Register to vote and improve your credit score?

January 26th, 2015 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

vote Register to vote and improve your credit score?Voting is a pain – not least because picking a candidate to vote for is often like choosing which debilitating disease you’d like to contract.

However, your credit score could depend on it, which means that, come the general election, it’d be worth voting for someone or spoiling your ballot, just to keep your credit score up.

So what’s all this about? Well, in 2014, the UK started moving toward the Individual Electoral Registration (IER), which means that the head of the household no longer registers everyone who lives under their roof. Mercifully, you can register online, so you don’t have to try and cajole any lazybum teenagers into getting off the couch for too long.

People who have moved house are less likely to be on the voting register because of reasons, which causes voting problems in the renting sector.

And all this will affect your ratings because, for example, credit reference agencies use the electoral register to confirm that you live where you say you live and companies use the electoral roll to confirm you are who you say you are. If you’re thinking about getting a mortgage, then being on the electoral list is paramount. Basically, it is used to try and stop fraud.

As well as that, if you’re not on the list, you can’t vote, which means you might be shunned at dinner parties by your chest-beating pals who like to parp on about such things… not that Jeremy Paxman and Russell Brand vote, but there you go.

Either way, being included on the electoral register means you’ll have a healthier credit score. Now, conspiracy theorists: Do your worst.

SSE joins in with the energy price cuts

January 26th, 2015 No Comments By Ian Wade

sse SSE joins in with the energy price cutsSSE have become the latest energy company to announce a price cut.

The company become the fifth of ‘The Big Six’ energy firms to have announced a reduction in their price cuts, following recent moves by the likes of E.On, British Gas, Scottish Power and Npower.

Now they’re all staring at EDF to follow suit.

SSE will cut domestic gas prices by 4.1% from 30th April, which should save their average households around £28 a year. Whoop. They’ll be mindful that they’ve got to win people over after it was revealed that Ofgem are investigating them.

SSE – who have around 8.7 million customers – have also said it would extend its guarantee not to increase its gas and electricity prices until July 2016, and that wholesale energy costs now make up “less than half of the typical household energy bill”.

Steve Forbes, SSE’s director of GB Domestic, said: “We were the only supplier to freeze prices and we promised we would cut them if we could; now we’re delivering on that promise with an average £28 reduction in gas bills.”

“There are significant other costs within energy bills, including those relating to government-sponsored environmental and social policies and the roll-out of smart meters.”

Chipping in, Alistair Phillips-Davies, SSE’s chief executive, said: “Customers are at the heart of SSE’s business, and our work to secure their energy supplies in wholesale markets last spring enabled us to guarantee that prices would not increase until at least January 2016, showing we are committed to treating all of our customers fairly and to giving them stable prices over the long-term.”

“We’re being true to that commitment with a 4.1% reduction in the typical gas bill and an extended guarantee meaning gas and electricity prices won’t go up before July 2016 at the earliest.

SSE reckon the prolonged period of mild weather to 31 December 2014 meant that average consumption of electricity was estimated to have fallen by 5.6% while average consumption of gas dropped by almost 16%.

This ongoing set of price tumbles is responding to politicians and general “stop charging so much” level headed humans as well as due to the reduction in oil and gas prices. For that reason, the energy industry is undergoing a full scale inquiry from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) into the way it operates. The CMA inquiry is expected to report its provisional findings in May or June.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

eBay cutting a load of staff

January 22nd, 2015 No Comments By Ian Wade

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

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

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

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

Fancy that.

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

Metro Bank expand but yet to make a profit

January 22nd, 2015 3 Comments By Ian Wade

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

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

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

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

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

savings 300x235 Success of NS&I bonds causes misery for saversAs reported last week, the new NS&I Pensioner Bonds were launched to great fanfare and are still expected to sell out, with many savers unable to get through on phone lines to make their investment.

However, it seems the launch of these bonds, which are able to offer market busting rates owing to £10bn Treasury backing, has had another, less saver-friendly side effect. Unable to compete, it seems other banks are actually cutting their savings rates, with more than 100 rates cut so far in 2015.

Big banks and building societies including Lloyds Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, Halifax, the Post Office and Skipton Building Society are among those to have slashed rates recently- in some cases, interest rates have been cut in half.

The recent fall in inflation has compounded the problem and means that a widely-predicted rise in the Bank of England base rate may now be delayed. Of course, when the base rate does go up, banks will be under pressure to  increase savings rates offered, so banks may be taking the low inflation to drop rates now in advance of raising them later on.

So far this year, MoneyMail has found more than 100 cuts on variable-rate savings accounts, including ISAs and children’s accounts. While most of the cuts are less than one percent, hardly surprising given the pitiful rates to start with, the worst offender title going to Skipton  Building Society whose Bonus Cash Isa rate has been halved from 2 per cent to 1 per cent. Last Thursday, Halifax cut the rate on their Junior Isa  from 6 per cent to 4 per cent. But there is one exception to prove the rule- Virgin Money’s one-year fixed-rate cash Isa is up by a tiny fraction, from 1.65 per cent to 1.7 per cent.

Susan Hannums, director at the independent website Savings Champion said: “This is one of the toughest periods for savers in living memory. We hoped the launch of the pensioner bonds would kick-start this year as a better one for savers with much-needed competition, as banks and building societies try to hold on to savers rather than lose out to National Savings.” However, she concluded that “early indications haven’t been good, with more rate cuts for both new and existing savers.”

Inflation is down! This should be good news after months of worry that wages have not been keeping pace with inflation making us all feel even poorer than we are. However, the bank of England’s latest announcement of a record low inflation rate last month of just 0.5% has led to worries that inflation is now too low and that we might end up in deflationary times. It seems inflation is bad whichever way it goes. But what does inflation actually mean to you?

Much of this month’s drop in inflation can be attributed to the surprising, yet very welcome drop in fuel prices (down  18.7% on last year), which is likely to have a continued effect into next month, but what else is getting cheaper, and what is actually going up in price.  Here is a practical guide:

Going down in price…

1.   Iceberg lettuce – down 28%

Unexcitingly, this year’s biggest bargain is a fairly uninteresting vegetable. Vegetables as a whole were down by 7.1% on average over the past year, according to the Office for National Statistics. But it’s Iceberg lettuce that is down by the most, selling for an average 68p in December 2014, down 28% from 94p in December 2013. You’d have to go back to 1992 to find these prices on lettuce. Rabbits have never had it so good.

heartcucumbers 300x163 Inflation  what is actually going down (or up) in price?2.   Cucumbers – down 24%

Cucumbers are a very versatile vegetable. And now cheap, too. The ONS said the average price in December 2014 was 58p compared with 77p  last year, making cucumber as cheap as they were in 1989. The compared prices were both taken in December, so there is no element of seasonality to the price drop, cucumbers are just cheaper than than used to be. Cool.

3.   Bread – down 15.7%

It doesn’t matter if you’re brown or white, the price of a loaf costs less bread than it used to. The ONS’ average large sliced wholemeal loaf (800g) is now £1.13, down from £1.34 in December 2013. The price of an 800g sliced white loaf has also fallen, down from £1.27 to £1.11 over the same period, with some supermarkets selling brand named loaves at just 79p.

eggs 300x233 Inflation  what is actually going down (or up) in price?4.   Eggs – down 13.1%

You can get a break on eggs, but only if you’re happy with caged birds. Free-range eggs are down a little (2p) from the previous year, but it’s non-free-range eggs where the biggest savings are found.  A dozen medium eggs is now 38p cheaper at £2.51, making the price differential between caged hen eggs and free-range (£3.06) even greater.

5.   Televisions – down 10.5%

Finally, TVs- the ONS says that the cost of television equipment fell by 10.5% last year, although TVs tend to change spec rather more frequently than salad vegetables so it is perhaps harder to compare prices across years. Still, good job you punched your neighbour to get that Polaroid telly on Black Friday huh?

Things costing you a pretty penny more…

olove oil Inflation  what is actually going down (or up) in price?1.   Olive oil – up 12.5%

The price of olive oil is soaring after the worst harvest in a decade. Spain’s annual harvest dropped by almost 40%, and as Spain is the world’s biggest producer of oil, this pushed up wholesale prices 12.5%. You could always try using sunflower oil instead?

2.   Landlines – up 6.25%

Despite reports that consumers don’t even actually know the price of a landline, phone line rental has outstripped inflation for years. On December 1, BT raised its prices by 6.25%, Sky by 6% and TalkTalk by 4.7%. BT also began charging for its previously-free 1571 service, which now costs £22 a year. It’s not so good to talk.

