Consumer rights: Where to go for a helping hand with your cash

Make sure you get good advice on anything from a pension to a home loan, even if you have to pay

If you’re giving your finances a spring clean and need  advice, make sure the adviser fits the bill.

Are you having problems paying the post-festive season bills? Or are you lucky enough to have money to squirrel away and no idea how to get the best return on it? You might expect anyone who offers any sort of money advice to be able to help with anything to do with money. But it’s a case of horses for courses when it comes to finances and you need to be careful that you don’t back the wrong one. Complex money matters need a range of skills and expertise and it isn’t always easy to know where to find the right person for the job.

If you have some money to save or invest and don’t feel you’ve the knowledge to do it yourself you’ll probably have to pay for advice. If you don’t have any money and need help to get out of a financial fix go for the free advice options.

Retail investment products - stock market-based investments such as unit trusts where the return on your money isn’t guaranteed, life policies, annuities and pensions -  are the domain of financial advisers. Since last year advisers selling these products can’t take commission from the companies whose products they sell.  They have to work out their own fees for the services they offer and agree those with you before giving you any advice.

You should be able to have confidence that you’re getting the best advice for you rather than the adviser giving you biased advice in order to get the best commission. The rules apply to advisers who operate independently and to advisers in banks, building societies and insurance companies who sell the products of those organisations.

Advisers must tell you whether the advice they give is independent or restricted. An adviser claiming to give independent advice must be genuinely free to recommend the best product for you. Restricted advisers will look at a narrower range of products and may specialise in a particular type of product such as pensions, or  be tied to one or more providers and advise only on their products.

Financial advisers must also be qualified, subscribe to a code of ethics and keep their knowledge up-to-date.  Check their qualifications and fees first. 

Some banks and building societies that used to offer financial advice have switched to an “information only” service which won’t ask questions about your personal circumstances and won’t be able to assess which products are suitable for you. This might seem like a good option because there’s no fee but if you buy a financial product without advice you have less protection if the product turns out to be unsuitable for you or you lose money. You will only be talked through the bank or building society’s own products – not products from the whole market. And the advice provider will still take a fee out of the money you invest. Ask what that fee will be so that you can compare it against the cost of getting other advice.

The rules on regulated investments don’t apply to the sale of cash savings products, like general insurance, life insurance or mortgages – unless they are sold to you at the same time.

The Money Advice Service website has a lot of useful information on managing your money and finding the right advisers, and www.unbiased.co.uk has details of  thousands of advisers.  There is free advice available from Citizens Advice Bureaux on many high streets, and you can also get help from National Debtline on 0808 808 4000, and online from Step Change . Mymoneysteps.org is an interactive online tool on how to manage your money and make a budget. Taxaid on www.taxaid.org.uk and Tax Help for Older People give help on tax to people on low incomes.

So don’t stick your head in the sand and ignore impending problems. The sooner you get help the easier it will be to get back on a firm financial footing.

-------

Q: I’ve decided 2014 is the year I finally open my own business and my partner and I have found premises for a coffee shop. We want to make it a real community resource and use local suppliers. We feel we’ve got our heads around the finances and legalities, but do we need to be VAT- registered? KC, Manchester

A: This is a decision you can put off until you see how well the business does. You don’t need to register for VAT until your income is at a level at which you think you will have made more than the threshold figure in the past 12 months. So if in December 2014 your figures are indicating that you’re likely to make £79,000 in the 12 months between January 2014 and January 2015 it’s time to register.

If the products you sell are exempt from VAT you can’t register but if you sell any on which VAT is added to the price you can choose to register. If you don’t register you won’t be able to claim back any VAT you pay on goods you buy in.

Food and drink for human consumption is, in general, zero-rated but many items are standard-rated, including alcoholic drinks, crisps and snacks and hot food – lots of  which your cafe might sell. See http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/vat/start/index.htm for more information, and the VAT helpline is on 0300 200 3700.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Suggested Topics
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy as ECB finally wield the axe
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
News
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Pat and Richard Astbury at their home in Norton Canes, Staffordshire. They have benefitted from the Community Energy Project aimed at helping council tenants with their energy bills. They have had solar panels installed.

