Sam Dunn: 'I'm Paying Too Much... Get Me Out of Here!'
The contestant who saves the most gets his bills paid for life
Sunday 18 December 2005
I'm trying to devise a personal finance reality TV show. So far, I've got 12 members of the public cooped up in a tiny, hot, windowless room with a telephone and a computer.
The contestants must sort out every aspect of their home finances: mortgage, credit card, home insurance, mobile phone, broadband, landline, car cover, gas and electricity.
The idea is that they seek and switch to the best deal while getting hot under the collar in the face of smooth-talking customer sales reps. The contestant who saves the most gets his bills paid for life; the loser has to foot them.
Sure, it needs work and hasn't got the appeal of Carol Thatcher snacking on kangaroo testicles on I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here!, but a mix of fear and financial failure could draw healthy audiences.
While a reality show would get more of us to face up to our finances, there is an easier way: simply spare one afternoon a year to look at changing suppliers - whether using a switching website or your own legwork - and save yourself hundreds of pounds.
Although the National Consumer Council (see News, page 19) points out that more of us are now doing so, half of us have never considered it, according to uswitch.com.
Showing providers that you're prepared to go elsewhere keeps them on their toes and you've got nothing to lose.
It might also have an effect on BT, which confirmed last week that, from 1 January, it would raise the cost of its landline rental for many customers by 50p a month to £11 a month - an extra £6 a year. This might sound like just a mild hike for its own customers but it's also an unwelcome bill for those have switched away from BT to save money.
That's because consumers who use a rival company such as Tele2 for home phone bills, say, and Wanadoo for internet broadband and Vonage for internet telephony, must also pay this premium. This in turn is because rival landline phone and broadband services need BT's copper wires to get into homes. To raise revenue, it has decided to boost the price of those lines for customers.
Vonage, a cut-price service, has branded the move a tax on broadband - an accusation angrily rejected by BT, which says its network must be paid for.
Unhappy customers can switch to rival landline providers that now include line rental in the bill - the Post Office, One.Tel or TalkTalk, for example.
When you've got plenty of other companies offering cheaper, often more flexible deals, you're doing yourself and your finances a disservice if you don't - at least once a year - consider what else is available.
It's probably as close as you'll ever come to getting something for nothing.
This is my last column until the new year and I wish you all a peaceful Christmas.
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