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Why David Cameron writing for MoneySavingExpert is not ‘bonkers’, ‘biased’ or ‘showing your true colours’

Why David Cameron writing for MoneySavingExpert is not  “bonkers”, “biased” or “showing your true colours

Why David Cameron writing for MoneySavingExpert is not “bonkers”, “biased” or “showing your true colours

According to some on Twitter today I’ve been "duped". That’s because David Cameron has written a guest piece for the site called ‘We will give pensioners security and dignity’. He asked if he could do it and we said, "why not?" After all, part of what MoneySavingExpert.com is about is providing a forum for people to engage in the big discussions and debates on consumer finance policy. 

Yet predictably there was the classic backlash. Here’s just a selection of some of the (nicer) anti-comments. I’ve picked the twitter ones as they’re shorter. Of course there were many who were supportive and found it interesting too…

  • @newviv: "@MartinSLewis I don’t approve of @David_Cameron using your website as a political platform."
  • @mheave: "@MartinSLewis @David_Cameron shame on you Martin. This man is vile, pernicious and plain evil to those struggling you try to help #irony."
  • @BillyWits: "Political spinning. You’ve been used Martin, the [obscenity deleted] has used you as you are perceived as trusted."
  • @harriet1dog: "I thought your site was meant to be impartial not a party political broadcast, is it Nigel Farage next week?"
  • @exnhsnurse1: "DC blog is party political broadcast. You are being used because you are a trusted source of financial advice."
  • @meljhenderson: "I can’t believe you’ve let him use this great website as a political platform. #disgraceful"
  • @mathewtedwards: "I think this is a BIG mistake! My constructive criticism would be to politely tell @David_Cameron you have reconsidered."

Yet many people when I responded were unaware of the wider context, some hadn’t actually read the blog, just responded to the fact Cameron was writing. This isn’t new, it isn’t biased, we have regularly offered oppportunities for senior politicians of all parties to write guest pieces for the site. (The only reason Ed Milliband hasn’t appeared is because we asked his team for a piece on energy and he didn’t seem keen; we have also asked for his comments on this issue today.)  

Here’s a list of just some of our past guest bloggers below. We’re also open to more guest pieces from senior politicians of all major parties (and it’d be nice to some get from SNP or Plaid Cymru too), as well as regulators and policymakers.

So, we haven’t been duped, what we have done, like many national newspapers also do, is provided a forum for important individuals who can change policy to try and justify their position, explain what they are planning to do and provided, within our own forum, a place for people to discuss it and give feedback about those issues. 

I consider that to be an important part of engagement with the political process within our MoneySaving community, which has 15 million monthly users. 

We are incredibly careful not to indicate in any way what our position is on these subjects. These are for the politicians to engage in. I think it is a perfectly decent way to behave – after all most national newspapers which do it tend to be biased towards an agenda. 

Our site’s stance is strictly apolitical. We do it as a form of engagement. We have even in the past done the MSE Leaders debate, where we asked all the parties for their views on key matters to consumers. 

So for those having a go, I think perhaps you needed to have done your research first.

It seems an ISA is nicer than a NISA – so we’re going to call them ISAs

It seems an ISA is nicer than a NISA – so we're going to call them ISAs

It seems an ISA is nicer than a NISA – so we're going to call them ISAs

Last March in the Budget, the Chancellor announced ISAs were to become new ISAs, or NISAs. The main changes were a bigger £15,000 limit, the ability for all of it to be cash savings (so more than doubling the tax-free savings cash limit in effect) and the ability to convert old shares ISAs into cash ISAs.

The new language of this was to call it a cash NISA – partly I suspect so the government could claim create for creating something new. When this started in July, we accordingly changed the name of our guides and started using the new language, as did many (N)ISA providers.

Yet the name hasn’t caught on, it’s confused many people and HMRC tells us "ISA is the correct term to use in line with HMT Regulations and HMRC Guidelines. NISA is purely a marketing/product/publicity term."

So from now, I’ve decided MoneySavingExpert.com is going to revert back to calling it the good old ISA (see the newly renamed Top cash ISAs and Top cash ISA transfer guides) and we suspect gradually over the next year to see everyone else who called it a NISA to retrench too.

Are mortgage affordability rules stopping you getting a cheap remortgage?

Are Mortgage affordability rules stopping you getting a cheap remortgage?

Are Mortgage affordability rules stopping you getting a cheap remortgage?

Over the last year the regulator has introduced stringent affordability rules on mortgage lending. These check all of your incomings and outgoings to see if you can repay not just at today’s rate but at rates of 6% or 7%. The laudable aim is to try and robustly protect you from overcommitting in the event of an interest rate rise.

It’s caused some friction: some are struggling to get deals, others can no longer borrow as much as they want. However, in general I think it’s a sensible move, with one rather large potential hole – and having raised this in passing to concerned senior representatives of the FCA , I told them I’d bash out a blog to see if I could put some more meat on the bones.

So having told you I’m worried there is a problem, let me explain it…

Have affordability rules put the kaibosh on your remortgage?

For those who already have mortgages, right now it is crunch time. Rates for new deals are almost at an all-time low, yet a rise in the UK base rate is getting closer, with most now predicting this will happen in mid to late 2015. So many people are sensibly looking to cut the costs of their existing mortgage deal and lock in a cheap rate now before rates rise. 

However, I’ve heard from a couple of people that they’ve struggled to get remortgage deals due to affordability criteria. To clarify, when I say a remortgage, I’m not taking about borrowing more money, ONLY about borrowing what you currently owe, but on a new cheaper deal. 

If affordability criteria are blocking people from doing that this is a serious problem. After all, it means you are on an expensive mortgage deal and are being told you can’t afford to move to a cheap mortgage deal – nonsense, you can certainly afford to pay less, more than you can afford to pay more. If that is happening, the system is broken.

There is room for lenders to have flexibility, the concern is they’re too scared to use it.

There is flexibility under the affordability rules in the system, but I’m hearing many lenders are struggling to try and incorporate the rules.  We’ve seen an explosion in the length of time new mortgage interviews take, and banks’ systems are nowhere near as efficient as brokers’.  Therefore you can see the attraction of just operating from a standardised rule book

So, have you tried to remortgage to a cheaper deal recently? If so, what was the attitude? Did you find it easy to get accepted? Or did the affordability criteria stop you and are you trapped in your existing deal? Please do let me know using the comments section at the end.

NB. If you’ve very low equity in your property and a very poor credit score, these have always been conditions that stop remortgaging – this is more specifically about affordability

Related Help:

Cancelling the 55% tax on unused pension pots could be a disaster for many older people

Cancelling the tax on unused pension pots could be a disaster for many older people

Cancelling the 55% tax on unused pension pots could be a disaster for many older people

In the last Budget, Chancellor George Osborne announced he was freeing up much of the pension market so people could take their  money when they wanted – 25% of it tax free and the rest at their income tax rate.

Today, at the Conservative Conference, he has said  that if over 75s do that and die, and there’s money that hasn’t been touched in their pension pot yet, instead of their estate paying the current 55% tax when its passed on; they’ll pay it at their marginal rate (full info in the death tax news story).

This is a big pre-election giveaway to older voters, likely on the back of the scares about UKIP defectors. At a first glance, both these proposals seem wonderful, giving people more choice in the pension market and a greater ability to leave it to their dependants. (I shall ignore the wider  philosophical debate over cuts in inheritance tax – which is a tax to stop perpetuating inherited privilege and wealth – that’s a discussion for another day).   
Yet I have some real concerns over unintended consequences – so I’m quickly bashing out this blog as a stream of consciousness. I’d love to know your opinion on it.

The issue isn’t people overspending, it’s people underspending

When the pension liberalisation policy was first launched, one big headline concerned the risk that people would  simply cash in their pension, buy a Porsche and the state would have to look after them in their old age.

Of course this can happen, but I suspect only with a trivial number of people. In fact as I explained in my The Chancellor’s pension changes are wonderful and horrid blog, the real worry for me is the opposite of this.

I am concerned that someone who has a pension – be it  £20,000 or  £200,000 – when they retire at say 67 knows it must last them the rest of their life, and a natural fear means they will be very reticent to touch it.
 
It will be left sitting there and that worry that if they spend it now they will have no money later on  in life, means they will leave it there growing but unused, not helping them in their life in the way that a pension is designed to.

That was the one  benefit of an annuity: you cashed your money in and you got a payment each year for the rest of your life – a real genuine income. The big problem with annuities of course, was that the amount that you got wasn’t big enough.

Under the new system of pension  freedom, the only way to really decide how much you should be spending each year is to know when you will die. Now that isn’t that easy, although actuarial charts and your health and situation can you give you a rough indication of when this will be.

