The Financial News You Need To Know with Sarah Pennells – September 21 2016

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.

Water competition on tap

You’ll be able to choose the company that supplies your water, if plans put forward by the water regulator, Ofwat, go ahead. At the moment, households don’t have any choice about their water supplier, but Ofwat is recommending that the water market is opened up to competition.

Ofwat admits that there won’t be much in the way of savings (only around £8 a year on average) but says that competition in the market will encourage innovation. In the future you may be able to buy water supplies bundled together with other utilities, such as gas and electricity, or – potentially – from your supermarket.

Although I think there’s room for innovation (and, frankly, for water companies to spend more money tackling water leaks and wastage), I’m not sure that imposing water competition on consumers is the answer. But maybe I’m missing something…!

In the meantime, how can you cut your water bills?

  1. Consider getting a water meter. If you have a water meter, you pay for the water you use, rather than getting a bill based on the value of your home. All properties built after April 1990 have to have a water meter and water companies may insist a meter is fitted if you have an automatic garden sprinkler or a swimming pool.
  2. Find out what you could save by getting a water meter. As a general rule, the fewer there are of you living in your property and the bigger the property, the more likely you are to make savings. Your water meter company may have a calculator to help you work out what you could save. Otherwise, there’s one on the Consumer Council for Water’s website.
  3. If you have a medical condition which means you need to use a lot of water, you may be able to get your water bill capped through the Watersure scheme. Contact your water supplier and get in touch with Citizens Advice if you need more help.
  4. You can switch back to unmetered bills if you don’t make savings. You have 12 months from when the water meter is fitted to switch back to unmetered bills, so you won’t lose out if your bills don’t fall. But it’s worth knowing that when you come to sell your house, the new owners must have metered bills.

SAVVYWOMAN TIP: Water companies in some parts of the UK (particularly the South East of England) are introducing ‘smart’ water meters. Bear in mind that quite a few properties can’t have water meters and in that case you should ask for your bills to be on the basis of an ‘assessed charge’ as it may save you money.

Water complaints up

Meanwhile, almost half of water companies have experienced a rise in the number of complaints. Four water companies have been told they must report back to the water watchdog, the Consumer Council for Water, by October, and explain what they’re doing to improve their customer service.

One scam every 15 seconds

New figures from Financial Fraud Action show that in the first six months of this year, one financial scam was committed every 15 seconds. That works out at a million cases of card, online and cheque fraud – a huge rise of over 50% on the year before.

Financial Fraud Action, banks and financial companies have launched a campaign called ‘Take Five’ – encouraging us to pause before giving away information that could be used by fraudsters. The advice is:

    1. Never disclose security details, such as your PIN or full password
    2. Don’t assume an email request or caller is genuine – people aren’t always who they say they are
    3. Don’t be rushed – a bank or genuine organisation won’t mind waiting to give you time to stop and think
    4. Listen to your instincts – if something feels wrong then it is usually right to pause and question it
    5. Stay in control – have the confidence to refuse unusual requests for information.

By the way, in the time it’s taken you to read this, another financial fraud will have been committed.

Basic bank accounts

From this week, if you have a bad credit rating and you don’t qualify for a standard bank account, you’ll have more choice about where to get a basic bank account. The nine biggest banks (including NatWest, Barclays, Lloyds and HSBC) have to offer basic bank accounts, which are free to use.

These accounts don’t let you go overdrawn, but they do let you take money out at a branch or a cash machine, pay bills by direct debit or standing order and get your wages or tax credits paid in. Basic bank accounts normally come with a debit card as well. When you apply for a basic bank account, your credit rating isn’t taken into account because there’s no overdraft facility. So, what should you look for if you want a basic bank account?

  1. Find out whether you do get a debit card and if so, whether or not it’s contactless. Most basic bank accounts offer a debit card but not all are contactless.
  2. Find out how much the maximum amount that you can take out in one day is. The limit is generally £300 – £350, but some banks let you take out up to £500 (as long as you have enough money in the account).
  3. Find out the lower age limit. Most of these accounts are available if you’re aged 16 or over, but some banks have a limit of 18.
  4. Ask what identity documents you’ll need to provide. Some are more flexible than others.