Simon Read: Abuse of power - price hikes and dodgy doorstep sellers

As has become a regularity in recent weeks, an energy company announced a massive price hike. On Thursday it was Scottish & Southern Energy's turn, revealing increases of 18 per cent to gas prices and 11 per cent to electricity. The move is in line with recent increases announced by Scottish Power and British Gas.

There are two small crumbs of comfort for SSE customers. First is that the increases won't hit until 14 September: Scottish Power's hike takes effect from 1 August, while British Gas raises prices on 18 August. The second slight bit of good news for SSE customers is that the energy supplier has promised it will not increase prices again until1 August 2012 at the earliest.

But it's only a matter of time before the other big three firms – EDF Energy, E.on and nPower – announce their own increases. With energy prices soaring, more people will be pushed into fuel poverty – which is when their power bills account for more than a 10th of their income.

But the energy hikes will also help to push up the rate of inflation, which is bad news for savers already struggling to to get anything close to real returns on their nest eggs. The current fear is that inflation could soon top 5.5 per cent, last seen in 1992.

But the energy companies are not just making life tougher financially for all, they're still sending round their armies of dodgy salespeople to haunt our homes with their pressure selling.

This week's price-hiker, SSE, is the only one of the big six to suspend doorstep sales (and only after it was prosecuted for using a misleading sales script), but the others must follow.

Consumer Focus is today calling on the energy industry to end cold-call doorstep sales. This time the industry must listen.

Been fined by the tax authorities for paying tax late or failing to file your tax returns on time? You may have been wrongly fined, according to tax specialists at the law firm McGrigors.

The firm says HM Revenue & Customs has lost more than half a dozen cases in the last few months in which it has been criticised by the courts for wrongly fining taxpayers.

"The spate of recent cases suggests that HMRC has been imposing penalties far too harshly on taxpayers who have genuinely tried to comply with the law," says Jason Collins, a partner at McGrigors.

He says the recent rulings may represent the tip of the iceberg as the majority of taxpayers do not appeal against fines because they assume that HMRC issues fines in accordance with the law.

But the courts are taking a far more lenient view of the law, which says that taxpayers should not be fined if they have a "reasonable excuse" for late payment of tax or an overdue tax return. The courts are sending a signal that HMRC's official interpretation is too narrow.

"HMRC has – quite literally – become a law unto itself where fines are concerned," says Collins. "The courts have made it clear that HMRC's guidance on fines is at odds with the law, and that its definition of 'reasonable excuse' should not be taken at face value."

Thousands of taxpayers could have been wrongly fined, and more are likely to be after the next tax payment deadline passes on 31 July. But most may assume they have no chance of challenging the fine at a tribunal.

With evidence now seemingly suggesting the opposite, anyone who thinks they have been unfairly fined should challenge the Revenue's decisions.

Tax credit deadline approaches

Tax credits could be cut down or stopped altogether if you don't act before an HM Revenue & Customs deadline in eight days' time.

Your annual tax credit declaration must be submitted by the end of July. In it you must inform the Revenue of any changes to your income or situation in the last 12 months. You will need to return an annual tax credit declaration if you have been sent form TC603D (or TC603D2) with your annual review notice.

"Anyone failing to return the annual declaration by 31 July risks payments being stopped, and could be liable to pay back any overpayment from both the previous tax year and the start of the new tax year," warns Andrew Hubbard at RSM Tenon.

"Many families are still unaware of their eligibility – it is not just those who are out of work who can claim," he points out. People with illness or disability, carers, recent parents or the widowed could be eligible, as well as over-60s or those working 16 hours a week earning less than £13,000. * HMRC tax credit line is 0845 300 3900.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

PROMOTED VIDEO
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
News
i100
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
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

    Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

    Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

    Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

    UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

    £45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention