sugar is a drug New sugar tax to double the cost of your favourite snacks?Sugar. Yummy, delicious sugar. It tastes nice, so we like to eat it, even if we are all obese and getting fatter/diabetes/rotten teeth. But what can we do about it? Well a new report into tooth decay recommends slashing the maximum recommended intake to almost a quarter of WHO limits, with a bonus ‘sugar tax’ to help us all decide not to eat sugary treats anymore.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently lowered the recommended sugar limits to a maximum of 50g per day for the average adult and ideally no more than 25g, but a new report from doctors at University College London and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine warns this is still too high, calling for a limit of just 14g per day.

The study, which looked at rates of tooth decay in comparison to average sugar intake, found that people who eat little or no added sugar had little or no tooth decay. As a result, the authors want to impose a maximum sugar intake of five per cent of total calories per day and ideally less than three per cent. Three per cent of total calories would be around 14g for the average adult – less than half a can of fizzy drink or four blocks of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate. For children this would be even lower, with seven-year-olds munching no more than 11g of sugar, or three squares of Dairy Milk.

Now, before anyone starts ranting that no-one, let alone a seven year old, should be munching bars of dairy milk everyday, the sugar limit would also include all sugar added to food by manufacturers (ever checked the sugar content of a ready meal?) or at home, but also natural sugars present in things like honey and fruit juice.

Co-author Professor Philip James, Honorary Professor of Nutrition at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and past President World Obesity Federation, said  “A sugars tax should be developed to increase the cost of sugar-rich food and drinks.”

“This would be simplest as a tax on sugar as a mass commodity, since taxing individual foods depending on their sugar content is an enormously complex administrative process. The retail price of sugary drinks and sugar rich foods needs to increase by at least 20 per cent to have a reasonable effect on consumer demand so this means a major tax on sugars as a commodity. The level will depend on expert analyses but my guess is that a 100 per cent tax might be required.”

A 100% tax seems quite hefty, but he might be right. Demand for sweet treats is fairly inelastic- meaning that if you want one, you will buy one, without worrying too much about the cost. In order for a sugar tax to have an actual effect, and not just be absorbed into rising costs of living, it needs to be a doozy of a tax, doubling the cost of the ‘bad’ items.

But would it work? If you really want a Mars bar would you pay £1.20 for a Mars bar if you really needed to work rest and play? Or 84p for a can of coke? And let’s not forget that once upon a time Freddos were 10p. Look at them now even without a sugar tax surcharge.

Let’s face it, we probably have all paid similar prices for these products at airports or motorway service stations in the past. But would we just happily keep on paying this amount or would such a high price make us cut down our consumption? Or should the Government just naff off and leave us to enjoy whatever we want to fill our faces with in peace?

Fake government websites banned

September 17th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

asa logo 300x200 Fake government websites bannedThe advertising watchdog ASA – who sadly aren’t a real dog – have banned three cheeky copycat websites.

The sites have been posing as government channels for health insurance cards, passports and birth certificates, leaving consumers baffled, poor and riotous.

The websites – europeanhealthcard.org.uk, uk-officialservices.co.uk and ukpassportoffices.co.uk – duped users into thinking they were official providers of services they were offering, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said.

It also ruled that the websites must not appear again and any future versions must feature disclaimers that say “we’re not real”.

Although, putting a thing on a site saying it’s a fake, sort of defeats the purpose of being a moody front to steal your life.

The ASA said it received large numbers of consumer complaints about websites that offered access to online government services, but which were not official channels and typically charged a premium.

The ASA said the europeanhealthcard.org.uk website charged for an application verification service, while the EHIC was available for free when applied for via the official gov.uk website.

Only stick to the proper gov channels, and if in doubt, call ‘em up and waiting 45 minutes to get through to someone.

Who is the worst company in the UK?

September 17th, 2014 1 Comment By Mof Gimmers

npower logo Who is the worst company in the UK? Like clockwork, npower are here with their latest unsavoury accolade – they’ve capped off a dismal year by being named the worst company in the UK, replacing Ryanair who were the previous owners of the ‘Worst’ title.

Which!!! have been collating their annual customer service rankings for the UK’s 100 biggest brands and npower came out as the absolute pits.

Other energy companies featured prominently too, with ScottishPower going from 62nd place to 99th, which just happens to be the biggest drop of any of the brands featured.

Both companies have been blaming the fact that they’ve got new computer systems, which means that customers have been sent fantastically incorrect bills, not had bills at all, seen their complaints vanishing and queries taking months to be sorted out.

As previously reported, npower have been so poor that they’ve been separated from the rest of the class and been forced to sit on a special table with Ofgem and put back on pencil.

Ofgem set npower a series of targets for clearing a swathe of problems which were affecting 400,000 customers. They were threatened with a ban on all telesales and npower just sneaked their targets. EDF Energy are 81st in the table, and British Gas and E.On were joint 86th, while SSE sat in 94th place.

So which companies are any cop, sitting pretty at the top of the table? First Direct was ranked 1st and John Lewis and Lakeland did rather well also.

An npower spokesman said: “We’re determined to improve and we’re already making progress. Since this survey was carried out we’ve reduced the number of late bills by over 75%, and the number of complaints we received by nearly 30%. However, we know we still have a long way to go before we can reach the top spot and we’re continuing to focus all of our efforts in this area.”

So, npower aren’t very good and neither are their energy competitors. Next week, we’ll bring you the news of the Pope’s religious preferences and confirm whether or not bears go to the toilet in woodland areas.

Continued deathwatch: ASOS

September 17th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

bw asos 300x168 Continued deathwatch: ASOSASOS are having a rough time. The troubled online clothing retailer had already posted a profit warning earlier this year, and have now posted another one.

This follows something of a disastrous 12 months for them, after a warehouse fires damaged stock and fourth-quarter sales were dented by a strong pound. The fire damage alone cost the company £30 million in lost sales.

Shares fell 8.88% to 2207p after the firm warned full-year profits were set to be lower than previously expected.

Whereas the analysts had reckoned on a £62 million profit in their forecasts, it’s more likely to be nearer to £45 million.

The firm warned: “In the new financial year we’ll make significant investments in our international pricing and proposition, as well as in our logistical infrastructure and technology platform. As a result, we expected profit before tax for the year to August 31 to be at a similar level to 2013-14.”

Retail sales for the three months to August 31 did increase 15%, but was still a slowdown deom the 25% from the previous quarter. The international business now accounts for 60% of sales but the strong pound means prices have risen by up to 20% in some markets.

Basically, international sales have fallen from 63% to 61% with Australia and Russia bringing sales down. We’ll be keeping an eye on Asos.

Pizza Hut: Now with free live animal

September 17th, 2014 1 Comment By Mof Gimmers

An Australian Pizza Hut joint has finished scratching their head after there was a kerfuffle about a recent offer they promoted.

Basically, the restaurant offered to give customers a free pet with the purchase of 10 large pizzas.

30639 o571ye 500x281 Pizza Hut: Now with free live animal

In a statement Pizza Hut Australia apologised saying that the Mount Waverley store had taken the poster down and that the promotion had not been approved centrally.

“It has come to our attention that one of our stores have recently been running a promotion which was not approved by Pizza Hut Australia, nor was condoned in any circumstances. We would like to sincerely apologise to anyone who was offended by this,” they said.

“The poster has since been taken down and all those involved have been made aware of the severity and inappropriateness of the promotion.”

Of course, if you get 10 large pizza from this lot, it probably equates to one hamster’s worth of meat anyway, so really, it is much ado about nothing.

Parents want payday loans to do one

September 16th, 2014 1 Comment By Ian Wade

wonga ladies 300x282 Parents want payday loans to do oneThree-quarters of the parents want payday loan adverts banned before 9pm.

Research found that more than one third (34%) of children considered the adverts to be fun, tempting or exciting as they tend to peddle their wares via the medium of puppetry, such as those wankstains at Wonga.

Look at it. How can a child REFUSE TO BE DRAWN INTO A WORLD OF GERIATRIC FELT?

This group were significantly more likely to say they would consider using a payday loan, even if they’ve never heard of them.

The report by The Children’s Society calls for restrictions on advertising loans to join those already in place to protect children from adverts on gambling, alcohol, tobacco and junk food.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “Through our frontline work, we see first-hand the devastating impact of debt on children’s lives.”

“We know it’s become a daily battle for families to pay the bills, meet the mortgage or rent payments, and find money for food or other basics. One setback or even a simple mistake can lead to a spiral of debt. Right now children are being exposed to a barrage of payday loan adverts, which put even more pressure on families struggling to make ends meet and to provide the very basics for their children. That’s why the law should be changed to ban these ads from TV and radio before the 9pm watershed.”

“It is crucial that children learn about borrowing and money from their school and family – not from irresponsible payday loan advertising. A significant majority of parents back a ban and it’s now time for the government to act.”

The survey questioned 1,065 adults and some 680 kids from the 13-17 age range.

coffee cup 200x300 Want to pay less for your posh coffee? You can already save £130 on Nespresso...Some people drink coffee. Comes in a jar, add hot water. Other people drink (sh)ambrosia from the gods, served in a paper cup with your name scribbled on in marker pen, and charged accordingly. However for those who like to drink coffee at home, but still pay many times the price for it, we have some good news for Nespresso owners.

Nespresso is, of course, not just a coffee machine that needs feeding with moderately expensive coffee pods. Nespresso is a lifestyle. Anyone who’s anyone knows that Nespresso drinkers run into George Clooney all the time. However, part of the reason that Nespresso pods are so (relatively) expensive compared with stuff in a jar is the difficulty (for other manufacturers) in making generic pods to fit the machine.

But all that is about to change. A recent court case in France has meant that Nespresso have accepted court directions to provide more information about their coffee machines that will allow other coffee makers to manufacture their own pods to fit the dimensions of the machine. Nespresso will also remove wording from the guarantee that suggested the guarantee might be invalidated if non-Nespresso pods were used in the machine. Good news.

But, despite the current difficulty in manufacture, there are actually a number of non-Nespresso alternative coffee pods available on the market. This could mean that you can pretend you are posh ish, while not having to pay to be so.

A Nespresso cup costs around 30p on average, but many alternatives are not vastly cheaper, coming in at 27-28p a cup. Waitrose are currently selling Cafepod pods at £2 for 10, which works out at 20p each, but this price is due to go back up to £2.75 on October 1. However, following their French compatriots, our German neighbours could be dashing to the rescue, as Lidl’s Bellarom pods are a bargain 18p each. 18p! That would save a three-cups-a-day drinker £130 a year. And  it’ll still be better than Mellow Birds.

Of course, not everyone sees it like this, with Cafepod founder Peter Grainger telling the Telegraph that he thinks punters would be put off by “very low prices”. He said: “My gut feeling? Coffee is a bit like wine. There is a perception of quality being related to price. People do want to feel like they are getting value for money. But they are also conscious of quality. Would they want to pay £1 for a box of 10? Somehow I doubt it.”

So there you have it. Even before the ruling takes effect you could save £130 on your (overpriced) coffee, and this saving could get even bigger in the months to come. Or you could continue to pay premium prices for premium pods and look posh in your house. On your own. Waiting for George to show up…

120,000 compaints to water companies in a year

September 15th, 2014 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

tapwater 258x300 120,000 compaints to water companies in a yearThe collective ‘we’ made over 120,000 complaints to water firms in a year, according to a new report.

Between April 1st 2013 and March 31st 2014, water companies received a total of 123,218 written complaints and you can only imagine how many phone calls were made on top of that.

According to the Consumer Council for Water (or CCWater for lazy typists), over half of the gripes concerned billing and charges. Remarkably, these figures are dropping from previous years.

