The financial news you need to know with Sarah Pennells – September 6th 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.

30 hours a week free childcare

From 1st September, thousands of parents of three and four-year-olds in England will be entitled to 30 hours of free childcare a week. However, not all parents will qualify. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Parents must work and each must earn between £120 a week and £100,000 a year. It doesn’t matter how many hours you work a week or if you’re self employed or on a zero hours contract. What’s important is that you earn more than the minimum threshold (on average, over a three month period) and less than £100,000 a year.

SAVVY TIP: You can still apply for 30 hours’ free childcare if you’re divorced or separated from your partner.

  1. Strictly speaking it’s not 30 hours of free childcare a week, as it’s an extra 570 hours a year, or 30 hours a week during term time.
  2. You’re entitled to the 30 hours’ free childcare in the term following your child’s third birthday – as long as you apply then. If you don’t apply for some time, it will delay when your child is eligible.
  3. Nurseries can’t force parents to pay for their child’s care as a condition of getting the ‘free’ childcare, but they can ask them to pay for things like nappies, meals and trips out. A number are doing so because they say that the amount the government is paying them doesn’t cover the costs of providing care.
  4. You’ll have to restate that you’re eligible for free childcare every three months. Parents will have to log onto a government website to do this.

British Gas price rise

Are you with British Gas? Are you on the standard tariff? If so, you’ll be paying more for electricity from 15th September. That’s when British Gas’s electricity prices are due to rise by 12.5%. That could mean an extra £76 a year on the average bill.

Although some people regularly switch from one deal to another, most don’t. If you’re one of them, you’re probably bored of being told that you should switch supplier. But (honestly!), you can both save money and – if you want to – switch to a greener company or one with better customer service (yes, they do exist!).

So, here are my top tips on what to look out for:

  • Make sure you know how much energy you use before you switch. That way you’ll get a more accurate idea of the savings you could make. Check your most recent bills or your annual statement.
  • Most price comparison sites will ask you if you want to see all the deals you can switch to or just those you can switch to via the price comparison site. I prefer to see all the deals as not all energy providers pay the price comparison sites a commission.
  • Always, always check the service rating before you switch. There are some energy providers that don’t seem to have a good service rating and others – generally the new ‘challenger’ suppliers – enter the market with a really competitive tariff but struggle to cope with demand. Believe me, you don’t want to switch supplier and spend the next six weeks trying to get someone to reply to your email or pick up the phone!

Renting for the first time? Know your rights!

If you’re off to university, or you’re just renting a house share or your own flat for the first time, what do you need to know? Renting can be a bit of a minefield unless you know your rights. And, while there are some good landlords out there, there are also some rogues only too happy to take advantage.

First of all, when you’re looking for a new flat, the letting agent must spell out their fees and what they’re for (if you’re looking in England or Wales). They can charge you for things like a reference or a credit check, but not to register or to view a property (it’s actually a criminal offence if they do).

In Scotland, letting agents can only charge you a deposit. They can’t charge you any upfront fees.

When you pay a deposit, it must be protected by one of three deposit protection schemes. What that means is that the landlord can’t just hang onto the deposit. They must tell you which scheme your deposit is registered with within 14 days of you paying it. If they don’t, they’re breaking the law.

Most local authorities run ‘accredited landlord’ schemes, so that could be a good starting point before you look. Letting agents have to sign up to a property ombudsman or redress scheme, which can deal with any complaints you have (and these schemes have to be free).

What’s mine is yours…for a fee!

Where did you stay for your holiday this year? I don’t mean to be nosy (well, just a bit!) but perhaps you stayed in an Airbnb property rather than a hotel? More and more of us are becoming part of the so-called ‘sharing economy’, whether it’s getting someone to look after your dog, rather than using a dog sitter, renting someone’s drive rather than paying for a car parking space or sharing a lift rather than hiring a car.

There are some basic rules, though. The main one is designed to stop you being scammed. For, wherever there’s a good idea, there’s bound to be a scammer looking at ways to exploit it. So, always make sure you speak to the person you’re buying the item or service from through the platform. Don’t email their personal address. And never (ever!) pay them unless it’s via the platform. If you pay by ordinary bank transfer, you probably won’t be able to get your money back if there’s a problem.

SAVVY TIP: There’s a kitemark for sharing economy platforms called Trustseal, which is well worth looking out for.

If you rent out your home, a room, your drive or your car, it’s important to check with your mortgage lender or PCP provider, if you’ve used one to buy your car, and your insurance provider, before you go ahead.