Locals in Staffordshire to save hundreds after new council-backed project to install solar panels

The sun is shining on people who struggle to heat their homes and it’s thanks to a sense of community

Gross household debt reached a historic high of around 160 per cent of combined incomes in 2007

Simon Read: Give people struggling with debt some breathing space

Struggling people need help, understanding and forbearance, not ill-thought-out pronouncements

A person walks through the City of London during the early morning rush hour in London

Simon Read: Caught up in the scandal about leaks at the regulator

You won’t find me bashing the banks for the sake of it, but sadly they’ve deserved all the criticism that’s been sent their way in recent years

There were around 750,000 victims of mobile phone theft in England and Wales last year, according to official figures

Money alert: Stolen mobile phones

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice: 'The injustice of shock bills for crime victims must end. The Government must stand up for consumers and cap bills from lost or stolen phones at £50'

Indian workers boil sugarcane juice to make jaggery, a traditional cane sugar, at a jaggery plant in Muradnagar, Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad district

Mark Dampier: A hot investment story is taking shape as India lets the light in

Stirring the pot: the Indian Government’s reforms of labour rules offer hope of a brighter future for businesses 

An AA patrol man helping a woman whose scooter had broken down.

Bargain hunter: Whisk up those leftovers instead of just throwing them in the bin

Knight of the road, look out: you’ve got a new rival 

How to raise money for charity this Christmas

There are so many ways you can raise money - and awareness - for charity. Rob Griffin explains how easy it is to donate and reap financial rewards

Simon Read: The Chancellor has stamped on an unfair tax. But will the delight of homebuyers mean misery for others?

Were you surprised by the sudden reform of the rules for stamp duty on property purchases? I certainly was. I've been calling for ages for a change in the tax to make it more fair – and, at a stroke, George Osborne did just that on Wednesday in his Autumn Statement.

Santander, whose ads have been fronted by the Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis-Hill, was among the banks where there were potential pitfalls with shared licences

Best savings rates are not all they might seem

Consumers can sometimes think they are shopping around for a rewarding account when in one important aspect, writes Samantha Downes, they are not
The sunlit uplands: switching out of a final salary pension may seem like madness, but there could be cases where it makes sense

Gold-plated pensions – the key to retirement freedom?

With some people are weighing up whether they will be better off cashing in their final salary pension next spring, Samantha Downes asks the experts

Sarah Bibby and Robert Allinson, with their children Charlotte and Ethan, confronted the ‘difficult’ questions’ posed by making a will

Simon Read: There may be trouble ahead for cohabiting couples who don’t make a will

Your children have it all, your partner gets nothing

Halfords is gearing up for Christmas

Bargain Hunter: Find the deals that have real value beneath the Black Friday hype

Halfords is gearing up for Christmas

Fields of dreams: venture capital trusts help young companies to grow, potentially delivering big returns for investors

Mark Dampier: You take a chance but VCTs have sorted the wheat from the chaff

Fields of dreams: venture capital trusts help young companies to grow, potentially delivering big returns for investors 

The FCA has imposed £1.1bn in fines on five banks over forex trading practices

Simon Read: Catch 22 for borrowers who are turned down by banks

There are many reasons for people to turn to high-cost credit, but being turned down by their banks for a loan is one

The battle between the banks to attract more current account customers moved up a level this week when Yorkshire Bank (and Clydesdale Bank) launched a market- leading £150 switching incentive.

Money Insider: Would £150 make you switch banks?

The £150 incentive from Yorkshire and Clydesdale runs from now until 28 February next year, but you must use the official Current Account Switching Service (CASS) and close your existing account to qualify

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Sheridan Maine: Commercial Finance Manager

    Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

    Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

    Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Services Manager - (communications, testing, DM)

    £32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Services Manage...

    Guru Careers: Finance Account Manager

    £Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Finance Account Manager with...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas