The MoneySaving Forum: join to chat & swap tips with other MoneySavers. Learn how in the Forum Introduction Guide

Archive for the ‘Money’ Category

Can you believe what the bank tells you?

Can you believe what the bank tells you?

Can you believe what the bank tells you?

Rushing between filming and meetings last week, I got into a cab to be greeted by a driver who’d got both PPI and bank charges back after reading guides on this site. He told me he had a very simple question to ask: "Can you believe what the bank tells you?"

In light of the number of scandals, including the PPI scandal – where more than £20 billion was mis-sold, sometimes by deliberately lying and misleading customers, encouraged from the very top – it’s easy to say no.

However, I think the answer these days is a little bit less straightforward.

In a nutshell I would suggest you can trust a bank on a matter of fact, but should be more wary on matters of opinion.

So ask a bank "what is my balance?", "how much does a CHAPS payment cost?", "do the records show I ever had a credit card with you?" – in general you’ll get an answer you should believe. 

Of course as with every profession, people make mistakes, so I’m not suggesting it’s infallible. Yet for these type of questions I don’t think that in the current regulatory regime (and even to give some credit to the fact the sector itself has changed) there will be an aim to give you an incorrect answer.

Yet if you ask something subjective, be careful. Bank scripts and structures are still set up to give opinions that benefit them.

Ask "was I mis-sold?" – and while some will play fair, others will still sometimes answer "no", even in lucid knowledge that if you took your case to the Financial Ombudsman, you’d get a "yes". 

Equally, when discussing whether a product its flogging is worth it for you, necessary or cheap – like all sales institutions, don’t expect to always get a reply which is solely in your interest.

Am I being too cynical, or not cynical enough? I’d love your views and experiences below.

MoneySavingExpert voted one of the UK’s top 10 ‘brands’

MoneySavingExpert voted one of the UK’s top 10 brands

MoneySavingExpert voted one of the UK’s top 10 'brands'

We’ve had some good news in MSE Towers this week – again we’ve been voted one of the UK’s top 10 ‘brands’ in the YouGov Brand Buzz Index.

We’ve actually been in the top 10 a couple of times before (see MoneySavingExpert: a stronger brand than iTunes) but not for one or two years, (bouncing around the periphery I suspect) so it’s great to have re-entered the charts. 

These brands were rated using the YouGov Brand Index ‘Buzz score’, which asks respondents: "If you’ve heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?"

The Buzz Rankings chart shows the brands with the highest average Buzz scores between January and December 2014 and these scores are representative of the general population.

And our entry

(10) (new entry)
As Britain continues to emerge from economic difficulty, the rate at which this reaches the pockets of ordinary people is less clear. The desire to acquire the best deal still remains and the website is a great outlet for consumers to identify one. Martin Lewis, the face of the company, is very visible on television, helping to boost the website’s profile.

The results from the 2014 Buzz Index are as follows:

UK Top Buzz Rankings

Rank Brand 2014 Score
1 Aldi 26.3
2 Lidl 20.3
3 John Lewis 18.3
4 BBC iPlayer 18.0
5 Dyson 14.0
6 Waitrose 13.1
7 11.6
8 Netflix 11.3
9 Marks and Spencer 11.3
10 11

What is really interesting to see is that MSE is considerably smaller in terms of workforce compared to the other entities mentioned, with just under 90 employees rather than the 1,000s or 10,000s which I suspect the others employ. We don’t have a ‘brand manager’ – actually we don’t really think about ourselves as a ‘brand’ at all – we just focus all of our efforts on our main goal of saving people money.

I’m delighted that we hit this having just hit more than 10 million people on our weekly email list – rock on Tommy!

A deliberate threat to the govt: if you U-turn on the £21,000 student loan repayment threshold, I will organise mass protest

A deliberate threat to the government if it u-turns on the £21,000 student loan repayment threshold

A deliberate threat to the government if it u-turns on the £21,000 student loan repayment threshold

Let me be plain – I am writing this blog to put down a marker to the Government. If it decides to renege on its promise to uprate the £21,000 student loan repayment threshold, it will have mis-sold university education to many students, personally betrayed me and I will do all I can to organise protest.

It is thankfully only a mooted idea so far, yet I’m worried that it is quickly gaining traction. So I want to bash out a quick explanation…

  • What is the uprating of the £21,000 threshold?

    Students who started university in or after 2012 will repay 9% of everything they earn above £21,000 (pre-tax salary) once they graduate. The first repayment will be in 2016, then from the following year the repayment level is due to increase in line with average earnings. This is very important – if it doesn’t increase, in real terms students (ie, factoring out inflation) will be paying an ever increasing proportion of their monthly income on student loans. 

