Category Archives: Legal News

Stop the costly text pests who even prey on children 

16 Dec 17
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  • Marcus Hardingham paid nearly £50 for unsolicited texts sent to his daughter’s mobile
  • He only discovered this when he contacted Three UK to upgrade his handset
  • An employee commented on the £3-a-time texts on his daughter Ava’s phone

The Mail on Sunday’s call for tough regulatory action on companies that charge people for receiving unwanted mobile phone texts has received further parliamentary support.

Earlier this month we revealed how thousands of people are unknowingly paying to receive pestering text messages – a practice Labour MP John Mann described as a ‘national scandal’.

Now Rebecca Pow, Conservative MP for Taunton Deane and a member of the all-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, has intervened. She says: ‘It is dismaying how easy it is for customers to find they have inadvertently signed up for messages they do not want, and are then charged for them.

‘It is scandalous there are unscrupulous companies out there deliberately taking advantage of people in this way. It is an area the regulator ought to address.’

Shocked: Marcus Hardingham with daughter Ava, 11, who was charged for unwanted messages

Shocked: Marcus Hardingham with daughter Ava, 11, who was charged for unwanted messages

Pow’s comments come as more people have stepped forward to share their experience of being charged to receive text messages they did not want or ask for. Many people disregard texts as spam and hit the ‘delete’ button, without realising they could be paying for them.

YOUNG CAN BE CHARGED

Marcus Hardingham paid nearly £50 for unsolicited texts sent to his daughter’s mobile.

He only discovered this when he contacted mobile phone provider Three UK to upgrade his handset and an employee commented on the £3-a-time texts on his daughter Ava’s phone.

Aged 11, she is adamant she has never subscribed to any phone paid service – indeed the experience has caused her great upset.

Two changes phone firms MUST make now 

Firstly, mobile networks and landline providers should make it clear, on the first page of a bill, if a customer has incurred charges for premium rate texts or calls. Customers are told what to do if they see unexpected charges, but people who do not inspect each item on a bill may not notice small sums paid over many months. This remedy is simple and highlights information already on a bill they might otherwise miss.

Secondly, firms providing premium rate services should require subscribers to first send a text confirming they are opting in to receive messages. This is how it works when donating to charity via text – a customer sends a message to a shortcode number, then receives a confirmation text and the donation is added to the bill.

Marcus, 54, says: ‘Ava’s initial reaction was shock and embarrassment, then annoyance, worry and loss of confidence.’

Three directed Marcus to contact the company responsible for sending the messages, which in turn told him he would need to send a copy of Ava’s passport or birth certificate as proof of identity.

Marcus says: ‘I did not want to pass on my daughter’s personal details so I have written off the charges and instead cancelled my daughter’s phone contract.’

A spokeswoman for Three UK says: ‘If any of our customers have concerns about their bill, we encourage them to contact our customer service team by calling 333 from their mobile.

‘There were additional charges on Mr Hardingham’s bill because a subscription had been activated. Three has no control over the costs that third-party providers charge subscribers.’

After The Mail on Sunday intervened, the mobile network agreed to refund the charges as a goodwill gesture.

THE COSTS MOUNT UP 

David Jennings says it was ‘sheer luck’ he recently spotted erroneous charges when checking his phone bill following a trip to Japan.

The 62-year-old, from Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands, discovered he was paying around £4.50 a week to be entered into a competition he knew nothing about.

As he pored over past bills, he traced a string of charges back to August last year – and calculates he and wife Lynne have been charged more than £270. These fees would have continued to accumulate had he not stopped them.

David, a business owner, says: ‘The costs mount up and because the amounts are small, unless you are on your game you will not notice them.

‘Every so often we received messages saying we were entered into a competition for £4.50 per week until we sent a ‘Stop’ message – but as we never opted in, we had no idea we had to opt out.’

When David saw he was being charged, he sent a ‘Stop’ message to the number provided, but this had no impact. The Mail on Sunday asked his bill provider Vodafone to investigate. A spokeswoman says: ‘The premium rate text messages originate from third-party companies and not from Vodafone.

‘The contract is between the customer and the third-party provider of the service, so our advice is to contact them to discuss a refund. If this does not resolve the issue, we do everything we can to help individual customers.’

David rejects the idea he had a contract with the company sending the messages since he has never had any dealings with them.

Vodafone agreed to refund £36 of charges covering the past two months and put a bar on David’s phone so he cannot receive further premium rate texts and calls. David adds: ‘There appears to be a legal loophole ordinary people fall through and the big mobile phone companies could not care less.’

NEED FOR REGULATION 

There are some two million complaints a year from people unhappy about ‘phone-paid services’, which encompasses all types of goods and services that can be charged to a telephone bill.

But it is not always clear who a customer can turn to when something is amiss.

Mobile networks often direct people to contact the company in question, even when customers claim they have no contract with that particular service provider. Consumer expert James Walker, founder of online complaints service Resolver, says: ‘These paid-for services are crying out for tougher regulation – and an ombudsman that can step in if things go wrong.’

Have you been paying for texts and calls you never asked for? Email laura.shannon@mailonsunday.co.uk to tell your story.

Seven key steps to take if you are a victim 

1. Save texts as this will help your case when trying to get a refund.

2. Text ‘Stop All’ to the number that sent the messages – but only if you believe it is a real company. Do not reply to a scam message as this tells fraudsters they have been texting a genuine number.

3. Check which company is sending messages or making calls that appear on your bill using the Phone-paid Services Authority’s online ‘number checker’. This is the regulator overseeing services that charge customers’ phone bills. Visit psauthority.org.uk/about-us/number-checker.

4. Demand a refund from your mobile network if you dispute that you signed up to receive the messages. It may refer you to the company responsible for sending them. In any conversation with that company refer to section 2.3.3 of the regulator’s code of practice, stipulating that service providers must have evidence that a customer consented to receive messages. Request the evidence.

5. Refer unresolved complaints to the Phone-paid Services Authority. Complain online at psauthority.org.uk or call 0300 3030020 during office hours. You can also ask complaints service Resolver for help – visit resolver.co.uk.

6. Put a block on your phone. Contact your mobile network provider and ask for them to bar all premium rate calls and texts.

7. Use the small claims court if you have been charged a large sum. Court fees start at £25 using an online form, for claim amounts up to £300. You may have to pay more if the company fights back, resulting in a court hearing. But you can charge interest and you may be able to claim costs back if you win. Visit gov.uk/make-court-claim-for-money to find out more.

 






Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

How long will your Christmas gift cards last?

14 Dec 17
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  • Government says vouchers that expire in less than two years should not be sold
  • But many health clubs, hotels and restaurants are flouting this
  • Retailers pocket up to £300m a year from cards that customers fail to spend 

Spas and tea rooms are fleecing Christmas shoppers with gift cards that expire within just six months.

The Government says vouchers should never be sold with an expiry date of less than two years — and has urged the entire industry to set this as a new minimum.

But many health clubs, hotels and restaurants — including the Orangery at Kensington Palace — are flouting this.

Research shows retailers pocket up to £300 million a year from cards that customers fail to spend before they become worthless. 

Experts say there is no justification for expiry dates — and accuse shops of profiting twice from the same sale on vouchers that are never used, effectively selling the same goods or service twice.

