laura berry topshop model 199x300 Topshop shamed into withdrawing ridiculously shaped mannequinsSocial media. It’s a blessing and a curse. Sometimes it can go off on one creating a hooha over an offensive ad that is actually found not to be offensive at all. And at other times, a single disgruntled young woman can shame a national retail chain into rethinking its mannequins.

In the latest Facebook-offensive, Laura Berry, a customer services assistant from Stroud, Gloucestershire, took a photograph of one of a Topshop mannequins, calling it out for being “quite frankly ridiculously shaped”, and calling for solidarity in her deciding to use her “size 10/12 legs to walk straight out of your store”.

The offending mannequin in question, which the company claimed to be a size 10, was “stylised to have more impact” and was considerably taller than the average British woman at a whopping  6’1″. Within hours of being posted, Laura’s post on Topshop’s Facebook page garnered more than 3,000 likes and more than 700 comments, which even including a response from the retailer.

Laura accused the retail giant of a “lack of concern for a generation of extremely body conscious youth” saying that the stretched out mannequin would leave teenagers “wondering if that was what was expected of [their] bodies.” She cited studies which showed that unrealistic mannequins made young, impressionable women feel insecure, ending with the fairly rant-filled rant “So what makes you feel you can ignore everything that’s been said and considered by other high street stores and even some high fashion designers? What makes you so superior, Topshop? Perhaps it’s about time you became responsible for the impression you have on women and young girls and helped them feel good about themselves rather than impose these ridiculous standards.”

However, the vitriol seems to have taken Topshop by surprise, who admitted that the mannequins, which are made of solid fibreglass, were an unusual shape as “their form needs to be of certain dimensions to allow clothing to be put on and removed easily.” Novertheless, in a public response, Topshop have stated that, following the very exceedingly cross frank views expressed by Laura Berry and other customers, it was “not placing any further orders on this style of mannequin”, which was “not meant to be a representation of the average female body.”

 Topshop shamed into withdrawing ridiculously shaped mannequinsBut is this really a victory? Last year Topshop were previously slated after a size 8/10 girl posed next to a Topshop mannequin, where her legs looked like treetrunks in comparison. And, much like catwalk models, aren’t mannequins supposed to be angular frames from which to drapes clothes, rather than an aspirational ideal for young people? Still, it’s a win for people power- it just remains to be seen whether the high street will adopt a more realistic style shop display- or whether they’d smply like to sell as many clothes as possible…

Mr. Happy Everything is rosy with household financesIt’s rare that economists aren’t gloomy, but it seems everyone is feeling more positive about their finances. The latest Nielsen consumer confidence survey shows that UK confidence has overtaken the global average for the first time in more than nine years- last time we were this happy financially, Tony Blair was telling us things could only get better for the third time and the official interest rate was nine times higher at 4.5%

British consumers are also more confident than those in Germany for the first time in five years and we’re now second only to Denmark in confidence ratings throughout Europe. We’ve also stopped shopping around so much, with the switching of grocery brands to save money now at its lowest level since late 2009.

A different study by Lloyds Bank, of more than 2,000 people aged between 18 and 75,  also reported an increase in consumers’ confidence. Its survey on spending power found that 70% of empty-nesters- people aged 45 or more whose children had left home- described their financial situation as good, compared with 61% of parents aged 25 and over with younger children and falling to 58% cent of young singles aged between 18 and 24 with no children.

And the Lloyds Bank Spending Power report suggests that confidence is rising with people’s confidence in their personal financial situation increasing by 5 percentage points. And the outlook is rosy-  31% of young single people aged between 18 to 24 said they expected to be able to save slightly more in six months times than they do at present, although this figure falls to 11% for those aged 45 or over, who already think they’re in a good position financially.

Patrick Foley of Lloyds Bank said: “Consumers remain in good spirits, with sentiment buoyed by a combination of strengthening wage growth and muted price pressures,” meaning that lower prices and stagnantly low interest rates, combined with wage increases mean we all feel richer.