3.    Booze – up 3.5% (and fags – up 8.2%)

The ONS estimates that the average price of wine went up by 3.5% on average over the past year, with a 175ml glass of wine now costing £3.44 compared with £3.22 a year ago. Although always adversely affected by duty increases, 20 king-size cigarettes have jumped from £8.04 to £8.70. If the fags don’t kill you, the cost of them might.

4.   Rents – up 3%

train Inflation  what is actually going down (or up) in price?

The average rent paid for a privately-rented flat rose by 3% in 2014, according to figures from letting agents Your Move and Reeds Rain this week. It said the average rent in December 2014 was £767, compared with £745 in December 2013.

5.   Train fares – up 2.5%

Finally, and in a popular move, regulated train fares went up by 2.5% on average this month, although some fares are up 5.6%. That’s more than 11 times inflation for a train that might always be late


Aviva to scrap 1,500 staff

January 20th, 2015 No Comments By Ian Wade

aviva logo Aviva to scrap 1,500 staffAviva are shedding around 1,500 staff now it has taken over Friends Life to the tune of £5.6 billion.

The Norwich-based insurer had remained tight lipped on potential job losses – as well they might – since announcing plans for the biggest insurance deal for 15 years in November.

The company will axe a tenth of its staff as part of their plans to deliver around £225 million by the end of 2017.

Friends Life currently employs 3,700 in the UK, with its largest operation in Bristol, and smaller offices in Dorking, Surrey.

Aviva employs 16,000 across the UK, with around 5,000 in its York and Sheffield-based life and pensions business. The insurer hasn’t allocated where the cuts will be happening, thus putting its entire workforce at ease, no doubt.

A spokesman for the insurer said: “We appreciate that this news may be disconcerting for employees and we would look to ensure that any redundancies are kept to a minimum wherever possible, by using vacancies and natural turnover, for example,” an Aviva spokesperson said.

Them pesky shareholders will vote on the deal on March 26th, which is expected to go through on April 13th.

bank sign FCA think Brits are getting a bad deal from the banksIf you’re the kind of person that doesn’t know the answer when questioned where a bear drops its guts, then this will be news to you – in Britain, the banks aren’t very good and giving everyone lousy deals. For the rest of you, the Financial Conduct Authority’s latest findings will have you wanting to hand out PHDs in stating the obvious.

So what’s the news?

Well, people in Britain are getting poor value from a lot of cash savings accounts, finding it difficult to switch to a better deal. Are the FCA going to ban some practices? Of course not.

They say that it should be easier to compare and switch between accounts in a market that’s worth £700 billion, where six providers have around two-thirds of all balances. The FCA would like to see switching made easier and quicker, with more timely information about pending changes in interest rates that will happen if people look elsewhere.

This report came about after the regulator came under further pressure to sort out a market that is effectively run by HSBC, Lloyds, Barclays, RBS and Santander UK. The FCA found that ‘the big five’ pay on average “materially” lower rates on easy access savings accounts than smaller rivals.

“In a good market firms should be competing to offer the best possible deal and consumers should have the information they need to help them shop around,” Christopher Woolard, the FCA’s director of strategy and competition, said. The regulator have offered some changes, including greater information on interest rates and lowering the current 15-day switching time for cash accounts.

The watchdog also has concerns about teaser rates, which offer a higher interest as an introductory offer, which then tapers off.

Of course, they haven’t hinted that they’ll force the hands of the banks and indeed, gave no schedule for these changes. The FCA won’t be making providers offer the same interest rate to customers, either.

So basically, what they’ve done is release a report which says ‘Hey! We’ve noticed what you’ve noticed! Bit rubbish isn’t it?’ Time to start flexing your muscles a bit, FCA.

car scrap Car insurance will go up by nearly 10% reckon AACar insurance could go up by 10% according to the AA – y’know, because drivers aren’t paying for enough lately?

The self-styled ‘fourth emergency service’ believe that car insurance could rise by up to 10% in the next 12 months, and that home insurance premiums are unlikely to go any lower either.

According to the latest index of the cheapest deals on the market showed that the cost of annual comprehensive car insurance had risen by 0.2% to £540 in the final three months of 2014.

However the total was still £200 cheaper than the peak in 2011, the AA said.

