The Financial News You Need To Know with Sarah Pennells – November 25 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.

Black Friday – bargain or rip off?

Friday 27th November is ‘Black Friday’ when shops will be slashing prices (supposedly) and offering massive discounts on everything from TVs to toys and fashion to furniture.

But, while some people will get a bargain – if you’re at the front of the queue or you stay up until midnight to order online – many won’t save what they expect or will end up buying things they don’t need. So here are my tips to get the most from Black Friday:

  1. Do your research before Black Friday. If you want a new TV, for example, work out exactly what features you’d need to have and which are optional extras. Do you want a Smart TV (with integrated internet and on-demand streaming) or a basic model? Narrow down the make and models you’d like and find out what they’re selling for now.
  2. Don’t be dazzled by the discounts! If something says it has 30% or 50% off, that doesn’t mean you couldn’t have bought it for that price in the past or that it won’t be that price again. Prices yoyo so much these days, and some retailers put theirs up before Black Friday last year to make the discounts look better than they were.
  3. Don’t get caught up in the scrum! It’s human nature to want something because someone else does. But just because people are fighting over TVs or coffee makers doesn’t guarantee it’s a good deal! Last year I saw quite a few Black Friday purchases for sale on auction sites like eBay a few days later. Hmm…
  4. Know your rights. If you order something online in the Black Friday sale, you have 14 days from the day after it arrives to cancel the sale and get a full refund (you can’t do this with anything that’s been made for you or fresh flowers or food). You may have to pay postage to return the goods, though. You don’t have these rights if you buy something in a high street store, although shops may let you take back items you don’t want.

SAVVY TIP: You have more protection if you buy something that’s faulty. Here if you find a fault in the first 30 days, you can take it back and ask for a full refund (including any delivery costs) or a replacement. If a fault develops after 30 days you can get it repaired, get a replacement or a refund, if that’s the shop’s preferred option. You’ll get the full price back if the fault occurs in the first six months; less if it’s later.

Stormy times…

Storm Barney left thousands of homes in Wales, the Midlands and the South of England without electricity and caused disruption to rail services as well.

The Met Office may have started naming storms in the UK, but one of the oddities of the insurance system is that there’s no official definition of a storm. So, if you make a claim because your home has been damaged, your own insurer may pay out, while your neighbour’s insurer may say there wasn’t a storm in the first place! OK, so that’s not likely to happen with Storm Barney, but it could be an issue with localised storms.

Here’s my advice:

  1. Get evidence of damage to neighbouring properties as well as your own. It doesn’t guarantee your insurer will pay up straight away, but it should back up your claim that there was a storm.
  2. Understand what you’ll be covered for. You won’t normally be insured for damage to your garden fence or wall if your home wasn’t damaged at the same time.
  3. If your insurer won’t pay your claim, complain if you believe they’re in the wrong. If you still don’t get anywhere, complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service. It’s a free to use complaints service for financial companies.

Ticket sale ‘stitch up’

Which? – the consumer group – says that ticket resale sites aren’t giving people a good deal. It checked the four biggest ticket resale sites and found that they were attracting touts on an ‘industrial’ scale, and some seemed to be acting like touts themselves.

Which? found:

  • One resale site had tickets for a music event before they’d been released to the public.
  • Resale ticket restrictions were ignored. Some venues ban the resale of tickets and ask for photo ID, but tickets for these events were on sale on some resale sites.
  • Tickets available on the main ticketing outlet and resale sites at the same time.

Which? says that ticket touts are taking advantage of resale sites by buying tickets and reselling at a huge profit. Which? said it saw tickets for sale at a 1,760% mark-up.

The government is currently carrying out an investigation into ticket resale sites.

Is your meter smart?

Government figures show that almost two million homes and businesses have smart meters. These meters take half hourly readings of your energy use and feed information back to your energy supplier.

Fans of smart meters say that they bring an end to the frustration of estimated bills and can help you to save money, because you can easily see how much energy you’re using. Critics say they’re intrusive, could pave the way for higher energy costs in peak times and could be hacked.

Energy suppliers are responsible for fitting smart meters and the national rollout programme started earlier this year. Everyone will be offered a smart meter by 2020, but how soon you get yours will depend on where you live and which supplier you’re with.

SAVVY TIP: Houses will be offered smart meters before flats and you’re likely to get a smart meter earlier if you live in a city rather than the country. You don’t have to have a smart meter, although the idea is that everyone will.

A degree of difficulty with small print

Bamboozled by small print? Well, that’s not surprising when research by a consumer website, Fairer Finance, found that a third of insurance policy documents are written in language that’s only accessible to degree-level students.

The average insurance policy document was only understandable to someone in the last year of sixth form college, while some were baffling to all but post-graduate students. Insurers, like all financial companies, are supposed to treat their customers fairly (it’s not just a woolly idea, it’s a rule in the financial regulations!). I can’t imagine that pages of unintelligible small print falls into that category…