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

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.

More free childcare

Parents who work and who have children aged three or four could get 30 hours of free childcare a week from next year. The government has published its Childcare Bill, and it plans to start rolling out the programme of 30 hours a week free childcare for three and four-year-olds from September 2016 (a year earlier than it originally said).

These changes would only apply to England, because Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own rules on free childcare. Only parents who work and who earn less than £150,000 as a household would qualify for 30 hours a week free childcare.

Currently, parents of three and four-year-olds can get between ten and 15 hours’ free childcare a week, depending on where they live.

  • In England, there’s 15 hours of free childcare a week during term time, or 570 hours a year.
  • In Scotland, there’s 600 hours of free childcare a year (almost 16 hours a week during term time).
  • In Wales, there’s ten hours a week during term time (less than 400 hours a year).
  • In Northern Ireland, there’s two and a half hours a day of free childcare (12 and a half hours a week).

SAVVY TIP: There’s also means-tested free childcare for some two-year-olds. Parents must be claiming a benefit such as income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance or universal credit.

Women wait 20 years longer than men to become millionaires

If you’re a woman, you’ll have to wait almost 20 years longer than a man to become a millionaire. That’s according to one insurer, which has analysed official ONS (Office for National Statistics) figures. It’s found that while men have, on average, earned £1 million by the time they are 50, women have to wait until they are pensioners – aged 69 – to become millionaires.

Premium Bonds

One way to become a millionaire is to buy a winning Premium Bond (if only it was that simple!). While winning’s not guaranteed, from the start of June you can invest a maximum of £50,000 in Premium Bonds, up £10,000 from the previous maximum amount.

Did you know…?

  • There are two prizes of £1 million every month, with hundreds of smaller prizes from £25 upwards.
  • If you’re lucky enough to win a prize, your winnings are tax free.
  • Any money you invest in Premium Bonds is backed by the Treasury (which means it’s about as safe as it can be).
  • You can buy a minimum of £50 of Premium Bonds at a time if you set up a standing order. Otherwise the minimum is £100.

Energy companies

The ‘big six’ energy companies are coming under renewed scrutiny for the prices they charge their customers. The new Energy Secretary has written to the energy suppliers as pressure mounts on the companies to reduce their prices.

Which?, the consumer organisation, found that energy bills were £145 too high last year, on average, because the energy companies hadn’t cut prices by as much as they could have.

The Big Six energy companies account for around 90 per cent of the energy market, and the energy regulator Ofgem says that the cheapest fixed tariff is currently around £900 a year while the average variable tariff is £1,165 a year. Hmm…

SAVVY TIP: A number of fixed price tariffs ended last month, so check your bill or statement if you signed up to a fixed price deal as it may be time to shop around again. If you don’t want to switch supplier just yet, you can always ask your existing supplier how much their cheapest tariff and switch to that.

Hire car confusion

If you’re hiring a car abroad this summer, be aware that you’ll need to get a code from the DVLA so that the hire company can check to see if you have any convictions etc. It’s all part of a change that will see the paper part of driving licences abolished from June 8th.

After then, the government says you should throw away the paper part of your licence (but don’t do this if you’ve got an old style ‘paper only’ licence). It also doesn’t affect any driving licences issued by the DVA in Northern Ireland.

SAVVY TIP: You’ll need your driving licence number and your National Insurance number in order to access your online code to give the hire car company. Don’t get the code too far in advance because it’s only valid for 72 hours. If you have problems getting the online code, you can ring the DVLA instead.

Do my paws look big in this?!

If you feed your dog or cat treats, you could be encouraging them to pile on the pounds. Research by one insurer has found that some brands of dog and cat treats have more calories than junk food.

And, while most human treats have lots of information about salt, sugar and energy, dog and cat treats don’t generally have this information (is this because dogs and cats can’t read the labels?).

But the researchers found that some brands of dog biscuits have 255 calories per serving, while others have only 14 calories.