Don’t forget to file your tax return!

January 28th, 2016 No Comments By Thewlis

tax letter Dont forget to file your tax return!It can’t have escaped your notice that interminable January is, in fact, about to terminate. Good news for many, but the 31 January also happens to be the last date for filing your 2014/15 Self Assessment tax return, or face a £100 penalty.

If you have been issued with a tax return, you will automatically receive a penalty notice, but if you haven’t received a return but you have untaxed income (eg jobs on the side) or chargeable gains (eg from selling investments), it’s actually still your responsibility to file a return on time. No getting off the hook that way.

So if you do find yourself on 28 January with no completed tax return and only one working day left, what can you do? Well the deadline for filing in paper form is long past, so you have to do it online. If you previously registered to use Self-Assessment online, this registration will still work, and you just need to log in and complete the form using the Revenue’s online software. Alternatively you might be able to find a friendly accountant to do it for you, but at this late stage, you will pay premium rates. If not, you can register to use the online services, but to get all the log in details will take some time, and you won’t be able to file your return on time.

But don’t give up. If you ought to be completing a return and you know you will have tax to pay, it might be worth paying an estimated amount. In times gone by, if you paid your liability on time you could avoid a penalty, but this is no longer the case. However, HMRC will apply interest to overdue sums from 1 February. Note that daily penalties of £10 per day (up to £900) can be levied from the date your return is 3 months late, and 6 and 12 months penalties of £300 (or 5% of the tax due if lower) can be weighed on top, so even if you’re currently facing £100, you do need to get it sorted. Sticking your head in the sand is not a viable option.

And while hundreds of thousands of penalties are issued every year- last year almost 900,000 £100 penalty notices were issued- and although some people will always try to get out of a penalty with the stupidest of excuses, there are very few acceptable reasons why your return is late. However, if you do think you have a valid excuse, this is the form you need to complete. However, a drop of good news for those affected by the December floods- HMRC have specifically agreed not to penalise those who have lost paperwork (along with everything else)- although they will have to email with the email subject heading “Severe weather – SA peak” and explain what has happened and when you will be able to file.

Twitter is down

January 19th, 2016 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

Twitter Logo1 Twitter is downIf you think Facebook seems busier than usual, that might be something to do with Twitter being down, and of course, FB is methadone to Twitter’s heroin for some folk.

The desktop version has been borked, as well as the mobile app. People visiting the site have been greeted with the ”something is technically wrong” message, leaving non-users to say make that joke about ‘why should anyone care about what [celebrity X] has had for their [insert meal here]‘.

The official app is not working, failing to load up, as well as Tweetdeck (Twitter’s other client), which isn’t doing what it is supposed to.

Twitter’s API status page showed problems with most parts of the site, with things kicking off royally around 8am.

This outage seems to be affecting people from all over the globe too, which is a pain for people who want to make horrible threats to women online, and very annoying for the kind of people who want everything they disagree with, banned and banished. We feel most for those people who just want to shout “QUEEN!” at their favourite popstars.

Anyway, here’s a graph from just now. Things will be fixed soon enough, we suspect.

twitter down Twitter is down


xmas ad 300x298 Sainsburys beat the Man in the Moon  but most miss out on MogIt seems that, same as last year, it is Sainsbury’s who have challenged John Lewis’ seemingly unassailable Christmas tearjerker ad crown, and (arguably) as last year, it seems Sainsbury’s may have come out on top again. While the man on the moon has so far racked up more shares than Mog the cat, considering the feline’s debut was a week later, that is perhaps understandable. Sainsbury’s do take the (cat) biscuit if you look at shares per day, coming in at over 30,000 shares per day more than John Lewis.

And it’s had a knock on effect. While John Lewis were not far-sighted enough to come up with an easily merchandisable ad (unless they are planning on selling a lot of telescopes), Sainsbury’s cute plush Mog was all the rage in stores at a readily affordable £10. So readily affordable, in fact, that they have sold out of Mogs just ten days after the ad was launched. Some forecaster somewhere will be having a very miserable Christmas.

mog 300x171 Sainsburys beat the Man in the Moon  but most miss out on MogBut never fear, as ever enterprising sorts have taken to eBay to sell their surplus Mogs. Prices start from around twice the RRP, but some forward thinking sorts are setting their sights a little higher, with prices as high as £90 or even £100. Sainsburys are said to be “disappointed” that people are choosing to make extra money for themselves when the store-bought Mogs make a donation towards Save the Children literacy projects. Disappointed but probably not surprised.

