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; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

    £50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

    Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

    Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

    Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat