school uniform 300x211 A third of parents take children out of school to save money on a holidayIt’s almost the end of term. Unless you are in Scotland in which case that is old news. Some parents may be looking forward to having their offspring around 24-7, others may be experiencing a growing sense of dread. But some parents will have been rubbing their hands with glee as more than a third of parents (36%) take their children out of school during term time. And this risk to their child’s education is all in the name of saving money.

New research by Nationwide Building Society shows that, despite increased attention and new £60 penalties for unauthorised absences, the proportion of parents angling for a cheap getaway has remained largely unchanged since last year’s research, where 37% admitted taking a hooky holiday. Out of those parents who did opt for term-time holidays, almost one in five (19 per cent) further compounded their children’s moral slide by lying about it and telling  the school their child was sick rather than admit they were off on holiday.

However,  given the fact that the premium for a typical holiday in Spain for a family of four has been calculated as amounting to as much as an extra £1,347 during school holidays compared with term-time, £60 seems a fair price to pay for the discount.

The research also showed that:

57% took their kids out of school for holiday at the end of term, compared with 18% who chose the start of term and 17% who went for a mid-term break

72% of parents went for a foreign holiday during time term, which would result in greater savings compared with school holidays

62% of children on term-time holidays were from primary school, but the figure almost halved for older children, with only 32% of secondary pupils being taken out of school for holiday

But while over a third of parents sounds a lot, is this news so surprising? Alternative research by Yorkshire Bank suggested that almost a quarter (24%)  of people base their choice of holiday primarily on price, while a further 27% would book somewhere unusual if it would save them money. The average spend of a summer holiday is estimated at £1,027.72 per person per year.

So would you do it? Is a week’s education worth over a grand to you? Or do you live in Scotland and have already enjoyed a lovely family holiday abroad, cheaper and without a resort full of screaming English children…

Cheap food = tax dodging?

July 10th, 2014 3 Comments By Thewlis

tax image 300x230 Cheap food = tax dodging?We all know that inflation has been outpacing earnings increases for years, and is only now getting back to levels targeted by the Bank of England. This means that the pressure on cost of living has been immense for many people, many of whom may have turned to discount supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi in order to make ends meet. And this has had a knock on effect of driving down food prices across the supermarket sector, which is almost certainly A Good Thing.

But does discount shopping come at a price?

New figures released today show that suggest that food price inflation is standing at record low levels. But some are suggesting that, like Amazon, the way discounters are managing to undercut the market starts with tax avoidance, potentially adding a moral cost to the discount

George Bull from accountants Baker Tilly cites Lidl as an example. Most of Lidl UK’s stock, management and administrative support arises from its German parent which means that Lidl’s UK tax liability is low owing to all the costs being sent back over to Germany. While Lidl is providing jobs and cheap food in the UK, it is therefore contributing little to the UK tax pot. More worryingly, Bull suggests that the big UK retailers might be eyeing up the smaller discounters – for example, Sainsbury’s is reported to be taking to take a half share in a new Netto chain with the Danish parent – meaning more money is diverted away from the UK treasury.

But does that matter so long as the cash is, instead, staying in UK consumers’ pockets? After all, we will eventually spend that money and boost the UK economy further. Or is corporate tax avoidance always wrong, even if, as in the case of Lidl, it was a legitimate foreign company long before it ever landed here.

Or does anyone even care anymore so long as prices are kept low? Is anyone still boycotting Amazon and Starbucks now they are no longer in the news?

new food labelling 300x105 Our EU chums are getting shirty over our traffic light labelling on foodEveryone knows that if you constantly eat crap, you end up a pale and unhealthy glutinous mass. Of course, everyone is free to choose what they eat, but as part of a drive to help people make informed choices, UK food retailers largely conform to the voluntary traffic light food labelling system, which tells you whether the amount of fat and sugar you are about to cram in your gob is good (green) or less good (red).

Now, however, some of our European chums have decided that, far from being helpful and informative, this traffic light labelling is in fact discriminatory and rude, and have run off to the European Commission to tell tales. The group, led by Italy, is concerned that, as their national produce such as prosciutto and Parmesan might end up with red labels, we are clearly trying to stealthily stop all UK people eating foreign muck.

Italy accused the UK’s labelling system of ‘clearly influencing customer choice’ and got its mates, Slovakia, Luxembourg, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Slovenia, Romania, Portugal together with France just for good measure, to back it up. They all stood around huffily in the EC until the Commission agreed to investigate. Their challenge is supported by UK local retailer the Co-operative who undertook a survey which found that 40% of women and 30% of men had decided against buying a product owing to its red traffic light labelling.

The Commission’s findings are expected in a few weeks, but its investigation will consider whether the labelling infringes basic EU tenets of the free market within Europe.

However, Glenis Willmott, UK MEP Health Spokesperson condemned the challenge, describing the case as “spurious” and claiming EU legislation was clear in permitting voluntary informational labelling on products. If the EU finds against the UK, and the UK refuses to withdraw the labelling, we could be landed with a heavy fine.

It seems the irony of us pasty Britishers hankering after a more Mediterranean diet is lost on our near neighbours.

websites  People confused by copycat ‘government’ websites Confusion reigns amongst consumers, who are regularly bamboozled and misled by fake websites posing as official ones – particularly copycat government websites.

Savvy web users might be able to spot a rubbish fake crown logo or a web address called ‘giveusyourdetails.gov.passport.’ But others are regularly being led down the garden path, according to research by the Advertising Standards Authority.

The ASA is so concerned about this that it’s launching a new awareness campaign, which will lead people to official government web pages and away from the dodgy ones.

It’s also considering tougher enforcement of fake sites and advertisers, pledging to work with Google and Bing to weed out the infiltrators.

Although 8 out of 10 people surveyed could spot the official passport application site, some of the other sites posing as government sites are quite convincing. Only half guessed that a site replacing Births, Deaths and Marriage certificates was actually a commercial website.

‘We’re focused on tackling any sites that continue to mislead, in support of other enforcement activity.’ Said Miles Lockwood from the ASA. ‘We’re also working with search engines and government to ensure the public are protected. In the meantime, always start at gov.uk to access a government service.’

50% of people post online TV show spoilers

July 8th, 2014 4 Comments By Lucy Sweet

game of thrones 50% of people post online TV show spoilers According to a survey by people with nothing better to do, three quarters of us have had the plotlines of TV shows ruined by people on social networks.

Game of Thrones is the most spoiled programme (KING JOFFREY IS A WOMAN!), followed by Breaking Bad (IT’S NOT THAT GREAT!) and The Walking Dead (NEVER SEEN IT, IS IT GOOD?).

And half of us admit that we can’t resist sharing sensitive plot information with the world via Facebook and Twitter.

Researchers at VoucherCodesPro polled 2749 people about their viewing habits, and found that 77% of people watched their favourite shows for an average of 10-15 hours a week. But they only watched scheduled, traditional telly for 5.5 hours.

74% said that they’d had a TV show ruined by online spoilers, because audiences in America had seen it before then and discussed it on social media. BOO HOO.

Perhaps if people used those 20 hours a week of watching telly to do something more interesting they wouldn’t be sitting around boring everybody about spoilers. And they might smell a tiny bit less of overpowering armpit cheddar.

 Homophobic bakery finds itself in a sticky situation A bakery which refused to make a Bert and Ernie cake with the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’ might find itself in court after saying the request went against its director’s religious beliefs.

(How can people not believe in Bert and Ernie?)

Christian-run Ashers Baking Co is in Northern Ireland, the only place in the UK where gay marriage is still illegal, but even so, apparently the bun-faced haterz have been sent a stern letter by the Equalities Commission threatening legal action if they don’t ice the message.

The request for the cake came back in May, apparently made by a LGBT activist. The bakery is being backed up by the Christian Institute, which calls for extremely specific new laws to protect small bakeries from gay marriage. In a statement they said:

‘The case proves the need for the law to reasonably accommodate family-run businesses with firmly held beliefs.’

Daniel McArthur from Ashers Gay-hate-ery bakery added:

‘We thought that this order was at odds with our beliefs. It certainly was in contradiction of what the Bible teaches.’

Hmm, well with that logic, they would only make cakes featuring King Herod and thousands of dead babies. Or a jolly frosted representation of the story of King David’s son Amnon, who raped his half sister and then was brutally murdered by her brother in a revenge attack. FESTIVE!

What has cake got to do with beliefs anyway? MAKE A GAY CAKE, YOU SPONGE BRAINS.

oxford street Oxford Street is the worst pollution hell hole in the world London’s Oxford Street, home of Top Shop and lots of places selling ‘I went to London and All I Got Was This Lousy Chest Infection’ t-shirts, is officially the most polluted street on EARTH, with the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide.

The pollution station at Oxford Street has coughed and spluttered and produced a reading of 135 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre of air so far this year. That’s more than 4 times the EU limit of 40mcgs.

But that’s not even the true picture – that’s just the average. In the day time, when you’re out shopping for something pretty, the levels are even higher.

On one day in March, the nitrogen dioxide levels hit a chest heaving 436 micrograms per cubic metre of oxygen. These levels are higher than China and India, and it’s all down to diesel engines on buses and lorries.

David Carslaw from Kings College London said: ‘To my knowledge this level is the highest in the world in terms of both hourly and annual mean. NO₂ concentrations in Oxford street are as high as they have ever been in the long history of air pollution.’

So if you’re asthmatic, or would rather not die of heart disease or a stroke, then move to somewhere with cleaner air. Like Calcutta.

Dominos caught selling Aldi potato wedges

July 4th, 2014 9 Comments By Lucy Sweet

wedges 300x243 Dominos caught selling Aldi potato wedges Staff at a branch of Dominos in Linlithgow, West Lothian face a grilling after they were caught buying cheap jumbo bags of potato wedges from Aldi and then trying to pass them off as Domino’s own brand.

The cheapo wedges cost only 59p from Aldi, whereas Dominos wedges are a staggering £3.49 for a tiny box. But staff say they’d run out due to Wimbledon and the World Cup, and they were just trying to keep up with an unprecedented demand for wedge action.

A customer spotted what they were up to when he went in to order a pizza, and said: ‘I had a bit of a chuckle – but it’s really cheeky flogging Aldi products as their own.’

Domino’s bosses explained the problem.

‘With big sporting events in full swing, the Linlithgow store was faced with no wedges. We do not advocate this as a solution. We have spoken to the store to ensure ordering has been adjusted and our customers get Domino’s wedges.’

It’s actually pretty enterprising when you think about it – and it also very much begs the question: ‘is there a scientific correlation between major sporting events and potato wedges?’

MPs slam scary looking debt letters

July 4th, 2014 No Comments By Lucy Sweet

debt collector MPs slam scary looking debt letters Proving they’ll stop at nothing to make a buck, Barclays, Halifax, Lloyds, RBS and HBSC have been accused of putting the frighteners on customers by sending them letters which are designed to look like they come from debt collecting agencies.

The letters – which are actually from the banks themselves –look like they’re from third party solicitors or agencies to scare people into settling their debts.

But these companies are fictional. For example, Barclays use the pseudonym ‘Mercers Debt Collection’, Scottish Power ‘Sterling Collections’, and Lloyds have really pushed the boat out with a triumvirate of imaginary solicitors, ‘Blair, Oliver and Scott.’

And this trick is used not just by banks, but by utility companies and student loans companies, too.

Everyone was roundly outraged when it was revealed last week that Wonga was using a fake debt collecting company to ‘encourage’ customers into paying back their loans. And the FCA ordered them to pay £2.6m in compensation.

However it seems to be standard practice across the board. Labour MP Stella Creasy slammed the letters, saying:

‘These letters seem to have been designed to frighten people into thinking that they are further along in the debt process than they are. At best, they are not being transparent, and at the worst they are being downright deceptive. It’s disgraceful.’

So why fine Wonga and not the others? Marc Gander from the Consumer Action Group said:

‘All the companies that employ these tactics, whether it is the Student Loans Company, the banks or utility companies, should face equal scrutiny and equal sanctions. Action needs to be taken.’

You bet it does.

eBay and Gumtree are riddled with scams

July 4th, 2014 2 Comments By Mof Gimmers

ebay eBay and Gumtree are riddled with scamsWe all know that eBay and Gumtree are full of scams (including some of the t&cs from the company themselves, eh readers? Eh? EH?), but just how many?

Well, the Citizens Advice have revealed that one in six complaints about products or services advertised on Gumtree, and one in 10 about sales at eBay, are scams or potential scams.

The CA’s analysis looked at 649 problem cases involving Gumtree and 3,711 at eBay.

Problems included scams advertising housing and job scams, as well as motorists buying second-hand cars and then finding out that there was a logbook loan attached.

Other scams include the classic ‘paying for something but getting nothing in return’ on things like phones and, weirdly, pets. Apparently, businesses are being stung as well as people just shopping for themselves. Companies are contacted by other firms offering cheap advertising which transpire to be cons. There’s an increase in scams on fake tickets for the Commonwealth Games, where people are being offered expensive stubs, and getting nothing back.

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Online marketplaces are at risk of becoming a hotbed for scams. These sites are an important service for buyers and sellers, but con artists are profiting from them too. Scammers are swindling people out of hundreds or thousands of pounds by posting false products and services online.”

“Con artists are preying on those still trying to get back on their feet from the recession. Fake jobs and phoney homes are taking people’s deposits that they strived and saved so long for.”

As a result, CA want eBay, Gumtree and others to police their sites better.

If you think you’ve been scammed, then visit citizensadvice.org.uk or call 03454 040506 (03454 040505 for the Welsh speakers among you).

Nectar card Sainsburys to stop giving Nectar points on alcoholYou can get Nectar points on practically anything now. Buying second-hand underwear on eBay*? Nectar points. Constipation relief from the supermarket? Nectar points. Bottle of Pimms?

Zero Nectar points.

Sainsbury’s have decided to stop giving you Nectar points on the sale of spirits and liqueurs and are blaming the Government.

Not only are whisky, Pimms, gin and vodka excluded from points tallies, they will also, going forwards, be excluded from minimum spend promotions when, for example, you get a £5 discount when you spend more than £50, joining current exiles such as tobacco and lottery ticket sales.

But why have Sainsbury’s decided to do this? They are blaming the introduction of the “complex” minimum alcohol pricing regulations (almost three months ago), which mean a 440ml can of 5% beer must have a minimum price of 50p. A standard bottle of 40% vodka can now not be sold for less than £10.16 and a bottle of wine for less than £2.24.

On the face of it, you can see Sainsbury’s point. Imagine they were selling bottles of vodka for £10.16 and then you earn Nectar points. These points must have *some* value, and they are therefore selling that bottle of vodka for £10.15999, which is below the minimum price level and would mean they would be breaking the law.

However, the change is not actually the Government’s fault (sorry about that) for two reasons. Firstly the minimum alcohol prices in England and Wales (but definitely not in Scotland, where the legislation is currently being challenged) were quite deliberately set at a level that is lower than the lowest-discounted alcohol currently available in England and Wales. At Sainsbury’s, for example, the cheapest standard strength bottle of vodka is £11.50. That’d be a whole lot of Nectar points to take it below the minimum price of £10.16.

So given that Sainsbury’s were highly unlikely to be selling alcohol below minimum price even with a Nectar points discount, what other reason could they possibly give. Ah yes, those “complex” rules. Sainsbury’s are sticking to their story that this change is required to make it simple enough for their staff and customers to understand:

“We’ve tried to implement the government’s complex new legislation on alcohol pricing in a way which keeps it as simple for customers and colleagues to understand as possible,” a spokesman said. “In some areas we have gone beyond the legal minimum in the interests of simplicity and ensuring we always trade in a fully compliant and legal way,” Sainsbury’s said, smiling apologetically.

Only, the thing is, the official guidelines issued by the Home Office specifically exclude loyalty schemes when checking whether alcohol is being sold at a high enough price, as any “discount” in the form of points is redeemed against future purchases. A Home Office spokesman told the Telegraph that Sainsbury’s had “gone above” what was required by the law.

Nice try Sainsbury’s, but now we all know that you were acting in the interests of your pocket, rather than simplicity…

* you can’t actually buy used underwear on eBay for “health and hygiene reasons”. And because that would be gross.

Forget foil – buy a Food Hugger

July 3rd, 2014 2 Comments By Lucy Sweet

food huggers Forget foil – buy a Food HuggerFoil is bloody annoying, isn’t it? It’s obscenely shiny, the jaggy bit on the dispenser cuts you and it’s favoured by heroin addicts the world over.

So let us ditch the stuff and instead embrace the Food Hugger, a silicone device that keeps that abandoned half an onion fresh for weeks on end.

The premise, like most things that actually work, is simple. The device is a reusable silicone disk that wraps itself around fruit and vegetables – and crazy online reviewers are in raptures, saying that it keeps food fresh for much longer than anything else.

American designers Adrienne McNicholas and Michelle Ivankovic invented the device to help halt the amount of food waste in the US. And it’s all about the silicone ‘second skin’ – meaning your old manky veg will be completely airtight and no mould will get in.

‘The most targeted solution to the problem of keeping them as fresh as possible was to address the area where the skin had been cut away, and to develop ideas for how we could replace the missing protective skin.’ Said the ladies, chomping on a brilliantly fresh 12 day old tomato.

