However, for years, everybody was happy to push diesel as a ‘clean’ alternative to petrol. In fact, ministers encouraged people to buy into it to fight climate change.

Well, you live and learn, eh? *coughs*

coop high tech trolley 300x200 Co op to trial new high tech trolleys. Not as exciting as it sounds.The poor old Co-operative Group has been beleaguered of late, with tales of drug-taking bosses, funds mismanagement and shock exits just some of the recent events that may have tarnished the Co-op’s wholesome reputation. Now, however, the trusty old supermarket arm has come to the group’s rescue, with innovative new hi-tech shopping trolleys to help improve customer service.

So how exactly will these new computer trolleys help improve the customer experience? If you scan your shopping list will it whizz you round the store in the most time efficient manner? Will you be able to use it like a mobile self-checkout system? Can you at least keep a running total of what’s in your trolley? Er, no. The ‘high-tech’ trolleys have a tablet bolted on to the handlebar which can ask you searching customer survey questions as you are grappling with your spuds.

That’s right, selected Co-op stores are trialling the new scheme, which prompts shoppers at various points in-store to answer questions about the layout, the ranges and products on offer. And it doesn’t stop there, as if letting Co-op know what you think about their store, and their whizzy new trolleys wasn’t enough, you can now answer wider social impact questions on issues such as sustainable food, youth unemployment and localism as well. Bet you can’t wait.

The Co-operative group will “use the data accrued to inform its customer offering, both in terms of the store experience and the impact of its business beyond its shops and into the broader community,” and has also set up an online version of the questionnaire for those customers sadly unable to get their hands on one of the tablet-enabled trolleys. You can also tweet the Co-op with your views on @CooperativeFood. #lame.

Andrew Mann, The Co-operative Food’s customer director, said: “If we are to fulfil our ambition to be the UK’s best local food retailer, it is really important that we know what our members think about our stores and act upon their feedback.

“The hi-tech trolleys not only make it easy for customers to tell us about their shopping experience, but because the information is collated digitally, we can access what they say almost instantly.

“Our new stated purpose emphasises the importance we place on communities and so this feedback will also enable us to find out what our members and customers think about our community engagement.”

Co-op customers, when asked what they thought about the new trolleys were too busy trying to drive a trolley, do their shopping and answer inane questions about whether the carrots should be on a higher shelf or not, or whether faggots would solve the social housing crisis to answer.

Let’s hope those tablets are securely bolted on.

Homebuyers’ confidence is down

July 28th, 2014 1 Comment By Lucy Sweet

 Homebuyers confidence is down Consumer confidence is a funny, fragile thing. Sometimes it’s riding higher than Prince on a purple motorbike, the next it’s like a teenage girl in the Top Shop changing room worrying about the size of her thighs.

This time, homebuyers’ confidence has taken a blow – it’s dropped by 35% and is now at its lowest level for three years, thanks to fears about inflated prices and increased interest rates. That’s according to the Halifax quarterly Housing Market Confidence Tracker.

And it’s not surprising that the most tentative homebuyers are in London and the South East, while the ones with the most devil-may-care attitude are from Scotland and the North East.

Their survey found that there was a recent sharp rise in people who say that they can’t afford to buy because of prices going up. (from 20% last year to 35% this year).

However, people are still confident that they will manage to SELL their homes, even though they might not be able to afford their next one. A quarter of people surveyed said that this year was a good time to sell up and get out.

Craig McKinlay from the Halifax said:

‘Over the past two years consumer confidence has continued to grow, however it appears that we’ve reached a tipping point, with the equilibrium between buyers and sellers much more out of sync.’

Bitterwallet appeal parking tickets1 Have you been stung by cowboy parking fines? You might have seen the signs in supermarket car parks, or outside McDonalds. Or maybe you didn’t, and you were unexpectedly hit with an entirely random charge for overstaying.

Well, so called ‘cowboy’ private parking firms are springing up everywhere – employed by high street companies to limit the time you can loiter in the car park eating a Filet-O-Fish and stinking up the place.

Charges of up to £100 are being doled out to unsuspecting shoppers who return to their cars a few minutes late. If you ignore the charges, you’ll probably get a scary letter from a bailiff ordering you to pay up.

But these companies are what’s known in Consumer Land as WELL DODGY, and they have no legal standing. They can’t come in and take your possessions, or take you to court – in fact, they have no legal powers whatsoever. They’re just at it.

