Money: Energy Shares/ It's quick and easy when you know how

From stockbrokers to share shops, Stephen Spurdon offers a novice's guide to the best deals

The Government has gone out of its way to make it easy and cheap for novices to buy privatisation shares and British Energy is no exception. More than 100 banks, building societies, stockbrokers and share dealing services are offering special terms to investors who register with them. They will qualify for shares at a small discount in the public offer, and most share shops will offer a quick and cheap service for investors who want to take a quick profit.

To carry out execution-only deals, ie where the share shopcarries out orders and offers no advice, there is a minimum charge of between pounds 10 and pounds 30. The lowest charges are often found at banks and building societies, with the Skipton being one of the cheapest at a minimum of pounds 9 for purchases.

Execution-only dealing by telephone is offered by the market leader, ShareLink, in two forms: the MarketMaster nominee account and the ShareLink Plus certificated dealing service. MarketMaster costs pounds 6 a quarter and includes a nominee service - where your share certificates are held by the broker - annual report and accounts, regular statements and a consolidated tax certificate. The minimum charge is pounds 10 on a sliding scale from 1 per cent for the first pounds 2,500 you invest. ShareLink Plus has a minimum charge of pounds 20 on a sliding scale starting at 1.5 per cent on the first pounds 2,500. With this service you keep your own share certificates.

Advisory services mean that deals through your stockbroker are based on their advice on the outlook for the stock and its suitability for you. Barclays Stockbrokers Advisory Service offers unlimited telephone access to an account handler for guidance. Commission starts at 1.35 per cent on the first pounds 10,000 plus a custody charge of pounds 1 per stock, with a minimum quarterly cost of pounds 25. For an extra pounds 30 a year you can have an annual review of your portfolio, or a half-yearly review for pounds 25.

Justin Urquhart-Stewart of Barclays Stockbrokers says they pay dividends immediately to clients' nominated bank accounts. Some brokers retain the dividends and pay them over quarterly. With discretionary portfolio management costs are a little higher and minimum investment levels usually start at around pounds 100,000. Annual fees will be around 0.75 per cent on a pounds 100,000 portfolio with a minimum charge of between pounds 250 and pounds 500 while dealing commissions will be on a sliding scale from around 1.5 to 0.1 per cent. Some private client brokers such as Gerrard Vivian Gray offer a fee-only service, where commission charged during the year is deducted from the annual fee.

A recent entrant into private client portfolio management is Premier Investment Management. It is unusual in offering a bespoke service to investors with sums starting at just pounds 50,000. The annual management fee is 1 per cent on the first pounds 500,000, with a minimum commission of pounds 35 on a scale of 1.5 per cent for the first pounds 15,000 and 0.5 per cent thereafter.

Another cost to bear in mind when dealing with stockbrokers is that all fees are subject to 17.5 per cent VAT and Stamp Duty is levied at 0.5 per cent on the value of all purchases.

Put your energy shares into a Personal Equity Plan (PEP) and you can enjoy tax free gains and income. You have two choices: a general PEP in which each adult can put up to pounds 6,000 a year, or a single company PEP into which each adult can invest an additional pounds 3,000 a year.

The stockbrokers Killik and Co offer an Unrestricted PEP, which has no initial or annual fees. Commission is on a sliding scale starting at 1.65 per cent for the first pounds 10,000 with a minimum commission of pounds 40 per deal. There is also a custody charge of pounds 7.50 for handling each dividend, plus pounds 15 a year if you use Killik's standard reporting service.

A third option is a corporate PEP. These are offered by many quoted companies, allowing you to invest directly in their stock only. These can be either single plans (up to pounds 3,000) or general ones (up to pounds 6,000). They can be attractive because of their low charging structure. Many are administered by a third party: for instance, Bradford & Bingley's single company/corporate PEPs have no initial charge and an annual management charge of 0.5 per cent, plus dealing charges of 0.25 per cent to buy or sell shares.

If you are planning to buy British Energy shares as a short-term bet, look carefully at the dealing arrangements offered by the various share shops. Some will not accept "sell" orders until you have your share certificates, but others, such as Wise Speake, will sell by phone immediately on allocation, but only for its own clients.

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