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Going abroad? I need your help….

If I had a euro for each time I’ve been asked a variant of this question by holidaymakers, "I’ve just been to a bank/shop and it’s giving me the choice of paying in euros/dollars or pounds, which should I choose?", I’d err, have a lot of euros.

For a detailed answer see my Always pay in euros blog post, which as the title suggests, explains the safe option is to always pay in euros.

However my experimentation and rate comparison that underpins that blog was done primarily in Spain, so I wanted to take the opportunity this summer with so many people going away to spread my research base.

What I’d like you to do

If you’re going abroad and meet a shop or cash machine that gives you this option, I’d like you to take a picture of the screen or receipt which explains the rate it’s offering… (example below).

Banca March ATM withdrawal screen

Banca March ATM withdrawal screen

Then please email it to me at and also if possible, include the following:

1. Where you are (country and location).
2. The date and time.
3. If you know the spot rate on the day (if you don’t, don’t worry – I can find it).

My aim is to get an accurate comparison of how this compares to paying in pounds – all around the world.

Thank you in advance.

10 changes to make the Green Deal work update – have they listened?

10 changes to make the Green Deal work update – have they listened?

10 changes to make the Green Deal work update – have they listened?

The Green Deal is the Government’s flagship home energy efficiency scheme, sadly and also predictably, it has been a rather huge flop. The concept is great – you get money to improve your home, which you then pay for out of the savings on your energy bills. The problem is the system is far too complex and couched in the language of debt.

Around its launch in February 2013, I blogged on why it wouldn’t work and what needed to change to make it work. I sent this to the Government which promised to look at it.

In the last month we’ve seen the launch of Green Deal 2, and yesterday I was on Radio 5 Live debating it with Secretary of State for Energy Ed Davey (download the podcast), so I thought it time to have another look at my recommendations and see if they still hold.

The good news is, about half of them have actually been adopted by the Government, and Ed Davey accepted this directly and said "we’ve been listening to what you and consumers suggested Martin". Listening by politicians is never a bad thing.

Before I start, just a quick message. This blog isn’t intended to put you off the Green Deal. My frustration is it has merit and should help millions, but its structure both psychologically and financially puts many off. Yet I’d still urge you to check it out. If you’re not familiar with how it works or want to see if it’s suitable, do read my Green Deal Mythbuster guide first – as the info below assumes some knowledge.

Here are the ten suggestions I made in early 2013, and updates in purple on whether they’ve been enacted.

  1. Don’t call it “The Green Deal"

    Most people are selfish actors. To interest them, you need to focus on what they gain from it, not the environmental benefit. So call it the “Home Improvement Deal”, or even a halfway house: “The Home Efficiency Deal”.

    Update: SEMI-HURRAH. The scheme’s still called the Green Deal, but the month-old newly relaunched element of the Green Deal is called the "Home Improvement Fund" – a much better name and it’s already been a far more successful launch. It’s effectively a cash giveaway of up to £7,600 per person for certain energy efficiency measures. Demand is up. See our Home Improvement Scheme info for help. On the radio yesterday the Secretary of State directly acknowledged this as a suggestion that originated here.

  2. Don’t charge upfront for an assessment

    £125 million of cashback is being pumped in to get this up and running; yet you will only know if you’re eligible for that by paying a typical £125 to get assessed. That’s a huge sum, and more than people are willing to risk.

    There has to be a way of factoring the assessment into the cost for people who do get things done. Of course, by having a paid-for assessment you get a self-selecting group of applicants who are less likely to be browsers and more likely to follow through, but I think it cuts too many out.

    A detailed pre-application web form (and phone service for those not online) that’s binding could do a similar job – giving both the assessor and home owner an idea if it’s likely to be of benefit to them.

    However at this point, I doubt that will change. So why not divert some of the proposed cashback money into free Government assessment vouchers, again with an online pre-assessment first?

    Certainly we’d be happy to distribute them from MSE at no cost, eg, 20,000 x £100 vouchers. This way, you may actually find you’ve a decent number of people who’ve used the scheme and have good things to say about it. (Of course, again, there should be a pre-apply form so only those who are likely to act get them).