Companies like McDonalds use the shady MET Parking Services, which has links to an ‘unfit’ debt collection agency and a solicitors firm which has been shut down. And critics say that high street companies are tarnishing their reputation by being involved with these private parking crooks.

Marc Gander of the Consumer Action Group said: “Private parking companies are part of a bounty hunting fad which has risen up over the past few years and is making an industry of penalising people without good reason or for their simple human mistakes.”

“Big brands like McDonald’s don’t seem to appreciate how this new industry operates or the sense of anger and injustice that it produces in its victims and who are also their own customers.”

Have you ever been stung with a £100 parking fine? If so, did you pay it?

Nuisance calls: still a nuisance

July 25th, 2014 4 Comments By Ian Wade

rotary cell phone 300x197 Nuisance calls: still a nuisanceThe Telephone Preference Service is bloody useless, say Ofcom.

The TPS runs a register designed to reduce any unsolicited sales calls. Firms can be fined for ignoring the list.

According to the findings of the research, while the TPS is “highly effective” at stopping calls to consumers registered on TPS by legitimate telemarketing companies,  TPS-registered consumers still receive on average 2.5 nuisance calls per month.

It transpires that only a third of “nuisance” calls are blocked by the service, which allows individuals to opt-out of marketing calls, research has found.

However some rogue companies are flouting the rules, according to regulators. And us lot unwittingly give consent for calls by ticking a box on devious online sales forms.

The research, commissioned by Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office, found that registering with the TPS blocked 35% of all nuisance calls.

If you’re an individual, registration on the TPS is free and takes 28 days to become effective.

It is a legal requirement that all organisations – including charities, voluntary organisations and political parties – do not make such calls to numbers registered on the TPS unless they have the individual’s consent to do so.

There are plans to increase the level of fines levied on firms that make nuisance calls, and these are due in October.

Fines of up to 20% of annual turnover could be handed down to firms using information gathered by unlawful unsolicited calls and texts. That’ll learn ‘em.

Let’s see what the swarthly named Claudio Pollack from Ofcom has to say: “We understand how frustrating it is to still receive some unsolicited sales calls despite being TPS-registered,”

“That is why we welcome tough enforcement action from the ICO against rogue companies who breach the rules.”

Currently, the ICO must demonstrate “significant damage or distress” caused to individuals by nuisance calls or spam texts in order to issue monetary penalties of up to £500,000.

Christ, let’s hope no mobile company has pissed off its users by spamming them willy nilly then. Oh.

Mobile phone holiday beach GUIDE 01 Tour operators ripping you off for your family holiday?Companies ripping you off is nothing new, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grass on them. As it is the summer holidays, you should be aware of some of the sneaky tricks tour operators are doing to screw you out of money.

Of course, in the peak season, prices go up for no reason, but operators are taking advantage of families in other ways.

HolidayPirates have got some operators rumbled and have shown that some parents are being hoodwinked into paying premium by charging them MORE for children than they do for adults.

In one case, they found that a holiday was being sold as £245 per person (including all extras for the school holidays), but the holiday is based on four adults sharing. However, if you swap two adults for two kids – for the same flights, same hotel, same everything – the price goes up to £344 each.

In some instances, you can’t just book for adults and take the children instead, so if you’re thinking of pulling a fast one, better buy some fake moustaches for the nippers.

Some tour operators will tinker with prices dependant on the child’s age.

If you book one holiday for a family of four (two adults, one infant and one child aged 12) and one for exactly the same sized family but with the child being 13 (two adults, one infant, one child aged 13), you’ll see a big hike in the price of £133 each.

Have a look at HolidayPirates’ findings and, when you’re booking your family holiday, be sure to play around with the options before processing any payment to make sure you’re not being ripped off.

complaint 300x300 It could be worth your while complaining  but check your sector firstWe seem to be experiencing an actual summer this year, which is novel. However, our friends over at Which! are investigating whether this is a summer of discontent by surveying over 3,600 people to ask them about their favourite complaints.

As a result we have the updated top five sectors that give people the most cause for complaints. Few would be surprised to see telecoms, energy, and money, topping the list, but also beating off shoddy competition are public services and parking, according to the Which! research.