But there is hope for humanity yet. If you haven’t seen it on Facebook yet, the ad coming in at number three on the most-shared ads is not boosted by the appearance of crumpet munching muppets, or light sabre wielding batteries. Instead it’s a heartwarming tale advertising the Spanish Lottery. and you want to be similarly moved, you can catch it, in all its glory, here.


Christmas dinner is cheap as chips

November 20th, 2015 2 Comments By Thewlis

image 300x210 Christmas dinner is cheap as chipsHow much do you think Christmas dinner costs to make for eight people? £40? £50? In fact figures from the Good Housekeeping Institute reckons all eleven essential ingredients of Christmas fare can be obtained for as little as £20.26.

That means that this year’s grub is almost five percent cheaper than last year’s. However, the savings may be eaten into by the additional cost of shoe leather, as the bottom price quoted above involves shopping around in a number of different supermarkets in order to secure the lowest prices. For example, you’d need to get your bird from Lidl, where a turkey weighing between 2.8 and four kilograms costs you £8.99. Morrisons are cheapest for your Maris Piper potatoes and your carrots and Sainsbury’s had the best deal on mince pies. Stuffing can be purchased from a number of retailers for just 30p but you need to go to your local co-op if you’d rather not spend a fortune on sprouts- two 450g bags will set you back just 98p.

But what if you really can’t be bothered to visit all those different stores, or if there isn’t a full selection of them near you? Fortunately the cheapest one-stop shop isn’t too much more at a still-reasonable £24.81 from Iceland. Unsurprisingly perhaps the most expensive place to do all your shopping is Waitrose, where the shop cost £47.84, which still isn’t too bad when you consider how much you spend on everything else. In fact, Tesco came in at second cheapest at £25.77, with the German discounters languishing mid-table.  Sainsburys is the dearest of the main supermarkets at £34.14, before the large jump up to M&S and Waitrose.

Good Housekeeping’s consumer director, Caroline Bloor, said: “Thanks to low inflation and fierce competition between the supermarkets, budget conscious consumers will find plenty of festive food bargains this Christmas.

“While there’s a big variation in price on key items like Christmas pud and turkey, you can get the basics, like carrots and parsnips, pretty cheaply at most.”

All prices are subject to change.


Yes we know it’s only November, but the last posting dates for Christmas will soon be upon us with some of them coming early in December (see below)- UK cards need to be posted by Saturday 19th (for second class) or Monday 21st for first class. And those are the dates for airmail (now catchily and informatively known as “International Standard” mail)- some surface mail last posting dates were as far back as September. So it’s not too early to be thinking about your Christmas cards and whether you go for charity cards or nice cards.

airmail 500x342 How much goodwill is in charity Christmas cards  and when to post them

The pay off with Christmas cards is normally that they are funny/beautiful/cute or that they are charity cards- you can’t have your cake and eat it, even at Christmas. But if you are going to go for the charity cards at least you can relax knowing your money is going to a good cause right? Right?

Well, that depends. Depends on how much cash you think the charity is going to get from your card purchase. Our friends over at Which!!! have even investigated this matter for us and found that some retailers donate as little as 7% of profits from charity Christmas cards to good causes, meaning some charities only get around 10p per pack.

Top of the stingy stakes is the Co-op, who give just 10p from its £1.50 cards to food poverty charity FareShare. This is the equivalent of just 7% per pack. Lidl aren’t much better, with the equivalent of 8% (10p) of the £1.19 pack price going to child cancer charity CLIC Sargent.

The full list of donation amounts is found in the table below, and donations range from 100% for the WH Smith Children in Need cards, before dropping sharply to 25% from the next best donator, the ever-impressive Aldi. WH Smith appears three times as it has a number of different cards and donations.

xmascards 500x453 How much goodwill is in charity Christmas cards  and when to post them

table from Which?

You may also have spotted some notable exceptions from the list. Asda says that it is not selling charity Christmas cards this year and while Morrisons is selling cards for Sue Ryder, they will donate £50,000 to the charity regardless of how many packs are sold. Tesco is also selling a range of charity cards but will donate a total of £300,000 to Diabetes UK and the British Heart Foundation.

Of course, given the age of social media you could instead buy no cards and just post a cheesy video of you and your family pretending to be hyperactive elves on your page, donating the would-have-spent cash to charity instead. Or, if you must send a card, why not buy direct from the charity website as this will usually guarantee a greater proportion going to the actual charity- some sites, like the Parkinsons site promise 100% of profits will be received from the sale of cards.

