The Financial News You Need To Know with Sarah Pennells – June 2015

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.

Government considers pensions charges

The government says it’s considering a cap on the charges that pension companies can make their customers pay for taking money out of their pension.  It says it’s going to launch a consultation next month on exit charges that people can be charged when they take money out of their pension or transfer it.

From April people aged 55 or over who’ve saved up money in a pension ‘pot’ type of pension (rather than a final salary or other salary-related pension) can do what they want with it when they retire. Well, that’s the theory, at least.

It turns out that some companies won’t let people dip into their pension as they want to and others impose penalties or charges if people take out small amounts of money. The chancellor, George Osborne, said there were ‘clearly concerns’ that some pension companies weren’t doing their part.

Figures released this week showed that 60,000 people had taken more than £1 billion out of their pensions since the new rules came in on April 6th.

What could a Grexit mean for you?

As I write this, it looks like the Greek government may not reach a deal on its debts, which could mean Greece leaves the euro. If that were to happen, economists in the UK say it could mean that the stockmarket here falls by at least 10%.

At this stage, it’s too early to say exactly what the effects could be. But, as a general rule, if you’ve put money into something like a pension or long term investment plan, and you don’t need the money now, it’s not a good idea to try take it out when the stock market falls. The only thing you’re likely to do is to create a loss.

Banking apps on the rise

Figures from the banking industry show that mobile banking is now becoming more popular than banking online, for some banks. According to the British Bankers’ Association, two thirds of online banking at Halifax bank is now done by mobile – much more than by desktop or tablet.

The news comes a week after Apple announced that its mobile payment system – Apple Pay – will be launched in the UK in July. This will mean you can use ‘wave and pay’ with your iPhone 6 or Apple watch. Already you can text payments to people (and you don’t need an iPhone) via the banking industry’s own Paym system.

But, there are times when you can’t beat having a wallet full of notes. This week two current account providers, Nationwide and RBS/NatWest, have had problems with online and mobile banking (in Nationwide’s case) and payments being credited (in RBS/NatWest’s).

Can’t sort out your problem? Tell an ombudsman

If you’ve got a problem with a bank, letting agent or energy company and you’re not happy with the way they’ve dealt with your complaint, there is another option that doesn’t mean you have to go to court. Instead, you can complain to an ombudsman.

There are over a dozen ombudsman schemes in the UK covering everything from banks and insurance companies (the Financial Ombudsman Service), estate and letting agents (Property Ombudsman), gas and electricity companies (the Energy Ombudsman) and even furniture and kitchens (the Furniture Ombudsman). Here’s my four point guide to how these schemes work:

  1. Ombudsman schemes are independent of the industry they resolve complaints in, although they’re often paid for by the companies.
  2. They are free for consumers to use but the company being complained about may have to pay a fee, even if the complaint isn’t upheld.
  3. In some industries (such as financial services and estate agency) all firms must sign up to an ombudsman scheme, whereas in others (such as furniture), it’s voluntary.
  4. If the ombudsman finds in your favour and says you should be given your money back or paid compensation, the company must abide by the final decision.

Emojis as passwords?

Feeling a bit 🙁 or maybe you’re 🙂 ? Either way, soon you may not have to worry with 4-number PIN codes, and could use a combination of emojis instead.

These days there’s far more choice of emoji than just a smiley or frowning face and one security company says it’s in talks with several UK banks about using these icons rather than numbers. It says there are over three million combinations of four non-repeating emojis (based on smartphones offering more than 40 of them to users) – much more than if you used numbers.

A good idea, or does it make you 🙁 ?

It could be you! Or could it?

The National Lottery is to increase the number of, um, numbers from 49 to 59. It will also introduce a new ‘millionaire’s raffle’, which will guarantee one millionaire for each draw (which will be twice a week). It will also increase the prizes on offer on rollover jackpots.

But, because there will now be 59 numbers to choose from in the main prize draws, the odds of winning overall will be lower. So, great news if it is you, but not so good for the rest!

SAVVY TIP: If you’ve entered the lottery or bought National Savings & Investments Premium Bonds, you may be a winner without realising it. Both the National Lottery and National Savings websites have ‘unclaimed prizes’ sections with information of winning numbers.