    Update: Some improvement. There are a few geographic areas where there are free assessment firms. Also, as part of the Home Improvement Scheme if you get two qualifying measures (or solid wall insulation) you can get £100 cashback for the assessment. Overall though this is still a blocker for many people – they worry about one scenario where you could really lose out by paying for an assessment, not qualify for anything, and you don’t get cashback.

  3. Allow it to be repaid when you move home

    Many people fear having a Green Deal loan attached to their house, as it’ll mean no-one will want to buy their house. I think that’s overblown, as these insulation measures in themselves will make the house more attractive and thus more likely to sell. Yet that doesn’t matter – the fear itself is enough to prevent the scheme working.

    My suspicion is many new buyers will ask for the remaining Green Deal loan to be taken off the house price. However, it’d be far easier to simply say: “I’ll pay it off” to the new buyer.

    This is one reason having redemption penalties on these loans is just so silly. If people could simply use the cash to clear the debt when selling their home – at no extra cost – you’d mitigate this worry somewhat.

    Update: HURRAH. Two weeks before the scheme was relaunched last month, The Green Deal Finance Company removed the redemption penalties so you can now repay it when you move home.

  4. The loans should not have interest attached

    This was the one thing that made me truly despair when I read the Green Deal proposal. Why on earth make it an interest-charging loan? Many people are rightly debt-averse.

    It’s the student loan debacle all over again (once you understand it, it’s not as bad as you thought, but most people don’t get to the point of understanding it).

    While these loans are very different from commercial borrowing due to the golden rule that you shouldn’t repay more than you save, that just doesn’t cut it for most. They see the interest figure and say “no loan”.

    I accept there’s a cost attached to the financing. Yet even learning a trick from the sofa-sellers and charging more upfront – so that there’s no interest, just a fixed repayment based on that – would’ve made it easier for people to stomach.

    Update: No change here, sadly. I stick by my view. Making this a ‘debt’ is a bad move and puts off many who would want to do it.

  5. Not allow it to be sold door-to-door
  6. This risks lowering the reputation of any service when it’s sold this way. (In plain terms, sell it door-to-door and it makes many feel it’s dodgy or shoddy.) I know there are rules saying door-to-door Green Deal sales must obey “no cold callers” signs, but still, was it necessary to have it pumped out like this?

    One worry is salesmen showing up on the doorstep saying "I’m from the government".

    Update: This hasn’t been as big a problem as I predicted. I’d still prefer not to have it sold door-to-door but I don’t think it a major issue now.

  7. Standardised maximum pricing

    We don’t yet know how the assessors and installers will price, but many are worried they’ll pump up the cost in a way that negates the benefit of the financing in the first place.

    As this is a Government scheme, I’d think some form of price regulation on the 50 or so things you can have fitted within the Green Deal scheme, or even fixed prices, would give more confidence that you’re not getting ripped off.

    It’s worth remembering one of the new things the Green Deal lets you save on is double-glazing. That industry is haggle central – I’ve heard of cases of people being charged 10% of the original opening price for the same thing. It’s not good for the Green Deal if it falls into the same system.

    IMPORTANT UPDATE: For me this is the single biggest problem I hear about with the Green Deal. I am often being told people are being given quotes for work within the Green Deal wrapper at many times the cost of getting it done themselves. Effectively this just puts the Green Deal subsidy into the installers pockets.

    I asked Ed Davey on the radio to install maximum prices for different work, his answer is "we have encouraged more operators so we have competition" (my suspicion is that he probably doesn’t believe this himself but has to follow his coalition partners free market principles).

    This is a bit like saying there is competition for foreign currency at airports. True, there is, but they’re all massively overpriced as they know you’re a captive customer – and you shouldn’t use them. The Green Deal isn’t quite that bad, but it’s certainly far from good. I would strongly repeat that there needs to be price caps or (enforceable) reasonable pricing policies to make this work.

  8. If interest will be charged – let people know what it is

    The fact we don’t know the Green Deal interest rates yet, even after the scheme has launched, is ridiculous. Even once we do know them, they will vary with the length and amount of borrowing.

    People need to know even before having an assessment what this is likely to be. Firms need to publish their loan rates for different amounts (or do it via an online tool).

    Update: Interest rates are now public and typically between 7% APR and 11% APR, which isn’t that cheap compared to the cheapest private debt financing.

