And the item most stolen from homes is…

September 24th, 2015 1 Comment By Thewlis

chopper 205x300 And the item most stolen from homes is...Insurance is big business, with a total of £77m paid out in insurance claims every single day in the UK, according to figures from the Association of British Insurers. But it’s particularly big business here in the UK, as the market in our little country is actually the largest in Europe and the third largest in the world. We clearly like to play it safe.

But while the majority (£27m) of insurance payouts go to motorists, £13m relates to property claims, of which theft is a large proportion. With the advent of dark afternoons on the clocks-going-back horizon, offering handy cover of darkness for would-be thieves, however, you might be surprised at what is the item most frequently stolen from today’s tech-savvy homes. An iPad? An iMac? Some kind of mobile phone or games console? No. It’s the humble bicycle.

New figures from insurer Direct Line say that more insurance claims are made for stolen bicycles than any other item taken by burglars, accounting for almost 1 in five (17%) of all theft claims. Mobile phone are in next at 11% of claims, followed by power tools (10%) and laptops (10%).

Although popular culture might think differently, in fact televisions account for just 3% of claims, as their increasing size (despite the flatness) have made them more difficult to steal, the insurer said. And it’s far easier to ride a bike as a getaway vehicle than a 50″ flatscreen.

“With the nights drawing in, it is perhaps unsurprising that thefts increase, as there are more opportunities for burglars to strike without being seen,” said Kate Lomas, head of Direct Line home insurance.

“Items such as bicycles, gardening tools and golf equipment are amongst the most sought-after items, so if items must be stowed away outside the home, homeowners should make sure they are safe and secure,” he finished, quite unnecessarily.

Top 10 claims

1. Bicycles

2. Mobile phones

3. Power tools

4. Laptops

5. Tablet computers

6. Cameras

7. Golf equipment

8. Gardening tools

9. Audio equipment

10. TVs

HMRC average call wait time over 45 minutes?

September 9th, 2015 1 Comment By Thewlis

old man on phone 199x300 HMRC average call wait time over 45 minutes?Looks like the helpful sorts over at HMRC have excelled themselves again. This time it’s Citizens Advice having a go, claiming that their latest social media research shows an average call wait time when ‘phoning HMRC of over 45 minutes, which is still, clearly, not good enough.

The Twitter study of 34,000 tweets made between August 2014 and August 2015 compiled by Citizens Advice, showed that over the last year 11,500 frustrated callers turned to Twitter to complain, where on average, those who tweeted had to wait an average of 47 minutes before their call was answered. The official waiting time is supposed to be 10 minutes. Citizens Advice further calculated that hanging on the line to HMRC for 47 minutes will, in many cases, cost consumers £4.66 in call charges.

In one case, someone tweeted that they had tried to get through to HMRC on four occasions, and waited an hour each time.

“People are paying the price for not getting through to HMRC,” said Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice.

“From fines for not completing a tax return in time, to under or overpayments for tax credits, people can be left out of pocket because they cannot speak to HMRC on the phone.”

In June, HMRC official figures showed that 17 million calls to HMRC went unanswered in the previous year- out of the 64.7 million calls made by taxpayers between April 2014 and March 2015, 27.5% – 17.8 million – were either unanswered or resulted in a busy tone.

This caused Chief Executive Lin Homer, who is due to appear before MPs on Wednesday afternoon, to apologise for a service that was “not up to scratch”, with HMRC setting a target to answer 80% of calls, which might sound impressive, but would still potentially represent almost 13 million missed calls.

An HMRC spokesperson pooh-poohed the Citizen’s Advice figures, saying: “We are sorry that some customers have struggled to get hold of us, but this unscientific and out of date survey of tweets does not represent the real picture now.”

“In reality, answer rates on our phones are improving and wait times are falling.” HMRC said it had recently taken on an extra 3,000 staff to try and lessen the delays.

worlds largest pool 4 300x204 One in five of us dont get travel insurance when going abroadOne in five holidaymakers (20%) is travelling overseas uninsured, running the risk of bills running into thousands should they run into medical trouble overseas, according to travel association ABTA.

The latest survey of over 2000 people found that while the overall number of holidaymakers riding bareback is similar to last year, there has been a rise in younger travellers doing so, with a third of 16-24 year olds travelling uninsured, up from 22% in 2014, and a similar proportion (32%) of 25-34 year olds.

