News: The wait goes on for rates to hit 5 per cent

Home loan rates left on hold; minister sits on the fence over cashpoint charges; public alerted to phone and email scams

The Bank of England base rate has been left on hold at 4.75 per cent for the sixth month in a row.

The Bank of England base rate has been left on hold at 4.75 per cent for the sixth month in a row.

The decision on Thursday came as no surprise, industry specialists said, given that the UK economy is pulling in different directions. For example, while data shows that consumer spending has been weak, house prices have held up and proved stronger than expected.

The Bank's decision is particularly welcome for homeowners with a variable-rate mortgage on which interest is calculated daily: their monthly repayments won't change.

Opinion on the outlook for interest rates is divided, with many believing that they have yet to peak at 5 per cent. Others think they may already have gone as high as they will and the next move will be downwards.

Held at cashpoint

The Government would be prepared to step into the row over fee-charging cash machines only if there were "large-scale" changes to the network.

Stephen Timms, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said that only if there were a sharp rise in the number of charging ATMs would the Government have "cause for concern".

Around 40 per cent of the UK's 50,000 cash machines charge at present - typically from £1.40 to £2. But the vast majority (97 per cent) of transactions take place at free machines.

Mr Timms was giving evidence to MPs at a hearing of the Treasury Select Committee into ATM charges on Thursday. The Post Office came under attack during the meeting as it was revealed that, last year, consumers paid £10m to withdraw cash from ATMs in its branches.

The select committee's report is expected to follow soon.

Dial-a-fraud exposed

A campaign to make consumers aware of overseas fraudsters targeting the UK has revealed a 10-fold increase in the number of people duped.

Last year, Britons were diddled out of some £150m in overseas telephone lottery scams alone, according to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). The figure emerged as part of a month-long drive focusing on fraudsters operating via email, phone or post.

Nigerian "advance fee" scams are typical. People are asked by someone posing as a government official to transfer money on their behalf in exchange for a cut of this cash - the aim being to get access to the victim's bank account. Other ruses announce that you have won a competition and ask for your money upfront to cover administration fees or taxes to claim your prize. No legitimate competition does this, the OFT stressed.

Steer clear, too, of "boiler room" scams selling worthless shares, or of any request for your bank details. Anybody asking you to ring a premium-rate number should also be avoided.

More than half a million leaflets and posters will be distributed to raise awareness.

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