  9. Loans shorter than 10 years should be allowed

    Cavity wall and loft insulation will pay for themselves in a far shorter period than the effective minimum 10-year loan. So why are people forced to borrow longer? A golden rule of borrowing is to repay as quickly as you can, as it minimises interest.

    Update: No real change here. I still think there should be shorter loans available, though it’s not one of the biggest issues.

  10. No early redemption penalties

    People should always be allowed to pay off their debts earlier with no charge if they choose to. Full stop. End of.

    Update: SEMI-HURRAH. They listened, these have been scrapped for all new applicants, though not for those who already have the scheme.

  11. Centralised information and application

    To make this scheme work, it needs to feel official and authoritative. Some form of central call centre to give people official information before passing them onto a selection of reputable firms would give greater confidence (this may be being done, I’m not aware of it though), although I accept it would take some market forces out.

    Update: SEMI-HURRAH. There is now a central information number. lists the Energy Saving Advice Service on 0300 123 1234, or Home Energy Scotland on 0808 808 2282 where you can call for info, though they don’t pass you on to suppliers directly. There’s also a central search online for assessors, providers and installers.

Come to The Martin Lewis Money Show Roadshow in Manchester and Sheffield

Come to The Martin Lewis Money Show Roadshow in Manchester and Sheffield

The Martin Lewis Money Show Roadshow

Hoorah! ITV has recommissioned a fourth series of my show. It won’t be on for a while yet, but we’re about to start filming. My aim to start with is to get out there and meet people, hear their stories and questions before we even begin to do the set pieces. So we’re starting off with a roadshow and I’d love you to come.

You’re more than welcome to pop along and say hello to me, Saira or just see how we film it. It’s even better still if you’ve got a question, want to tell me how much you’ve saved, or want to join one of my cashmobs. First, though, the dates…

  • Sheffield Roadshow: We’ll be based in the Meadowhall Shopping Centre on Monday 14 and Tuesday 15 July from 11am to 7pm.
  • Manchester Roadshow: We’ll be in the Manchester Arndale on Thursday 17 and Friday 18 July from 11am to 7pm.

What you can take part in…

Do come along, even if you just want to spectate, the more the merrier but there’ll be lots going on. Though be prepared to be filmed, obviously.

  • Ask a MoneySaving question: Anything, be it savings, credit cards, bills, broadband, digital TV, energy, flight delays, PPI, consumer rights, mortgages, deals – if I know about it, I’ll try to help (though it may be busy so be prepared to wait – and TV crews tend to slow things up).
  • Tell us about a big saving you’ve made. I’d also love to see people who’ve made big savings from the info on the show, or from listening to or reading the MoneySaving techniques generally and who want to inspire others or tell their story.
  • Join a cashmob: During the lunchtime and early evening you can join one of my cashmobs (a money flashmob) where I do a five-minute guide on a big MoneySaving subject, telling you how to beat the system.

You can just pop along, but if you want to tell us you’re coming in advance and what you want to talk about, then you should get to the front of the queue quicker, especially if you can only come for a short time. So please email

Special subjects we want to focus on…

There are a few areas we’re looking to major on in the series. If you want to talk about any of these, we’d love you to come along. With these it would be especially great if you emailed in advance as we may want you to bring bills, etc, along.

  • Household broadband, digital TV bills.
  • Cutting overdraft or credit card costs.
  • Flight delay reclaiming.
  • Should you repay your mortgage?
  • Childcare costs and vouchers.
  • Should you get a joint account?
  • Car hire abroad.
  • Have you switched energy bills in the last few years?

Looking forward to seeing some of you there.

Read letters from blind children to Santa 2012

Read letters from blind children to Santa

Read letters from blind children to Santa

If you, like me, are a soppy git, you may just enjoy this. Each year we help spread the word in our Free Santa Letters guide that the RNIB has special elves, which help the giant with the white beard reply in Braille and other visually impaired-friendly ways.

As a thank-you, the RNIB has given its kind permission to share some of these beautiful notes with you again (read Letters to Santa 2011). It’s real evidence of the great work this much-needed charity does.

Names and minor details have been changed for privacy.

Warning: Some of you, like me, may find you’re allergic to these letters – the prime symptom of which is watery eyes.

Dear Father Christmas,

My name is Madison and my Granny is helping me to send a letter on her computer. If you can write to me in large print I would be very pleased. I am 8-years-old and have a twin sister called Samantha.

We are very excited because we are going to a cottage for Christmas in Cornwall. On Thursdays I go horse riding at a Riding for Disabled centre. We get a letter from you every year and you always tell us amazing stories about what you’ve been doing during the last year, but I have never sent a letter to you on the internet. 

Your letters always make us laugh and we would love to visit you to be able to see the place you always describe to us. We send all our love to you and your wife and all the elves. All the reindeers too."


To Santa,

My name is Luke. I hope you are ok and the reindeers are not getting too fat. I would like for Xmas a Manchester United scooter, football socks and a wrestling game. Thank you.

(Note from Martin – I came very close to editing this out for child cruelty with regards to the MU-branded items, but on balance have left it in.)

I will leave a mince pie for you and some milk and a carrot for the reindeers.

(I am Luke’s mum, he is 8 years old and has uveitis disease, has auto immune disease and has problems with his bones. He’s had two operations and has a rough time but never complains and is extremely brave. He’s on chemo and lots of other nasty medication so a letter saying how brave he is would really be appreciated.

Thank you very much, Luke’s mum.)"  


Dear Santa,

I have been a really brave boy this year having lots of hospital appointments following congenital cataracts and now a recent operation for an iris cyst. I would really like a new bike for Christmas with a shiny red bell. Please can you make this possible?"


Dear Santa,

I am visually impaired and I’m in mainstream school. I have been very good this year. I have been helping my mum with my new baby brother. I go swimming every month. I have been helping with the housework. I want a 3DS and a new set of clothes, most of all I want a letter from Santa."


Dear Santa Claus,

Could you please send an audio CD to my grandson Benjamin who has been a very good boy this year? He is five years old and he spent the first three and a half years in hospital and so Christmases at home are very special. We will be buying him a garden swing as he loves the motion. Many thanks."


Hi there, we have a little blind girl at our school called Debbie, she will soon be 8-years-old and she has brailled a letter to Santa.

Her letter says:

Dear Santa, Please could you bring me a little trolly. Please could you bring me a xylophone? I would also like some chime bars. Thank you very much from Debbie.

We will take Debbie to the post office and post the letter.

Thank you very much."


Dear Santa,

I am writing for my granddaughter Kerry. She is 4-years-old and went blind at the age of two due to a brain tumour. Her mummy doesn’t know I’m writing, I would like this to be a surprise for Kerry and her mummy.

If you could send a letter on audio CD that would be lovely please. She is off to Great Ormond Street hospital for brain surgery in December so a letter from Santa would be lovely. Kerry likes doing puzzles with shapes and textures.

She loves keys and key rings and also dollies (babies) and anything educational. She really loves music and dancing.

Thank you so much in advance."


Dear Father Christmas,

I have been learning a lot of braille contractions and really enjoy having the knack of learning braille. I find it very fun and if I’m asked to do anything to do with braille, I will get on with it at the immediate time.

I appreciate that I am now fully blind so that I can have much joy with braille and no-one can stop me from taking pride in all of my braille work, so thanks for reading."


Dear Santa,

I hope you are well. My mummy is helping me by typing this letter as I am not very good at typing. My name is Daniel. As well as being blind I also have a condition called autism. I love Christmas and I am already very excited about it. This year I would like a musical drum and burping dinosaur as well as lots of chocolate!

I have been a good boy all year and mummy says she is especially proud of me for working so hard on learning braille. I promise to leave you a mince pie and a carrot for Rudolph. Thanks so much."


Dear Santa
I am writing this email for my son, Simon who is seven and has cerebral palsy. Simon can’t read or write and is visually impaired.

However, he is very excited about Santa and can’t wait for you to come to our house on Christmas Eve. As Simon can’t read it would be fantastic to have a reply on an audio CD.

We have just finished converting an area of our house to be suitable for Simon and his needs. What Simon would really like from Santa is some nice things for his new bedroom. Some sensory equipment would be lovely but anything at all would be fantastic.

Simon thinks he should avoid a lump of coal this year……….fingers crossed he is right! Many thanks Santa. Hope to hear from you soon."


Dear Santa Claus and his elves,

I would like to order a Christmas message on audio CD in English for my son.