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesman says: ‘It’s inherently unfair for consumers to spend money on gift cards, only to be locked into restrictive conditions or impractical expiry dates. 

‘That’s why we continue to work closely with the gift card and voucher industry to improve transparency and simplicity around expiry dates, as well as encouraging retailers to make two-year expiry periods the norm.’

Money Mail found numerous cards were valid for short times.

They can be used for only six months at the Tea Parlour in Liverpool, London’s B Bakery and at the Orangery at Kensington Palace — but a note on its website says the expiry date will be December 31 due to refurbishment.

And the same is true for several health clubs and spas in the capital. Ajala spa, Amara spa and Aquilla Health and Fitness cards are only valid for six months.

Time limits: The Government says vouchers should never be sold with an expiry date of less than two years. But many health clubs, hotels and restaurants are flouting this

Time limits: The Government says vouchers should never be sold with an expiry date of less than two years. But many health clubs, hotels and restaurants are flouting this

Gift cards for Spa Seekers, the spa booking website, expire after ten months. The same applies to buyagift.co.uk, which sells vouchers for short breaks, massages driving days and other experiences.

You have 12 months to use vouchers for world-famous afternoon teas at Claridge’s and the Wolseley hotels as well as Yorkshire favourite, Bettys tea rooms.

Clothing retailer White Stuff, Ticketmaster and Costa coffee gift cards also expire after only 12 months, as do those for cinema chains including Vue and Everyman.

Ticketmaster acknowledges customers are at risk of forgetting to spend the cash within the stated period, warning online: ‘If you are the one giving the gift, please remember to pass the information on — you don’t want it to go to waste.’

Many restaurant gift cards also expire after 12 months, although some will give you three months’ grace. These include The Restaurant Choice card that can be used in venues such as Jamie’s Italian, Nando’s, Zizzi and Yo! Sushi.

The Great British Pub card, for Greene King pubs, Loch Fyne, Hungry Horse and Wacky Warehouse restaurants, among others, also expires after 12 months.

Meanwhile, supermarket Ocado changed its cut-off date from eight weeks to 12 months in January after criticism. Its small print was only changed last week, although the policy was altered months ago.

A study by the consumer organisation Which? found retailers including JD Sports, Sunglass Hut, Ted Baker and Westfield shopping centres impose one-year expiry dates.

Westfield even charges a £9.95 fee to extend a giftcard’s life by just three months.

James Daley, of Fairer Finance, says: ‘The money on a gift card is already being eroded by inflation — so the longer you hang on to it, the less it will buy you.

‘Expiry dates should be banned altogether — or at the very least set to a minimum of five years.’

He said expiry dates on gift cards had been banned in Canada for almost ten years and were also outlawed in several U.S. states including California and Florida. Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron says: ‘It is baffling that some retailers’ gift cards still have expiry dates as short as a few weeks.

‘Millions of pounds worth of vouchers risk going unspent yet again this year because ministers are failing to take action.

‘The Government must stop dragging its feet and introduce a two-year limit, to clamp down on this Christmas rip-off.’

Drink up: The Great British Pub card, for Greene King pubs, Loch Fyne, Hungry Horse and Wacky Warehouse restaurants, among others, also expires after 12 months

Drink up: The Great British Pub card, for Greene King pubs, Loch Fyne, Hungry Horse and Wacky Warehouse restaurants, among others, also expires after 12 months

A few retailers impose no expiry date. These include Aldo, Ikea, Starbucks, Apple store iTunes, Disney, Foot Locker and Selfridges.

But the majority give limited offers. Laura Ashley, Caffe Nero, Pizza Hut and ASK Italian have an 18-month cut off.

Department stores John Lewis and House of Fraser both offer cards which are valid for two years.

Chains, including Mothercare, Oasis, Next, Marks & Spencer, White Company, WHSmith and Sports Direct do the same — all meeting Government advice.

Some extend further still, offering a three-year period of use. Zara, Homebase and Argos gift cards can be used up to three years after purchase (two years for Argos online voucher purchases).

In some cases, if you use the voucher in part or top it up within a given period, the use-by date will be extended. In most cases, gift vouchers expire 12 or 24 months from the date of purchase.

However, this date is rarely printed on the card itself, meaning that the recipient is often in the dark about when the card becomes useless.

Consumer expert Andrew Hagger says: ‘The expiry date on gift cards is often buried in the small print. There really should be a minimum two-year expiry date as standard — and it should be printed clearly on the card itself so consumers don’t lose out.

‘These cards may be convenient when you are struggling to think of a suitable present but if the firm goes bust, the balance is lost.’

Research by The UK Gift Card & Voucher Association (UKGCVA) in 2014 found up to £300million-worth of gift vouchers expire before they can be spent every year. But it said since then 99 per cent of gift cards are spent within a year. A spokesman for the UKGCVA says: ‘We encourage our members to have complete transparency of gift card terms and conditions.

‘We suggest retailers and other gift card and voucher-issuers apply an expiry date policy of around 24 months from the date of purchase of the gift card or from the date of the most recent transaction.’

An Ocado spokeswoman says: ‘We changed the expiry from eight weeks to give customers more time to redeem them. We are sorry for the confusing information on our website, this has been updated.’

Westfield shopping centres says: ‘Customers can at any point choose to extend the gift card for a further three months for a £9.95 administration fee. Discretion can be used for individual circumstances.’

A spokesman for CH&Co, which runs catering services for The Orangery at Kensington Palace, says that its afternoon tea vouchers there ‘are valid for a period of six months and most are used in that timescale.

‘Where vouchers have recently expired, we would always do our best to accommodate people.’

B Bakery said their seasonal offering meant they could not extend their expiry date.

And a Tea Parlour spokesman said: ‘Our gift vouchers are only six months, but we’re flexible on extending whenever reasonable. No one wants to see a customer disappointed.’

money.mail@dailymail.co.uk





Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

Vote for the worst customer service in our Wooden Spoon

13 Dec 17
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  • Pushy power firm E.ON slammed for forcing smart meters on customers 
  • HMRC’s new tax-free childcare service has been plagued by technical problems
  • Santander bank has refused to cover the losses of fraud victims 
  • Previous winner Scottish Power struggles to deal with the simplest of queries
  • Virgin Media customers complain of problems when moving homes

Today we launch the tenth annual Wooden Spoon Awards

Today we launch the tenth annual Wooden Spoon Awards

It’s time to stick it to the firms that drove you up the wall in 2017. Today we launch the tenth annual Money Mail Wooden Spoon Awards for poor customer service.

If you’ve been let down by a telecom firm, passed from pillar to post by your power supplier or left brimming with rage by a bank, this is your chance to get your own back.

And in a new feature this year, we also want you to nominate your Service Star.

This new prize will be awarded to the company that has gone above and beyond the call of duty, and left you beaming. 

Just send us a short account of a memorable act of kindness — or of staff unexpectedly resolving a tangle using good, old-fashioned common sense.

Over the past decade, Money Mail’s Wooden Spoon has become the trophy big bosses fear the most.

That’s because your opinion matters. 

Today we reveal the five on this year’s shortlist and ask you to vote for the one you want us to name and shame as the worst. 