Tony Smith, chief executive of CCWater, said: “Most water companies have responded well to our challenge to improve performance, with complaints now at their lowest level since we were formed in 2005; but affordability remains a huge challenge for the industry, with one in five customers telling us their water bill is not affordable.”

“Water companies and the regulator Ofwat must deliver prices for the next five years that customers can afford and find acceptable or risk a backlash from struggling households.”

The two companies performing the worst are Southern Water and South East Water and the report said: ‘We have repeatedly told them that they need to bring themselves into line with the rest of the industry, but they continue to lag significantly behind.’

The best? Well done to Wessex Water, Portsmouth Water and Cambridge Water.

Steve George, customer services director at South East Water, said: ‘We are pleased to see the downward trend continue during 2014 but we recognise that there is still more to do. Over the past year we have been working hard to integrate the new communications technologies into customer service. Not only has this new instant approach been welcomed by our customers, our own staff have enthusiastically embraced each development as it has come on board.”

Darren Bentham, Southern Water’s chief customer officer, said: ‘While our performance in 2013/14 saw a big improvement, we are still lower down the results table than we want to be – and where our customers want us to be.”

“However, we are continuing to make changes which ensure we focus on our customers – from training, to new systems and an improved website. These changes are making a huge difference as proved by a significant reduction in written complaints over the past 18 months. Our customers have told us they expect better service and we have promised to bring more improvements. There is still work to do but we’re confident we can deliver our promise, while ensuring bills are affordable for all.”

In other news: bears continue to defecate in woodland areas.

Asda streamlines internet presence

September 12th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

asdabag 228x276 Asda streamlines internet presenceAsda are shutting down their Direct website. The portal that sells everything that isn’t food, clothing or home guff is going.

However from February, 80% of the Direct stuff will be merged into the grocery site, while George.com will remain the home for all your fashion needs, but will become the online lifestyle store bolstered with no doubt matching towels, toys and pleasing-but-fragile cushions.

The Direct site especially triumphed with deals in stuff like books, garden bits and bobs as well as white goods, like electrical cleaning solution providers such as the washing machine.

This follows Sainsbury’s announcing similar last month, with streamlining  its non-food into their grocery site.

Asda chief executive Andy Clarke said: “We’re creating an online experience that logically fits with how our customers want to shop and focuses on the areas that our customers love. Ultimately, we want to give more people access to the price, quality and style that we are famous for.”

There’s that dreaded ‘experience’ again.

“In what is still a challenging market, I am delighted that we are able to make an investment that will not only step on delivery of our strategy, but also bring new and convenient ways for our customers to shop with us,” Clarke adds.

The company are also hoping to boost online sales by launching the first fully automated click and collect points in the UK, which should roll out in London and the South East from early 2015.

How to delete an unwanted U2 album

September 12th, 2014 1 Comment By Ian Wade

u2 300x300 How to delete an unwanted U2 albumSo you’re one of the billions of people who were “gifted” a copy of the new U2 album and you don’t want it stinking up your iTunes, yeah?

Well, help is at hand.

As not everyone is a massive fan, or even occasional fans, who might have liked a few numbers by the hitmakers once upon a time but that moment has been obliterated by Bono being Bono and his band’s increasingly desperate attempts to remain a colossal thing and all that avoiding tax lark, you might need help in deleting their new album.

If the panto phishing business seemed bad, to some, this felt like a home invasion. Well anyway. Calm down.

Go to your music, select albums, mainly ‘Songs of Innocence’, and then swipe each track to reveal the delete option.

To remove it from your iPhone or iPad, go to Music and switch off “Show all Music”. This way you won’t see any tracks that aren’t actually on your iOS device.

This is quite informative if you’ve ever drunkenly bought something several years ago like, for instance, Kate Nash’s ‘Foundations’, and you were horrified when the cloud shoved it onto your new laptop.

