traintrack 300x225 Train ticket machines might save you time, but they cost you money…We’ve all done it- looked at the long queue full of idiots who’ve seemingly never caught a train before and decided to buy our train ticket from the helpful ticket machine standing idly by. After all, modern technology is here to improve our lives, right? Unfortunately, that might not necessarily be true. And almost certainly isn’t going to save you money.

An investigation by the Telegraph has found that actually, using a ticket machine could end up costing you hundreds of pounds more than asking at the ticket office- while railway clerks are required by law to offer the cheapest tickets, regardless of which company they work for- ticket machines are under no such obligation and, not only don’t offer the cheapest fares, they also hide cheaper fares where no one will ever find them. And sometimes, it can simply depend on which particular machine you use when there are a choice in larger stations.

For example, if you wanted to travel from Leeds to Birmingham, if you used Northern Rail’s ticket machine, a First-Class Anytime Return to Birmingham is sold at £271. However, if you slid a few feet to the right and used the East Coast trains machine, you could get the same journey using a First-Class Off-peak Return for £145.70. This type of ticket is not available for customers using Northern Rail’s machines, but saves £125.30.

Similarly East Coast machines at King’s Cross offered a ticket from London Euston to Liverpool on a First-Class Anytime Single fare for £229.50 but a Thameslink & Great Northern machine sells a London Midland-only First-Class Anytime Single for £94, saving £135.50.

Other tips and tricks available at the ticket office, but not at machines include split ticketing (where buying three tickets instead of one to cover the journey from Carlisle to Manchester could save passengers up to £50), and group discounts such as a £45.20 saving for four adults travelling London to Dover. And you can always ask a ticket officer about the possibility of ‘stopping short’ a strange quirk in a complicated ticketing system which can mean it is cheaper to buy a ticket for a longer train journey than you intend to travel, and just get off the train early.

Mike Hewitson, head of policy at the rail watchdog Passenger Focus, said travellers wanted information to be given to them in a clear and simple way. “Our research shows us that ticket machines still aren’t particularly user-friendly,” he said. “Passengers should be able to use ticket machines and be confident in what they are offered, without needing to be ‘experts’ in the system.”

Campaign group Railfuture said that passengers were being forced to “jump through hoops” to get a reasonable fare. Spokesperson Bruce Williamson said it was “clearly wrong” that the cheapest fares were sometimes “buried” behind a number of option menus while the more expensive ones were promoted on the main default screens.“Cheaper options have to be readily obvious and easy to find, not hidden from customers,” he stated, firmly.

East Coast said it was not aware that the cheaper London Midland-routed fares were missing from its machines at King’s Cross and said this had now been changed. Northern Rail said it was working with its suppliers to ensure all necessary data were fed into its ticket machines to offer the best value fares to customers.

Moto 360: Launches in the UK

October 30th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

moto 360 300x225 Moto 360: Launches in the UKA month later than intended, Motorola have finally got around to launching the Moto 360 smart watch in the UK.

You can get one of these smartwatches for £199.99 and there’s a whole bunch of designs available for those of you with vain wrists. As a sweetener, Motorola will also be offering up the Moto X smartphone with £60 off.

However, Motorola have said that purchases are limited to two watches per person while stocks last. Sadly for Motorola, the smartwatch went on sale and, while the grey design sold out, the black version was still available to buy like no-one is particularly arsed about them.

The 360 runs on Google’s Android Wear OS and features a round face that makes it appear similar to a regular wristwatch and on the face is a 1.5in circular display complete with a 320 x 290 pixel resolution that delivers 205ppi.

It can also contain 4GB of onboard storage, and 512MB of RAM with a wireless charging dock included to plug in the Moto 360. It is also water resistant, has Bluetooth connectivity, and will eventually have a choice of a metal or leather strap while supporting voice recognition, and contains a heart rate monitor and pedometer.