And Asda have quantified just how much richer we are. Last week, Asda’s latest Income Tracker report revealed that UK households have an average of £189 of discretionary income to spend each week, which is £18 more than this time last year, a figure that has been consistent for the last quarter. So what are you spending your extra £18 on?

n2bl 300x237 More food fraud  and this one you’ll never spotWho could forget the horsemeat scandal that saw so many of us being unwitting consumers of horses, and not to mention the subsequent Which!!! Investigation that found a worrying number (40%) of lamb curries were actually not lamb at all. Ok in that instance they were mostly beef or chicken, but there was a principle at steak stake. Now, the lovely investigators at Which!!! Have found another food that seems to be commonly not actually what it sayd on the outside- and its something you’d never be able to tell by yourself, and have quite possibly been consuming the substitute for years. The kitchen culprit? Oregano.

An “exclusive cutting-edge food fraud study” for Which!!! found that 25% of 78 samples of dried oregano contained ingredients other than oregano. Fortunately these other ingredients weren’t Chinese tea, or toenails or anything else actually harmful, but in most cases were olive and myrtle leaves,  but they were found to make up between 30% and 70% of the product. So in some cases, less than a third of your oregano jar is actually proper oregano. And don’t think this is just dodgy spice pack bought from Spices R Us online- the investigation used oregano samples bought from a range of shops in the UK and Ireland and from online retailers.

But how could they tell what was oregano and what was other milled leaves? The simple answer is you can’t, or at least you can’t, Which!!! could by using impressive-sounding mass spectrometry which identifies compounds by their atomic composition. The analysis was conducted by Professor Elliott, Director of the Institute for Global Food Security, who was the author of the independent review into food crime commissioned by the government in the wake of the horsemeat scandal.

Professor Elliott said: “Clearly we have identified a major problem and it may well reflect issues with other herbs and spices that enter the British Isles through complex supply chains. Much better controls are needed to protect the consumer from purchasing heavily contaminated products.”

Which!!! are, of course, adding this to their ‘Food Fraud’ dossier, and will be passing these latest results to the Food Standards Agency. Which!!! executive director Richard Lloyd, said: ‘It’s impossible for any shopper to tell, without the help of scientists, what herbs they’re actually buying. Retailers, producers and enforcement officers must step up checks to stamp out food fraud.’


primeday 300x170 Amazon invents a new Black Friday called Prime Day ONLY for Prime membersEveryone loves to hate Black Friday, and not only because it’s (in this country) largely an Amazon thing- after all, we in the UK seem to only know the date of Thanksgiving as it’s the day before Black Friday, which seems to be the wrong way round. And why have Christmas in November as well as December anyway? In any case, if Black Friday deals didn’t excite you enough, Amazon are planning to blow your proverbial socks off with a new discount day hitting your browsers on Wednesday 15th July. The catch? You have to be a Prime member to participate.

The shopping extravaganza will be on the eve of Amazon’s 20th birthday, and the day, catchily named ‘Prime Day’, promises even more deals than Black Friday. As with its predecessor, Prime Day will see  ‘lightning deals’ on products including electronics, toys, video games, clothing, and health and beauty items, with new deals starting every 10 minutes. However, surely the success or failure of Prime Day will depend on the quality of deals, not just the quantity- one million deals saving 40p on a toilet brush are not comparable to 10,000 discounted Xboxes, perhaps.

But if you fancy a piece of the action, what can you do? If you are already a Prime member (which includes Amazon Student and Amazon Family Prime members) you don’t need to do anything- just sit back and relax and, assuming you are signed in, once you visit the website on 15 July, you will be able to access the deals. If you are not already a  member, the criteria for joining in on crazy impulse purchasing next week includes those on a free trial of Prime- meaning that if you are eligible for one, you can take part for nothing. Just remember that Amazon will start charging you £79 per year after the free trial ends (which is kind of the point of it) , so make sure you know how to cancel it, and the date by which you must do so to avoid being charged. If you think you’d like to sign up for Prime anyway, perhaps to benefit from the free Prime streaming movies or the Kindle lending library that come with the free delivery and cloud storage, provided you do so before midnight on July 8th you can get £20 off the annual fee for the first year, meaning you only have to cough up £59.

“We’re offering Prime members thousands of deals on Prime Day. In fact, in the UK we are offering more than double the number of deals that we offered last Black Friday,” said Christopher North, managing director at Amazon UK, boasting that “Prime Day is the latest benefit for Prime members and you can expect us to add further benefits and features to this great service over time.”

