The Financial News You Need To Know With Sarah Pennells – December 2014

Sarah Pennells is a personal finance journalist and the face behind SavvyWoman.co.uk. We think she does a great job at explaining financial subjects in a very clear and accessible manner. You can find her column below where she writes about the latest financial news, and helps you get more from your money.

Watch out for the ‘theftive’ season

Spent lots of money on presents? House full of gift-wrapped goodies? Beware! Last December insurers paid out £1 million a day to cover the cost of stolen goods. Don’t make it easy for burglars or thieves – make sure you don’t have Christmas presents on display and lock them in the car boot if you’re travelling with presents.

SAVVY TIP: Check that you have basic security measures in place in your home. You should have a five-lever mortice lock on your front and back doors and window locks on ground floor and accessible windows. If you have a burglar alarm, get it serviced regularly and switch it on when you’re out! It’s especially important if your insurer has given you a discount on your premiums for having a burglar alarm. If it’s not switched on, your claim may be rejected.

Shops fobbing off consumers?

Research by the consumer organisation Which? shows that shops are keeping customers in the dark about their rights. It carried out mystery shopping in a range of high street and online stores and found that some were telling mystery shoppers who had faulty goods that they should contact the manufacturer to get it sorted. This is not what the law says.

It’s something I’ve seen when I’ve been out shopping – I’ve been given the wrong information and I’ve also seen this on a number of websites. Here’s my short guide to your rights in the shops:

• The shop/online retailer (and not the manufacturer) is responsible for putting things right if you buy something that’s faulty or it develops a fault.
• If a fault develops in the first six months after you buy something, it’s up to the shop to show the fault wasn’t there when you bought it rather than you to show it was.
• You have these rights for up to six years (five years in Scotland), but that doesn’t mean everything you buy is guaranteed to last six years or that you can get a refund for the next six years if things go wrong. It would depend on what you’d bought and how long it’s expected to last.

SAVVY TIP: You can’t make a claim if something goes wrong because of normal wear and tear, for example.

• You don’t have an automatic right to get a refund if you buy something that turns out to be faulty. But if a fault develops soon after you buy, you can ‘reject the goods’ and ask for a refund. Otherwise, you have the right to get a repair or, if that can’t be sorted out, a replacement.

SAVVY TIP: Some retailers have agreements in place with the manufacturer which means that the manufacturer will deal with faults after a certain time. But the retailer still ultimately is responsible for sorting the problem out.

Basic bank accounts – new rules

If you can’t get an ordinary bank account because you have a bad credit rating, you should be able to get a ‘basic bank account’. It’s an account that doesn’t have an overdraft facility, so you can’t borrow money or get into debt. But at the moment, someone who has an account like this can be charged up to £35 if a payment is bounced because they don’t have enough money.

Under an agreement reached by the major banks and the government, banks will launch basic accounts where you won’t be charged a bounced payment fee. These new accounts will be launched over the next 12 months.

Green fund money goes

Last week the government launched its latest subsidy for energy efficient measures in homes in England and Wales (the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund) and in just one day all the money had gone. It promised up to £5,600 if you installed solid wall insulation, double glazing or an energy efficient boiler. The government has said that more money will be available early next year, so keep an eye out for it and be prepared to act quickly!

Bank of England stress test

The Bank of England has published the results of what’s called a ‘stress test’. It’s designed to test what banks could withstand if there was a major financial crisis (another one!). In 2008, several of the big banks had to be bailed out by taxpayers (to the tune of over £65 billion) because of the financial crisis.

The Co-operative Bank failed the Bank’s stress test and RBS/NatWest and Lloyds bank were ‘at risk’. But don’t panic. These test were based on the banks’ assets at the end of December 2013 and all the banks are in a healthier state now than they were at the end of last year.

But if you have a lot of savings (over £85,000), it’s worth spreading your money around between different banks and building societies. That’s because only the first £85,000 you have in a bank is protected by the UK’s savings compensation scheme, called the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

You could be owed £50!

A few months ago I mentioned a website – called myenergycredit.com – launched by the big six energy companies to refund people who’d switched supplier and were owed money. Earlier this year the energy regulator said that over three million people could be owed £50 on average, because their account was in credit when they switched supplier or moved house and that energy companies had to give this money back.

Last week the big six energy companies started an advertising campaign so if you haven’t tried to claim your refund, don’t leave it too late.

You could be owed money if you switched supplier and were owed less than £30 (depending on the supplier as some suppliers only automatically refunded amounts over £30), or because you paid your bills by cheque and the energy company didn’t have your new address. All you need to do is to contact your old energy supplier(s) and tell them your address and account number if you still have it. They should do the rest.