Originally the project was funded by Kickstarter, but it looks set to TAKE OVER THE WORLD. So there’s no excuse to have fights with cling film or be foiled by foil – for £14.99 you can give your food a hug and keep that half a pepper (that you have no intention of using ever again) until Doomsday.

The great Argos rip-off sale?

July 3rd, 2014 7 Comments By Mof Gimmers

argos aliens 300x200 The great Argos rip off sale?Avid Bitterwallet reader, Chris McMullen, got in touch to tell us about something fishy going on at Argos.

Argos have some clearance items on sale, but what they haven’t told you is that a number of the items were already reduced to a price lower than their sale offerings.

You’ll be wanting some proof won’t you?

Have a look at this tablet dock currently on sale for £6.99. That’s half price according to Argos! Well, not too long ago, Argos were selling it for £1.99. In Argos’ defence, in the small print on the item, it does say that it was for sale for £1.99, but it isn’t exactly obvious.

Argos are selling a number of toys that were cheaper before the sale price too. One HUKD user said that they “ordered the Apparat 7″ accessory pack [for] £1.99 I was a day late collecting it the price shot up to £35.99 …..inflation or wot?????”

OR WOT?????? indeed!

Of course, Argos won’t be the last and certainly aren’t the first to do something like this with sale items, but it is worth shouting about because, if you’re thinking about getting stuck into the Argos clearance, it is good to know that you can check the ‘additional information’ just beneath the product spec, so you can be sure you’re getting a bargain, rather than something that has been jacked up in the sale, when it was previously cheaper.

internet 240x300 Offline consumers are £440 worse off (and that’s mostly poor people and old people)We know. Everyone is online these days, and in many cases it’s actually more difficult to get things done offline rather than online. Now, new figures from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) show that as well as being a pain in the proverbial, being offline actually costs more- and it’s those who can least afford it who are suffering.

The total additional cost for offline households has been calculated at a massive £440 a year than for those who do have access to the internet. This equates to an unnecessary charge of approximately 4.4% of household income, rising to 5.4% for the over-65s.

The biggest average savings offline households miss out on are the discounts offered to energy and telecoms customers for buying online and switching to paperless billing, which together account for around £139 a year. Typically, online telecoms customers get a 30% saving, or £88 on average and energy companies offer a 6% discount, or £51 on average.

Other online savings missed by offline consumers include 16% off package holidays and accommodation, 15% off TVs and computers and 10% off food.

Figures estimate that there are 7 million people in the UK who have never used the internet, but over 70% of these, a massive 5 million of the people forking out more to not have the latest technology,  are elderly or receiving benefits, and possible least likely to have a spare £440 lying around.

A recent report by the Nationwide Foundation and Sliced Bread highlighted the plight of vulnerable members of society- quoting from an offline customer who lamented the common £2 charge for paper bills £2 discount for online bills. As he put it, “when you’ve got five or six of them at £2, that’s a week’s shopping when you’re on benefits, you know.”

So could you imagine going back to pre-internet life? Or do you agree that being online should be a choice, rather than an (financial) obligation?

Posh curry house wins Restaurant of the Year

July 2nd, 2014 2 Comments By Lucy Sweet

curry Posh curry house wins Restaurant of the Year Think you’re some kind of curry connoisseur? You may have forged yourself a hot ring at your local curry house, but you’ve never seen anything like Gymkhana, London’s hottest restaurant.

This is fine dining at its finest, and a curry pour deux at Gymkhana – named after the jolly horse event favoured by posh teenage girls called Binky – will set you back about £100. And it’s in Mayfair.

Oh, and this is real curry, by the way, not your bog standard Patak’s korma.

Chef Karam Sekhi is known for his uncompromising Indian cuisine, and he’s refused to tone things down for weak British palettes more used to Findus Crispy Pancakes than fenugreek.

In fact, it’s so good that the restaurant has now been awarded National Restaurant of The Year, which means that the humble curry house has finally been lifted into the stratosphere of haute cuisine.

‘It’s a testament to the quality of Gymkhana as well as the true diversity of the UK’s eating out scene that an Indian restaurant has been named the best place to eat out in the UK,’ said Stefan Chomka, editor of Restaurant magazine. [Shout out to the amazing Mughli in Manchester - Ed.]

Yes, no longer will Indian restaurants be places where you try to competitively eat a table made of naan washed down with a pint of flat Kingfisher. Expect to see lots of overpriced posh Indian restaurants opening in your neighbourhood soon…