Of course you could get it wrong, so as a rule of thumb I would assume you are going to die 10 years later  than the prediction and spend your money accordingly. But I simply don’t believe people will do that. Take these examples…

If you look at people who saved up for retirement planning to live off their savings in the bank (as opposed to pension savings). With interest rates lower than inflation, effectively the money is shrinking. Therefore it makes logical sense to spend some of the capital to live off, as the income isn’t enough. 

Yet the psychology of it means people are, albeit understandably, simply are unwilling to spend the capital that they have; they only want to live off the interest.

This situation I suspect will be mirrored for many in not using the cash in their pension pot too quickly.

The cutting of tax could make that worse

The idea is that the money can be just as efficiently left to your inheritors as it is for you to spend it. I think this will perpetuate this psychological problem. Of course, there are some more affluent people who will see it as a great way to be able to leave money to their dependants by not touching their pension and using other funds.

Yet many on lower incomes already have guilty old ages, worried they’re "spending my child’s inheritance", even though sometimes their children are more affluent and have better lives. Pension money is meant to be there for you, not your dependants, to give you a decent standard of living in your old age.

Yesterday when I was filming for my  television roadshow, I spoke to the son of a woman who had a decent but not huge of  amount in savings who was desperate to give it away to her children to avoid  inheritance tax. She was 78 and in decent health, but what was she going to live on for the rest of her life?

So indeed my great fear with this change is more people will restrain and constrain their spending far too much on money that is supposed to support them – knowing it could go in an efficient way to their kids.

Would guidance and education alleviate the worry?

The Chancellor has said he wants people to take guidance when they take their pension so they will understand these issues. The amount of money initially put into the pot to fund this -  up to £20m for the first two years – is actually relatively small for giving guidance to all pensioners; certainly if advising them the way I would prefer, at a proper level where people will take liability for the advice that is coming across, rather than what could just be generic twaddle if not done right.  

So my great concern is not that I have a principled objection to the freedoms of the pension market, nor even  necessarily to allowing people to inherit with lower tax. What I do worry about  is that we do have a primarily financially underskilled population who are not equipped to deal with these issues.

We already know that from the fact that when  people retired in the annuity market, even though there was an open market  choice where they were able to go right across the market to get the best  annuity rate, the majority of people (60%, according to a 2012 study by the Association of British Insurers) didn’t do that. Instead they just kept with their pension provider’s annuity so losing income every year for the rest of their life.

I don’t think that enough of the current generation retiring population (especially those with smaller pension pots) are well equipped enough to deal with the freedoms. You may call me paternalistic, but I think we need more protections in place to help people manage their finances well when they retire.

I’d love your thoughts?

Huge anger over HMRC wanting to raid people’s savings – but why do we already let banks do it?

Huge anger over HMRC wanting to raid people's savings – but why do we already let banks do it?

Huge anger over HMRC wanting to raid people's savings – but why do we let banks do it already?

HMRC has been accused of attempting to overturn the Magna Carta by trying to gain new powers that will allow it to take money from people’s bank accounts without a court order (see HMRC wants to raid accounts).

There’s been uproar and outrage from MPs and others on this. I share in this angst. Yet I thought it worth pointing out that while we object to the taxman doing it, we have already given banks the power to do something very similar. Under the rules of setting-off, a bank can take money from accounts to pay itself without notice, without permission and without a court order.

Now my point here isn’t that because banks can do it, we should allow HMRC to do it. It’s more that if we are going to protest around the idea that the taxman has this permission, we should also stop banks – which aren’t exactly paragons of virtue with great track records on such things.

For those unfamiliar with the rules of setting-off, it’s quite simple. If you have a debt eg a credit card or loan with the same bank where you also have savings or a current account, even if those accounts aren’t linked, the money can be taken from your savings to repay your debts. And they don’t need to notify you or seek permission in advance.

This can cause cataclysm for people’s finances. Those doing the correct strategy when in trouble (ie, focusing on priority debts) such as putting money aside to pay their mortgage can see it snaffled to pay a credit card (a lesser-priority debt), leaving them in mortgage arrears.

I’ve even heard of a woman being given money by her father to pay for her wedding just a few days before the big day to have it snaffled immediately by the bank.

For full help on your rights if you’re affected, see our Setting-off guide.

Why do we give banks so much power? Why is it a special form of creditor above even HMRC? Gas and electricity companies can’t just dip into your bank account to take your money when you owe them. Why is a bank so special?

In my view – it isn’t, and it’s about time we ended this antiquated law. If banks want to take money from your account, they should require a court order like anybody else does.

I’d welcome your thoughts below.