Weekly Money: round-up of the personal finance stories you may have missed 27-31 October

 

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The Independent Online

If you’re frightened by ghosts this Halloween, don’t tell anyone – it could wipe up to a fifth off the value of your home.

The majority of estate agents believe a home with a spooky history can lose up to 20 per cent of its value and can be twice as difficult to sell compared to a normal property.

And it’s not just ghosts that can hit property prices, homebuyers are spooked by the stigma of past events, such as it being built on top of a graveyard or being a former crime scene, according to estate agent network Move With Us.

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Seven million people have lost a friend as a result of an argument over money, reckons Scottish Friendly.

Men were found to be particularly prone to losing their mates, with a third more saying that they had cut ties with a friend because of finances compared to women.

Londoners appear to be the most likely to fight about money, with just over a quarter having had a dispute with their friends, compared to people in Northern Ireland where fewer than ten per cent claimed to have fallen out over cash.

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Consumer group Which? says credit card providers are still failing to explain the rules of Section 75, which could mean consumers don’t get their money back when something goes wrong with a purchase.

 

Section 75 provides legal protection on items paid for by credit card that cost between £100 and £30,000. If something goes wrong – the item is faulty, the goods are not received, or the retailer goes bust - the credit card provider is jointly liable and should refund the full amount.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: “Section 75 is an important piece of consumer protection so it’s unacceptable that credit card providers have such poor understanding of it. Banks must improve staff training and help consumers get their money back when they are entitled to it.”

30 October

Mortgage rates have been tumbling, with the most talked-about deal being a discounted mortgage from HSBC at an interest rate of just 0.99 per cent.

But while the deal looks competitive, a £1,999 product fee is a major part of the deal that could make unwary borrows make an expensive mistake, warns Andrew Hagger of MoneyComms.

“When you weigh up the total cost of rate and fee, it’s not the cheapest mortgage on the market for consumers looking to borrow less than £300,000,” he warns.

“There has been too much emphasis on the headline-grabbing rate and not enough on the sizeable fee – which over the two-year term adds the equivalent of £83.29 per month to your repayments.

Unfortunately some customers will be drawn in by the clever marketing without realising there’s a £2k sting in the tail.”

He says that for people looking for a variable-rate mortgage, there is a two-year tracker deal currently available from Norwich & Peterborough Building Society priced at 1.44 per cent but with a much lower £345 fee. “This not only offers a more generous loan-to-value of 65 per cent compared with HSBC’s 60 per cent, it also works out cheaper until you reach a tipping point of £300,000 at which point HSBC finally becomes better value,” Mr Hagger says.

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Two out of five investors have portfolios that are over-exposed to the UK, an investment expert has warned.

“Investors should be building balanced portfolios that are consistent with achievement of their investment goals, which implies exposure to a range of different asset classes and geographies,” said Stuart Dyer of investment platform Rplan.

But its research suggests nearly half have more than 50 per cent of their investment portfolio in UK shares and bonds.

A further 12 per cent have between 41 per cent and 50 per cent in UK investments, while one in four have between 21 per cent and 40 per cent of their portfolio here.

29 October

Almost half of parents wrongly assume all children can have a junior Isa and 44 per cent either think there are no limits on how much can be paid into one each year or aren’t sure if there are any limits.

That’s according to new research published today by SavvyWoman.

“On 1 November it’s three years since the launch of junior Isas as a tax-free account, but the signs are that many parents are baffled by the rules and their children could be missing out as a result,” warned Sarah Pennells, founder of SavvyWoman.

“Junior ISAs aren’t the only way to save or invest for a child, but it’s vital that parents understand how they work so they can make an informed choice.”

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Until last week the maximum you could borrow on an unsecured personal loan was £25,000. But Sainsbury’s Bank is now offering loans up to £35,000 without customers having to put up their property as security.

“At a rate of 6.9 per cent APR it works out more expensive than increasing your mortgage, but it will appeal to those who can afford the monthly repayments but don’t have the equity in their property to enable them to borrow an extra £35k from their mortgage provider,” says Andrew Hagger of MoneyComms.

The application and approval process will be quicker and less arduous than extending your mortgage, but at a price.

28 October

If you don’t complete your tax return by the end of October – this Friday - you could be in line for a fine. Paper self-assessments must be returned to HM Revenue & Customs by next Friday 31 October.

Miss the deadline and you’ll get a £100 fine.

However you have until the end of January to file online. If you miss that deadline the penalties quickly mount up.

If you end up more than 12 months late with your tax return, you could be asked to pay up to 100 per cent of the tax due as well as any tax you owe. That would double your payment so it’s sensible to get your return in as soon as possible, even if it’s late.

For help call the self-assessment helpline on 0300 200 3310.

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Multinational companies have a moral duty to pay more tax than the letter of the law strictly requires of them, according to a new Christian Aid report about tax and theology.

Defenders of tax avoidance suggest that what is legal is also morally sound. The report rejects that, pointing out that owning a slave and using child labour have in the past been legal.

Theologian Professor Esther Reed of Exeter University argues that tax avoidance is not right if it damages other people’s ability to live decent lives.

She says: “Global corporations may properly be expected to exceed minimal compliance standards on taxation. Taxes are paid for the sake of order and an infrastructure that puts out fires, keeps the streets safe, ensures legal safeguards for businesses and employees, makes sure that food and water are safe, educates children and more.”

Canon Dr Angus Ritchie, director of the Centre for Theology and Community, adds: “Businesses are parasitic if they make use of the resources and infrastructure of a country without contributing to it through taxation.”

27 October

The clocks went back at the weekend so, sadly, winter is officially here. But today also marks the launch of the latest Home Heat Helpline campaign.

The Helpline is a confidential and free advice service which wants low-income households to pick up the phone to get help with grants and discounts for home improvements.

It has launched a new low-cost number on 0333 300 33 66 for mobile callers at local landline rates. This year some £310m is available for vulnerable people through the Warm Home Discount which can help cut bills for eligible households.

On average, one in seven households is eligible for help from energy companies. However, 98 per cent may have missed out on free advice and support because they did not call their supplier or the independent helpline last winter.

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The AA is encouraging householders to prepare their homes for winter now before any real trouble starts. Their statistics show that callouts to its Home Membership service – for issues including plumbing, drainage, electrics and heating problems – increased by 27 per cent last week compared to two weeks before.

“If you’re aware of anything around your property that needs to be fixed now really is the time to do it before, say, a gale whips away some loose fence panels or piece of guttering,” advised Helen Brooker, head of AA Home Membership. “Get your patio furniture or other loose equipment, such as a youngster’s trampoline, safely put away in the shed, too.”

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Just two in five couples over the age of 40 in the UK have made arrangements to ensure that one partner will continue to receive a retirement income after the other dies, according to Prudential.

Women are most at risk, with nearly one in five planning to depend entirely on their other halves for their retirement incomes, compared with just one in 50 of men.

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