Our list has been carefully compiled from the hundreds of letters, emails and calls we receive each week.

Scroll to the bottom to vote in the Wooden Spoon

Money Mail spends most of its time fighting your corner against the giants who bungle everyday requests and payments.

So the traditional end-of-year Wooden Spoon Award hones in on organisations that look after the key areas of our finances: bank accounts; savings and mortgages; investments; insurance; tax; and essential utilities such as phone and energy bills.

BT, the winner for the past two years, is the most notable absentee this time around, after considerably cleaning up its act.

We now receive far fewer complaints about faulty BT broadband and phone lines or unhelpful call centre staff.

The same goes for Vodafone. After an ignominious third place last year, chief executive Nick Jeffery vowed he’d invest in better customer service — and it seems to be paying off. 

The quantity and seriousness of the gripes you send us are much reduced.

Once you’ve made a decision on who provides Britain’s worst customer service, vote using the form below.

And don’t forget to tell us about the good service you’ve had, too — for our new Service Star prize. Simply include a note in your letter explaining your choice.

You can pick any company you’ve had dealings with this year.

You have until Friday, January 5, 2018, to vote. We’ll then reveal the winners later in January, when we’ll hand over the Spoon and Star gongs to the respective chief executives.

E.ON

When Money Mail revealed in September that energy companies were using high-pressure tactics to push customers into having smart meters installed, you inundated us with examples.

These new meters use wireless signals to tell suppliers how much energy you use. But they are not compulsory and customers can refuse.

In some cases, firms scheduled dates to fit the meters without being asked — and bombarding customers with calls, texts and letters if they refused to have one.

E.ON was the worst offender among the Big Six power giants. Angry customers said it had told them that they must switch to a smart meter or face bill hikes.

Others had been sent letters that suggested installing a smart meter is a legal or a safety requirement.

E.ON also revealed plans to replace its expensive standard tariffs with cheaper rolling deals — but only for its customers with smart meters.

It was only after Money Mail reported the firm to the energy watchdog that E.ON agreed to change the information it sends customers to make it clearer that smart meters are optional.

A spokesman for E.ON says: ‘We’re always looking at how we can improve things for our customers. We fully support the smart meter rollout and are keen to enable our customers to see the benefits of this advanced technology for themselves.’

HMRC

The taxman is no stranger to the Wooden Spoon shortlist — and it’s had another miserable year. HM Revenue and Customs’ new tax-free childcare service, launched in April, has been plagued by technical problems, leaving parents locked out of the website and unable to log into accounts to pay nursery fees.

When parents then tried to ring the helpline, they routinely couldn’t get through. In August the taxman had to set up a compensation scheme for those who had lost out.

HMRC has also come under fire for unfairly pocketing thousands of pounds from savers.

Money Mail revealed in November that people in their 50s and 60s who made extra payments to top up state pensions found they didn’t actually qualify for an increase. Yet when they asked for their money back, the taxman refused.

There has also been a great deal of confusion around the marriage tax break. In September we reported that 2 million of the 4.2 million couples eligible for the perk had not claimed it, missing out on around £1.3 billion between them. 

You tell us the application process is cumbersome and it is difficult to find out if you’re eligible.

Letters to Money Mail’s agony uncle Tony Hazell also suggest HMRC is still giving customers the runaround when they’ve paid the wrong amount of tax and need to correct their records.

Sometimes it has taken the tax office months to reply to your requests — and then it’s failed to apologise.A spokesman for HMRC says: ‘We’re delivering better customer service across the board.

‘Call waiting times are below five minutes, we’re now available seven days a week, and 13 million people have signed up to online tax accounts to manage their tax online.

‘We’re sorry that some parents didn’t receive the standard of service to which we are committed. We’ve improved the new service.’

SANTANDER

At the start of this year Money Mail was flooded with heart-wrenching cases of Santander customers who had lost their life savings to online banking fraud.

Con artists pretending to be from telecoms firms and even Santander itself had found a way to exploit the bank’s payment verification system to empty people’s accounts without them being alerted by text message. 

In one of the worst cases, a 49-year-old from London lost £180,000.

Santander refused to cover these losses, claiming the victims should not have given out their details over the phone.

In some cases it sent victims standardised letters claiming to have investigated their case fully just 24 hours after the customer had reported the incident.

Santander also failed to tell some customers that they had the right to appeal to the Financial Ombudsman Service if they disagreed with the bank’s decision.

Since Money Mail highlighted the flaw in Santander’s text message system, the bank has tightened its security.

But many victims are still thousands of pounds out of pocket.

A spokesman for Santander says: ‘We work hard to prevent our customers becoming victims of scams. 

We invest heavily in processes and systems to detect and prevent fraud. We are sorry if some of our customers feel we have not met the simple, personal and fair standards we strive to meet. 

We take our responsibility in this area very seriously and will continue to fight back against the criminals who are ruining people’s lives.’

SCOTTISH POWER

After Scottish Power won our Wooden Spoon three years ago, its service appeared to be improving.

But over the past 12 months its name has again started to crop up in our postbag with regularity.

You tell us time and time again that the firm is unable to deal with the simplest of queries.

Readers routinely say their bills and direct debit payments are wrong — sometimes because their address has been confused with a neighbour’s. Then, when you ask for it to be corrected, nobody comes back to you — and sometimes Scottish Power compounds the error with another bungle.

In the worst cases, customers are being threatened with debt collectors over money they don’t owe.

Scottish Power has been ranked bottom of the Big Six suppliers for service by Citizens Advice in its latest ratings.

And the firm’s own figures show that complaints are starting to creep up again. Between July and September it received 138,877 complaints.

That’s a 14.4 per cent increase on the 121,320 it received in the final three months of last year.

Its figures also show that complaints are taking longer to resolve. Colin McNeill, retail director at Scottish Power, says: ‘In a recent survey we had the best call answering times out of the big suppliers and throughout the year we have continued to make solid progress in our service.

‘We are working hard to keep making service improvements and developing new products to look after our existing customers.’

VIRGIN MEDIA

Not a week goes by without a fistful of complaints about this telecoms giant appearing in our postbag. 

One of the biggest gripes is around moving home. Customers who have been loyal to Virgin Media for years tell us that after moving to an area where the firm doesn’t supply broadband and TV, they are being charged hefty fees to exit their contract early. 

How much they have to pay depends on how long their contract has left to run. In some cases, bills of up to £240 are being charged. Customers say they feel as though they are being exploited.

They say they were never warned about this trap when signing up and are paying the price for the firm failing to invest in full nationwide coverage.

Readers tell us that when they complain, Virgin’s staff are unhelpful and promise callbacks that never come.

The regulator, Ofcom, has said it will be investigating whether these charges are excessive.

It could introduce a cap, but the firm is continuing to bill customers in the meantime.

A spokesman for Virgin Media says: ‘Giving our customers excellent customer service is at the very heart of our business, so it’s disappointing to hear we’ve fallen short of their expectations and the high standards we set ourselves.

‘We take this feedback very seriously and are listening to the concerns raised by Money Mail readers. We have already taken a number of steps and are investing significantly to improve our customers’ experience.’

