Weekly Money: The personal finance stories you might have missed 20 to 24 July

This week: energy firms owe us; payday loan warnings; scammers’ sucker list; free energy from NPower; overdraft fees soar; why you should holiday in Wales; jury service woes

24 July

The energy firms now owe us more than £1.1bn. Not all of us, however. Only about half of British homes are owed money, which is on average £93, according to uSwitch. The debts have built up because many homes used less energy than they paid for but have been charged for more because gas and electricity companies rely on inaccurate estimated meter readings.

In one in 10 homes, the amount owed could actually be more than £200, the comparison site said.

Ann Robinson of uSwitch, advised: “Now is the time to check your energy account to see if your supplier owes you money after the winter. Energy bills are often based on estimates rather than actual usage, so can be way off the mark. Under rules introduced a few years ago, suppliers must refund this money to you if requested, so claiming what is yours has never been easier.”

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The average payday loan debt is still nearly 40 per cent of the average monthly income of clients of debt charity StepChange, it warned this week, highlighting the damage the high cost credit sector still causes.

It said that a third of its clients have three or more payday loans, nearly a quarter have four or more, and 13 per cent have five or more. “We need to deal with affordability and multiple loan issues in the payday sector and to find better ways of helping people in financial difficulties,” warned Peter Tutton of StepChange.

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Coventry Building Society is launching a two year fixed rate Isa paying 2.05 per cent today, which will shoot to the top of the best buy tables.

You can stash away up to £15,240 in a 2015-16 Isa. However it’s worth bearing in mind that if you close the Coventry Isa early to get your cash you’ll be charged 120 days’ interest.

23 July

Are you on a scammers’ ‘sucker’ list? National Trading Standards has identified around 200,000 people who are, and warns that the average age of victims is 74. That highlights the fact that crooks like to prey on older people they hope are more likely to fall for their clever stings.

It reports that its scams team has saved consumers more than £5m in the past three years by spotting crooked activities but said its investigations had uncovered 10,843 victims who lost an average of £1,184 each. The figures have been released as part of Scams Awareness Month, a campaign to warn people of the dangers of financial fraudsters.

Louise Baxter, team leader of the National Trading Standards Scams Team said: “I would urge anyone who receives potentially fraudulent mail or who knows someone who might be receiving it to report it to the Royal Mail helpline on 03456 113413 or to email [email protected].”

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We’re ready to overcome our reservations and embrace mobile payments, reckons Mastercard. Its research suggests a quarter of Brits will make a contactless payment with their mobile in the next year.

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If you’re called up for jury service, it could cost you. One in twenty employers won’t pay any wages to those called up while one in 10 would pay your usual wages – but only for the first day of service.

It could mean having to survive on Government payments of as little as £32.47 if you serve less than four hours – with the figure capped at £64.95 per day – while sitting in judgment on your peers, warns Churchill. Handily, points out the insurer, you can take out a policy that covers the cost of your salary while on jury service.

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Wales is the cheapest place to take the family this summer, with average entertainment costs less than half the price of the south east, reckons PromotionalCodes. It says 5 family activities would set you back £94 in Wales, but £243 in the south east.

22 July

Have you had a problem resolving a complaint with Npower? If you’ve been to the Ombudsman and are still waiting to have the problem four weeks later the gas and electricity giant must give you free energy until it is resolved, Ofgem ruled yesterday.

The watchdog said people whose ombudsman rulings had been left outstanding for more than 28 days would now receive free energy until Npower had sorted out the issues.

Customers affected by the problems up to 21 July will also have any outstanding debt on their account written off by Npower, Around 1,000 customers have been hit by delays and will now get their debt written off, the company said, It added: “If there are any customers similarly affected after today, July 21, we will review on a case-by-case approach in line with the ombudsman’s current policy and also provide free energy where the remedy has not been completed due to our process or system.”

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New current account switching figures published today show that 1.1 million people moved banks in the last year, up 4 per cent on last year’s figures. Santander, Halifax, Nationwide Building Society and Tesco Bank won the biggest share of account transfers.

“The figures paint a grim picture for the traditional high street giants with Barclays losing 98,400, NatWest 71,040, HSBC 44,953 and Lloyds Bank 45,119,” pointed out Andrew Hagger of Moneycomms.