Without knowing precisely how great the Prime Day deals are likely to be, it is impossible to tell whether it is worth the hassle of a free trial. Whether it’s worth paying the £79 (£59) to join if you weren’t going to anyway is probably easier to judge- to recoup that cost would take an awful lot of toilet brushes…

But we’ll watch and see about Prime Day next week before passing judgment.

energy bills 300x300  Dual fuel discounts dont necessarily give you the cheapest energy billsIt’s one of those things that savvy people do- you buy your gas and electricity from the same supplier to get the dual fuel discount because it would be silly not to, especially when said discount is advertised as being £50, £70 or even £100 per year. That’s a lot of lightbulbs. However, new research from Which!!! suggests that actually, buying your gas and electricity from the same supplier might not be the cheapest way to do it.

While we are all sold by the promise of huge cash discounts, quite often in life it doesn’t pay to get tied products if you don’t have to- home insurance as a condition of your mortgage being a great example- and it seems buying energy might follow a similar pattern. Which!!! found that the best deals for gas and electricity on their own were actually with smaller specialist suppliers, and by choosing the best individual deals, you could actually beat the dual-fuel-discount inclusive price of the more mainstream suppliers.

Which!!! reckon that small suppliers, like Daligas and Zog Energy, are often the cheapest for just gas, while electricity suppliers iSupplyEnergy and GB Energy Supply are the most competitive for electricity single  supply. By using the best available tariffs, using prices from enrgylinx, Which!!! calculate your total energy costs for a year would be £849 a year, getting gas from Daligas (Daligas One FIX 12 paperless) and your electricity from GB Energy Supply (Premium Energy Saver). The cheapest dual fuel deal available, after deducting any dual fuel discount, comes in at £870, followed by the next cheapest at £913. This means that buying both fuels from the same  supplier is actually costing you at least £20-60 more than choosing the best single fuel tariffs.

Of course, depending on how you are with bills, you might decide that the hassle factor of dealing with two suppliers instead of one is worth £20 to you. Also, if you are a switcher, the additional cashback you might get through sites like Quidco or Topcashback might be more than £20 more valuable to you, meaning a dual fuel switch might actually work out better for you. The point is to always assume the headline discount is not necessarily the best deal until proven otherwise. Energy companies are never considered the most trustworthy of brands, so why believe their discounts are the best without investigating it yourself?

No more premium bonds at the Post Office

June 25th, 2015 No Comments By Thewlis

postoffice10a 300x180 No more premium bonds at the Post OfficeIf you like a (safe) gamble with your hard earned savings, you could do worse than investing in Premium Bonds. Your stake is totally safe, and you might win a million. Although you probably won’t. However, while Premium Bonds were traditionally available at the Post Office, from the end of next month you’ll have to move with the times and buy them directly from NS&I itself.

Today’s announcement comes as the current contract with the Post Office runs out on 31 July 2015. NS&I said they would not be renewing that contract as a result of “changing consumer demand and efforts to reduce costs.” But this is actually a bold move- currently around one in five sales of premium bonds take place in Post Office branches, but proportionately more money is invested through this channel. 2014/15 figures show that 750,000 transactions were made in Post Office counters compared with 3.2m made directly with NS&I, but during the same period, a third of the sales value of Premium Bonds- £3.9bn worth were actually sold in post offices rather than direct.

Of course, the reason for this might be that pensioners favour the Post Office and pensioners tend to like Premium Bonds too. The National Federation of Subpostmasters were unimpressed with the news of the demise of the Post Office contract, saying: “This is very disappointing news, particularly for our elderly and more vulnerable customers who rely on face-to-face support from subpostmasters with handling these types of transactions.

NS&I’s chief executive, Jane Platt, said, insincerely: “As our relationship with the Post Office comes to an end on 31 July this year, I would like to thank them for the support and service they have given our customers over the years and wish them every success for the future.”

She also said the  majority of customers already used direct channels to buy premium bonds, making the move “a natural next step for NS&I.” She described the direct sales process as “ intuitive and straightforward”, thereby proving she has never actually bought premium bonds on the NS&I website herself.

But is the loss of premium bonds from your local post office a big deal? The total percentage payouts on bonds were cut in 2013 to stop them becoming “too attractive” as an investment and although an extra £1million prize was added a year ago, bringing the total to two, as we told you then, this meant that the overall chances of winning any prize other than £1million actually went down slightly.