Or, you could go totally Bah Humbug and do nothing at all. It’s not like you have any friends anyway…

Tampon Tax. Are you outraged?

October 29th, 2015 5 Comments By Thewlis

VAT 300x199 Tampon Tax. Are you outraged?Politics has never been so exciting. Not only do we have unconstitutional Lords, but we also have erstwhile Payday loans campaigner Stella Creasy delivering heartfelt pleas to ministers comparing sanitary products to jaffa cakes. So what is her beef and is it going to get sorted?

Over 250,000 people signed a petition calling for the Government to stop treating women’s sanitary products as ‘a luxury’ and to scrap the VAT on them. It sounds a reasonable request and yet the Government (this one nor its predecessors) has consistently failed to do anything about it. Why deliberately nark half the electorate? The answer, as ever, is to do with the EU.

The problem is that the UK zero rate of VAT is actually illegal under EU law. We aren’t allowed to have it- member states may only have a main rate of 15-20% ish and a reduced rate of 3-5% ish. However, back in 1972 when we joined our Euro friends, a compromise was reached whereby the UK was allowed to keep the things which had been zero rated as zero rated, but no new items could be so designated. This is why ebooks (never even dreamt of in 1972) are standard rated at 20% yet books are zero rated. And tax cases have found ebooks to be sufficiently different that it would constitute a new item being classed as zero rated which we can’t do. Jaffa cakes won an exciting VAT case (yes, really) by being designated as a cake instead of a biscuit, as cakes are zero rated but chocolate covered biscuits are standard rated.

Currently in the UK, sanitary ware is charged the reduced rate of VAT as that is as low as we can legally do so- to make them standard rated would theoretically require all member states to vote on a resolution on just this issue. However, there may be some hope on the horizon as the European Commission has responded to the current flare up by saying that a review of the VAT rules will take place in 2016. Perhaps they will allow us out of 1972 for a few minutes to reassess what is crucial for VAT charging purposes.

Are you going to be a new Scottish Taxpayer?

October 29th, 2015 No Comments By Thewlis

scotland Are you going to be a new Scottish Taxpayer?

It sounds like a silly question, as surely you either are a Scottish taxpayer or are not. However, HMRC has just published new guidance for people who might or who might not be Scottish and who need help working it out.

Of course, the guidance isn’t just for nationality purposes, but is rather to determine who is liable to pay the new Scottish rate of income tax. For those of you currently scratching your heads, one of the things that came out of the devolution battle was the fact that Scotland would be allowed to levy it’s own rate of income tax (even though it has atually had this power in theory since 2012).

So how do you know if you’re a Scottish taxpayer or not. Apparently it’s more than a feeling as HMRC state clearly that “none of the following will make you a Scottish taxpayer:

national identity – you regard yourself as being Scottish

location of work – you work in Scotland

you receive a salary or pension from a Scottish employer or pension provider

you travel in Scotland – for example, driving a lorry in, or frequent work visits to Scotland”

Generally you are a Scottish taxpayer if you live in Scotland. If you only have one home, and that is in Scotland, you are a Scottish taxpayer. If you have more than one home, it is a little bit more complicated, but basically you are Scottish in taxpaying terms if you live in Scotland at least as much as you live anywhere else in the UK.

If you have no home, then if you spend more time in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK in terms of day counting, again you are Scottish. The reference to elsewhere in the UK is not because the Government doesn’t believe that Scots can own homes in Spain or Tuscany or Bulgaria, rather that if you were spending more time outside the UK than in it, then that would be a UK residence issue, rather than a Scottish issue. You can read the minute detail in the Scotland Act 2012 if you are so inclined.

So, being fiscally Scottish or not is a matter of fact, and if you are Scottish, you will have to pay the Scottish rate of income tax on earnings and pensions (but not savings and dividends) from next April. Except they haven’t quite figured out how much that Scottish rate will be just yet…


The good thing about living in a democracy, even one run by politicians, is that there is some scope for people power, and burning issues dear to the hearts of the electorate can become pressing issues for parliament. Take the current debate on cutting tax credits- rumour has it that the House of Lords is set to step outside its accepted jurisdiction in order to stand up for the people.

In modern electronic times, getting the Government’s attention has never been so easy- with the online petition system, you just need to find 9,999 like-minded people to get a response from government or 999,999 other people to get a motion tabled in parliament. Easy peasy. And you would think that a petition calling for a reduction in tax rate would be incredibly popular, racing to those 10,000 signatures within hours and 100,000 in a matter of days right? Er no.

