The financial news you need to know with Sarah Pennells – February 01 2017

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.

High heels at work? Only if you want to wear them!

Employers shouldn’t be able to impose a dress code where employees have to wear high heels. That’s the finding of a parliamentary committee.

It’s been reviewing existing legislation after a woman, Nicola Thorp, started a petition after she was sent home from work for refusing to wear high heels. The petition received over 150,000 signatures and resulted in a debate in parliament.

The MPs said that Nicola Thorp’s employers had acted unlawfully by imposing the dress code that included high heels, but said that employers should be made more aware of the law and should face increased fines in employment tribunals if they’re found to break the law in the future.

Personal details for sale for 4p

An investigation by the consumer group Which? has found that companies are selling personal and financial data for as little as 4p. Which? posed as dodgy firm that wanted to buy data so it could contact them about cashing in their pension early (this is a common pension scam).

Which? was offered nearly half a million pieces of personal data for just 4p each including phone number and addresses. It was also offered the bank details of 5,000 people (at just 24p a time).

The ‘company’ Which? set up wasn’t registered at Companies House, wasn’t regulated by the financial regulator and – most important of all – wasn’t registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office. This is something a company must do by law if it wants to buy or sell information about someone.

Which? says it’s passed its findings to the Information Commssioner’s Office. But how can you limit the chances of your data being traded?

  1. Check what you’re signing up for if you take out a product or register online. You’ll normally be asked if you’re happy for the company to share your details with ‘carefully selected third parties’. In reality this could be anyone your details are sold to. Companies shouldn’t be able to pass on your details because you haven’t ticked a box to opt out (the rules say you should give ‘meaningful’ consent). But it’s worth checking anyway.
  2. Check whether you are registered on the full or edited electoral register. The edited electoral register (also called the ‘open’ register) can be used by database marketing companies. You details will be included in the edited register unless you opt out.
  3. If you find you’re being contacted by companies and you have no idea how they got your details, you can do a subject access request. This is just a written request for a company to give you information it holds about you. The company has to tell you how it got the data and what it’s been used for. It has up to 40 days to give you this information and you can be charged £10 for it.

Speeding? You’ll pay a bigger fine

If you’re caught speeding and you’re way over the speed limit, you could be hit with a bigger financial penalty from April. Courts in England and Wales will be able to impose fines of up to 150% of your weekly earnings, up to a limit of £2,500 on the motorway (£1,000 on other roads). The minimum fine is £100.

Not all speeding offences will have a larger penalty, but if you’re caught doing more than 50 miles an hour in a 30 zone or more than 90 in a 60 zone, you can expect a bigger fine.

You also normally get three points on your licencefor speeding offences, which won’t change. If you’re going a few miles an hour over the limit you may be offered the chance to go on a speed awareness course instead. In that case, you don’t get any points on your licence.

If you are caught speeding, the fine may be the least of your problems as your car insurance premiums are likely to rise – and could rise sharply. Some insurers will charge you more even if you’ve been on a speeding awareness course and have no extra points. Others will only increase the premium if you’ve paid a fine and had points added to your licence.

SAVVY TIP: Never be tempted to lie to an insurer if you’ve been caught speeding. If you had to make a claim you may well find the policy was invalid and you could be left with a large bill.

Banks and mental health

Banks should offer different features on bank accounts and other financial products to help people who have mental health problems to manage their money better. That’s according to the Money and Mental Health Institute, which has published a report recommending that banks offer people with mental health problems the ability to ‘double confirm’ transactions, a cooling-off period or the ability to opt out of getting an overdraft or other forms of credit.

The report also recommends that banks help people by offering budgeting tools and the ability to ‘jam jar’ their money – namely split it and keep it in separate pots for things like rent or mortgage, other household bills, spending money and travel to work.

Get a better rate on your ISAs

Do you have a cash ISA that you opened some time ago? If so, have you checked the interest rate? If you haven’t, but you could be in for a nasty surprise!

Cash ISAs are savings accounts where the interest is tax free, no matter how little or how much you have in them.  The bad news is that some cash ISAs pay absolutely no interest whatsoever and many pay less than the Bank of England base rate of 0.25%.

But you can earn more if you’re prepared to shop around and switch. Here are the golden rules of switching your cash ISA:

  1. You can switch (or transfer) cash ISAs you’re currently paying into, as well as old cash ISAs that you paid into in previous tax years (the tax year runs from April 6th one year to April 5th the following year).
  2. If you want to transfer a cash ISA, you should find one you want to switch to and open an account with that bank or building society. Not all banks will let you transfer money from a cash ISA. Sometimes the best deals are kept for ‘new money’ rather than from a cash ISA you already have.
  3. Whatever you do, don’t close your existing cash ISA and then open a new one. If you do it in the wrong order your money will be treated as ordinary savings.