So there you have it. And well done to those of you who already knew how to delete the U2 album and crowed about how much you didn’t care about the whole stunt on Twitter to your 32 followers.

Millions moving banks

September 11th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

bank sign Millions moving banksMore than a million people have switched their bank accounts since a national switching service began a year ago.

Thanks to The Payments Council, a trade body which came up with the ‘switch guarantee’ as a thing to encourage competition, said that the number of switches was up 19% on the year before.

The highly lucrative current account market is dominated by four banks – HSBC, RBS, Barclays and Lloyds – and they provide three quarters of the UK’s bank accounts.

The Payments Council have not issued a breakdown, but outside of the big four, Santander have been one of the biggest beneficiaries, with Nationwide.

A lot of switchers have come from the troubled Co-operative Group, who’ve been basically handing out their customers to their competition.

While no sign of them making much of an impact, the future could be shaken up by TSB, Tesco, Virgin Money and M&S Bank.

David Mann, who is the head of money at comparison service uSwitch, said “We no longer see our bank as our lifetime companion.”

2007 mad men 005 200x300 Moneysavingexpert sends misleading advert in email to suscribersThe Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) does a sterling job protecting us consumers from those scurrilous types who would seek to mislead us with not-quite-kosher adverts. But it seems their job is even harder than you would have thought- when they have to uphold complaints against consumer champions and their adverts…

The millionaire Martin Lewis’ Moneysavingexpert.com is the latest organisation who has had a complaint (partially) upheld against them. The ASA found that the adverts, for telecoms products, were misleading and omitted relevant information that would have helped the consumer make an informed decision. Still, on the bright side, the affiliate links worked just fine.

Moneysavingexpert was advertising a Talk Talk telephone package described as “B’band & phone equiv £15.25/mth + £75 Love2Shop (if line rent paid upfront)”,  and compared it with other telecommunications providers’ packages. The ASA was asked to investigate whether the advert was misleading because it would suggest to consumers that the new package included calls (it did not) and that there was a restriction on the amount of unbilled calls to a maximum of £20 that was not mentioned anywhere, nor were any details of call charges.

The ASA considered the overall impression created by the reference to “phone” in the headline, reinforced by the claims that followed and the image of a landline phone, was that the package comprised broadband and inclusive phone calls in the advertised price. Because phone calls were not included in the stated price and that was not made sufficiently clear, they concluded the claim was misleading and that the advert broke four regulations of the applicable CAP code.

The ASA also felt that considered consumers “would not expect to be restricted in the amount of calls they could make or that they would need to make a payment prior to the end of the billing period to have that restriction lifted.” As a result, they felt that the £20 “unbilled call limit” was a “significant condition” which should have been included in the ad, along with a reference that such calls would be charged at TalkTalk’s standard rates.

Two other complaints about the advert were not upheld by the ASA.

So next time you read a Moneysavingexpert email, purportedly issued to save you money, make sure you’re getting the full facts before you sign up for that super deal…

Ratings to be taken from your tablets

September 10th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

bbc iplayer 300x205 Ratings to be taken from your tabletsRatings news now, of a sort, with the announcement that viewing figures for TV watched on tablets is being recorded for the first time.

The Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) has now mastered the technology to allow such a thing, and will be able to read from Android and iPads.

The traditional way of measure TV ratings, BARB uses a panel of 5,100 homes across the UK, giving it data on the viewing habits of around 11,500 people. Then this is all extrapolated to work out the viewing figures for the entire country.

“The ability to track how our panel members watch television on their tablets is a great step forward,” said Justin Sampson, chief executive of BARB.

Only half of the 5,100 homes has such devices, but the that would be representative as demand increases.

So basically, someone’s going to get a lot of reports on what internet traffic certain shows are getting. It really is mind boggling that they didn’t think of doing this ages ago.

BrightHouse to be investigated

September 9th, 2014 1 Comment By Mof Gimmers

brighthouse BrightHouse to be investigated BrightHouse – the company that allow you to ‘rent to own’ tellies, furniture and other stuff – have been flogging their wares to low income households for a while now. However, all is not rosy and they’re about to be investigated by an all-party parliamentary group.

The investigation is badly timed for the company as they only just appointed some advisers to prepare for a stock market float.

So what’s the problem? Well, the inquiry will look at the huge costs for people on low incomes who use the business to get sofas and other electrical goods. The feeling is that there could be better protection for consumers.

BrightHouse have been making a pretty penny too, with underlying profits of £52m on turnover of £333m in 2013.

The all-party parliamentary group on debt and personal finance is chaired by Labour MP, Yvonne Fovargue who said: “Rent to own outlets have become an increasingly common sight on our high streets in recent years. But despite this, there is little general understanding of how they operate and how they differ from conventional shops. Our inquiry will look in detail at the products and services they offer and will ask whether customers are getting a good deal.”

It isn’t just BrightHouse – companies like PerfectHome and Buy As You View will also be looked at.

The parliamentary group said: “Consumer groups have pointed out that the overall costs for the customer are very high. This is partly because the price of the products themselves can be high, but also because customers can be obliged to take on a ‘bundle’ of services at the time of the initial credit agreement, including delivery and insurance cover.”

“It has been questioned whether this amounts to good value for money for the customer, with some consumer groups arguing that the consumer should be protected from such contracts. The inquiry will look at a number of issues around how the market is working … and will ask whether more needs to be done, from a regulatory point of view, to ensure that customers get a good deal.”

creditcards Which!!! call for an end to 0% credit cardsSince the FCA took over responsibility for consumer lending from the FSA, we’ve been impressed with how proactive they have been in identifying problems and trying to address them. They’ve even taken on the payday lending giants and the big banks in their financial conduct crusade. However, our friends over at Which!!! have decided they just aren’t doing quite enough and have offered them some pointers on where to go next- focusing on credit cards and unsecured borrowing in a new report.

According to Which!!! figures, UK consumers’ total unsecured debt remains fairly hefty at £158 billion and eight in ten (79%) people used a credit product last year. A significant proportion of those (21%) run out of money by the end of every month, a rise of two percentage points since 2012.

The report points out a few things that Which!!! are not happy about, where the FCA should get its finger out and intervene. One of Which!!!’s bugbears is the proliferation of 0% credit cards- not the principle of them but the name. After all, it’s only a 0% card after you’ve paid the balance transfer fee. Other complaints include:

Unfair and irresponsible lending practices, like setting up credit accounts automatically

Failure to explain risks, e.g. logbook loans might make you lose your car

Repeated credit searches preventing people from shopping around for the best credit deals

Which!!! have therefore drawn up a big long list of recommendations (to add to the ones they helpfully provided when the FCA first took over the job), the highlights of which are:

Banning the use of the term “0%”on credit products that charge more than 0%, for example credit card deals with an upfront fee.

Requiring high cost lenders (including those providing unauthorised overdrafts, such as banks) to show the cost of credit as pounds per £100 borrowed over 30 days as APRs are not always suitable in these circumstances and can mislead consumers. You don’t say.

Allowing consumers to shop around by requiring lenders to use ‘quotation’ searches, rather than ones that will affect credit rating.

Forcing lenders to set minimum repayments on credit cards at a level which strikes a fair balance between affordability and ensuring that the debt is paid off over a reasonable time. Ensure all repayments made in branch or online before midnight are received on that day.

Preventing retailers from automatically signing up customers for a credit account they didn’t actively apply for.

Which!!! executive director, Richard Lloyd said: “The regulator has so far rightly focused on the unscrupulous practices of payday lenders, however, we have found problems across the whole of the credit market. It’s now more important than ever that all credit products are up to scratch, so that consumers can more easily manage their borrowing.”

But are all of Which!!!’s recommendations what we really want or need as consumers, or is Which!!! just trying to babysit us too much? If people don’t realise they might lose their car if they don’t keep up the repayments on a logbook loan, should they be allowed to have their own money (or drive) at all?