ABTA reckon that the younger generation are over-estimating the benefits of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which may be partly responsible for them not taking out insurance. We looked at why you need an EHIC last month, but also outlined the reasons why travel insurance is still necessary as well as your EHIC.

While it is good that younger folks appreciate the value of an EHIC, more than one in five (22%) of 16-24 year olds asked in this latest research believe they do not need travel insurance because they have an EHIC, but although an EHIC will give access to emergency state medical care throughout most of Europe, they don’t realise it is not a substitute for travel insurance and will not cover the cost of repatriation to the UK in an air ambulance, private medical care or additional expenses, such as accommodation for family staying in resort, for example.

Or it may be that people are eschewing travel insurance as a way to save money. As for any insurance product, if you don’t pay a premium and nothing goes wrong, you have saved the cost of that premium. The risk here is that if things do go wrong, that’s an awful lot of missed premiums’ worth of cash to find. Financial constraints were cited as a reason for not taking out travel insurance, with 30% of all respondents with children (who, it could be argued, are more likely to end up damaging themselves accidentally) saying cost is the principal reason they do not buy a policy.

ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “It is a real concern that we see so many travellers telling us that they have recently gone overseas without travel insurance. Every year we come across tragic incidents of people having accidents or falling ill overseas without travel insurance and then having to pay bills which can quickly run into thousands of pounds.

“Often they are younger travellers and their families are left with the burden of having to pick up the bill. Whatever your financial circumstances may be, avoiding taking out travel insurance is a very false economy.”

shopping trolleys New consumer ombudsman service launched  but is it toothless?Here at Bitterwallet we’re a big fan of Ombudsmen- after all, it’s a source of further redress if your complaint to the service or product provider hits a dead end. Now, a new service called the consumer ombudsman has launched whose remit seems to be practically anything you can buy.

You may have noticed a glut of new ombudsmen springing up recently- this is all down to impending rules from Europe mean that every sector must have a so-called “alternative dispute resolution body” that is officially approved to investigate complaints. This means that we need an ombudsman in every sector by October 2015. At the start of this year The Retail Ombudsman was launched to a deluge of complaints, but it was set up by a concerned individual. The Civil Aviation Authority is funding an aviation ombudsman that will be launched soon, and we have a number of others covering random things like furniture (the furniture ombudsman, obvs).

According to Ombudsman Services research, across all industry types, people made 66 million complaints to businesses about products and services last year, which works out at one complaint every 1.2 seconds. Npower was recently told to give people free energy after dragging their heels over Ombudsman complaints- customers were left waiting for up to 20 months over complaints, which mostly revolved around billing issues.

But while, until this year and the advent of the TRO, supermarket and online shoppers had nowhere to go other than small claims court, there are now concerns that people may be confused by multiple ombudsmen cropping up in any one sector. Retail complaints, for example, could now be dealt with by either the retail or consumer ombudsman.

“There’s definitely a risk of confusion for consumers,” said chief ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith, who overseeds the new consumer service, ading that “Britain is unique in telling the market to provide an ombudsman, rather than setting one up that’s officially approved by the state.” The new consumer ombudsman is backed by an official consumer organisation, the Trading Standards Institute, although its power has yet to be tested.

Mr Shand-Smith, naturally reckons that Ombudsman Services, which was contacted by 216,000 people last year, has the best resources, such as a call centre and in-house legal experts, to investigate consumer complaints. However, the new consumer ombudsman’s decisions are not legally-binding on retailers and firms unless they agree to join. This is because it is not a public body, unlike the Financial Ombudsman, which was set up by parliament.

So far, no shops have publicly announced they are signed up.

Companies which sign up to the consumer ombudsman will have pay an annual subscription and a fee every time the ombudsman considers a complaint, which is at least £45 per customer. Or they could not join and not pay and disgruntled customers will not have so much scope to pursue complaints. It’s a tricky one.

Are cigarettes being over-taxed?

August 11th, 2015 18 Comments By Thewlis

cigarettes 300x242 Are cigarettes being over taxed?Everyone now knows that smoking is A Very Bad Thing, and the Government have been taking this as carte blanche to slap as much tax as humanly possible on those evil little sticks of icky stuff. In fact, over the past five years, taxes on tobacco products have risen by 40%, meaning that tax is now around three-quarters of the price of a packet of cigarettes- the highest in the 28 states of the EU. But have the Government pushed smokers too far? A major new survey of over 12,000 adult smokers suggests that consumers are now turning to‘non-shop sources’ to avoid paying the excessive taxation-resulting in a massive loss to Treasury coffers.

