Weekly Money

Round-up of the personal finance stories you may have missed 16 to 20 March

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The Independent Online

2-for-1 cinema tickets; mobile users ‘trapped’; BT battle continues: pension text scammers; Government energy handout; heating help for vulnerable; the stories we noticed this week

 

20 March

Junior Isas offer a way to save a nest-egg for a child but can also be helpful in starting a conversation about money and educating young people about savings, says Darius McDermott of Chelsea Financial Services.

But what sort of investments should you consider for a Junior Isa? In a new video Darius tells me why he thinks you should you look at higher-risk options to begin with but consider lower risk opportunities as the child gets closer to 18. Also in the video, important news for anyone with a poorly performing child trust fund.

 

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Movie fan? Fed up now there’s no more Orange Wednesday? CompareTheMarket has seized the opportunity to launch Meerkat Movies to give its customers 2 for 1 cinema tickets every Tuesday or Wednesday at most movie chains.

The offer will last a year when you buy an insurance, energy, utilities or money product through the price comparison website. Existing customers can start using the offer next week, while new customers can sign up from 7 April. You’ll need to download a Meerkat Movies app or go to your customer account online.

 

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Mobile phone customers are being locked into longer contracts and ending up with bad service, warns Citizens Advice. Consumers complain that they’ve been billed for services they didn’t get – or even for calls run up by thieves. And many feel trapped by their mobile phone supplier with exit fees as high as £800.

Gillian Guy of Citizens Advice, said: “Consumers can be taken to the cleaners for ending a mobile phone contract that doesn’t deliver. The Government should look into simplifying how mobile phone users can get redress when they are treated badly.”

 

19 March

The BT Caller Display unfair charge battle continues. Reader Stuart Baker contacted me a month ago to say the telecoms giant was only prepared to offer two months refund on the charges it took from him, despite the fact that he was eligible for free caller display.

“What would you advise me to do?” he asked. I pointed out that several other readers had got a full refund for a year’s charges and that it may be worth fighting on. He persisted and yesterday told me: “I have now got a full refund.”

It took a month of toing and froing with BT staff and Stuart reports that “at each stage I was offered a little more if I settled”. But his persistence thankfully paid off. As Stuart says: “Although it involved comparatively small sums of money, I felt it was a matter of principle.” I agree.

 

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Swinton’s new travel insurance is aimed squarely at older holidaymakers. It has no upper age limit on single trips, although for annual multi-trip policies you can only get cover for holidaymakers aged up to 85. Call 0800 995 1535 for details.

 

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There’ll be more new cash Isas launched as we approach the tax deadline on 5 April. Halifax is the latest to join the fray by relaunching its 18 month fixed Isa with a 1.6 per cent rate and its two year deal with a 1.65 per cent rate.

However Anna Bowes of SavingsChampion said: “We’re still waiting for the upturn that you would expect as we get closer to the end of the tax year. The smattering of new competitive deals tend to be fixed rate Isas. Any savers holding out for better deals for the current tax year may not want to hang around.”

 

18 March

People could be bombarded with annoying texts and calls about the new pension freedoms, warns the Information Commissioner’s Office.

It says the new retirement rules, which will give people aged 55 and over the right to take the cash out of their pension pot from 6 April, will lead to a spate of “snake oil salesmen” seeking to trick people out of their cash.

It warned that unsolicited messages about the reforms could be the “next PPI”, with people finding themselves receiving spam urging them to take part in pension schemes.

It has already been forced to warn Swansea-based call centre Help Direct UK to stop sending spam texts asking people if they want a review of their pension.

 

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Women are facing a very uncertain financial future, warns Maike Currie of Fidelity Personal Investing. “Women have much smaller pension pots than men,” she explains. “Those aged between 55 and 64 have around half as much put away as men.”

Why? It’s often because they’ve taken a career break to start a family, which means they miss out on salary increases and possibly opportunities for promotion and that impacts how much they can save.

She advises women to talk to their partners about contributing into her pension scheme if she takes a career break to start a family, for instance. For more advice about getting and keeping your finances on track, in particular what should you do in the case of divorce, watch my interview with Maike.

 

17 March

Major changes introduced to individual savings accounts last year means they have become much more flexible and attractive to savers and investors, according to consumer finance expert Julie Hutchison of Standard Life.

“Isas got a huge makeover last year, the biggest change in their 16 year history,” she explains in a new video interview with me. “They became much more flexible and got a big step up to allow you to stash up to £15,000 in the current tax year, and another £15,240 in the next tax year, which starts on 6 April.”

Watch the video at ind.pn/1EqDuE4 for advice on which Isas to choose - whether cash or stocks and shares Isas -as well as more detail on other changes, including the new ability to pass on your tax-free Isa allowance to your spouse.

 

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Yesterday the government passed a law to protect renters in England from revenge evictions – when someone is thrown out simply for complaining about the conditions in their home. More than 200,000 renters face that type of eviction every year, reckons Shelter, which has long campaigned for the government to ban the practice.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter said: “Hundreds of thousands of people will no longer face the appalling choice between living in a home that puts them or their family in danger, or risking eviction if they complain.”

 

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A new ‘Your Retirement, Your Choice’ campaign is launched today to help people understand their choices from the pension reforms on 6 April. The Association of British Insurers campaign hopes to explain where to get guidance and how to avoid being a victim of pension scams.

 

16 March

From noon today you can apply for a share of a £70m government handout to improve the energy efficiency of your home. Under the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund you can apply for up to vouchers worth up to £5,600 to help with the cost of installing energy-saving measures.

You’ll also be able to claim back up to £1,250 towards the cost of installing two home improvement measures from an approved list of 11. For more information, call the Energy Saving Advice Service on 0300 123 1234 or Home Energy Scotland on 0808 808 2282.

 

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Meanwhile you may be able to claim for financial assistance with your energy bill. The Government reckons 12 per cent of all UK households are eligible, although those who qualify are likely to be vulnerable, such as low-income families, disabled customers and the elderly. For instance, the Government’s Warm Home Discount scheme offers rebates of £140 on bills while other support includes trust funds provided by energy suppliers. Call the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99. The deadline for claiming is 27 March.

 

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Have you heard about the new pension freedoms that come into force next month? Almost one in three people planning to retire this year haven’t, reckons Prudential.

Its new research published today shows that substantial numbers of 2015 retirees are in the dark about the changes to pensions regulation announced in the 2014 Budget.

The key change is that those aged 55 and above will be able to take the cash out of their pension pot and do what they like with it. But the research suggests that many are queueing up to blow the cash on a fancy car or holiday are wide of the mark. Apparently only one in 50 are considering the so-called ‘Lamborghini option’ of blowing their whole pension pot.

Vince Smith-Hughes, retirement expert at Prudential, said: “If retirees choose to draw income directly from their pension fund, whether in one big lump sum or over time, it’s important they are aware of the implications on their future income and their tax liability.”

 

 

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