Your phone will need to run Google Android 4.3 or higher to work with your Moto 360, but if you take the company up on their Moto X offer, you’ll be in like Flynn.

Aldi tops simplicity test

October 30th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

aldi logo 252x300 Aldi tops simplicity testAldi has topped something called the Global Brand Simplicity Index.

It’s the second year running that the supermarket has topped this Global Brand Simplicity Index by Siegel+Gale, beating Google and fellow discount retailer Lidl for the spot.

Using feedback from over 12,000 consumers spread across eight countries, the index works out the perceived simplicity or complexity of brands’ products, services, interactions and communications in relation to their industry peers.

That’s globally, but who won the UK list? Lidl. Yep, the plucky budget supermarket that everyone likes to shade, knocked Amazon off the perch.

The report also revealed that the general decline in traditional supermarket brands’ simplicity scores was largely down to: complicated approaches to online shopping, overpriced premium ranges and decline in own brand quality.

So while all the big boy supermarkets – Sainsbury’s was the upmarket top ranking, coming in seventh, while Asda ranked ninth. Waitrose came in at 14, while Tesco ranked in at 24 – have been having well-documented palavers, Aldi and Lidl have been quietly doing their thing, and getting bigger as a result.

Aldi and Lidl, keeping things simple eh? Who would’ve ever guessed that such a thing would be attractive to a customer who wants cheap items rather than needlessly complicated reward systems?

zaggora 300x203 Zaggora weight loss clothing doesnt help you lose weight?Things have moved on a bit since the days of snake oil. After all, we now have the ASA to look after us. And that is what the ASA have done today, stepping in to stop ‘weight loss’ clothes from being marketed as such without sufficient evidence to support their claims.

Clothing manufacturer Zaggora, whose clothes promise to help you “slim in style”, have been rapped by the regulator as they have no actual proof that the exercise get up they are flogging burns any more calories than someone wearing any other type of clothing.

Alongside claiming discounts of up to 70% which could not be substantiated (as the items in question have apparently been on sale permanently since 2013), the ASA took issue with the claims made in a number of Zaggora adverts that their clothing could burn more calories, thereby helping with weight loss. When pressed, Zaggora presented findings of a study comparing the calories burned both wearing Zaggora clothing and not wearing it.

However, the ASA were not so easily fobbed off, and felt that Zaggora’s study of nine, slim and fit young women was not statistically significant, nor representative, nor appropriate for the intended target market. The ASA stopped short of suggesting Zaggora had simply made up the results, but did point out that the study had not been ‘peer-reviewed’ and questioned the methodology and research controls used.

Overall the ASA “considered that the claims in the ads such as, “burn more”, “Weight Loss Hotpants”, “Slim in style”, “hotpants that burn calories for you”, “burn more fat”, and “burn more calories”, were likely to be interpreted by consumers as sustained weight loss claims, and would therefore need to be substantiated by evidence showing an effect over time,” before finding that the adverts were therefore misleading  owing to the “issues” with the evidence.

However, the ASA ruling may yet prove to be snake oil itself. Despite the ruling published today, and an edict that Zaggora must not make similarly unsubstantiated claims in future, Zaggora’s email marketing sent out this very afternoon includes the words “trim your waist” and how their ‘technology’ “helps you burn more calories”. It could be that, since the ruling, Zaggora has, in fact, got robust, defensible evidence of their weight loss claims, or it could be that Zaggora are blatantly flaunting the ASA’s direct order.

Unfortunately, if this is the case, it seems all the ASA can do is publish Zaggora’s name on a list of persistent offenders, leaving them free to claim all sorts to unsuspecting podgy folks who don’t necessarily read the ASA website as a matter of course. Unless they read marvellous sites like Bitterwallet instead…

halal test 300x163 Check everything is pork free with the Halal test kitA food testing kit which allow you to check if your purchase is Halal or not could soon be a thing in the UK.

Halal Test, which launched in France this week by French start-up Capital Biotech, uses immunochromatography, which is the same technology used for pregnancy tests, to detect traces of pork in food, cosmetics and medicines.

The portable test, which costs €6.90 each or €125 for a pack of 25, had already attracted considerable interest from several companies in the UK and further afield.

Halal Test is currently available only in France through traditional retail channels or online, but the makers of the kits reckon the UK is a very interesting market to develop further.

The test is packaged with a small tube into which a food sample is mixed with warm water. A test strip is then inserted into the tube, and after a few minutes reveals whether any pork traces are present by displaying two lines for a positive result and one for a negative result.

It can also sniff out alcohol in food products too, like a proper party pooper. The company is also developing a test that can detect how an animal was killed too. It’s all glamour, basically.

Capital Biotech said: “There are similar tests which use similar technology, but they are much more complicated to use, and require a special liquid extraction buffer usually containing ethanol. We concentrated our research efforts to simplify the use of these tests and get rid of the liquid extraction buffer, which makes them easy to use by anyone and anywhere.”

Imagine that – going to a restaurant and pulling out a mini laboratory and making the rest of your family wait for your findings while their food goes cold.

yorkshire building society Yorkshire Building Society fined for missellingYorkshire Building Society have been fined for mistreating its customers.

The building society has been slapped with a £4.1 million fine, for being shits to customers facing financial difficulties.

The findings were found after a City regulator noticed that call handlers at Yorkshire had failed to implement the right payment solutions, making it even worse for customers having a struggle.

The building society has agreed to refund all mortgage arrears fees, plus associated interest, charged to customers since January 2009.

This redress scheme, announced in February, is currently under way and about 33,900 customers will be repaid a total of £8.4m.

Those customers with an existing mortgage will have their loan credited, while former customers will be sent a cheque. Cor! A cheque. How modern. A Yorkshire spokesman named anonymous, reckons that all affected customers will be refunded by the end of 2014.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) had said that while Yorkshire viewed repossession as a last resort, it failed to recognise that delays in reaching long-term payment solutions meant that some customers incurred increased fees and interest.

These failures happened between October 2011 and July 2012 as is the company’s second fine for being devious arses.

The regulator noticed that in 64 out of 87 cases reviewed, showed that the consumer was treated shoddily.

Tracey McDermott, director of enforcement and financial crime at the FCA, said: “Customers in financial difficulty need to be treated fairly and sensitively. Firms must ensure that they are taking into account the particular circumstances affecting customers who find themselves in difficulty. Firms need to be dealing with these customers proactively, without delays, in order to ensure they are not losing out.

“By allowing cases to drift without agreement, Yorkshire’s actions meant that customers in vulnerable circumstances risked falling into further financial difficulty.”

Chris Pilling, chief executive of Yorkshire Building Society, apologised to customers using the ‘inflatable school’ joke as an apology. “We are very sorry for letting them down,” he said.

This is Yorkshire’s second fine in 2014. In June the FCA issued a £1.4m fine for exaggerating the returns that investors could expect from stock-market-linked bonds.

Lloyds Bank in further PPI debacle

October 28th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

Lloyds Banking Group 001 300x180 Lloyds Bank in further PPI debacleTroubled horse-logo’ed bank Lloyds have paid out the most in PPI, confirming that their bill for the scandal has soared to a whopping £11 billion!

The tax-payer saved bank is said to have put aside £600 million to cover the PPI mis-selling shambles, which is on top of another £600m which Lloyds threw at it earlier this year.

Lloyds said at the time that, although the number of PPI claims is falling, it is still paying out around £200m a month to victims.

This is on top of the news that the bank was the worst performing UK bank in the European bank ‘stress test’ and the confirmation that there’d be 9,000 job losses over the next three years .

As PPI was designed to cover repayments on loans and credit cards, most loan and credit card companies sold the product at the same time as they sold the credit.

By May 2008, 20 million PPI policies existed in the UK with a further increase of 7 million policies a year being purchased thereafter. Surveys showed that 40% of policyholders claim to be unaware that they had a policy.