 VOTE NOW





Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

December 22 and 23 2017 may be busiest supermarket days

12 Dec 17
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  • Friday and Saturday before Christmas may be record breaking for supermarkets
  • Kantar Worldpanel estimates £1.5bn to be spent in supermarkets in two days
  • Data also shows that Britons now have a taste for ‘premium’ alcohol 
  • Aldi is fastest growing supermarket in the last three months 

The Friday and Saturday before Christmas could be the busiest supermarket shopping days in history, according to consumer panel Kantar Worldpanel.

Christmas Day falls on a Monday this year and the last time that happened, in 2006, the Friday before was the most popular day for grocery shopping that year.

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar Worldpanel, says that if we see a similar pattern in 2017, Friday 22 December is likely to win out as the ‘grocers enjoy not only the biggest shopping day of 2017, but the most successful ever recorded.’

He adds: ‘Over Friday 22 and Saturday 23 December, we expect shoppers to part with an eye-watering £1.5billion as they fill their trollies ahead of Christmas Day.’

Christmas dash: It is estimated £1.5bn will be spent on 22 and 23 December - while data shows Aldi is once again the fastest growing supermarket

Christmas dash: It is estimated £1.5bn will be spent on 22 and 23 December – while data shows Aldi is once again the fastest growing supermarket

Meanwhile, its data shows shoppers have splashed out £172million more on alcohol in the last 12 weeks compared to last year, as Britons turn their attentions to upmarket tipples.

Latest supermarket figures show that the growth is mainly a result of shoppers choosing more expensive ‘premium’ alcohol, although the volume of sales has also increased.

Sales of gin are up 26 per cent, whisky 10 per cent and sparkling wine seven per cent – while a big seller this year is non-alcoholic beer, with sales up 27 per cent to the 12 weeks to 3 December 2017.

The figures show supermarket sales have increased 3.1 per cent annually, despite like-for-like grocery inflation of 3.6 per cent – the highest level since 2013.

It comes following a period of grocery price deflation which ran for 30 consecutive periods from September 2014 to December 2016. It’s based on 75,000 products.

Kantar says the price of butter, fish and fresh pork continue to rise, while only a few products are seeing prices fall, such as fresh poultry and crisps.

Market share: Tesco continues to be miles ahead of its rivals - while Aldi continues to make ground on Morrisons

Market share: Tesco continues to be miles ahead of its rivals – while Aldi continues to make ground on Morrisons

Aldi fastest growing supermarket 

Meanwhile, Aldi has reclaimed its crown as Britain’s fastest growing supermarket in the last three months, with sales up 15.1 per cent annually.

This compares to 14.5 per cent at its German rival Lidl.

Fraser McKevitt said: ‘Aldi saw notable successes in the chilled aisle, increasing sales of convenience products like ready meals and desserts by an impressive 40 per cent year-on-year.

WHY HAS ALDI BECOME POPULAR?

The German discounter has seen a surge in popularity in the last 18 months as it appears more shoppers are willing to give it a go.

Earlier in the year, This is Money went behind the scenes to see the secrets of its growing success, including using the same suppliers as upmarket rivals and the cunning strategy behind the ‘special buy’ middle aisles.

You can read the full feature here: Behind the scenes at Aldi – 17 secrets of its success 

 

‘Aldi’s Specially Selected line was the UK’s fastest growing premium own label brand during the past 12 weeks, enjoying a healthy sales increase of 25 per cent.

‘Meanwhile Lidl’s market share increased by 0.5 percentage points to stand at 5.1 per cent. 

‘This was helped by a strong performance from well-known brands, which currently account for 11 per cent of the retailer’s sales.’

The biggest four grocers saw collective growth of 1.9 per cent during the past 12 weeks, making this the ninth consecutive period of increasing sales for the UK’s largest retailers.

Tesco – with sales up 2.5 per cent compared to this time last year – was the fastest growing of the four.

Despite its market share falling by 0.1 percentage points to 28.2 per cent, Tesco remains Britain’s most-visited retailer – welcoming a huge 21million households during the last three months.

Sainsbury’s grew sales by two per cent, with its market share falling to 16.3 per cent. Meanwhile Morrisons’ market share fell to 10.6 per cent, despite an annual sales boost of 1.4 per cent year, showing just how much the German discounters are denting market share.

Sales also grew at Asda – up 1.2 per cent – with market share down by 0.3 percentage points.

Comparison: Almost all supermarkets have seen spend up - only Co-op bucks the trend

Comparison: Almost all supermarkets have seen spend up – only Co-op bucks the trend

Waitrose and Iceland both increased sales, up by 1.6 per cent and 1.3 per cent respectively. 

Co-op’s sales fell by 1.5 per cent, taking market share down 0.3 percentage points to six per cent.

The data also shows that online supermarket sales growth has slowed considerably to just 2.8 per cent in the last 12 weeks – but it is still likely to be a record December for grocery e-commerce. 





Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

Jo Johnson reveals plans for two-year university courses

11 Dec 17
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  • A new degree will be offered to students in the UK wary of high tuition fees
  • The degree is two years long and is thought to be 20 per cent cheaper overall 
  • Universities Minister Jo Johnson hopes the degree will mean no student debt
  • But some say that high interests rates on student loans is what needs changing

High levels of student debt – on average £50,000 – force many young people to think twice about embarking on a university degree. 

But the launch of a new ‘value for money’ express degree that takes just two years to complete, rather than the standard three, is designed to attract those fearing high bills for tuition fees and living costs.

The so-called ‘accelerated degree’ will work out 20 per cent cheaper overall and save students thousands of pounds in borrowing costs, according to Universities Minister Jo Johnson.

The new degrees are set to launch in 2019 and are expected to attract mature students and those who cannot afford thousands of pounds in borrowing costs

The new degrees are set to launch in 2019 and are expected to attract mature students and those who cannot afford thousands of pounds in borrowing costs

Announcing the proposals today, Johnson told The Mail on Sunday he hopes universities will grab the opportunity to offer students more flexibility and choice by providing short-term degrees over a wide variety of subjects – in addition to traditional courses.

His proposition emerges against a backdrop of frenzied criticism of the higher education system. 

In the last week alone universities have been condemned for bosses’ fat cat pay, the loan system dubbed ‘diseased’ by Labour peer Lord Adonis – and the courses currently on offer denounced by watchdog the National Audit Office for providing poor quality for the price.

The new degrees, due to launch in 2019, are expected to attract mature students in particular who want to study but cannot justify the time or cost involved in a three-year pause from the workplace.

Johnson, says: ‘The aim is to break the current “one size fits all” model which I am concerned is squeezing out applicants. There has been a big decline in the number of mature students and I think that is why.’

But the planned scheme is not limited to mature students. He expects many school-leavers to seize the chance to pursue shorter courses. Johnson says: ‘There are plenty of young people who want a faster pace of learning and to get into the world of work more quickly. It will be the same degree with the same quality assurance.’

He says employers also like graduates with speedy degrees under their belt as it suggests they will make highly motivated, hard-working members of the workforce.

The teaching of the degrees will typically take 45 weeks a year over two years instead of 30 weeks a year over three.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson, pictured, has launched a new ‘value for money’ express degree that takes just two years to complete

Universities Minister Jo Johnson, pictured, has launched a new ‘value for money’ express degree that takes just two years to complete

Some smaller universities and colleges, such as Hertfordshire and Coventry, already offer two-year degrees but just 2,500 students are enrolled in such courses out of a total 1.5 million undergraduates in England. 