The poll, by Mitchla Marketing/Survey Sampling International, is one of the largest of its kind and received input from law enforcement officials and surveyed smokers nationwide.It found almost one third (29 per cent) of smokers are now buying tobacco products from ‘non-shop sources’ due to the excessive costs in the UK.

While cigarettes (and to a lesser extent, alcohol) have always been seen as a no-brainer for levying taxes- after all the demand is considered ‘inelastic’, meaning no matter how much the price rises, the demand will stay the same- it seems there does become a tipping point at which demand doesn’t fall, but desire to do the right thing in respect of UK duty, does. This large increase in ‘non-shop’ alternative shopping has caused the Treasury to lose an estimated £2.6 billion of tax revenue every year.

The survey found that the primary reason smokers were buying non-UK duty paid products was due to the high prices in the UK – UK smokers buying a premium brand of 20 cigarettes duty-paid are charged over £9, while 87% of those buying from ‘non-shop’ sources pay under £5.

The survey also found that over half of smokers (51%) plan to buy tobacco products from abroad and bring back as many as they legally can (although almost half of those don’t actually know how many they can bring back, which depends whether you are travelling from inside or outside the EU, of course). Almost one in five smokers (17%) now regularly buy their tobacco from abroad to avoid paying UK duty and 78% of smokers said they had no objections to buying fags without UK tax, so long as it was legal, i.e. from abroad rather than from the back of a van.

Of course, cigarettes for ‘personal use’ can be brought back in potentially unlimited quantities from EU countries, but even within the EU, UK fags can cost up to sixteen times more- in Belgium smokers pay £4, in Spain £3.80 and in Moldova just 57 pence for a packet of 20 cigarettes- so it’s no wonder savvy smokers are buying cheap without paying UK tax.

Giles Roca, Director General of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (TMA) said: “This survey shows that excessive taxation on tobacco products is forcing up prices and driving consumers away from legitimate sources. This is clear proof that the government’s high tax tobacco policy is not working.”

Naturally, non-smokers are probably far happier with the amount of tax levied on cigarettes, given the amount of revenue it brings in that can be used to fund the NHS for example, treating all those nasty smokers’ coughs. But what happens if the balance tips and the maximum revenue is earned at a slightly lower tax rate, meaning smokers can’t be bothered to try and get their fix cheaper?

plane 300x225 Are you missing out on claiming for a flight delay?It’s holiday season, which means many of you will be catching a flight to somewhere sunnier than here. But what happens if you get delayed? Latest Which!!! figures suggest that thousands of delayed people are missing out on claiming expenses and cold hard cash…

Which!!! analysed data for 1.7m flights from Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) data, and found that 9,000 flights were delayed by more than three hours in the last year, potentially entitling passengers on those flights to claim compensation. However, Which!!! reckon that only four in 10 people who were delayed claimed compensation, which adds up to millions of pounds.

They also calculated the worst offenders- with the worst UK airport for delays of three hours or more being Gatwick, with 2,134 flights affected over the 12 months to May 2015.

Passengers are most likely to experience delays of more than three hours on short-haul flights with Vueling, Monarch and Thomas Cook, which together accounted for more than 700 delays in the last year – which works out at 68,000 passenger journeys.  For long-haul  passengers, those flying with Pakistan International Airlines, Air India or American Airlines were most likely to be delayed, accounting for more than 400 flights – 40,500 passenger journeys.

According to Which!!!, the three largest airlines operating in the UK – Easyjet, BA and Ryanair, which operated nearly half of all flights for the period analysed – accounted for four in 10 delays of more than three hours.

But how can I claim?

If you are delayed and think you might have a claim, what can you claim for and under which circumstance? Well, under the EU Denied Boarding Regulation, what you’re entitled to depends on the length of your delay and the length of your flight. Find out how far your flight is using this useful checking tool (as an example, Gatwick to Rome is 918 miles). This is an EU ruling and governs all EU airlines and flights with non-EU airlines that leave from the EU. There’s even an app relating to the regulations that you can download to the smartphone of your choice.

The Regulation applies where you have a confirmed booking, and you checked in on time (or if no check-in time was given, then at least 45 minutes before your flight was scheduled to depart).