Walmart says sorry for ‘fat girl’ costumes

October 28th, 2014 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

Supermarkets and big businesses aren’t best known for their tact, so it comes as no surprise that Walmart is apologising for something they’ve done.

On the retail behemoth’s site, you could access an area in the Halloween category called ‘Fat Girl Costumes.’ Obviously, they’ve deleted it now, but not after it was swiped and screengrabbed and everyone kicked off about it.

B1CPOg6IYAAC0fw 500x244 Walmart says sorry for fat girl costumes

Basically, the collection of outfits was aimed at plus-sized women who, when we last checked, didn’t like being referred to as ‘fat girls’.

Walmart, of course, tweeted an apology: ”This never should have been on our site. It is unacceptable, and we apologize. We worked quickly to remove this.”

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have been switching people to a combined benefits system which sees a merging of employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit, and housing benefit into a single payment.

Iain Duncan Smith is positive that this is a good thing, despite scrapping targets that had been previously set. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) aren’t impressed though and have hit out at an alleged lack of transparency over the project’s cost and failures to meet various deadlines. There’s a lot of indications that the DWP’s work is in trouble.

Over on Twitter, something happened that indicated that things aren’t going too well.

DWP tweet 500x245 Are the DWP writing fake tweets about universal credit?

One user spotted that the DWP Press Office sent out a tweet that looked rather suspect. They said: “This doesn’t look at all like the DWP trying to plant fake tweets and getting the wrong account. Nope.”

It all looks rather suspect from the DWP and they deleted the tweet, but not before it was screengrabbed. Seems that people in parliament still don’t understand how the internet works.

Just how many accounts the DWP are running isn’t clear, but it looks like a case of positive spin in the face of mounting criticism and failures where no-one can cope with universal credit.

No power cuts this Winter, vows Davey

October 27th, 2014 2 Comments By Ian Wade

day2energy bkgd2 660x852 232x300 No power cuts this Winter, vows DaveyThere will be no power cuts this Winter. That, is what UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey, has vowed.

The government were moved to comment on the unrest that the UK could be thrown back into the 1970s when it was power cuts ahoy. Davey has also claimed that a back-up plan is ready to be set in motion should anything actually go wrong.

One of the plans involve is where firms could be paid to generate their own electricity and factory production could be shifted to non-peak times.

Fears of what was called an ‘energy crunch’ were heightened after several fires and incidents at power stations, along with the closure of others.

Davey said: “We have extra contingencies on top of the caution, and extra contingencies on top of the contingencies.”

“They [the companies] volunteer to get payments – if the National Grid say, ‘we want you to come off the national grid for a few hours and generate your own power’, you will get paid for that. That is cheaper for the consumer than building an extra power plant. Cheaper, quicker and industry likes it.”

“And some companies would change their behaviour, voluntarily, and be recompensed for it. Turning down their refrigerators by a degree, or changing a shift pattern for a week so staff come in earlier… the idea is to move factory production away from peak demand periods.”

The UK is looking down the barrel of an energy crunch over the next two winters when the capacity margin – how much its total generating capacity outstrips expected peak demand – is expected to shrink to as little as 2%.

In addition to all this, Davey also advised households that they could be saving £200 by choosing a new energy tariff: “I want people to get a better deal on their energy bills. Some of the new smaller suppliers are cutting prices and forcing bigger players to respond. Over two million people switched energy supplier between last October and March this year as competition hots up.”

Driving licence fees to be slashed

October 25th, 2014 2 Comments By Ben Telford

Screen Shot 2014 10 25 at 09.54.07 Driving licence fees to be slashedFrom the 31st October, driving licence fees will be slashed up to 32%, the government has announced.

Under these new rules the cost of a provisional licence will now be £34 from £50 and the reduced cost for an online application for a 10 year licence will be £14 from £20.