The Government hopes traditional universities will see the benefit of offering shorter courses as a flexible option alongside three-year arrangements.

Universities will be allowed to charge 20 per cent more than the current £9,250 annual cap for tuition fees – making the teaching bill £11,100 a year or £22,200 for the whole course. That compares to £27,750 for a three-year degree – a student saving of £5,550.

Johnson says: ‘They will be the same programmes, same degrees, same quality but less debt and more value for money.’

He believes these courses plus newer arrangements from the likes of UK vacuum cleaner giant Dyson, which has set up its own engineering university in Wiltshire are set to shake up the system. Johnson says: ‘There is an appetite for something different as shown by the fact Dyson’s courses are oversubscribed by 20 or 30 times.’

Staffordshire University is another institution already offering fast-track degrees in subjects such as English, journalism and law (costing £18,500 in fees over two years).

Karl McCormack, who teaches two-year degrees in accounting and finance, says: ‘They offer students extra focus, the drive and immersive experience of learning over two years.’

Student Laura Montague, taking a two-year finance course at Staffordshire, says: ‘It prepares you well in terms of what the working environment will be like when you finish.’

The Office for Students, a new watchdog that will be in place next year, will support the provision of the new degrees. Government research suggests more than 70 per cent of universities report a craving for shorter courses among students and employers.

For many students a £5,550 reduction in the overall cost of a degree will only make a fractional dent in the giant debt they will carry for years. 

Jake Butler, pictured, of the website Save The Student is calling for lower interests rates

Jake Butler, pictured, of the website Save The Student is calling for lower interests rates

Fees on standard degrees have trebled since 2012 and students can now expect to graduate with debts of at least £50,000 – or nearer £57,000 for those from poorer families who borrow extra to cover living expenses.

For full-time students in England, repayments equivalent to 9 per cent of income over £25,000 only begin once they have left university and are earning £25,000 or more a year.

But interest racks up at March’s Retail Prices Index measure of inflation (3.1 per cent) plus 3 percentage points while at university.

So on graduation those earning more than £25,000 pay on a sliding scale of up to 6.1 per cent where income reaches £41,000 or more.

The Government plays down the impact of the debt. After 30 years, any outstanding student debt is written off though for many thousands of pounds of interest will have been paid along the way.

Danny Cox, of financial adviser Hargreaves Lansdown, says: ‘Reducing a course by a year might bring the cost down a bit, but it is still an astronomical amount of money to saddle young graduates with as they head into the workplace.

‘The student loan system teaches young people that unaffordable debt is perfectly acceptable and you do not need to worry about repaying it – which is a terrible money life lesson.’

Liz Emerson, of the Intergenerational Foundation think-tank, says: ‘Graduates who make repayments are effectively paying a tax of 41 per cent. Jo Johnson is in the age group who got their degrees for free and does not pay extra tax for it. The Government needs to rethink the interest on these loans.’

Jake Butler, of website Save The Student, says: ‘Would students on a two-year course really get the same value as those on a three-year course? Given the fact many students already feel their contact time is too limited, I am not so sure.’

He calls for an end to the high rates of interest charged to all students, particularly since the highest rate applies while they are studying and unable to make repayments.

He says: ‘After graduation the interest drops to just 3.1 per cent if they earn below £25,000 from April 2018. Why can it not be this low when studying?’

Johnson told The Mail on Sunday that student funding, including interest rates, is still under review. He said: ‘Details will be set out in the coming weeks.’ 

NO LOANS, A SALARY AND STUDENT DIGS…WELCOME TO DYSON UNIVERSITY

Sir James Dyson, pictured, launched the Dyson Institute in September

Sir James Dyson, pictured, launched the Dyson Institute in September

A desire to introduce innovation into the nation’s provision of university degrees was behind the launch of the Dyson Institute, which opened to its first students in September.

British technology tycoon James Dyson launched his own university in a bid to help plug the huge gap in the country’s engineering skills. 

About 850 school leavers applied for 33 places on the four-year course. Unlike most other undergraduates, the successful applicants have their £9,250 annual tuition fees met by the company – plus they receive an apprentice salary of £15,500 a year.

Dyson is also in the process of building student accommodation. These few lucky students will have no massive debt to carry with them – and there is no obligation to stay with the company.

The students spend three days a week working on projects and the remaining two studying at the Wiltshire campus.

The first students will have their degrees awarded by Warwick University. 

Inside the Dyson Institute, pictured, in Wiltshire, which was launched in a bid to help plug the huge gap in the country’s engineering skills

Inside the Dyson Institute, pictured, in Wiltshire, which was launched in a bid to help plug the huge gap in the country’s engineering skills





Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

British customers could be ‘worst off’ after cap on bills 

10 Dec 17
alibhai
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Centrica: The British Gas owner does not believe price caps will benefit customers

Centrica: The British Gas owner does not believe price caps will benefit customers

Energy firms have criticised government plans to introduce a price cap on gas and electricity bills.

Experts believe customers overpaid for energy by £1.4 billion last year because the market is not competitive enough.

Lawmakers have now introduced a bill for a temporary price cap to try and help reduce average bills by £100. It will last until the end of 2020 and could be extended by three years.

But in evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, British Gas owner Centrica and other firms said they did not believe it would work. Centrica said: ‘We believe that the Government’s objectives are unclear and potentially contradictory.’ Price comparison firm uSwitch said the price cap ‘risks leaving consumers worse off overall’.

 





Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

An express university degree hopes to rid student debt

09 Dec 17
alibhai
No Comments
  • A new degree will be offered to students in the UK wary of high tuition fees
  • The degree is two years long and is thought to be 20 per cent cheaper overall 
  • Universities Minister Jo Johnson hopes the degree will mean no student debt
  • But some say that high interests rates on student loans is what needs changing

High levels of student debt – on average £50,000 – force many young people to think twice about embarking on a university degree. 

But the launch of a new ‘value for money’ express degree that takes just two years to complete, rather than the standard three, is designed to attract those fearing high bills for tuition fees and living costs.

The so-called ‘accelerated degree’ will work out 20 per cent cheaper overall and save students thousands of pounds in borrowing costs, according to Universities Minister Jo Johnson.

Announcing the proposals today, Johnson told The Mail on Sunday he hopes universities will grab the opportunity to offer students more flexibility and choice by providing short-term degrees over a wide variety of subjects – in addition to traditional courses.

The new degrees are set to launch in 2019 and are expected to attract mature students and those who cannot afford thousands of pounds in borrowing costs

The new degrees are set to launch in 2019 and are expected to attract mature students and those who cannot afford thousands of pounds in borrowing costs

His proposition emerges against a backdrop of frenzied criticism of the higher education system. 

In the last week alone universities have been condemned for bosses’ fat cat pay, the loan system dubbed ‘diseased’ by Labour peer Lord Adonis – and the courses currently on offer denounced by watchdog the National Audit Office for providing poor quality for the price.

The new degrees, due to launch in 2019, are expected to attract mature students in particular who want to study but cannot justify the time or cost involved in a three-year pause from the workplace.

Johnson, says: ‘The aim is to break the current “one size fits all” model which I am concerned is squeezing out applicants. There has been a big decline in the number of mature students and I think that is why.’

But the planned scheme is not limited to mature students. He expects many school-leavers to seize the chance to pursue shorter courses. Johnson says: ‘There are plenty of young people who want a faster pace of learning and to get into the world of work more quickly. It will be the same degree with the same quality assurance.’

He says employers also like graduates with speedy degrees under their belt as it suggests they will make highly motivated, hard-working members of the workforce.

The teaching of the degrees will typically take 45 weeks a year over two years instead of 30 weeks a year over three.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson, pictured, has launched a new ‘value for money’ express degree that takes just two years to complete

Universities Minister Jo Johnson, pictured, has launched a new ‘value for money’ express degree that takes just two years to complete

Some smaller universities and colleges, such as Hertfordshire and Coventry, already offer two-year degrees but just 2,500 students are enrolled in such courses out of a total 1.5 million undergraduates in England. 

The Government hopes traditional universities will see the benefit of offering shorter courses as a flexible option alongside three-year arrangements.

Universities will be allowed to charge 20 per cent more than the current £9,250 annual cap for tuition fees – making the teaching bill £11,100 a year or £22,200 for the whole course. That compares to £27,750 for a three-year degree – a student saving of £5,550.

Johnson says: ‘They will be the same programmes, same degrees, same quality but less debt and more value for money.’

He believes these courses plus newer arrangements from the likes of UK vacuum cleaner giant Dyson, which has set up its own engineering university in Wiltshire are set to shake up the system. Johnson says: ‘There is an appetite for something different as shown by the fact Dyson’s courses are oversubscribed by 20 or 30 times.’

Staffordshire University is another institution already offering fast-track degrees in subjects such as English, journalism and law (costing £18,500 in fees over two years).

Karl McCormack, who teaches two-year degrees in accounting and finance, says: ‘They offer students extra focus, the drive and immersive experience of learning over two years.’

Student Laura Montague, taking a two-year finance course at Staffordshire, says: ‘It prepares you well in terms of what the working environment will be like when you finish.’

The Office for Students, a new watchdog that will be in place next year, will support the provision of the new degrees. Government research suggests more than 70 per cent of universities report a craving for shorter courses among students and employers.

For many students a £5,550 reduction in the overall cost of a degree will only make a fractional dent in the giant debt they will carry for years. 

Fees on standard degrees have trebled since 2012 and students can now expect to graduate with debts of at least £50,000 – or nearer £57,000 for those from poorer families who borrow extra to cover living expenses.

For full-time students in England, repayments equivalent to 9 per cent of income over £25,000 only begin once they have left university and are earning £25,000 or more a year.

Jake Butler, pictured, of the website Save The Student is calling for lower interests rates

Jake Butler, pictured, of the website Save The Student is calling for lower interests rates

But interest racks up at March’s Retail Prices Index measure of inflation (3.1 per cent) plus 3 percentage points while at university.

So on graduation those earning more than £25,000 pay on a sliding scale of up to 6.1 per cent where income reaches £41,000 or more.

The Government plays down the impact of the debt. After 30 years, any outstanding student debt is written off though for many thousands of pounds of interest will have been paid along the way.

Danny Cox, of financial adviser Hargreaves Lansdown, says: ‘Reducing a course by a year might bring the cost down a bit, but it is still an astronomical amount of money to saddle young graduates with as they head into the workplace.

‘The student loan system teaches young people that unaffordable debt is perfectly acceptable and you do not need to worry about repaying it – which is a terrible money life lesson.’

Liz Emerson, of the Intergenerational Foundation think-tank, says: ‘Graduates who make repayments are effectively paying a tax of 41 per cent. Jo Johnson is in the age group who got their degrees for free and does not pay extra tax for it. The Government needs to rethink the interest on these loans.’

Jake Butler, of website Save The Student, says: ‘Would students on a two-year course really get the same value as those on a three-year course? Given the fact many students already feel their contact time is too limited, I am not so sure.’

He calls for an end to the high rates of interest charged to all students, particularly since the highest rate applies while they are studying and unable to make repayments.

He says: ‘After graduation the interest drops to just 3.1 per cent if they earn below £25,000 from April 2018. Why can it not be this low when studying?’

Johnson told The Mail on Sunday that student funding, including interest rates, is still under review. He said: ‘Details will be set out in the coming weeks.’ 

No loans, a salary, student digs… welcome to the Dyson university 

Sir James Dyson, pictured, launched the Dyson Institute in September

Sir James Dyson, pictured, launched the Dyson Institute in September

A desire to introduce innovation into the nation’s provision of university degrees was behind the launch of the Dyson Institute, which opened to its first students in September.

British technology tycoon James Dyson launched his own university in a bid to help plug the huge gap in the country’s engineering skills. 

About 850 school leavers applied for 33 places on the four-year course. Unlike most other undergraduates, the successful applicants have their £9,250 annual tuition fees met by the company – plus they receive an apprentice salary of £15,500 a year.

Dyson is also in the process of building student accommodation. These few lucky students will have no massive debt to carry with them – and there is no obligation to stay with the company.

The students spend three days a week working on projects and the remaining two studying at the Wiltshire campus.

The first students will have their degrees awarded by Warwick University. 

Inside the Dyson Institute, pictured, in Wiltshire, which was launched in a bid to help plug the huge gap in the country’s engineering skills

Inside the Dyson Institute, pictured, in Wiltshire, which was launched in a bid to help plug the huge gap in the country’s engineering skills





Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

Parents will ‘skip meals’ in order to buy Christmas gifts

08 Dec 17
alibhai
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  • Many parents do not save for Christmas causing financial strain
  • Would happily pay a 30% premium to secure sold out toys for their children
  • Expert says too many people are ‘under social pressure’ to buy festive gifts 

The true cost of Christmas for some has been laid bare by research showing some parents are willing to skip meals and sacrifice holidays in order to buy gifts.

Revealing the pressure that parents feel under at this time of year, one in three admit to dipping into their overdrafts and savings to finance presents, with a fifth admitting it is a huge financial burden.

One in five also do not save any money at all for Christmas gifts, according to the research from Barclays, despite some of the most sought after toys costing hundreds of pounds.

Toy trouble: Research suggests that parents are under social pressure to buy 'must have' toys - and will pay a 30% premium to secure them

Toy trouble: Research suggests that parents are under social pressure to buy ‘must have’ toys – and will pay a 30% premium to secure them

In the survey of 1,000 parents, on average respondents admitted they’d be happy to spend up to 30 per cent more on sold-out gifts their children wanted through resale websites.

Even more extreme, one in 10 said they would be prepared to spend as much as 80 per cent more than the recommended retail price.

A 30 per cent premium would make the Anki Cozmo Robot £259.99 rather than £199.99 and Hatchimals Surprise £97.49 compared to £74.99.

The cheapest item on the list – the LOL Big Surprise Ball- would be £77.99 instead of the RRP of £59.99, showing that a lack of preparation can mean a far more costly Christmas. 

CHRISTMAS TOYS 2017

The most popular 2017 Christmas toys and how much some parents are prepared to spend on them. 

Recommended retail price vs 30% premium:

Anki Cozmo Robot £199.99 – £259.99 

Lego Boost £149.99 – £194.99 

FurReal Roarin’ Tyler £134.99 – £175.49 

Little Tikes Princess Cozy Chariot £109.99 – £142.99 

Luvabella Doll £99.99 – £129.99 

FurReal Proto Max £89.99 – £116.99 

Barbie Dreamhorse £89.99 – £116.99 

Zoe Enchanted Unicorn £89.99 – £116.99 

Micro Scooter Mini Deluxe £79.99 – £103.99 

Star Wars Lego BB-8 £84.99 – £110.49 

Hatchimals Surprise £74.99 – £97.49 

Paw Patrol Sea Patroller £69.99 – £90.99 

NERF Modulus Regulator £65.00 – £84.50 

Power Rangers Megazord £59.99 – £77.99 

LOL Big Surprise Ball £59.99 – £77.99

 

This year is set to be the most expensive Christmas for present buying on record according to Barclays, with parents expected to fork out an average of £128.80 per child on presents during the festive season.

Although, for many, the total bill is likely to be far higher, with data from eBay suggesting we are likely to spend an incredible £748 each on up to 48 different gifts this year – with toys, clothes, gadgets and perfumes the most popular purchases. 

The Barclays research also shows that one in three parents leave Christmas shopping until the very last minute.

Clare Francis, savings and investments director at Barclays, said: ‘Spending more than you can afford at Christmas can lead to serious problems down the line, and it’s something we – as a nation – need to get out of the habit of.

‘Too many of us are being moved into action by social pressures to spend huge sums of money on Christmas presents.

‘If that sounds like you, decide to do it differently next year. 

‘Set a budget in January and set up savings goals which can help you start contributing monthly instalments to a set pot of money and stick to your limit.’

Showing just how pressure-laden many find the festive season, two-fifths of respondents admitted to adopting extreme measures to cut back on spending after Christmas.

This includes skipping meals, saying no to school trips and cancelling holidays.

PAY FOR CHRISTMAS: SIX STEPS

It is possible to recoup the full cost of Christmas by kicking off a pre-holiday review of all our other regular expenses. 

You may need to wait until some annual insurance policies and contracts expire to make the biggest savings.

But get ready now and experts say most of us can knock at least £1,000 off our bills in 2018.

Read our guide on how to save on your mortgage, car insurance, home cover, life protection, utility bills and phone and TV. 

 

 





Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

Only 20% of buildings policies cover heating breakdown

06 Dec 17
alibhai
No Comments
  • Many insurance policies do not cover heating breakdown as standard
  • If boiler packs in and you’re not covered, it can cost thousands to fix or replace
  • We reveal top tips to protect your property this winter 
  • Have you had a boiler disaster? Contact: laura.whitcombe@thisismoney.co.uk 

With the mercury plummeting and Christmas fast approaching, it would be awful timing for your boiler to pack-up.

Especially when research reveals only a fifth of buildings insurance policies cover home emergencies such as heating breakdown as standard. 

Analysis by Defaqto has revealed that of the 448 home buildings insurance policies currently available on the market, only 21 per cent include cover for home emergencies, such as a heating breakdown, as standard. 

Little more than half offer it as an optional add-on, usually as part of a ‘home emergency’ insurance product – and 26 per cent provide no cover at all.

Check the fine print: Chances are you'll have to pay extra if you want your buildings insurance to cover home emergencies such as heating failure

Check the fine print: Chances are you’ll have to pay extra if you want your buildings insurance to cover home emergencies such as heating failure

Among those buildings insurance policies that make this exclusion are Allianz’s Clear Advance, Broker Direct’s Home and Budget Insurance’s Home Insurance policies, according to Defaqto. 

Admiral’s, Churchill and esure’s home insurance policies are among those that include home emergency cover as an optional extra.  

And among the minority of buildings insurance policies that do cover home emergency, including heating systems, are Direct Line’s Home Insurance Plus, Hastings Direct’s Premier Home Insurance and Legal & General’s Home Insurance Choices.

For more examples of what specific buildings insurance policies do and don’t cover, and the maximum limits they will pay out, see table below:  

What's covered? Where you'll find home emergency cover within home buildings insurance policies. Source: Defaqto

What’s covered? Where you’ll find home emergency cover within home buildings insurance policies. Source: Defaqto

Defaqto is also warning households not to be lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to the many adverts for boiler breakdown insurance about at the moment, which specifically cover boilers. 

This is not the same as home emergency insurance.  

Brian Brown, head of Insight at Defaqto, says: ‘Boiler breakdown insurance is specifically designed to protect a boiler against the cost of future breakdown. 

‘Primarily these products cover the cost of any repairs to a boiler to get it up and running again but not necessarily replace it if it is broken.’ 

Defaqto found that 23 per cent of specific boiler insurance policies won’t pay out anything if your boiler needs replacing.

These include Admiral’s Boiler Emergency Cover (Gold Home Insurance), all Boilerplus policies and Scottish Power’s Boiler Care and Boiler Care Plus policies. 

While 60 per cent include an annual boiler service, in the event that a boiler is broken down beyond economic repair, many of the boiler breakdown policies on the market will either replace the boiler, or contribute something towards its replacement.  

Yet this cover is heavily restricted as most policies only pay out if the boiler is less than a certain age – and during which it is possible the system might still be under a manufacturer’s warranty. 

Just under half of the 57 policies on the market will completely cover the cost of replacing a boiler under six years old. These include British Gas’s HomeCare One/Two and SSE’s Boiler Cover/Home Cover.

But payouts for older machines are far less generous. There are 11 policies that cover boilers with no age limits and while five of them will pay out up to £1,500 towards replacement, the other six pay between £250 and £750.  

Revealed: The boiler policies that won't pay out for a replacement boiler and those that will

Revealed: The boiler policies that won’t pay out for a replacement boiler and those that will

To put that into perspective, a fairly typical Worcester Bosch boiler (the Greenstar 30CDI 30KW System Domestic Gas Boiler) costs £1279.99 at Screwfix, and of course, that’s before the cost of labour to have it installed. 

Defaqto said that the other policies available offer different contribution amounts, which might depend on the age of the boiler. 

There will also be cover exclusions based on the age of the boiler when cover starts, and the power output of the boiler.

So when considering your insurance needs, Defaqto urges you to bear in mind that home emergency insurance that is sometimes part of a building policy covers a range of emergencies that affect the home, unlike boiler breakdown cover which is specific to boilers. 

Top tips to protect yourself this winter 

• Check what cover you already have with your home insurance policy or bank account

• Check for any exclusions, such as the age or power output of the boiler and whether it needs to be regularly serviced or inspected

• If you bought your boiler within the last few years, check what cover the manufacturer gives as standard under the warranty, and check for any exclusions

• If you have a heating system that is powered by an electric boiler, solar or solid fuel, check whether your policy includes cover for this, as many do not.

To help prevent pipes freezing:

• Keep your heating on at regular intervals and make sure to set it on a timer if you’re going away.

  Source: Association of British Insurers

Depending on the age of a boiler, a home emergency insurance product may be a more suitable option and it will also cover problems such as central heating failure, burst pipes, electrical failure and roof damage caused by extreme weather.