“By contrast Santander saw a net gain of 186,183 in the same 12 month period; partly due to the attractive interest rate of 3 per cent paid on current account credit balances between £3,000 and £20,000.”

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Current account customers who borrow by temporarily dipping into a pre-arranged overdraft have seen the cost soar as banks slap on extra fees, Moneyfacts warned. Some two-thirds of standard current accounts now impose a usage fee on someone who uses an authorised overdraft, compared with just over a fifth which did this in July 2008.

21 July

But debt campaigners and charities hit back at the report. “There is no evidence that illegal loan sharking is on the rise and it is dishonest to pretend otherwise,” said Carl Packman, author of a book on payday loans. Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice said: “High-cost credit is not the answer to financial difficulties.”

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If your fixed energy deal expires this month and you don’t switch to a new one, you could end up paying hundreds of pounds more than you need to heat and light your home. That’s because you’ll be automatically put on your supplier’s standard deal.

Worse hit will be First Utility customers in the Norweb region, which includes Manchester, Bolton and Lancaster, currently on the iSave Fixed v20 July 2015 tariff. GoCompare warns they will see a massive £327.80 rise in their energy bills when they are automatically rolled onto the supplier’s £1,134.85 a year standard variable tariff.

British Gas, EDF, Scottish Power, Sainsbury’s Energy and Co-operative Energy all have tariffs due to expire at the end of July and those who fail to shop around will see an average price rise of £52.96.

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Bad news: car and home insurance costs are rising. “The days of cheap car insurance premiums are over – price rises are inevitable,” warned Janet Connor of AA Insurance, as average motor premiums jumped by more than 5 per cent in the last 12 months.

Contents and buildings cover has actually fallen 6.4 per cent in the past year, but the hike in insurance premium tax announced in the emergency Budget will add £5 to the average policy, the AA warned.

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A year ago George Osborne increased the Isa allowance to £15,000. That was good news for savers. But a year on and the Isa market remains disappointing. In fact, since the launch of the new Isa, rates have fallen ever further, with the average rate dropping from 1.57 per cent in July 2014 to just 1.44 per cent today, says Moneyfacts.

20 July

The Governor of the Bank of England’s hint last week that interest rates may start to rise later this year means it’s a good idea for borrowers to look at low-rate fixed mortgage deals. Competition has driven them right down in recent weeks with some currently below 1 per cent, but they could start drifting upwards again in anticipation of future rises.

“It’s impossible to know exactly when interest rates might increase and predictions often change from one month to the next,” pointed out Andy Webb of the Money Advice Service. “Although rises are likely to be gradual, they could affect anyone with a mortgage so it is worth taking action now to get ready.”

If you can’t switch at the moment, it’s a good idea to start making overpayments on your mortgage so you don’t face rate rise shock later.

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Moving home? Be careful you don’t leave yourself open to ID fraud. One in 10 home movers are putting themselves at risk by allowing sensitive mail to continue being sent to their old homes, the Royal Mail warned yesterday.

The findings were released as part of Scam Awareness Month, which aims to help people become more informed of how crooks and fraudsters target their victims. One trick is to gain access to communal areas of blocks of flats and check the mail: it’s usually obvious if someone is no longer there by the pile of letters going back weeks.

“Re-directing your mail when you move home will help make a fraudster’s job much more difficult,” advises Simon Dukes of fraud specialist Cifas.

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Been invited to a wedding? Be prepared to dig deep. New research suggests guests are spending £644 for each ‘happy day’ they attend this year.

Wedding costs for guests now extend well beyond gifts, to cover food, new clothes, accommodation and often-expensive overseas stag and hen parties.

However the research from Policy Expert suggests Scottish guests may be the most welcome as they spend an average £58 on gifts, compared to a just £39 in the South East.

Claims that tighter regulations for payday lenders are pushing desperate people into the arms of illegal lenders have been slammed as “dishonest”. The Consumer Finance Association, which is paid to promote the interests of high-cost credit companies, published a report suggesting “that borrowers are being excluded from credit and concerns are growing for how they are filling the gap in their finances”.

 

[“source – independent.co.uk”]