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.

Christmas delivery? Know your rights!

With more of us shopping online, that means – among other things – more parcels being delivered. Or not!

One survey found that one in ten of those who’d shopped online last Christmas had a problem with a delivery. So, if you’ve ordered something, or you’re planning to, here’s a rundown of your rights:

  • It’s the retailer’s responsibility to make sure that what you’ve ordered arrives safely. They pick the delivery company (not you) and they shouldn’t try and fob you off by telling you to take it up with them if things go wrong.

SAVVY TIP: I’ve had several emails from people who’ve ordered something online and found that the delivery company has put it in the recycling bin, left it in the garden or even thrown it in the bin (on collection day – no less!). If the delivery company decides to leave your order somewhere and it then disappears you can claim against the retailer. But if you’ve asked them to leave items in a specific place, you may not have a claim (the reason is that they were acting on your instructions).

  • If you order something and delivery is delayed, you can simply cancel the order, if you can buy it yourself elsewhere. If you shop online, by mail order or over the phone, you have a no-quibble right to cancel the order up to 14 days after it’s arrived. So, if it’s late arriving, you can definitely cancel! But do be aware that you may be asked to pay the return delivery costs when they finally do turn up, so check how much they are.

SAVVY TIP: You don’t have this no-quibble right to return if you order something that’s custom made, if it’s perishable (fresh flowers or food, for example) or if you order something like software, CDs or DVDs and take off the plastic wrapping.

New rights for flat owners?

Flat owners should be given new rights following an investigation of the property management sector. If you own a flat in England or Wales, it’s likely  that it’s a leasehold flat. And that means you don’t own the building, you just own the right to live there for a fixed term (normally up to 99 years).

Most blocks of flats are managed by property managers (or ‘managing agents’) and it’s their role that the competition watchdog, the CMA, looked at. The CMA is making several specific recommendations, including:

  1. Better information for prospective leaseholders: The CMA says that someone thinking of buying a leasehold flat should be given better information, including a short information sheet by the estate agent, spelling out what owning a leasehold property involves and including detail about current service charges (money that’s paid to the managing agent for upkeep, insurance and administration).
  2. Improvements to codes of practice: property managers would have to provide clear information about their responsibilities for properties they manage.
  3. New laws so leaseholders could get rid of bad management companies with a majority vote. Currently, leaseholders have the right to take over the management of a block of flats and appoint their own management company, but this would be a simpler option. If the majority of leaseholders in a block were unhappy with the management, they could be replaced.
  4. Advice about whether or not they have a case: where a leaseholder wants to dispute the amount they’re being asked to pay in service charges, they should be given some advice about whether they have a case.

Cracking down on loan brokers

The regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, is to crack down on loan broking companies in the New Year. It’s introducing much tougher rules so that these companies make it clear to their customers that they are brokers (and not lenders, as some people think) and that they get their customers’ consent before they take a broking fee from their account.

Why the crackdown? The simple reason is that there has been a huge problem with rogue loan brokers. Some, but not all, offer to find payday loans.

In many cases, customers haven’t got the loan they expected. In the worst cases, they’ve found that, not only has a fee of £50-£70 been taken from their account, but other broking companies that they’ve not registered with have taken money as well.

SAVVY TIP: If you’ve had money taken by a loan broker you’ve not done business with, you should complain to the company and ask for your money back. If you don’t get anywhere, complain for free to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Shared parental leave rules

If you’re due to have a baby from April 5th next year, you and your partner may qualify for shared parental leave. New rules mean that couples will be able to split parental leave, although they’ll have to give their employer eight weeks’ notice. The rules say that from April 2015:

  • Mothers will have to take two weeks’ maternity leave. If they work in a factory, they’ll have to take four weeks’ leave. They’ll also have to take two weeks’ Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance (a benefit that’s paid to those who don’t qualify for Maternity Pay).
  • Both the mother and her partner will have to qualify to be able to share the parental leave. The qualifying rules for mothers are the same as they are for maternity leave. Fathers (or partners) will have to have worked for 26 weeks (six months) out of the last 66 weeks, earning at least £30 for 13 weeks.
  • Parents will be able to split parental leave in three blocks and they’ll both be able to take it at the same time – as long as their employer agrees.

Gogglebox Brits pay for TV channels they don’t watch

Do you have a pay TV package? If so, how many stations do you watch (be honest!)? According to one price comparison site, we only watch 25% of the channels we pay for, despite paying almost £400 a year for them, on average. And almost one in four people only watch 10% of the channels they’ve paid for.

SAVVY TIP: If you’ve not checked how much you’re paying for your TV package, it could be worth doing an audit. Work out what you watch and what you’re paying and whether you could get it cheaper from someone else or by downgrading your TV package.