He is 23 but has a learning disability as well as severe visual impairment and he would love to receive a special message from Santa. He especially likes going swimming and playing with balloons and is looking forward to spending Christmas at home with all the family. 

He is having an operation this week to try to repair a detached retina so will have even less sight than normal for a little while and a special Christmas message would really cheer him up. Many thanks."


Dear Santa,

Please could you send a CD letter to our grandson Barry. He is two and a half years old, suffers from severe cerebral palsy and epilepsy and is almost completely blind. Despite his problems he brings lots of joy to his Mummy and Daddy who work very hard to look after him.

We don’t see him very often so we aren’t sure what he would like for Christmas but I am sure he must have given you some clues when he visited you in Harrods recently! His Christmas list is sure to include pyjamas and pretty lights! Thank you, Nanny and Granddad."


Dear Santa,

My name is Jacob and my Daddy has ‘broken eyes’. I have been very good this year and am now in Year 1! I have been learning to read and write, so I can help my Daddy more. I am busy practicing for the School Play. I am playing Joseph this year. I would love to have a table football for Christmas. Thank you."


Dear Santa,

I am writing this for my brother Isaac who is nearly 4 and has difficulty with his sight. I wrote to you last year too. Isaac is going to draw a picture for you. For Christmas he wants a hamster. I had a hamster called Jet and it died. Now Isaac wants one of his own.

I hope you are getting things sorted for Christmas Eve. I still like Lego by the way. Isaac (and I) would love to hear a reply by audio please. Thank you."


Dear Santa,

I have been very good all year. I have been doing my physio in the morning and every night before sleep. I have been cleaning my teeth nicely. I was a good boy at the doctors having my flu jab today.

Please can you leave some of my presents in the games room? I will leave you a glass of milk, two mince pies (one for you to take home for Mrs Claus) and carrots for your reindeer.

Please can you ask your reindeer not to poo in our front room because they did last year and my dad had to clean it up! Please can you bring me a new computer as my computer keeps breaking down.

I like to play my games, go on YouTube and talk to my friends on Facebook. I have lots of photos to look at close up. I zoom faces in so I can see them.

Please can you bring me some music CDs, DVDs and singing toys? I would like another laughing Elmo and singing lion, hippo, monkey toys. Like the ones you gave me last year so I can play them altogether and give mum and dad a headache!

Mum will be in my bed, hiding under the covers when you visit as I get a bit scared when you come in my room. I did laugh last year when I heard you trip over my toys and when you flushed the toilet.

I know you are busy but if you get time, please can you play a quick game on my pool table? I will leave the balls out ready. You might hear me laughing if I’m awake and I hear you. Please send my love to Mrs Claus.

Can you please thank her for my Christmas tea towel she gave me last year. I am still using it when I have my dinner. Please send my love to Arthur and all the other little Elves. Say hello to the reindeer for me.

Love you."

25,000 helped out of debt crisis via one agency alone

25,000 helped out of debt crisis via one agency alone

25,000 helped out of debt crisis via one agency alone celebrated its 10th birthday on Friday. We received many kind tributes to the work we’ve done, but I was especially delighted to read this open letter from StepChange (CCCS as it used to be known).

Congratulations on’s 10th birthday!

It’s great to hear that the site, a British institution, has been running for a whole decade now. And in the same year that StepChange Debt Charity celebrates its 20th anniversary!

You’ve been at the vanguard of helping Britons save money on their credit, utilities, insurance and travel, among others. You’ve also been instrumental in a number of very important campaigns, most recently with reclaiming payment protection insurance (PPI) for free and getting financial education on the school curriculum.

But most importantly for StepChange Debt Charity, you’ve provided great help to many people in debt by signposting them to us to get the help they need for free. We’ve worked out that over the last 10 years has referred over 25,000 people, giving us the opportunity to recover their situations and transform their futures. We’re proud to have helped you and your visitors, and long may it continue.

Here’s to the next 10 years and all of the future subjects and campaigns will take the lead on. We’ll use some of the discount vouchers on the website and buy some (cheap) bubbly to help celebrate!

Best wishes…..

Gordon Bell

StepChange Debt Charity"

PS. If you’re struggling with debt, see our full Debt Crisis Help guide.