    For a more detailed explanation see my 20 student loans mythbusting guide.

  • Why it might be changed

    It’s pretty clear the launch of the 2012 fee system has been a bit of a disaster for the Treasury. The calculations on how much people would repay in the 30 years before the debt is wiped were wrong – far fewer students will repay in full than the Government thought (though interestingly, I and many others were saying this from the start). That means the gain to the Treasury is much less than thought – as a debate in the Commons yesterday showed, it loses around 45p for every £1 lent out.

    Freezing the threshold in 2017 would help recoup some of this and indeed as this Independent article shows, it is seriously being mooted – thankfully only by Government advisers, but that’s bad enough.

    And, I’ve heard rumours that off-the-record some have said:

    "If we do this we’d get bad press for one day, then it’d be over."

    So this blog is for me to say:

    "I will do my damndest to ensure the noise and bad press goes on and on and on."

  • Why I am so against it

    This seemingly small change actually has a huge impact on student finance. All the maths behind the explanations of what will happen to university students is based on the promised uprating.

    There is also a principle here – while a Government is free to change how student finance is done for future university starters it should never retrospectively change things (if it only froze the £21k threshold for new starters, with a decent notice period, while I wouldn’t like it I wouldn’t be protesting). Retrospective changes haven’t happened before (well there are some arguments that the sale to Erudio has resulted in such changes, but nothing as fundamental as this). It shouldn’t happen now.

    The terms that you get at the time of the loan should never be negatively changed (or even positively changed without giving you the option to opt out). This would be a negative change, so it is wrong.

  • Why I’d see it as a personal betrayal

    In 2011 I was asked by the Government via the then universities minister David Willetts to head the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information. I "ummed" and "ahhed" about it as while I didn’t support the change to student finance in 2012, I was very scared that the huge myths and misunderstandings about it would wrongly put many students off going to university, especially those from non-traditional backgrounds.

    So I agreed. However, my condition was that the taskforce had to be independent of Government and that it had to include the National Union of Students. The job wasn’t to sell the changes, it was just to ensure people understood them. As part of it, I wrote guides like 20 student loan mythbusters and created the student finance calculator to show the real impact of the changes. I believe we did a great job and certainly decreased the fear for many students and their parents – without softening the increased cost of the changes.

    Repeatedly during the process (and since) I asked for assurances of the continuation of the uprating from 2017, and was promised it directly – it formed a major part of the calculations and explanations I gave out. I was also promised there would be no retrospective changes for anyone under the 2012+ system (though I did still continue to warn people that changes are always possible).

    Thankfully there haven’t been any – yet if this is changed, I would see it as a personal betrayal and if possible, I would retrospectively resign from the taskforce.

I am not sure that my threat will move the Government greatly, but I want it to know that if it does decide to do this I will use my media presence to ensure it won’t be a "one day of bad press thing".  

While it would expect radical students to protest, I want it to know that my voice too will be shouting very loudly and at the mainstream public. I hope that if this is currently just a ‘blue skies idea’ this threat will be enough to knock it off the table.

Your thoughts welcome below….

Related past blogs

The MSE Towers Christmas Quiz – the ANSWERS

The MSE Towers Christmas Quiz – the ANSWERS

The MSE Towers Christmas Quiz – the ANSWERS

On Tuesday I published the questions I put to the MSE Towers team at our annual Christmas party quiz. If you’ve not read it, then try your luck there before reading the answers below.

Round 1: What year did it happen in the 90s

There is one answer for each year 1990-1999, no year is duplicated.

  1. The Channel Tunnel opens
  2. Princess Diana dies in Paris
  3. The Summer Olympics are held in Atlanta, Georgia
  4. Nelson Mandela is released from jail
  5. John Major leads the Conservatives to a General Election victory over Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party
  6. Blur beats Oasis in the battle of the bands when Country House reaches number 1 in the charts ahead of Roll With It
  7. Google is founded
  8. Freddie Mercury and Robert Maxwell die
  9. The Grand National is cancelled after a false start
  10. Britney Spears hits number 1 with Baby, One More Time

Answers to Round 1: What year did it happen in the 90s:

  1. 1994
  2. 1997
  3. 1996
  4. 1990
  5. 1992
  6. 1995
  7. 1998
  8. 1991
  9. 1993
  10. 1999

Round 2: The Martin Round

This round has a proud tradition. All are questions I set without needing to reference research. You can probably tell a lot about me because of it!

  1. What is Picard’s Borg name?
  2. Who is on the back of a £50 note? NB: this is the question I got wrong on CBBC show ‘Hacker Time’ – luckily I got the rest right and ‘escaped’!
  3. What is the current year… in the Jewish calendar?
  4. Which is the only letter in scrabble all SIX vowels can be put after to form an allowed (SOWPODS) two letter word?
  5. Who were the three Kings who reigned in England in 1066 after Edward the Confessor?
  6. What is the Kobayashi Maru?
  7. What do you call the second in command of a Roman Century?
  8. How many months of the year are allowed at Scrabble (SOWPODS)?
  9. Who died first: Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun or Peter the Great?
  10. Which of the following words is derived from the Greek for Pebble Worm

A) Anaconda B) Crocodile C) Conger Eel D) Iguana

NB. This was the £250,000 question on Who wants to Be a Millionaire that Angela Rippon and I decided to ‘take the money’ instead of answering.

Answers to Round 2: Martin’s Round

  1. Locutus
  2. Matthew Boulton or James Watt
  3. 5775
  4. M
  5. William, Harold and Edgar Atheling
  6. The Star Trek academy test which was deemed unwinnable until Kirk won (by changing the programme, ie, cheating)
  7. Optio
  8. Three – March, May, August,
  9. Attila the Hun died 428 (Genghis Khan died 1223, Peter the Great in 1725)
  10. B. Crocodile

Round 3: News and Sport Round

  1. What is the shortest individual race in the Summer Olympics?
  2. What was the exact offence Oscar Pistorius was found guilty of?
  3. What is the men’s 100m running world record?
  4. Name the consumer minister and the shadow consumer minister?
  5. What group were England in for the men’s football World Cup round robin?
  6. Which country became the 18th to join the Eurozone in 2014?
  7. What’s the difference between running SPECIFICALLY the 400m at an outdoor track to an indoor track?
  8. In which city did George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin get married?
  9. What’s the maximum possible break at snooker?
  10. And we’d done news and sport, so what better way to finish than with weather… at what temperature does water freeze… in fahrenheit?

Answers to Round 3: News and Sport Round

  1. 50m freestyle swimming
  2. Culpable homicide (1 point) – if you said manslaughter, half a point
  3. 9.58 seconds
  4. Jo Swinson and Stella Creasy
  5. Group D
  6. Latvia
  7. Outdoors is run strictly in lanes, indoors you break after the first bend and then run together
  8. Venice
  9. 155 after a free ball and potting the black to start. It’s never been done in tournament play but has in an exhibition match
  10. 32

Round 4: the Movie Round
movie round

Answers to Round 4: the Movie Round

  1. Superman
  2. Jarhead
  3. 127 Hours
  4. Borat
  5. Rambo
  6. Scarface
  7. Karate Kid
  8. Napoleon Dynamite
  9. Sherlock Holmes

Let me know how you got on below.

Is it time to change energy pricing to ‘meter rent’ and ‘kettles boiled’?

Is it time to change energy pricing to 'meter rent' and 'kettles boiled'?

Is it time to change energy pricing to 'meter rent' and 'kettles boiled'?

I’m aware this is a bit of an off-the-wall idea, but I want to play with it and test the water. It’s all about the confusion over energy bills, which is one of the things that makes the market less competitive and leaves many – especially older people – overpaying.  I wonder if even just tweaking the language to something that is more visceral could improve it.

So let me make a first stab at it; I’d welcome suggestions for improvement. I’ve modelled it on the pricing of landlines.

Note: I’m deliberately avoiding changing the actual way energy is charged for – which I think could also improve things – but that’s a separate issue.

1. Change ‘standing charge’ to ‘meter rental’. The phrase standing charge isn’t intuitive, especially when "a standing charge is set to zero" (see cheap no standing charge tariffs for more on that).

So why not simply call this ‘monthly meter rental’, a term which I think most people would understand.

2. Change ‘kilowatt hours’ to "kettle boils’. A kilowatt hour is a complex metric. While I would suggest that it remains the underlying measure, I think it could also be explained as an easier term. So I’m going with ‘kettle boils’. This would be a standard unit I estimate to be about 0.15 kWh – but at least it’s understandable (though I’d welcome thoughts on a bigger measure that would make the resulting numbers simpler).

Therefore someone would have a bill saying something akin to:

“Your monthly meter rent is £7.80 and you pay 2p per typical kettle boil. You have used enough electricity to boil the equivalent of 3,612 kettle boils this month so your bill is £7.80 + £72.24 = £80.04".

Now of course many of the people who read this blog will already be pretty energy savvy, and won’t have an issue with standing charges and kWhs. If you are, please don’t think of your own reaction to this. The question is – do you think this would make it easier for many of the general public who find energy bills intimidating and thus never understand it enough to work through comparisons and switch supplier?

So I’d love your response to this below – please include how energy savvy you are – and any suggestions to improve it are welcome.

PS: If you haven’t switched I hope the Cheap Energy Club makes it easier.