We’ll also be seeing the cost of a tachograph reduced to £32 from £38. These are used by businesses to stalk record how far their staff are driving.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander said the move was designed to “give savings back to the taxpayer”.

Personal thanks from me, Danny. Just another 9 years and 3 months until I can look forward to that £6 “saving”.

Deathwatch: High street banks

October 24th, 2014 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

bank sign Deathwatch: High street banksThe biggest banks on the British high street are vanishing with lenders closing hundreds of them in a bid to cut costs and shunt everyone toward online services.

Earlier this week, Lloyds decided that they could downsize by getting rid of 9,000 jobs, which is a tenth of their entire staff. They also plan to get rid of a number of branches, which is becoming a common attitude in the finance world as customers rely less on having to actually stand in a branch and talk to humans.

Other banks in the UK have closed in excess of 350 branches in 2014, which leaves just over 9,000 in total according to figures from the Campaign for Community Banking Services. Barclays are hoping to close around 1,600 branches and cut 19,000 jobs while Royal Bank of Scotland is also ditching tens of thousands of jobs.

According to the British Bankers Association, footfall has fallen 10% year-on-year, while at the same time, the number of transactions being completed online has doubled.

Of course, banks need to start saving money somewhere after many of them have been slapped silly with fines for misselling and the like.

“If we don’t change the fundamentals and improve for our customers then our business will be eaten away,” said RBS chief exec Ross McEwan. “That might be through greater competition, increased scrutiny from regulators, or through intensifying innovation, or a combination of all of these.”

There’s growth in new banks that adopt a digital method, such as Atom Bank and Metro Bank, which are branchless. The banking world is weighing up the threat of new currencies too, such as Bitcoin. These new companies have much lower overheads than trad. arr. banks. And of course, Apple have just launched their own payment service, which is yet another challenge to the banks dominance in finance.

In addition to all this, the UK competition regulator is launching a full inquiry into the banking sector in a bid to create more competition for the old guard.

It goes without saying that some branches are needed, especially for older customers, but consultancy reports have predicted that, in 10 years time, the UK could easily be served by as little as 500 physical branches as everyone migrates to online services. Bad news for bank robbers who will have to ditch the notion of putting tights on their heads and pointing guns at people – they’re going to have to start getting computer savvy, and fast.

Will the NHS now pay you to lose weight?

October 24th, 2014 1 Comment By Thewlis

fat and happy Will the NHS now pay you to lose weight?Bloaters are always being told about the downsides of being a bit porky – heart disease, diabetes etc- but there’s never been any good news.

Until now. Now, it actually pays to be overweight. A new report by NHS England Chief Exec Simon Stevens outlines a massive £8bn deficit in NHS funding over the next five years and outlines a number of ways in which the gap in finance can be filled. One idea is to reduce NHS spending on all the fat people, by paying them to be less fat.

The report outlines how employers are a key partner in forcing people to lose weight, and how they could reward employees, in cash, shopping vouchers or with prizes, who successfully lose weight. The idea, of course, is that the money the NHS pays out in reimbursing employers will be more than outweighed (arf arf) by the savings for not having to buy more super-sized beds, for example.

But is this really a good plan? While people carrying a few extra pounds who are thinking of slimming down are going to be chuffed at gaining a few quid for their troubles, isn’t this a bit unfair on those who don’t need to lose weight? What about all those people who have spent a fortune on slimming clubs so they aren’t overweight any more? That could be a bit hard to swallow. Should slim people start eating all the pies now so they can get heavy enough to lose some weight and pocket the cash?

And would such a scheme create a different kind of environment at work? Would people who don’t lose weight feel ostracised or even overlooked for promotion? Do you really want your employer knowing how much you weigh and giving you cash on the basis of your poundage? And what about the poor old self-employed- do they just have to stay fat?

