The financial news you need to know with Sarah Pennells – January 18th 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.

Free money from the taxman

Now I’ve got your attention! Do you fancy some free money? Of course you do! But three million married couples who could claim over £200 a year haven’t done so. OK, so it’s not a fortune, but it’s still over £4 a week.

The unclaimed cash is the marriage allowance, which was introduced in April 2015. It’s a tax perk just for being married, well, sort of! But not all married couples (or civil partners) can claim it. Only couples where one of you doesn’t pay tax (you earn less than £11,000 in the current tax year) and the other pays tax at the basic rate, qualify for it.

You have to claim it online at the website and you can claim for the current tax year and last year. That means you could get over £430 in all. That might not be enough for a romantic holiday somewhere far flung, but it could pay for a bargain city break. Not often you get a holiday at the taxman’s expense!

Make cash from your clutter!

I know it’s not spring yet, but it’s never too early for a spring clean! And, rather than taking your unwanted treasures to the tip, why not sell them – or donate them to a good cause?

Sort out what you have into different piles: valuables (such as designer clothes or jewellery, or vintage/antique furniture), techy toys, everything else you can sell, and junk.

1.  Valuables: rather than listing on eBay, you might get a better price if you use a specialist website or take them to a local auction house.
2.  Techy toys: If you’ve got old mobiles that you don’t use, you could sell them on specialist cash for mobile websites. Mazuma is one of the best known, but there are others, such as Fonebank. You can use a mobile phone selling comparison site to work out which one will give you the best price for your phone. If you have older gadgets or ones that aren’t working, try eBay or Gumtree.
3.  Everything else: eBay is the obvious place to start, but it’s not the only option. As well as Gumtree and Preloved, you can sell items on Facebook Local, or use apps such as Bepop or Shpock. Make sure you think about how you describe what you’re going to sell – especially if you’re using eBay. There could be dozens of similar items and yours must be easy to find.
4.  Junk: It may not actually be junk, but if you have things that you don’t think is sellable, you may be able to recycle it. Many out of town supermarkets have recycling bins for clothes, as well as the usual paper, glass and cans. The website Recycle Now ( has information about nearest recycling banks and a list of items, from alarm clocks to crockery, and how you can recycle them.
5.  Donating: Many charities are only too pleased to take things like books, CDs, glasses and crockery and, of course, clothes, shoes and handbags. It’s not just the big charities that will take donations at their jobs; many smaller charities will take things they can sell on sites like eBay or use as raffle prizes.

SAVVY TIP: Put the money you’ve raised from selling your stuff to something specific – and preferably not more stuff! How about using it for a night out, a trip to see some friends or even a holiday?

Cold call nuisance

Do you get cold calls about car accidents you haven’t had or offers of loans you’ve not asked for? Or perhaps someone’s trying to sell you a new kitchen or double glazing?

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which deals with complaints about misuse of our data, said it receives a complaint about unwanted cold calls every five minutes. Since May last year companies cold-calling people have had to display their number – they can no longer call you from a withheld number. It was designed to reduce the number of cold calls and make it easier to complain about them.

The problem is that rogue companies are able to ‘spoof’ their number, so the telephone number that comes up isn’t necessarily the number they’re calling from.

So, what can you do to reduce the number of cold calls?

  1. Signing up for the Telephone Preference Service won’t put an end to cold calls, but it should reduce them (this is certainly what I’ve found).
  2. There are several websites that have information on cold callers if you type in the number that called you. They may not tell you who’s calling you, but they should be able to tell you whether or not it’s a spam call. Just type ‘who called me’ into Google to find them.
  3. If you still get cold calls, make a note of the phone numbers you’re called from and get a company name if you can. Even if it’s not a genuine number (or name) it’s useful to pass onto either the Telephone Preference Service or the ICO if you want to complain.
  4. If you’re worried about an elderly relative getting bombarded with calls or you’re getting inundated, you could buy a gadget that blocks calls. I’ve not tried Truecall Call Blocker but it seems to get good reviews.

New year, new job?

Fancy a new job? If you’re after a new career, or just to get more money for the job you currently do, how do you go about it? I can’t guarantee you a new job, but there are some tips that will help you.

  • If you’re after a complete change in direction, work backwards! Rather than looking for jobs you could apply for, try and think about your ideal day or week. Write down what’s important to you and what you’re flexible about. If you aren’t sure about the career that’s right for you, talk to a careers expert or do some online research.
  • Find out what skills or experience you’d need to do your ideal job. Then list all the skills you have (even if they seem quite unimportant in your current job). Work out where the gaps are.
  • Do some research to find out what you’d need to do to plug these gaps. It may be that you’d need to take a part-time course, or perhaps you’ll have to get some hands-on experience. You may need to do some voluntary work in the early days to get the experience you need.
  • Network, network, network! That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to endless business meetings or after-work drinks. It could mean using your friends and social media network to make contact with someone who’s doing a job you’d love. The important thing is to talk to people who work in the industry so you get a feel for what the job would really involve. It may also mean you hear about job opportunities you’d otherwise miss out on.

SAVVY TIP: If your current employer pays an annual bonus, don’t hand in your notice before you’ve been paid it! Even if you’ve already been told how much you’ll get, you’re unlikely to get it if you hand in your notice before it’s in your bank account.

Cut your mortgage costs

If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to save some money, where are you going to start? With your energy bills? Bank account? What about your mortgage? Research s hows that homeowners dramatically underestimate the amount they can save by switching to a new mortgage deal. On average, people think they’ll save £49 a month, whereas they could save almost double that – £96 a month.

If you’re currently tied into a fixed rate mortgage deal, it may not be worth switching once you’ve paid any early repayment penalties and the charges on a new mortgage. But if your mortgage is penalty free, or if you’re paying the standard variable rate, it could definitely be worth seeing if you could get a better deal.

SAVVY TIP: The standard variable rate isn’t standard from one mortgage lender to another. Some smaller building societies charge almost 6%, while some banks charge less than 4%.

Start with your own mortgage lender, but shop around before you sign up to a new deal. I prefer to use a good, independent mortgage broker because they know the mortgage market inside out. But you can compare deals online and sort it out yourself.

SAVVY TIP: Some mortgage deals are fee free, but most come with extra charges. These could be hundreds, or even thousands of pounds. The shorter the mortgage deal, the higher the ‘cost per year’ of the charges.