The financial news you need to know with Sarah Pennells – February 15 2017

Sarah Pennells is a personal finance journalist and the face behind 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.

Belt up!

If you’re a parent with a young child, it’s worth knowing that there are new rules for child seats coming into effect on March 1st. These rules mean that parents won’t be able to buy backless booster seats for smaller children. But if you already have a backless seat, you’ll be able to carry on using it as long as your child weighs more than 15kg (two stone five pounds).

If you want to buy a new backless booster seat, you’ll only be able to use it if your child weighs more than 22kg (three stone seven pounds) or is 125 cm or more tall (four foot one inch).

But do you know the existing child car seat rules? According to one price comparison website, there were over 4,500 incidents in 2015 where drivers didn’t stick to the rules on child seatbelts. This is what the law says:

  1. Children should use child car seats until they’re 12 years old or 135 cms tall (four foot five inches), whichever comes first.
  2. You can buy a child car seat based on height or weight. Height-based seats are called ‘i-Size’ and must be rear-facing until the child is over 15 months old. Weight-based seats come in different sizes and styles.
  3. As with adults, children aged over 12 or more than 135 cms tall must wear a seat belt.

SAVVY TIP: If you’re buying a height-based seat to use in the UK, the label must have a capital E in a circle and the letters/numbers R129. If you’re buying a weight-based seat, it must have the E in a circle and ECER44.

Don’t fall for a dating scam

Who says romance is dead? Well, victims of dating scams, for one! There’s been a rise of over 30% in the number of dating scams reported to Action Fraud in the last two years, with victims losing, on average, £10,000 each.

Now Victim Support, Age UK and the City of London Police have teamed up to offer tips for avoiding dating scams using the datesafe hashtag. Here are their five tips:

  1. Get to know the person. Don’t assume that they are who their profile says they are. Ask lots of questions and don’t rush into an online relationship.
  2. Check the person is genuine. Put their name, any phrases they regularly use and the term ‘dating scam’ into Google. I’d also add that it’s worth putting their name into Google (without the words ‘dating scam’) to see if they have a social media profile away from the dating website. Most people have an online presence these days, so if you can’t find any online evidence that they exist (no LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook profile), that might also set off alarm bells.
  3. If the person tells you not to talk to anyone else about them, or to keep your relationship secret, run a mile! It’s a tactic used by scammers.
  4. Never send money to someone you’ve met online – especially if you haven’t met them in real life. It doesn’t matter what reason they give or how long you’ve been speaking to them.
  5. Don’t talk to the person away from the dating site messaging system until you’re sure they are who they say they are.

Call to outlaw spam pension texts and emails

The government announced in the Autumn Statement that it plans to outlaw cold calls about pensions and now the pensions industry says it should go further. The ABI, which represents many of the big pension providers, says the government should also ban texts and emails to reduce the number of people who fall victim to pension scammers.

My advice is never to take pensions advice or invest on the basis of a cold call. If you’re approaching retirement, and you want to get some free help with your options, contact Pension Wise, which is funded by the government. You can ring them on 0800 138 3944     .

Prepayment meter cap

The energy regulator, Ofgem, has set a cap on the amount that energy companies will be able to charge customers on a prepayment meter. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ cap, instead, the maximum charge will depend on the supplier you’re with, the meter type and whether you have a prepayment meter for gas or electricity.

But Ofgem reckons that it should save the typical customer with a prepayment gas meter £80 a year when it takes effect on April 1st.  This works out at a reduction of 10-15% on the average bill. At the moment, prepayment customers normally pay more than other customers and there are fewer companies offering prepayment tariffs, so there’s not so much choice if you want to switch. In my experience, there’s also a fair amount of confusion about when you can switch supplier if you have a prepayment meter.

SAVVY TIP: The rules say that if you pay by prepayment meter, you can switch to another supplier if you owe up to £500 (per meter). But you’d only be able to switch to another prepayment tariff.

Been burgled? It could happen again

Research shows* that over one in four people who’ve fallen victim to a burglary have been burgled a second time at the same address. The insurer that carried out the research found that one in 12 burglary victims have been targeted two or more times again. It says that in all, one in five Brits (over ten million adults) has been a victim of burglary.

Most of those who’d been burgled upgraded their security afterwards, with the average amount spent being £314. Improved front and back door locks and new windows were the most popular measures.

SAVVY TIP: Most insurance policies specify that any locks at the property should meet a minimum standard. Policies may also state that any accessible windows should have a lock. If you have a burglar alarm, you may get a discount on your insurance premium, but you’ll be expected to set it – even if you only pop out for a short while.

* Research carried out by Churchill Insurance