Unsurprisingly, most people gave up at the first stage of complaining, and if the supplier told them to naff off, many people did just that. However, where people were tenacious enough to escalate issues to an independent reviewer such as an ombudsman, 68% of cases were upheld in the consumer’s favour. Reasons given for giving up at the first hurdle included not knowing that there were complaint schemes, fearing that the process would be too complicated and not believing that they’d be successful. Which isn’t really the right attitude now is it?

The Which! research also found that the chances of winning an escalated complaint – a ‘win’ being classified as a company being told to apologise, to give compensation or to take remedial action – varied greatly by sector.

Escalated complaints to do with energy and telecoms – including broadband, mobile and landline services – proved very successful in 2013/2014, with between 86% and 95% of people being successful.

However, during the same period, only 58% of consumers who had complained to the financial ombudsman won their case, while for public service complaints to the parliamentary and health ombudsman, just 42% of cases were upheld.

But the most valuable statistic has to be that, according to the figures, just over half of motorists who’d appealed their parking tickets to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal were successful in 2012/13. Save a quick £60 anyone?

People are angry at sneaky insurance charges

July 24th, 2014 No Comments By Lucy Sweet

insurance 289x300 People are angry at sneaky insurance charges Two out of three people are incensed about paying the sneaky charges hidden in the small print of insurance policies. It’s becoming a thing now to insert charges for cancellations or amendments to your policy and consumers are NOT happy.

A Which!!! survey revealed that nearly half of insurance firms have increased admin fees in the last few years – fees that have no real basis in reality, like a £20 charge to set up a policy or get copies of documents.

So why all the secret fees and subterfuge? Well, it’s those goddamn comparison websites, innit?

Insurance companies want to keep those all important headline fees down, so they have to spread the actual cost somewhere else. It’s also happening with mortgages, credit cards and bank accounts. In fact, it’s like the whole world is turning into Ryanair.

And we’re getting wise to it, too. 68% of those surveyed said they were aware of the manipulative trickery that companies employ to keep headline costs down.

Hit it, Ricardo Lloyd-o! “Consumers are fed up with being hit with unexpected, additional costs for financial products that lead to them paying more than they bargained for. These fees can be hard to avoid, and people often don’t know what they’re really paying for.”

“We want the financial services industry to stop sneaky fees and charges, and put an end to excessive, unclear and hard to compare fees that do nothing to improve the low level of trust in these markets.”

You betcha.

pg tips tea bag1 287x300 Pyramid bags are officially better than round ones, says ASA Tea aficionados have argued the toss about different shaped tea bags since the dawn of time (well, ok, that’s not exactly true).

But hotheaded tea drinking chimps everywhere are now going to have to concede that PG Tips pyramid bags DO let out more flavour than Tetley’s round ones.

Tetley were furious when Johnny Vegas and that godforsaken monkey appeared to trash their round teabags in a recent advert. They sit at the kitchen table and do a test to see which teabags are best, with Monkey concluding that:

‘PG Tips uses pyramid bags, so if we test one against a regular tea bag … you’ll see the tea has got more room to move, freeing the great fresh taste for a perfect cuppa.’

Tetley said that although they weren’t mentioned in the ad, it was obvious that as they are purveyors of round teabags, they were being targeted and ‘denigrated’ by a knitted primate.

BUT the Advertising Standards Authority upheld PG Tips claims, and enraged the Tetley teafolk by saying that pyramid bags WERE better, and that their round ones basically suck.

‘Unilever provided test results which showed that the infusion of tea, at 40 seconds and two minutes into brewing, was greater when using a pyramid teabag than when using a round teabag. We therefore concluded that the ad did not exaggerate the capability and performance of the advertised product and was not misleading.’

FIGHT!

tax man HMRC are officially rubbish  Adjudicator upholds 90% of complaintsYou are probably familiar with the concept of an Ombudsman, an independent reviewer who will review the facts of a case once the normal complaints procedure has been exhausted, and will normally find in favour of either the complainant (usually the customer) or the retailer.

Now, we all know that HMRC no longer has victims, rather customers, and as such, it is open to complaints same as any other service provider. While there is no ombudsman for tax-collecting services, there is an Adjudicator. The Adjudicator has now published her annual report for 2013/14, which shows that an unbelievable 90% of customer complaints have been upheld- and government bodies including, and mostly HMRC, have been ordered to pay a whopping £4.4m in redress payments.