If your flight is delayed, you’re firstly entitled to some incidentals- two free phone calls, faxes or emails; free meals and refreshments appropriate to the delay and free hotel accommodation and hotel transfers if an overnight stay is required. You can also choose not to travel, and get a refund of the cost of your ticket if the delay lasts for five hours or more (but the flight is not cancelled)

However, the provisions only kick in after the following periods of delay:

a flight under 932 miles (for example, London to Venice) is delayed for at least two hours

a flight within the EU that is more than 932 miles (for example, London to Athens) is delayed by at least three hours

a flight that isn’t within the EU but is between 932 and 2,174 miles is delayed for at least three hours

any other flight delayed for at least three hours

However, if you are delayed by more than three hours, you may also be able to claim monetary compensation from the airline, although this is dependent on the reason for the delay, with certain circumstances (that are deemed ‘extraordinary’) exempting the airline from compensation payments. Airlines are very keen for circumstances to be considered exceptional, but binding EU court rulings in 2009 and 2012 have made it very clear that mechanical and technical faults are not, in fact, extraordinary and that courts should decide accordingly-  in January 2013, Stoke-on-Trent county court ruled that Thomas Cook must pay compensation to passengers who, in 2009, had experienced a 22-hour delay caused by a mechanical fault, and in 2014, faulty wiring on a Jet2 plane was similarly unremarkable. Strikes, however, are normally included in ‘exceptional circumstances’, along with severe weather. Note that you can still claim for incidentals under exceptional delays, its just the cool hard cash you miss out on.

But assuming there are no such circumstances, you can claim a nice wedge to salve your ruffled feathers:

Up to 1,500km (932 miles) More than 3 hours €250
Any flight within the EU over 1,500km (932 miles) or any other flight between 1,500km-3,500 km (2,175 miles) More than 3 hours €400
More than 3,500km (2,175 miles) Between 3-4 hours €300
More than 3,500km (2,175 miles) More than 4 hours €600


Which!!! have even produced this handy tool to generate a claim letter using the relevant sections of the regulation. Which is nice of them.

telephone 224x300 Claims company fined £220,000 under new regulators powersEveryone has had a PPI automated call, possibly even people who don’t have a phone. They really can get quite seriously annoying, and they’ve been going on for years. What you might not know is that, at the end of last year, even the Government got sick and tired of these oushy sorts, and set up a new regulator, the Claims Management Regulator, to deal only with these persistent businesses trying to flog you their services to make a claim. Now, they have handed out their first fine, a whopping £220,000 to a firm “responsible for bombarding people with millions of nuisance calls.” Good work.

This is the first fine under the new powers granted to the new regulator in December 2014. Firms found breaching the regulator’s rules of conduct now face fines of up to 20% of their annual turnover, as well as having their trading licence suspended or removed.

New figures released also show that 296 claims firms have received warnings from the regulator between 2014 and 2015, and that 105 had their licences removed completely.

This is good news for normal people everywhere, as reducing the number of operational companies will presumably reduce the number of unwanted calls. In fact, the total number of companies in the industry has fallen by 300 this year, to 1,752, sliding down from a depressing peak of 3,367 in 2011.

For this first fine, claims management company The Hearing Clinic was slapped with a £220,000 bill following hundreds of complaints from people who received really annoying spammy cold sales speculative calls about claims for hearing loss owing to excessive noise levels, many of whom had subscribed to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).

Based in Derby and operating under a string of different trading names, the company also been made subject to restrictions and could face further sanctions including suspension or closure if it breaks the rules again.

Claims Management Regulator Kevin Rousell said: “The new fines mean we have greater powers to crack down on claims management companies that make nuisance calls. Companies should be in no doubt that if they break the rules then we won’t hesitate to fine them in addition to the tough action we already take.”

Which!!! executive director, Richard Lloyd added: “Hopefully this is the start of a concerted crackdown by regulators, using their new powers to send a clear message that nuisance calling won’t be tolerated.”

“The size of this fine should make other firms think twice before bombarding people with cold calls. We also need to see senior executives held personally accountable if their company makes unlawful sales calls.”

broadband 248x300 Citizens Advice shows broadband providers are baiting and switching with pricesIn the wake of some serious price increases by the major players, new research from Citizens Advice shows that broadband providers are misleading customers with price ‘promises’ that mean some customer end up paying up to six-and-a- half times more than the adverts imply.

The charity found that many broadband adverts lure unwary consumers by offering “teaser deals” which last only a limited time, with the real and long-term costs of the deal hidden in the small print. The research showed that hidden charges such as line rental, starter fees for a new contract and delivery costs of new equipment mean that monthly costs are more than three times the price promise, on average, with some paying more than twice this.