Premium bonds, however, remain a popular investment, and you can now hold up to £40,000 in premium bonds, and many do- after all, if you don’t win and get a nil return on your investment, you’re hardly down on the teeny interest rates you would have earned sticking it in a savings account, and you never know, this month, it could actually be you. Optimistic lot aren’t you?

housemoney 300x213 Make sure youve got a will  but not drawn up by BarclaysWhile no one likes to talk about popping their own clogs, figures suggest that around half of UK adults don’t have a will. Writing a will is important as it is the only way to ensure your stuff ends up with whom you intend (rather than relying on intestacy laws), and there are a number of low-cost ways to get a will prepared, including Will Aid every November, meaning you won’t break the bank to get one. Or so you’d think. A legal case is now headed for the high court, where a £90 Barclays will has led to legal action chasing hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost inheritance…

The case in question involves a man who owned a London home who used Barclays’ will writing service to determine where his assets would go. He directed that his daughter should receive his half of his London home on his death. So far so simple. However, the problem was that the house was jointly owned with his wife (who is not the mother of his daughter), and where property is owned as ‘joint tenants’ (which is normally the default position when buying houses as a couple), the property will pass to the other joint tenant on death, irrespective of and in priority to any provisions in a will. This meant that when the father died, the half share of the property was legally and correctly inherited by his wife and the daughter received nothing.

The daughter’s claim against Barclays is that they should have been aware of the legal priority given the joint ownership, and that they should have taken steps to ensure her father’s wishes, as detailed in his will, were fulfilled. Breaking a joint tenancy and replacing it with a ‘tenants in common’ form of joint ownership is a simple legal formality, but it would then have allowed separate joint shares to be bequeathed by will instead of automatically passing to the other joint owner.

As Barclays is, as we all know, a bank, the daughter first took the case to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), who found that the bank was at fault. The Ombudsman found that the property had passed in accordance with legal procedure but in a manner contrary to the wishes of the deceased. The FOS said:

“There is no subsequent right for this to be contested with the co-owner in a court of law. Had the bank referred [the] will instruction form to its solicitors I am aware [the solicitors would] issue the notice of severance as a matter of good practise. In order to resolve the complaint we would usually ask the bank to put the consumer back in the position they would have been had the correct steps had been taken in the first instance.”

“Unfortunately, the share in the property in Balham is incapable of being gifted now. Therefore, I would ask Barclays to come up with a settlement that would fairly and reasonably resolve the complaint – taking into consideration the value of the property and the intended gift.”

However, given that a half share of a property in London is worth about 172 million quid these days, Barclays have taken the questionable step of ignoring the Financial Ombudsman’s recommendation to pay ‘fair and reasonable’ compensation and the matter has now gone to the High Court.

But how can Barclays, a massive financial services group authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and therefore bound to act on the Ombudsman’s findings, even if it disagrees with them, just decide to ignore a decision it doesn’t like? Well, it has claimed that actually, its will-writing division is entirely separate, and, in common with the whole will-writing industry, is not regulated. As an unregulated business, therefore, it would not have to adhere to the Ombudsman’s findings.

In an emailed statement, Barclays told Telegraph Money: “The matters raised are the subject of ongoing legal proceedings. It would not be appropriate to comment on the specific points raised. We note that the Financial Ombudsman Service issued its latest decision in relation to the complaint raised… on 19 February 2015. The Financial Ombudsman Service concluded that the matter was outside of the scope of its service.”

The FOS confirmed that it accepted the case was technically out of its scope, once Barclays had insisted that it deal with an unregulated arm, but stressed that its opinion remained that Barclays was at fault.

So what have we learned? While getting a will is definitely still A Good Idea, you should always make sure you get your will prepared by a reputable will writer. And we all know banks are not reputable types. Note that wills prepared by a solicitor will be regulated under solicitors regulation rules.

mpg claim1 332x500 Which!!! cars are least like their published fuel economy figures?

graph by which!!!

As anyone who’s ever internet dated will tell you, sometimes people oversell themselves and once you take them out for a test drive, you realise that the performance just isn’t there. It’s the same with cars- you politely check the MPG rating before you buy, but then find you’re being taken to the cleaners on fuel consumption once you’ve parted with your cash. But which car manufacturers are the best (or worst) at overestimating their medium-sized cars’ efficiency? Which!!! decided to find out.

EU law requires manufacturers to show official test figures in their adverts to help consumers compare fuel economy between different models. But Which!!! think some of the MPG figures quoted are unachievable by normal people. And they don’t like that at all. The EU test is due to be updated to a more accurate test in 2017, but some car marques would like to see this delayed until 2020.

