Weekly Money: Round-up of the personal finance stories you may have missed 19-23 January


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The stories we noticed this week: Dagenham named Britain’s burglary capital; energy companies failing struggling families; banks failing savers; it takes 12 years to save a deposit for a home; care crisis looming; dental treatment prices misleading.

23 January

London is the UK’s burglary claim capital according to Moneysupermarket’s annual Burglary Claims Tracker published today. Greater London is home to 14 of the top 20 burglary insurance claim hotspots with Dagenham in east London recording most burglary claims overall.

South and West Yorkshire and Manchester also appeared in the top 20 highest risk postcodes. “Burglars often target urban areas where there’s more hustle and bustle and so less risk of being caught, but not surprisingly they also follow the money, which is why affluent areas such as Teddington and Temple Newsam in West Yorkshire also appeared in the top 20 claims hotspots,” said Kevin Pratt of Moneysupermarket.

Meanwhile rural Scotland’s Dumfries and Lochee, Felixstowe in Suffolk and North Wales’ University town of Bangor are among the areas with the lowest proportion of burglary claims in the UK according to the analysis.

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Trading down from a detached house to a bungalow or a semi-detached house could prove a wise decision for cash-strapped homeowners. Those moving to a bungalow can free up £103,715 on average, with those moving to a semi-detached house could raise even more money, up to £121,686.

Downsizers in London stand to make the most in monetary terms, with potential sums to be made reaching an average of almost £289,927 from trading down from a detached home to a bungalow.

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Book retailer Blackwell’s is offering 30 per cent off online and 3 for 2 in-store on 138 classic ‘Books That Inspired Us’. The books on offer have all been picked by Blackwell’s booksellers and staff and range from Albert Camus’ The Outsider to Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Full details at bit.ly/15zxZqo

22 January

Energy companies are failing families struggling with energy debt, leaving parents feeling intimidated and damaging children’s health, according to the Children’s Society.

The charity warns that almost a million children are living in families in energy debt while suppliers are not following legal obligations to help.

“Companies need to show some warmth and stop failing vulnerable children,” said Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society.

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Consumers are more financially vulnerable than in 2012, a new report warns. The number who have protected loans with repayment or income protection cover has halved from 17 per cent to 8 per cent, according to insurer Cuna Mutual.

“This is alarming because we are facing a calm before the storm period in the UK economy,” said Paul Walsh of Cuna. “When interest rates increase from their current record lows this will increase the cost of credit and could make currently affordable repayments crippling.”

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A young couple with a child would have to save for 12 years to afford to buy a home, reckons housing charity Shelter in a new report published today. Meanwhile single people have to wait more than 13 years.

Shelter’s Campbell Robb, said: “Home-ownership used to be within most people’s reach, but the shortage of affordable homes has pushed house prices up so high that for millions of young people it’s now just a fantasy.”

He warned that unless we get a grip on the housing shortage, children today could spend decades paying expensive rents, or living at home well into adulthood.”

21 January

Savers are being let down by banks and building societies, the City Watchdog warned this morning.

The Financial Conduct Authority announced plans to overhaul the £700billion cash savings market after revealing that it doesn’t work well for consumers.

Worse hit are loyal customers with long-standing accounts – their loyalty is rewarded with lower interest rates than more recently-launched accounts. Around four-fifths of easy access accounts have not been switched in the last three years.

FCA director of strategy and competition Christopher Woolard said: “In a good market firms should be competing to offer the best possible deal and consumers should have the information they need to help them shop around.”

The regulator’s investigation into the market found that around £160billion was held in easy access savings accounts that pay interest lower or equal to the Bank of England base rate of 0.5 per cent. Consumers find it difficult to know what rate they are on, or are put off switching by the expected inconvenience but improving the timing and content of communications from firms to customers can increase shopping around.

The Watchdog wants providers of cash savings accounts to be clearer about how cuts in interest rates are applied the longer a consumer holds the account. This includes displaying prominently the lowest rate of interest any of their customers receives.

“We want to see firms making simple information much easier to find,” said Mr Woolard. “More also needs to be done to reduce the hassle for consumers to switch their savings. The steps we have proposed today are designed to make the market more dynamic, working in everyone's interest.”

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: “For too long, banks and building societies have left customers trapped in savings accounts paying woefully low interest rates and losing out on billions.

“We expect to see the industry working with the regulator to make these recommendations a reality as soon as possible. The banks must quickly start playing fair and help consumers get a good deal.”

The FCA has given savings institutions until 18 February to respond to its proposals.

20 January

By 2025 £1bn must be spent each managing flood risk to keep pace with climate change, a new campaign launched today demands.

The campaign for Flood Free Homes has been launched by the Association of British Insurers, supported by the likes of Friends of the Earth and National Flood Forum.

Huw Evans, deputy director general at the ABI, warned: “No action is not an option. Last winter’s floods highlighted the trauma and devastation flooding brings.””

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An organisation that specialises in sorting out paying for care for older people says its members are overloaded with enquiries as people fear for relatives as the cold hits home.

Janet Davies of Symponia said: “In the last week, the majority of Symponia members have seen a flood of enquiries, particularly in parts of the country where we’ve had snow. We’ve also seen a marked rise in visitors to Club Symponia, an online community that gives free information on what help is available.

“Families who are concerned about elderly parents or grandparents should get proper, qualified advice as soon as possible and find out what the options are; they may be more positive than people think. For instance, care at home has become more accessible – and that may be the right solution during the winter months when more support is needed.”

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There’s been a huge increase in weather-related home insurance claims this month but perhaps the most unusual reported so far was for a kennel flying into a neighbours garden, with its resident Jack Russell still inside!

“The dog was found feeling ruff in Inverness, but he is now fine,” said Paul Green of Saga Home Insurance.

19 January

Almost four in ten families with children are now struggling to make ends meet, according to new research published today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

It reveals that at least 8.1 million parents and children are now living on incomes below what is needed to cover a minimum household budget. The figure has climbed by more than a third in the lifetime of the Coalition Government according to calculations by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University.

The redress the balance the so-called ‘poverty premium’ needs to end, the Foundation says. It’s calling for rreform of the markets for essential goods and services - such as energy, financial services and transport - to ensure they provide good value for money and those on low incomes don’t pay more than better off households.

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Around 180 people a night are reaching for their mobile phone or tablet to get debt advice in the early hours, according to new figures from the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline. The findings come after the charity’s research showed that more than six million Britons are likely to fall behind with their finances in January.

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You could be paying more than you need to for dental treatment, Which? reckons. That’s because some dentists aren’t upfront about prices or clear about treatment patients are entitled to on the NHS.

Under existing rules, dentists must display a price list prominently in their surgery. But undercover researchers visiting NHS and private dental practices saw a price list in just half of them, with the majority of practices not showing any private prices.

It makes it difficult for people to compare costs between practices, as well as between NHS and private treatments, Which? points out in a report published today.

Richard Lloyd of Which? said the NHS and regulators should ensure the rules are put into practice.

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