Weekly Money: Round-up of the personal finance stories you may have missed 8-12 December

 

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The Independent Online

The stories we noticed this week:

12 December

Up to 160,000 people a year could be hit by shock bills from lost or stolen phones as there remains no cap on the amount they can be charged, despite mobile firms promising to introduce one by last spring.

Since then people have reported charges from £160 up to a shocking £23,000 to Citizens Advice; bills that could have been avoided if the cap was already in place. Thieves can rack up huge phone bills in a matter of hours after the phone or SIM card has been stolen, often before the victim is even aware their phone is missing.

Ofcom reckons the average bill from lost or stolen mobile is £65, but Citizens Advice has found the impact can be much more with some victims pushed into debt after being hit by bills of thousands of pounds. To protect consumers, Citizens Advice is today calling for Government and phone providers to put a cap of £50 on bills from stolen phones.

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A council-backed scheme is hoping to reduce the amount of fuel poverty in its area by installing solar panels on council homes in Staffordshire. Chase Community Solar is being funded by a community share offer to deliver free solar electricity to tenants.

The project, supported by Cannock Chase Council, has already raised £220,000 and has a target of £370,000, which would pay for panels on 150 homes.

Kate Sadler, a Chase Community Solar board member, said: “We are expecting to be able to save tenants between £2 and £4 a week. That means £100 to £200 a year which can be a godsend for people living on fixed incomes.”

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Almost three quarters of people say they are happy to have a smart meter fitted in their home, even though a quarter don’t know what they are or what they do, reckons uSwitch.

However the switching site’s research suggests three out of five would use the information from a smart meter to cut down on their energy usage, becoming more energy efficient and lowering bills. The Government plans to roll out smart meters to all homes by 2020.

11 December

A third of borrowers would struggle to afford mortgage repayments if they rose by £100 to £199 a month. Two thirds of us expect interest rates to rise in 2015, according to Legal & General, but only a third of us had started doing something about the risk.

Switching to a lower fixed rate deal is one solution, but making overpayments now on your mortgage would ensure that borrowers didn’t face payment shock when interest rates eventually start rising.

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The average in-debt British adult owes £5,534, according to research by insolvency trade body R3. This figure is equivalent to almost 12 weeks’ average weekly earnings for a UK worker (£481 per week) and seven months’ average rent in England and Wales (£770 per month). The poll also found that 4 per cent of adults owe more than £20,000, excluding mortgages and student loans.

Giles Frampton, R3 president, warned: “Some levels of debt are extreme, but even those with relatively low value debts need to tread carefully. You only need to be unable to pay £750 to one creditor and it’s within their right to petition to have you made bankrupt.”

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With winter weather arriving watch out if you’re on the road. Kwik Fit warns that four in ten drivers don’t reduce their average speed in winter, while more than a third don’t make an allowance for the conditions by leaving a greater distance between their car and the one in front.

Having an accident can be costly, but there are things you can do to make winter driving safer: clean the lights on your vehicle; keep an emergency kit in your car in case of breakdown; have your batteries and brakes checked; and witch to winter tyres.

10 December

Looking forward to Christmas? Many are simply worried about how they’re going to pay rising heating bills. Government figures show that more than one in ten English households are now living in fuel poverty. But more than four out of five of us would like the Government to do more to support society’s most vulnerable in reducing their energy bills, according to new research published today.

Meanwhile four out of five of us are also concerned about our own bills, reckons Rexel. Two-thirds are are taking steps like replacing lights with LED lighting. Of course the quickest way to reduce bills is to switch to a cheaper tariff and more than half of us is yet to do so.

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A new campaign launches today to reimburse up to 3 million energy consumers who are still owed money by an old supplier. 'My Energy Credit' allows gas and electricity customers to claim credit repayments through a new helpline on 0370 737 7770.

There’s also a freepost address people can write to to claim cash owed to them: Freepost RTHL-ZYBU-KBCC, My Energy Credit, 47 Aylesbury Road, Thame OX9 3PG. If you can get online there are full details at www.myenergycredit.com

The energy regulator welcomed the move but demanded more action from the Big Six energy companies, which are behind the campaign. Philip Cullum, consumer partner at Ofgem said: “This issue is part of a wider challenge of delivering good customer service that the industry must crack if it is to rebuild customer trust and confidence. Suppliers must now do everything within their powers to return the money and prevent a similar situation from happening again.”