Citizens Advice analysed adverts from the six main broadband providers over the promotional period looking at deals that were advertised as costing from absolutely nothing up to £20 per month. The research found that, in actuality, the full cost to consumers ranged from £20 to £45 per month.

Line rental was the most expensive additional cost, which Citizens Advice calculated can add up to £16.99 to the headline price alone. But that wasn’t the only added extra- one offer for broadband was advertised at £9.95 for six months, but once installation fees and line rental costs were factored in, the cost soared to £35.79.

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Broadband providers are cashing in on false promises. With some people paying up to six-and-a-half times more a month for broadband than advertised, customers are being sold one thing and charged another.”

“Confusing teaser rates and hidden costs make it difficult to work out whether you’re getting a good deal. Internet providers need to be up front about broadband costs, ensuring adverts are transparent and people know what they’re signing up to.”

“Some broadband firms are starting to accept that prices need to be clearer. Now the whole industry needs to up its game – and the Advertising Standards Authority should help by setting new, clear rules.” BT/Sky and Virgin in particular seem to take it in turns to tell tales on each other to the regulator for over-egging their customer offers. Still, with Citizens Advice weighing in, perhaps there is some light at the end of the transparency tunnel.

Amazon Prime- actually worth it?

July 30th, 2015 10 Comments By Thewlis

optimus prime transformed top 300x267 Amazon Prime  actually worth it?Amazon are the company many people love to hate- with some still boycotting the online retail giant over corporate tax avoidance. But with small, but significant changes to delivery policies, and now the news that Amazon Instant Video has snagged Jeremy Clarkson and his buddies for a new Top Gear-esque show, is Amazon Prime actually turning out to be a non-brainer?

Well. First things first, Amazon Prime costs £79 a year (or £39 if you are a student), which is the equivalent of just over £6.50 per month. But included with your Prime membership is unlimited one-day delivery, Kindle lending library, and access to Amazon Instant Video, and free cloud storage as well as the newly launched (to little fanfare) Amazon Music streaming service which allows Prime subscribers to listen to hundreds of albums free of charge, ad-free. So what are the savings?

Well, Amazon’s delivery always used to be a major perk, as anything would be delivered under its ‘Super Saver’ delivery within 5 days. However, they changed their policy to mean that now, only orders including £10 or more of books qualify for  Super Saver Delivery., with orders of non-books needing to be over £20 in order to qualify. If you were to pay for delivery, you’d pay £5.99 for one-day delivery, £2.75 for first-class post (which takes up to two business days), £8.99 for express delivery (you will receive the item by midday the following day) or £14.99 for delivery on the evening you purchase the item. So guaranteed one-day delivery seems to be quite cheap really, especially if you’ve left things to the last minute, or you’re having a late December Christmas present meltdown. Some suggest that, if you buy things from Amazon 13 times in a year, you will have ‘recovered’ the cost of your Prime membership.

However, what is also a Thing with Amazon Prime is the cashback you get if you don’t need your item the next day. If you have normal delivery instead of next-day, Amazon will give you a digital content credit of between £1 and £3 per delivery (so if you have a few things to buy that you aren’t desperate for, you can do quite well here) that can be spent on things like Kindle books and MP3 music. Even more savings in the jar.

And talking of Kindle books, if you have a Kindle (unfortunately just having the Kindle app on a tablet or laptop doesn’t count) you can ‘borrow’ one book per month from the Kindle lending library. Of course, Amazon also has “Kindle Unlimited” at £7.99 a month where you can borrow as many novels as you wish, but if you are happy borrowing only one book a month, this perk could save you up to £84 a year, by not subscribing to a rival e-reader subscription service.

But Amazon Instant Video is the big one, Clarkson notwithstanding, as, if you’re into that sort of thing, this will immediately save you £72 a year (against your £79 Prime cost) as this alone costs £5.99 per month. It also compares favourably with other streaming services like NowTV (which recently received a massive boost thanks to Game of Thrones) at £6.99 per month or Netflix, which starts at £5.99 per month, but whose ‘standard’ subscription which includes viewing on two screens (like Amazon Instant Video) is actually £7.49 per month.

So what do you think? Are you a happy Amazon Primer or are you still brandishing your figurative bargepole? You can’t get Better Call Saul on Amazon either…

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?