Now, before you start thinking that the guys in the Which!!! office just went out on a load of jolly test drives, they claim to be trying to get “the most accurate picture possible” of how cars perform in actual everyday life. So when assessing fuel economy, unlike the official EU test, Which!!! included a motorway driving simulation, and they switched on all the lights and had the air con blasting. They didn’t mention whether they were also playing some tunes. Also, if a car has different driving modes available, Which!!! used the start-up mode, rather than any Eco mode as “this may offer better economy, but will also often neuter a car’s performance to the point where it’s awful to drive.” Fair point.

And the results are interesting. The ‘medium cars’ category is an industry-standard class which includes cars like the Ford Focus, Audi A3, Peugeot 308, Seat Leon, Volvo V40, Volkswagen Golf, Alfa Romeo Giulietta, Renault Megane, Mercedes-Benz A-class, Honda Civic, BMW 1 Series, Hyundai i30 Tourer, Skoda Rapid Spaceback and Kia Pro-Cee’d. Which!!! found that medium-sized cars from the likes of Audi, Volvo and Alfa Romeo were actually more than 10% less fuel efficient than the official MPG figures used by manufacturers in their advertising. Audi came top (bottom) of the chart with a whopping 15.3% difference in MPG figures. Hyundai cars were the closest to the published figures at just 1.5% away.

In fact, Which!!! found only five medium cars– Hyundai (-1.5%), Kia (-2.3%), Honda (-2.8%), Skoda (-3.6%) and Mazda (-4%) –  that came within 5% of the published MPG figures when compared with the Which!!! test.

Of course, Which!!! aren’t claiming that the manufacturers are lying or even misleading the public with their figures, those MPG figures were probably genuinely obtained in a lab somewhere. However, Which!!! believe that the current test’s “lack of real-world driving scenarios and numerous loopholes” mean that the headline figures are just a pipedream for anyone actually driving a car in real life.

driving license 300x186 Driving Licences go paperless from next week  how do you hire a car now?Ideas of paperless driving licences have been floating around for some time, with the days of the paper counterpart being numbered. From next Monday, the counterpart will disappear completely and has been replaced by the DVLAs new View your Licence service. This online log-in  based system allows you to view your driving record, eg vehicles you can drive, penalty points and disqualifications, but perhaps more usefully, allows you to create a ‘licence check code’ to share your driving record with someone else, such as  your employer or a car hire company.

In order to log in via the DVLA’s site and request a check code you need three pieces of information: your full licence number (which usually begins with all or part of your name, as shown in the picture at point 5) which is found on your photocard licence, your National Insurance number and your postcode.

So, if you are thinking of hiring a car, they should no longer ask you for your counterpart, but some commentators are recommending you take the old one with you (if you have it) in case they aren’t up to speed with the changes. You should also log in to the DVLA View your Licence site before you travel and print off an updated PDF version of your licence, including penalty details.

DVLA1 500x102 Driving Licences go paperless from next week  how do you hire a car now?Finally, before you go, but within 72 hours of the time you want to hire the car, if possible, log in to the DVLA website and obtain a “check code” by clicking on the relevant ‘share your licence information’ tab on  the far right. The car hire firm can then use this code to view your licence online.

Of course this all sounds pretty nifty, and in theory should all work smoothly and remove the chances of losing important bits of paper. However, we are looking forward to hearing all the tales of how it’s all gone horribly wrong in practice…

July Budget to slash child benefit?

June 1st, 2015 17 Comments By Thewlis

child saving money 300x204 July Budget to slash child benefit?We already know that much-loved Chancellor George Osborne is delivering another Budget on July 8, one not tempered by upcoming election fears, but what we don’t yet know is what might be contained within that little red box. However, ‘leaked’ reports now suggest that George and Iain Duncan Smith have found a way to shave a further £12bn from the welfare budget- by slashing child benefit

Child benefit was always a universal benefit, paid to everyone with children, regardless of means. However, during the last Parliament, the benefit was withdrawn where one parent earns more than £60,000, and reduced where one parent earns between £50,000 and £60,000. Those earning above the threshold can either disclaim their entitlement, or pay it back on a tax return. Where both parents earn £49,999, the family will receive full benefit.

Currently, for those still entitled, the rates have been frozen at £20.70 per week for the first child and £13.70 for every subsequent child, and it is these figures that the Government is said to be looking to adjust. Mr Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, has apparently been modelling the effects of several different variations of cuts ahead of next month’s Budget. The main proposals are to reduce the extra amount paid for the first child, and to limit the amount of children for whom the benefit will be paid.

The modelling will consider reducing the child benefit paid for a first child from £20.70 a week down to the ‘standard’ £13.70. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) calculates this would save the Treasury £2.5bn a year-as well as cutting £360 a year from every qualifying family with children.

Another item under consideration, which has been mooted for some time, is plans to cap the number of children for which child benefit is paid. Both David Cameron and Mr Duncan Smith are said to be in favour of a cap at two children, which would save around £1bn a year. Alternatively, a cap at three children could be considered, although the savings would obviously come in at less than £1bn, making a less than impressive dent in the £10.5bn savings the Government has been charged with finding.

The government has already announced plans to freeze working-age benefits for two years and thescrapping of housing benefit for the under-21s. Last week’s Queen’s speech outlined plans to lower the benefit cap from £26,000 a year to £23,000, a move which some say will put an additional 40,000 children into poverty.

But what do you think? A government source says the (unconfirmed) move is “about achieving behaviour change” and that by limiting the amount of children who qualify for child benefit “you send a message where people have to think: can I afford another child?” But is the availability of a little over £700 a year really a paramount consideration in having another child?

sky 300x168 Man finally manages to resolve Sky contract cancellation problem after two years and £1,395Forget last month’s story about the man who was kept on the phone for 96 minutes trying to cancel his Sky contract, Pete Swift from Edinburgh has finally managed to settle an ongoing dispute with Sky over cancelling his contract after two whole years. However, in a triumph for the underdog, he’s also been paid £1,500 in compensation to settle the £1,395 bill he slapped on Sky for his time spent in sorting out their mess.

The problems began in 2012 when Mr Swift moved to Leith in Edinburgh and cancelled his contract with Sky at that time. Unfortunately the cancellation never actually happened, and Mr Swift became intimately acquainted with a number of debt collectors over the next 18 months as Sky sent the dogs after him, for non-payment of a cancelled contract.

However, Mr Swift declined to take this lying down, and decided to take legal action, first contacting the Citizens Advice Bureau and then the Ombudsman. After speaking to the Ombudsman, Sky offered Mr Swift a £60 gesture of goodwill, but he was more concerned about the effect the error had had on his credit file. The Ombudsman said they could not do anything to rectify any blights upon his credit record, nor could they request any further compensation over and above the £60 offered.

Mr Swift decided this was just not good enough. “I told them that this sum was not proportionate to the hassle and frustrations I had experienced as a result of their error and was therefore not appropriate compensation,” he said, before deciding to take Sky to court over the matter.  The 30-year-old research consultant billed Sky £25 an hour for all the calls he had had to make- to the Sky itself, to the ombudsman, and to various credit reference agencies and debt collection companies. In total, Mr Swift spent almost 56 hours on the phone, including 31 hours talking to Sky.

Two days before the court case was due to be heard,  Sky said it would pay Mr Swift £1,500 for the time and money spent on trying to terminate his contract. He said: “When Sky finally agreed to cover the full settlement I had mixed emotions. On one hand I was really pleased to have the £1,500 and some form of resolution, but I was still very resentful of the lengths I’d had to go to and the way Sky had dealt with the situation,” adding that “Sky had contacted me the week before to try and talk me down to a lower sum of £500.”

He continued: “The whole time I was dealing with them it just felt like I was being fobbed off with the bare minimum they could get away with. There was never really an acknowledgement that something was wrong procedurally that needed to be addressed, it just felt like a case of let’s pay off the complaining customer so he shuts up.” Fortunately, Mr Swift has told his story to the national press before going away and shutting up as Sky would presumably have preferred, giving hope and inspiration to anyone else out there being walked all over by a big corporation.

Sky said the issue was due to a technical fault with its systems, meaning his cancellation was not recorded on his file. A spokesman for Sky said: “Our staff work hard to deliver great service. However, in Mr Swift’s case we got it wrong, and didn’t resolve things quickly enough.

“We are really sorry and have apologised, offering a gesture of goodwill in recognition of the frustration he has experienced.”