It is designed to help people who have been hit by an emergency to make their home safe again or reinstate essential services. 

Typically, the cover limits are relatively low and there are sometimes limits on the number of claims that can be made each year.

Home emergency cover is sometimes added on to insurance and packaged bank accounts or offered through utility providers.

So it is worth checking whether there is already cover in place and checking for any exclusions, before buying a new policy. 

It can be bought as a standalone product and there are currently 77 such policies available in the market place, according to Defaqto.

Brian Brown says: ‘As the temperature starts to drop, having hot water and heating becomes a top priority. 

‘Modern boilers are expensive and the cost of having to replace one unexpectedly can be a nasty shock. 

‘If you don’t have the funds to pay for this, then a boiler breakdown policy that includes boiler replacement, may be a good option for you.’

To compare home insurance policies by features and benefits, you can visit Defaqto’s website for an independent overview. 

 

 






Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

MP condemns firms that charge for unwanted phone texts

03 Dec 17
alibhai
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  • Customers are still being opted-in to receive premium-rate texts
  • Predatory companies send messages until customers take action to stop them
  • Debbie Gould received a bill from Vodafone that was £20 higher than usual 

Thousands of people pestered with nuisance texts could be paying to receive them by predatory companies charging fees direct to customers’ mobile phone bills.

Despite a regulatory crackdown, customers are still being opted-in to receive premium-rate texts – about lotteries, competitions or even X-rated adult content – without their knowledge or consent.

John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire and member of the Treasury Select Committee, has voiced concern on this issue and says the regulator needs to do more.

Targeted: Debbie Gould was refunded fees after questioning her bill

Targeted: Debbie Gould was refunded fees after questioning her bill

On Friday, he told The Mail on Sunday: ‘These texts are a national scandal, impacting young and old alike. The regulator needs to act.’

Mobile phone users can pay for goods and services by allowing their network provider to add the charges to their bills – known formally as ‘phone-paid’ services.

But many are unwittingly signed-up to services they do not want.

A company flouting the rules might construe a few wrong clicks by people browsing on its website as consent to pay for receiving texts. For others, mobile alerts arrive out of the blue, with some complaining of being sent X-rated adult content.

At least one customer reports feeling ‘violated’ by the intrusion in a study of consumer complaints published earlier in the year.

Unscrupulous companies send messages until customers take action to stop them, usually after receiving a higher than expected phone bill. Those who complain to their mobile network provider are often told they must have forgotten they signed up or should have read the small print.

Fury: MP John Mann wants action

Fury: MP John Mann wants action

Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at comparison website uSwitch, says: ‘Being charged for texts and calls that you did not want or sign up for is unfair.

‘Texts from these numbers typically cost around £1.50 each, which means the cost of your phone bill can mount up if you are not quick to spot them.’

A growing market 

Charging for goods and services via a customer’s mobile phone bill is an increasingly popular way for companies to generate revenue.

This is largely thanks to its convenience, since a customer does not need to bother with debit or credit cards to make a payment. The market for phone-paid services has grown by nearly £31million in the past year, to more than £708million in 2017.

It is also a good way for charities to pull in much-needed donations. This makes up the lion’s share of the market.

People need only send a text to a ‘shortcode’ number displayed in an advert or on TV and the sum is added to their monthly phone bill.

But scam and rogue companies which adopt this payment method trap customers without gaining their consent or deliberately conceal prices and contract terms.

As a result, there are an estimated two million complaints a year about phone-paid services. Among these are gripes about text alert services charging per message – a market from which mobile networks too can turn a profit.

When the charges are minor, they go unnoticed. Mann adds: ‘Criminals are deliberately undertaking small thefts to minimise anyone kicking up a fuss.’

Customers affected 

Debbie Gould received a bill from Vodafone that was £20 higher than usual as a result of premium rate texts and calls.

When she contacted Vodafone she was refunded and a bar was put on her number to prevent it happening again.

Debbie, from Godalming, Surrey, says: ‘I did not sign any contract for anyone to charge me. It was only because I questioned my bill that it was dealt with. How can I be sure I have not paid hundreds of pounds over the years to these companies without even knowing?’

'Unacceptable': Derek Knowles complained to his phone network

‘Unacceptable’: Derek Knowles complained to his phone network

Derek Knowles was charged for 11 nuisance text messages to his mobile phone last month. These revealed the latest winning numbers for The National Lottery, at a rate of 12p a time. This information can easily be found online for free.

Though the charges were only small, Derek – a 74-year-old TV and film extra from Urmston, Greater Manchester – is meticulous about checking his bills and spotted them.

He says: ‘It is unacceptable. To receive unsolicited text messages and then be charged for them is sharp practice.’

When he contacted his mobile phone provider EE to complain, he was refunded and his number blocked from receiving any further premium rate texts.

The Mail on Sunday asked EE for an explanation. It maintains Derek signed up to two text message services via the EE App Store – something he vehemently denies.

A spokesman adds: ‘Unfortunately, due to a unique system error, Mr Knowles did not receive a follow-up welcome message to confirm his subscriptions and explain how to opt out.

‘We always recommend customers keep a close eye on their bills.’

Derek branded the network’s explanation ‘pathetic’.

Thumbs down: Charging for goods and services via a customer’s mobile phone bill is an increasingly popular way for companies to generate revenue

Thumbs down: Charging for goods and services via a customer’s mobile phone bill is an increasingly popular way for companies to generate revenue

Regulation 

The Phone-paid Services Authority governs companies that charge services to customers’ mobile phone bills. Until last year it was known as PhonepayPlus.

The authority says it has tried to prevent customers unknowingly being signed up to premium rate text services, particularly in relation to online competitions and ‘adult services’. It has seen a reduction in complaints as a result.

Its Code Adjudication Tribunal hears cases against companies thought to be in breach of its code of practice – including those providing call-based services as well as texts.

In the past financial year it levied fines in excess of £5million and banned seven companies or individuals from the market.

A spokesman said: ‘Under our code consumers must not be charged for phone-paid services without their consent.’

HOW TO BEAT THE SCOURGE OF NUISANCE MESSAGES 

  • Scrutinise mobile phone bills with care in case you have been charged for premium rate texts you did not want or ask for.
  • Contact your mobile phone provider to find out the source of any premium rate texts. If you did not sign up to the service ask for a refund.
  • Ask your provider to apply a bar on your phone that blocks premium rate numbers.
  • Forward spam texts to your provider. All networks use ‘7726’, which spells out ‘spam’ on a handset’s keypad. It is free.
  • Be wary of online companies asking for your phone number.
  • Look for details of any additional charges applied by a smartphone app you use – it might be free to download but could come with a paid-for subscription.
  • Reply to a text charging for a ‘service’ with the words ‘STOP ALL’ – but only if you are sure the company is legitimate. If you suspect it is a scam, do not reply as it tells the criminals the number is in use. They will use this information to try to charge you again.
  • Complain about any services you have been roped into receiving without consent by visiting the regulator’s website at psauthority.org.uk or by calling 0300 3030020 during office hours. It may help resolve your complaint or build a case against a company thought to be breaking the rules.





Courtesy: Daily Mail Online