Of course, this is not policy, merely a recommendation as to one way to plug a funding gap. But people used to say they’d never be able to ban smoking either. Perhaps overweight people will one day be a distant memory too…

Half of Britain victimised by cyber crooks

October 24th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

cyber crime 300x223 Half of Britain victimised by cyber crooksHalf of the UK have been victims of cyber crime! According to a new report.

Well, they say ‘half’, but based on a survey of 2000 web users, 51% said they’d been affected by online scams, phishing, ID theft or some pesky virus.

The report by the Get Safe Online organisation, also said that many victims are left emotionally scarred by the experience.

Which is about right. You DO feel a bit vulnerable and freaked out that some arse has buggered your online-scene up.

Half of the victims said they felt violated by their ordeal and rued clicking on that link for free glans/baps (delete as appropriate). Only 14% of the affected felt they’d achieved any kind of redress after the matter either.

Also, a report by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, released to coincide with Get Safe Online Week, claimed that online scams raked in £670m between 1 September 2013 and 31 August 2014.

However an upshot of all this, has meant that those who have been violated then got heavy with web protection and not being so free and easy with their online behaviour.

Tony Neate, chief executive of Get Safe Online reckons this, by saying “Get Safe Online Week this year is all about ‘Don’t be a victim’, and we can all take simple steps to protect ourselves, including putting a password on your computer or mobile device, never clicking on a link sent by a stranger, using strong passwords and always logging off from an account or website when you’re finished.”

“The more the public do this, and together with better conviction rates, the more criminals won’t be able to hide behind a cloak of anonymity.”

Meanwhile Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude threw his weight in and said the figures underlined the importance of doing everything possible to shore up the UK’s cyber defences, saying: “The UK cyber market is worth over £80bn a year and rising. The internet is undoubtedly a force for good, but we cannot stand still in the face of these threats, which already cost our economy billions every year.”

“We have an £860m Cyber Security Programme which supports law enforcement’s response to cybercrime, and we are working with the private sector to help all businesses protect vital information assets.”

loom bands Dad gets slapped with £1,792 phone bill over daughters loom band videosLoom-bands – elastic bands masquerading as craft – as really captured the imagination of the young people of the world.

One young lady called Trinity Groves was such a fan, that she watched tutorial videos so she could improve her looming. However, in the process, she ran up an enormous phone bill over a fortnight after her home’s WiFi stopped working.

Her dad, Philip, was blissfully unaware she’d been using Vodafone’s premium rates to get online, and after 28 hours of videos, dad got the unpleasant surprise of a £1,792 phone bill.

Philip is not happy at all. He said: “She was only learning how to make loom bands so she could trade them with her pals. We thought we were using the WiFi for a good fortnight and there was nothing to suggest it had disconnected.”

“We didn’t know we were using up all these charges for the internet at a premium rate. As far as I was aware, the WiFi was connected. I wasn’t informed otherwise. If a phone company sees a discrepancy in your bill or a huge surge in usage surely they have an obligation to let you know?”

“Suddenly I had this bill through from them on my doorstep, demanding all this money. I was absolutely gobsmacked. Now they are threatening to take me to court – it’s frightening that they can bully you this way. I might have to sell my van just to afford it, but I rely on that for my livelihood. I don’t know where to turn.”

After disputing the bill, Philip got another kick in the groin when Vodafone informed him that he was now blacklisted. They still want paying too.

Philip added: “They cut me off within five minutes. I told them I was going to go to an ombudsman but they have done nothing. They have just demanded I pay £1,410 by next week but I have been out of work recently because of an operation, I can’t afford it. How many of their clients pay this much for their internet? It’s disgusting. I have always had good a credit rating but since this, I have not been able to get a loan or anything.”

Trinity isn’t happy either, saying: “When I come home from school I usually get my phone and all my loom bands… I used to love watching the tutorial videos but now I know it cost my dad £1,792 I have had to stop watching them – it’s made me very sad.”

A spokeswoman for Vodafone said: “We can only confirm at this stage that we will launch a thorough investigation into the matter. We will then get back in touch with the customer once our inquires are concluded.”