Janet Connor, managing director of AA Insurance said: “Car insurance is extremely competitive. Nevertheless the underlying trend is upward.”

The AA Insurance Shoparound survey helps to sift out the best deals on an average premium from the five cheapest quotes from insurers and price comparison websites. It showed that the cheapest annual motor insurance had still risen in price during the second half of 2014.

However, the AA has previously said claims management companies and law firms may have found loopholes around the reforms as many insurers have reported a surge in lower-value ‘cash for crash’ claims, where bad people deliberately brake to cause a vehicle to crash into the rear of their car

Meanwhile, the cheapest buildings and contents insurance premiums didn’t alter much significantly in the final three months of 2014, the AA added.

The AA also said that it expected premiums to stay still, bar any freakish weather action this Winter.

petrol Falling petrol prices could put inflation below zeroThe ongoing plunge of prices at Britain’s petrol pumps could pull inflation below zero before the next general election. Handy that.

According to forecasters, the Ernst & Young Item Club falling prices in shops and forecourts in the early part of this year, would be a “shot in the spending arm”.

The Item Club, whose predictions are based on the Treasury’s economic model, says the fall in oil price is acting as the catalyst.

Which arm is your spending arm? It’s a question we’ve asked for years.

Crude oil prices have halved since last summer and inflation in the UK has declined sharply as a result, hitting just 0.5% in December.

Item’s Peter Spencer reckons that it will all help in boosting economic growth, which he expects to be 2.9% in 2015. “Not every economy will be a winner from oil prices collapsing, but the UK certainly is,” he said.


Nicotine patches and gum sales hit by e-cigs

January 19th, 2015 1 Comment By Ian Wade

health e cigarettes 300x209 Nicotine patches and gum sales hit by e cigsThe rise of the electronic cigarette is causing ructions to the sales of nicotine patches and gum.

That bombshell comes from the chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline.

E-cigarettes have become popular with people trying to give up traditional cigarettes, rather than perhaps go down the full cold turkey-style route of gum and patches.

The that’s-actually-his-name Andrew Witty, Glaxo’s chief executive reckons vaping has “definitely taken a bit of our market, no question at all”.

Witty went on to say that GSK have thought about getting into the electronic cigarette market, although it’s all a bit dodgy at the moment, what with the lack of proper scientific data about them.

“We’ve decided we’re not going to play. We’ve consciously had a think about it but we’re not going to play,” Witty said. GSK sells various nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) and smoking cessation products, mainly in the form of patches or gum, including the brands Nicorette, NicoDerm CQ and the medicine Zyban.

Makes a nice change for GSK, as they’re normally in the press for selling drugs like Paroxetine to kids, pleading guilty to criminal charges and paying out $3 billion for promoting its antidepressants for unapproved uses, getting in trouble with the IRS and a variety of fraud cases in Europe.

mobile apps Millions of customers over paying on their phoneMillions of people are over-paying approximately £159 a year due to being on the wrong phone plan, according to Which!!!

An average of seven out of ten mobile customers are paying for bits they never use, or over charged when they go over their monthly contract allowance.

They also believe that if users were to switch to a more suitable contract or mobile provider, three quarters of them would save around £50 a year.

This mobile overspend amounts to £5.42billion a year across the UK according to the report, which also claims that a right load of customers reckon they know they’re probably on the wrong deal, but carry on being ripped off due to not being arsed.

As many as 42% think there is a better value tariff out there for them, but Ofcom research shows only 52% have switched supplier. And apparently only 28% of mobile users actually trust their mobile phone provider.

Which!!! executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: “It’s shocking that consumers are overpaying by billions of pounds for mobile phone contracts that just don’t suit their needs. Mobile phone companies must do more to help people get the best deal, making switching hassle free and ensuring that pricing is transparent.”

“If we don’t see mobile firms making voluntary improvements then we will ask the regulator Ofcom to step in.”

Understandably, Which!!! want mobile companies to take voluntary action by unlocking their phones for free, allowing customers to gain greater control over tariffs. Companies should also notify customers at least a month before the end of their contract and provide information on the best deals for them, showing the monthly cost of the handset separately from the service charge, the watchdog said.

Which!!! praised the moves by the likes of O2 and their Refresh scene, where bills are split into two so mobile fans can see exactly what is being spent.