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There’s a major gap in the protections available to people struggling with debt, reckons the StepChange debt charity.

It’s report reveals inconsistency by creditors in dealing with people who ask for help. They should be freezing interest and charges so that their debt stops mounting up, or agreeing affordable repayment terms. They should also scrap distressing enforcement action - such as sending the bailiffs round - for people who  ask for help in repaying their debt.

In practice, StepChange warns, struggling folk often get no support and in many cases feel forced to take on further borrowing, even turning to high-cost payday loans, to pay back existing debts. And that, of course, leads to a deepening spiral of debt. The fact is they are generally only allowed to freeze interest and charges if they become insolvent, which is a serious step which many people naturally want to avoid.

So the charity is today proposing a new “extended breathing space” scheme where the statutory protections are extended to people with temporary financial difficulties. That would ensure that short-term economic problems, such as job loss or illness, don’t spiral into long term difficulties.

9 December

Which UK town needs the most financial advice? Truro in Cornwall, according to a website that help people find their local advisers. Data from Unbiased shows that the Cornish town had the highest percentage of population in the UK looking for financial advice in 2014, followed by Stevenage and Salisbury.

Meanwhile Scotland has been on a drive for financial advice Motherwell knocking Exeter out of the top ten most searched for areas while Kilmarnock moved up from tenth to fourth.

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Fund managers are tipping Japan as a market to watch in 2015, despite the country slipping into a deeper than expected recession this year. Five out of seven fund managers asked by Fidelity backed Japan for next year, on the back of the fact that the so-called three arrows of Abenomics are pointing in the same direction once again.

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Fancy driving a Bentley on ice? That's the €11,340 prize in a seasonal competition from the luxury car maker. But it's also a fundraiser for Care2Save, the charity that grew out of the fundraising team at St Luke's Hospice, in Winsford, Cheshire.

The charity works to help people around the world in need of palliative and hospice care.

Entries to the Bentley competition are £1 each, with no limit on how many times you can enter, with all proceeds going to Care2Save. You can enter the competition – which runs until 8 January 2015 – at bentley.care2save.co.uk.

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HMRC’s tax evasion hotline received almost 90,000 calls in the last year, an increase of 24 per cent from the previous year, according to Bloomsbury Professional which reckons the hotline handles an average 350 calls a day. The tax evasion hotline is on 0800 788 887.

8 December

A third of us are borrowing to pay for presents this Christmas, while one in five are taking on credit to pay for food, according to new research by the Money Advice Trust. The charity, which runs National Debtline, is launching a new 12-day campaign today to help prevent households suffering a Christmas debt hangover in January as they struggle to pay off festive debts.

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the charity, said: “If you are worried about your finances, there is still time to avoid falling into difficulty. There are practical steps you can take now to reduce this risk this Christmas – from setting a festive budget to spreading the cost of purchases safely.” The key advice? Don’t borrow to pay for Christmas.

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The Government’s Nuisance Calls Task Force will today publish recommendations to help tackle the menace of unwanted calls and texts. It will make 15 recommendations, the most crucial of which is to make senior executives more responsible for the actions of their company.

The recommendations will be presented to the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy Ed Vaizey this evening. Richard Lloyd, chair of the Nuisance Calls Task Force, said: “Only through concerted and coordinated action will we put people back in control of their data and help bring this modern day menace to an end.”

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The average rate of personal insolvencies in the UK has fallen back to pre-recession levels, reckons Experian. But it warns that young families have become the most vulnerable demographic group showing the highest rates of personal insolvency on average since 2013.

Meanwhile it has also identified a clear North/South divide when looking at the geographic spread of insolvency rates. Out of the top 50 towns with the highest rates of personal insolvency in the UK, 34 of them are located in the North. Only seven of the 50 are found in the south: Torquay, Penzance, Newport (Isle of Wight), Dorchester, Sittingbourne, Aldershot and Bath.

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