Money News: Price rises trigger switching spree

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The Independent Online

The number of consumers switching energy supplier in search of a better deal is at its highest for four years, according to a new report from Ofgem.

The energy regulator says 900,000 customers changed gas or electricity supplier in March, after sharp price rises. This was 200,000 more than the same time last year.

Ofgem's chief executive, Alistair Buchanan, said the figures showed customers were "voting with their feet", and urged more households to follow suit.

"Not only can you change your supplier," said Mr Buchanan, "you can also choose from a selection of tariffs. There are significant savings to be made for all customers."

Someone switching for the first time, he added, can save up to £110 a year - a total saving of around £1bn nationwide.

Over the past two years, energy prices have risen by 40 per cent, driven mainly by rising wholesale prices in the global market.

Financial complaints: 120,000 disputes resolved by FOS

The Financial Ombudsman Service resolved a record 119,432 complaints during the past financial year - nearly a third more than in the previous 12 months, a new report shows.

The Ombudsman - an impartial organisation that settles disputes between businesses providing financial services and their customers - received 672,973 initial complaints on all subjects during the year to the end of March (up 10 per cent).

The annual report showed banking complaints up by a third, and complaints against insurance companies by a quarter. Complaints about investment products (ex-cluding endowment mortgages) fell by 18 per cent.

But disputes about endowments continued to dominate, accounting for nearly two-thirds of cases (69,149 complaints).

According to the report, more than 250 new complaints about endowment mortgages were received each working day. That said, the Chief Ombudsman, Walter Merricks, said there were some signs that the "exceptionally high volume" of complaints that had dominated the workload in recent years was "levelling off".

Base rate: Cost of borrowing held for 11th month

The Bank of England has kept the base rate on hold at 4.5 per cent for the 11th month in a row.

The cost of borrowing has not fallen since August last year, when it was lowered by a quarter of a percentage point. Despite the Bank's expressions of concern over inflationary pressures, the lack of move- ment had been widely predicted by City analysts, economists and the financial services industry.

The Bank's Governor, Mervyn King, said earlier this month that he was in no hurry to lift rates.

"These comments reinforced the already strong expectation of a no-change decision," said Ray Boulger of mortgage broker John Charcol.

However, many still predict a quarter-point rise by the end of the year to keep inflation in check.

The latest decision came as the Halifax reported that house prices had fallen 1.2 per cent in June. This, it said, was down to consumers worrying about interest rate rises.

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