Why your bread now costs less bread

May 11th, 2015 No Comments By Thewlis

bread Why your bread now costs less breadWhat’s the best thing since sliced bread? Unfortunately for bread manufacturers, its not the traditional white sliced loaf anymore. A combination of changing consumer tastes and supermarket price wars have meant that traditional sliced loaves are no longer the best thing in a baker’s range.

Research shows a widespread switch away from sliced bread in recent times, with consumers instead turning to ‘healthier’ alternatives such as wholegrain and artisan loaves, or even shunning wheat or gluten-based products entirely. Add to that the fact that bread, as a staple product, has been heavily involved in supermarket price wars- Asda recently dropped a number of branded bread products, and Tesco has thrown them all out in favour of in-house ranges, and you can see why the top three UK bakers are all showing a massive decline in sales. And don’t even mention the introduction of free school meals for all infant school children- with the 14% decline in schoolchildren taking sandwiches also being blamed.

Data from analysts IRI shows that Warburtons, Hovis and Kingsmill , have lost a total of £121 million in bread sales in the past year. Warburtons has lost sales worth £35 million, while Hovis has suffered a £11 million slump in sales. Kingsmill reported that bread sales down £75 million on the preceding 12 months, price drops exacerbating a 14.3% drop in volume. Total UK bread sales were down 8.4% as average prices fell 4.7%, and these figures mean that Hovis, perhaps assisted by its ‘wholemeal’ and traditional image, has overtaken Kingsmill to become Britain’s second biggest selling bread brand.

And therein lies the silver lining. As the bread market goes stale, this has spelled good news for consumers as prices in High Street stores have fallen by an average of 15p for a large (800g) loaf. Trade magazine The Grocer reported that shoppers are currently paying, on average, 13.3%  less than they were a year ago for a large loaf with those selling at a typical promotional price of £1.14 in the last week of April now costing just 99p.

So are you still a tea and toast in the morning kind of consumer? Or are you almond bagel or fruit and yogurt material? Does your lunchbox include a ham sandwich, or are you quinoa and roasted vegetables these days…


It’s always nice when a retailer makes a goodwill gesture when they’ve stuffed up in some way, although, in some cases, disgruntled customers might stretch that goodwill to the limit. Like the case of the Hertfordshire woman who, when offered a meal for two to compensate her for a delay in picking up her new (used) car, promptly went out and spent over £700 on a slap-up meal.

The delay in question was caused when a delivery truck bumped into Ms Siobhan Yap’s new (used) car she had purchased from Watford Audi. While Audi repaired the damage, there was obviously a delay in Ms Yap, 27, obtaining her new Audi A3, and in addition to providing her with a courtesy car, the car retailer offered to pay for her to have ‘a meal for two’.

So far so amicable. However, while Audi did not specify a restaurant, or indeed a price limit for the meal, it is unlikely they would have been expecting the inconvenienced customer to book in at the Michelin starred L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Covent Garden, the total bill for the meal for two coming to £714.

700 bill Woman offered a free meal for two runs up a £700 bill at top London eaterie

picture via BBC

While at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Ms Yap and her mother did not cut any corners, enjoying four glasses of champagne, two bottles of wine costing £69 each, six cocktails totalling £86 and a sloe gin all at Audi’s presumed expense.

They did also eat some food, and the “small tasting dishes” they tried included one La Truffe Noire at £35, two St Jacques scallop dishes costing £29 each and two La Volatille risottos totalling £42.

Unsurprisingly, Audi were a little dismayed to receive the hefty bill, which was rather more than it would have been in Nandos, with a Watford Audi spokesman saying they felt it was “excessive expenditure for two diners”, but as Audi were “keen to make amends for the incident” they offered to cover half the bill, equating to £357.

“We believe this is a fair and reasonable amount given the circumstances, and we stand by the decision taken,” said the spokesman.

However, an unapologetic Ms Yap told the JVS show on BBC Three Counties Radio that Audi should really pay the whole bill because she’d had to send the car back for further repairs, and the cost was “relative to what they put me through and their customer service levels”. If only we all got sloshed at a posh restaurant every time we had sloppy customer service eh?

“They put me through a lot of stress and it was a really nice restaurant,” Ms Yap said, before adding triumphantly that “they should have specified a limit.”

Etiquette expert William Hanson agreed that the garage should have set an upper limit and should “learn a lesson” and “absorb the cost”. However, he also remarked that “you don’t need to perhaps drink that much if someone else is paying”.

But what do you think? Do Audi deserve being taken to the cleaners for their naivety, or is Ms Yap just taking the mickey? Isn’t she entitled to a little bit of what she fancied in exchange for what was an admitted cock-up by the car retailer? Or are greedy people like this the reason more firms don’t make added gestures when things go wrong?

Internet rationing on the way?

May 6th, 2015 2 Comments By Thewlis

internet 240x300 Internet rationing on the way?Do you remember life before the internet? When you could actually argue over who was right on a contentious point for hours, rather than googling it on your phone? When people actually had to write to each other, rather than using email? When accessing certain private services could result in stuck together pages of a magazine rather than a wipe-clean screen? It seems those sepia-toned days could be making a comeback, as experts warn that we’re all gobbling up so much data, that pretty soon we’re going to run out of capacity, which could force us into a new age of internet rationing.

The reports predicting a capacity crash come ahead of next week’s Royal Society meeting in London, when industry experts will meet to discuss the ‘capacity crunch’ that power and data networks are moving towards, as incessant demand for web access goes through the metaphorical roof.

And don’t even think this is a Far Away problem, like pensions, that you don’t really have to worry about, the crash is predicted to fall sooner than you might think. Professor Andrew Ellis, an expert in optical communications, warns that, at the rate consumers are using the web, existing cables will reach their data capacity limit by the end of the decade. This decade. He calls it a “potentially disastrous capacity crunch”.

Of course, extra cables, and more technologically advanced ones, upgrading the UK data network to fibre-optic cables and the like have increased the ability of existing networks and cabling systems to deal with an increased demand for data. But scientists are suggesting even the newer cables are reaching their physical limit because of the rapid increase in popularity of web-enabled devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops greedily sucking up data all day long.

So what’s the answer? Just lay more cables?  On top of the obvious cost involved in bolstering an infrastructure of this size, it seems money might not be the only problem if considering laying more cable. We could then run out of juice.

According to experts, The Internet is already consuming at least 8% of Britain’s total power output, which is equivalent to the output of three nuclear power stations all by itself, and increasing demand is pushing that higher, even before the added drain of extra cables. Lay too much cable, and the internet could suck all our power. And how would we do the vacuuming then?

BT’s head of optical access, Professor Andrew Lord, said ominously:

“It’s the first time we have had to worry about optical fibres actually filling up. We could expand the network by laying more cables but the economics of that do not work and it would increase power consumption.”

So there you have it- looks like we’re destined for internet rationing and a lucrative black market in dodgy data. The roaring twenties of the 21st century could involve everyone shouting at each other for their turn to have a go on the country’s internet…

kebab 300x200 Kebabs and Pizzas are a good investment?Looking for an investment in a fast-growing business? You could do worse than investing in the expanding waistlines of your fellow man. Just Eat, the online takeaway service has just announced a massive portion of extra orders in the first three months of the year. So is this the shape of things to come?

It seems consumers are using their increasing disposable income to order takeaways, with the Just Eat apps and websites accounting for the surge in orders. The company, which was launched in the UK in 2006, reported an increase in like-for-like orders of 47% in the first quarter, with total orders were up 51% on the same period last year.

Scarily, Just Eat reckons it has more than 8 million users, with 45,700 takeaway restaurants signed up to the service.That’s an awful lot of chicken kormas. Its full-year results in March, saw more than 61 million takeaway orders for restaurants in 2014,  worth more than £1billion. With the most popular orders being Margherita pizzas and Doner kebabs. Classy, people, classy.

David Buttress, its chief executive, said : ‘I am delighted with the company’s performance. The team has worked very hard in all our markets to achieve these results.”

“I am also pleased to see the continued shift of consumers to the ease and convenience of ordering food through Just Eat apps and websites.”

Of course, this news, coming in election frenzy, is likely to spark more calls for some kind of fat tax on unhealthy foods, as has been previously mooted, with some of the cash earmarked to help NHS services deal with the fall out from 61 million Doner kebabs. Which doesn’t bear thinking about.

Nevertheless, shares in the company rose 3% to 470p, which is a nice little earner for those who got in at 260p when it floated last year. Looks like the online takeaway is a winner, whether you’re drunk and hungry or a savvy investor who knows that the value of shares can go down as well as up. Bit like a kebab really.

The company is now planning  to take over the world by expanding on its French, Mexican and Swiss operations.