The Adjudicator provides an independent review of complaints about HMRC, as well as against the Valuation Office Agency and the Insolvency Service, although these are only a small proportion compared with the HMRC complaints.  In fact, the actual number of complaints about HMRC has gone down, a staggering 90% of taxpayers’ complaints have been upheld this last year.

There were 1,131 new complaints in 2013/14, 1,087 of which were about HMRC. This is less than half the number in 2012/13, when there was a surge in complaints, many of them about PAYE.

Of the cases resolved last year:

90% were upheld substantially or partially (61% in 2012/13)

7% were not upheld (37% in 2012/13)

3% were withdrawn or reconsidered (2% in 2012/13)

The total amount the departments paid out in redress, on the Adjudicator’s recommendation, was £4,369,258 , massively up on the £1,194,031 the year before. The total includes tax credit overpayments written off, as well as costs reimbursed and compensatory payments.  

Complaints to the Adjudicator are typically about mistakes, unreasonable delays, poor advice or inappropriate staff behaviour.

In her report, the Adjudicator noted that  HMRC had put “a lot of effort” into transforming its complaints handling, and complimented the department on “listening to her constructive criticism.”

She did, however, acknowledge the startling proportion of upheld complaints and described seeing many cases “where HMRC staff failed to consider the circumstances of vulnerable people and where communication was poor.”

Anyone else with a 90% upheld complaint rate might be looking for their P45. But still, at least HMRC are trying, right?!

white ps4 playstation 300x168 Why are we paying more for computers and TVs than Americans? WAIT A MINUTE. We good citizens of Blighty are paying a ton more for electrical products like laptops, games consoles and tellies than Americans – sometimes up to £402.

Which!!! pitted US prices against UK prices on 13 products, including TVs, games consoles, headphones and even computer software, and found that UK customers are getting the less fragrant end of the stick.

One Samsung TV was £402 more expensive in Britain, while a Macbook Pro 13 inch laptop was £194 more. Meanwhile, Xbox Ones and Playstation 4 cost £57 more than in the US. Software is also astronomical – Adobe Creative Cloud costs £114, and Microsoft Office is £89 more. And the list goes on…

Why? Well it’s not particularly clear. Which! attempted to contact a variety of companies to ask why Britain was paying over the odds and got nothing but mumbles, bumbles and fumbles. Most didn’t bother to reply, and Amazon said something incoherent about ‘different operating costs in each country.’

WTF, Richard Lloyd from Which!!!: “UK consumers are getting a raw deal by paying up to hundreds of pounds more for the same tech products on sale in the US.’ Manufacturers should play fair and explain why consumers are paying more for buying in the UK.”

Damn right.

uk coins Consumers more concerned with corporate tax avoidance than ethical issuesWhen you are selecting a product, what criteria do you use to choose one product over another? Leaving personal preference aside, things like price and quality are front runners. But then what? After sustained campaigns by organisations such as Tax Research UK or Ethical Consumer, the importance of corporate tax avoidance on purchasing decisions may just surprise you.

New research by YouGov for KPMG’s newly launched Consumer Insights Panel suggests that corporate tax avoidance is more important to consumers in their buying decisions than other ethical considerations, like treatment of suppliers and staff.

The survey of 2,000 people found that although price (52%) and quality (39%) were top determining factors, one in four (25%) cited corporate tax avoidance activities as something they would take into consideration when selecting brands and products. This means that a company’s attitude towards paying tax therefore holds greater sway than treating suppliers (18%) and staff (17%) fairly, environmental impact (15%) and charitable giving (2%) in the eyes of consumers.

While this is bad news for tax avoidance offenders- the most high profile of whom, such as Starbucks and Amazon, have suffered boycotting campaigns, others like John Lewis have been using their tax-paying status as a marketing tool. And it seems to be working. However, consumers sometimes feel their right to choose is being impeded by their lack of knowledge. Half of respondents said they wanted greater transparency over which multinational company owned which brand names, to help them choose the most tax-ethical brands.

Liz Claydon, head of consumer markets at KPMG said “In the past, one of the reasons that companies haven’t been transparent about corporate branding is that the link can potentially be seen to be damaging.” However, she added that “most big multinational companies now absolutely want to link their products to their corporate brand.” Presumably, however, she means the ones who aren’t avoiding all their UK corporation tax…