A new petition calling for a reduction in tax rate for those earning over £100,000 a year has attracted the whopping sum of 11 signatures. Not 1100 or 11,000, but the petitioner and ten of his friends.

telegraph tax petition 500x312 Petition to save tax for £100k+ earners fall flatThe specific issue William Mahony, the founder of the petition, is disgruntled about is the so-called 62% tax rate applied to those earning between £100,000 and (currently) £121,200. At this point you may be scratching your head in confusion, as you probably understood that there were three rates of income tax, 20% (between £10,600 personal allowance and £42,385), 40% (between £42,385 and £150,000) and 45% (for income over £150,000). None of these rates are 62% so what is the guy talking about?

While he may be ranting, however, he is not raving. The “62%” applies only to that very narrow band of income as it is here that the personal allowance is tapered away, meaning that, proportionately, there is more tax paid in this band. As the rate of taper is £1 reduction in allowance for every £2 of income, that essentially adds 50% of the actual tax rate (40% at those income levels) on to the effective tax rate, making 60%. He then bungs on the 2% Class 1 national insurance cost paid by employees for good measure, to get to 62%.

However the petition, which was started on October 12th, only received 11 supporters, leaving it a long way to go to get to even the first milestone within its six-month validity period.

Mahony, a chartered surveyor from London, said: “I am happy to pay my share within a progressive tax system, but that it’s not right that people in this bracket pay a higher marginal rate than those earning above £150,000 a year.”

But is this true? The constructed 62% rate only applies to £21,200 worth of income, that falling between £100,000 and £121,200; the rest is taxed at 20% or 40% (plus any national insurance, as appropriate, which is also payable in exactly the same amounts by even higher earners). Those earning over £150,000 do not get the benefit of the personal allowance either, so claiming these people are paying more tax is, essentially, a fallacy.

Mahony continued, endearing himself to the majority of the UK electorate:

“Nobody should pay over half of their income in tax. I also think it’s unfortunate that most people will think that earning £100,000 a year is a lot. They would probably be rather surprised at London house prices. We are not rich.”

In case you have any sympathy left, or you just have a morbid curiosity, the petition can be accessed here . Note that since the petition was reported in the Telegraph, it has been deluged with a swathe of new signatories. It might even reach 300 before the end of the month…

Sugar tax. Definitely A Thing.

October 21st, 2015 2 Comments By Thewlis

sugar is a drug Sugar tax. Definitely A Thing.Obesity is still a crisis, apparently, and a new clandestine report by Public Health England for the government includes concrete recommendations for a sugar tax. But worse, much worse, than that is the call for the assassination of the Coco Pops monkey.

As part of their child obesity strategy, ministers asked Public Health England to look at ways to reduce sugar consumption. PHE duly did so, but the contents of the report have so far remained secret, with the findings not yet published by either PHE or the government.

However, PHE has now confirmed a sugar tax is one of its recommendations after their director of diet and obesity Jane Tedstone appeared before MPs on Tuesday saying the organisation “does see a role for a fiscal approach” and the higher the tax increase “the greater the effect”.

This was further confirmed by “sources” at PHE who stated that the report specifically called for a sugar tax, with Dr Tedstone adding that:

“PHE does see there is a role for a fiscal approach in reducing sugary drink consumption” pointing out that a fizzy drink tax in Mexico had led to a 6% fall in consumption, with the biggest impact on the fattest poorest people.

“The point of the tax is to nudge people away from purchasing these things towards purchasing things that are more consistent with a healthy balanced diet,” she finished, stating the obvious.

But it’s not yet time to panic, as a sugar tax was described as “only the fourth most effective way to fight obesity.”

Other areas focussed on by Dr Tedstone included taking necessary action on promotions and advertising, with heinous examples given as

jumbo bags of crisps
“bottomless cup” all-you-can-drink fizzy drink promotions
free-chocolate promotions in newspapers
sports personalities advertising junk food

She also has a problem with the Coco Pops monkey mascot. It’s now time to panic.

“We think there could be bigger impacts [on obesity] from getting a handle on promotions, and of getting a handle on the deep, consistent advertising our children are exposed to on unhealthy foods,” she said.

The research found that about 40% of food sold in England was discounted and these deals were “heavily weighted” towards sweet and fatty products, which did not save us money, according to Dr Tedstone, but just meant that we buy more food.

The full report and its findings are now rumoured to be schedules for release alongside the government’s child obesity strategy in January.

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 2 Comments 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.