Weekly Money: The personal finance stories you might have missed 15 to 19 June

Bank computer glitches, dodgy online reviews, alternative savings, and the not-so-good tracker funds

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The Independent Online

This week: RBS/NatWest meltdown; challenger banks target savers; online reviews investigation; energy firms' ‘bad’ bills; expensive tracker funds; ‘poverty’ premium up; Nationwide meltdown

19 June

Do you still have a savings account with one of the traditional banks or building societies? You could be better off by moving your nest-egg to one of the newer challenger banks, reckons Anna Bowes of SavingsChampion,co.uk.

“Challenger banks have dominated the best buy tables and changed the savings landscape in recent years and that trend looks set to continue,” she says. “With 90 per cent of the top fixed rates offered by challenger banks, savers would be wise to look to this new breed of provider.”

Some 22 out of 25 best buy fixed rate bonds are now offered by challenger banks, the site points out. Today Vanquis Bank, for instance, is increasing some rates to leave it included in the top 5 best buys across 1 to 5 year terms.

* * *

Online reviews that purport to give an independent opinion of a range of things from hotels to books, may not always be what they seem. The Competition and Markets Authority warns today that fake reviews are being posted while some negative reviews are not being published.

Meanwhile firms are paying for positive mentions in blogs and other online articles without this being made clear to consumers. In response the CMA is to investigate a number of companies. Nisha Arora of the CMA said: “We will take enforcement action to tackle unlawful practices.”

* * *

More than 100,000 people have been helped clamber on to or climb up the housing ladder by the Government’s Help to Buy schemes, new figures show. Some 101,972 homeowners have been helped by the schemes, which allow people to buy a property with a deposit as little as 5 per cent, according to the data released by Housing Minister Brandon Lewis.

18 June

MPs hit out at state-owned bank RBS last night after a computer cock-up led to some 600,000 payments disappearing. The IT meltdown hit customers of NatWest, Ulster Bank and Coutts as well as RBS and the bank was slammed after it admitted some customers would still be facing payment problems by Saturday.

“This looks unacceptable,” said Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Treasury Committee. “Restoration of payments should be a top priority. It is crucial for those in the greatest financial need and also those who find it difficult to go to a branch.” The payments to customers were delayed after the banking group was hit with another embarrassing computer meltdown yesterday.

 “This looks like a serious IT failure at RBS, the latest of many in the industry,” said Mr Tyrie. “Many thousands have once again been badly hit. Customers that have suffered loss should be reimbursed in full by RBS. It is also important that credit scores remain unaffected.”

Click on the video above to get some advice.

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One in five of us is forced to complain to our energy company each year. The shaming statistic has been published by Citizens Advice today which says the biggest is bills. The charity reckons wrong bills cost suppliers £125m a year to sort out.

It helped with more than 100,000 energy-related issues in the last year, a 27 per cent increase on energy problems compared to the previous year. 

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Bad billing systems have plagued energy customers for years. Billing people on time, and for the right sums of money, is essential if the market is to work. It is both astonishing and unacceptable that suppliers have been getting it so wrong for so long.”

* * *

The government is considering introducing a cap on charges imposed by pension firms on people use the new retirement freedoms.

George Osborne said a Treasury consultation will be launched next month to ensure people are not charged excessive early exit fees and are treated fairly if switching pension firms. It will also look into making transferring pensions go more smoothly.

Richard Lloyd, of Which? said: “The Government must act to allow people to switch pension providers without being stung by excessive fees.”

* * *

Tomorrow on 19 June the AIM stock market for fledgling and smaller companies celebrates its 20th birthday. A reason to celebrate? Not really says Laith Khalaf of Hargreaves Lansdown, pointing out it still stands 24 per cent below its starting level. You need to choose AIM stocks carefully, he warns.

17 June

An estimated 600,000 payments to customers of RBS, NatWest, Ulster Bank and Coutts have been delayed after the banking group was hit with another embarrassing computer meltdown today. It was hit with technical problems involving its “overnight process”, the group said, which left customers complaining this morning of “missing” payments.

The computer cock-up had simply meant the payment had been delayed, the bank said, although that was of little comfort to hard-up customers hit when their essential tax credits or disability living allowance failed to arrive.

The bank promised to reimburse anyone left out of pocket and said that anyone affected who needed cash should phone 03457 242424 or visit a branch.

***

Would you pay extra to have good neighbours or a safer neighbourhood? A new study suggests homebuyers a happy to pay a premium for peace of mind, stumping up £7,000 for a safer neighbourhood along with an extra £5,900 for living alongside nicer neighbours.

Having a short commute and access to sports facilities, green space, bars and restaurants are also important for homebuyers. But traditional family links don’t matter, according to Santander research. It shows that being close to family doesn’t even make the top 10 priorities.

* * *

The poverty premium, the amount that low income families lose out each year because they don’t get discounts for paying bills by direct debit, has reached £1,280, reckons Experian.

Its research found that out of the 4.8 million people living in social housing, 1.3 million pay the majority of their bills in cash. To help improve people’s chance of being accepted to pay for such things as gas by direct debit, it has linked with Big Issue Invest to create the Rental Exchange.

It will allow landlords to submit information about tenants’ rent payment history, to help strengthen their credit history.

* * *

What’s the most expensive city in the world to live in? It’s Luanda in Angola followed by Hong Kong and Zurich according to the latest Mercer cost of living city survey. London is 12th most expensive, Birmingham 80th, Aberdeen 82nd, Glasgow 109th and Belfast 127th out of 207 surveyed.

16 June

Record low interest rates are putting people off the idea of saving. One in five who don’t save say they don’t bother because returns are so small.

Research by Moneysupermarket reveals that four-fifths of people who don’t save say it’s because they can’t afford to, pointing to the fact that millions are still struggling despite politician’s promises that the country is heading back into financial health.

Kevin Mountford of the website said: “Savers have suffered for some time now due to low interest rates, but it’s really concerning that this has stopped some people saving altogether.”

Current best buy rates on easy access deposit accounts are hovering around the 1.5 per cent mark, meaning to earn interest of £220 in a year you’d need savings of £15,000.

* * *

How are your investments doing? The latest Chelsea RedZone, which highlights funds that have underperformed, includes 143 that investors should think again about if they’re included in their portfolio. The funds highlighted contain almost £48.5bn of investors’ savings.

But of concern to many steady investors is the fact that 20 of them are tracker funds, which are supposed to reflect average market performance, rather than underperform it.

Darius McDermott of Chelsea Financial Services said: “There are good and bad tracker funds as well as good and bad managed funds, and they need just as much research before you invest.”

To see the full report, go to www.chelseafs.co.uk/redzone

* * *

Royal Mail is urging homemovers to redirect their mail to protect themselves against the risk of becoming a victim of identity fraud.

15 June

Millions of Nationwide customers were unable to access their accounts online today after a planned IT upgrade at the weekend caused accounts to apparently “disappear”.

The mutual’s internet banking and mobile banking systems, as well as its mobile payments, were out of order yesterday morning after being offline over the weekend for maintenance. The online meltdown seems to have been caused after a planned upgrade on Sunday.

Nationwide said it was aware of the issue and teams were investigating the problem as a “high priority”, and by about 9.15am yesterday the problems appeared to have been resolved.

The building society said the problems had affected only online banking, and told worried customers “Visa payments and cash withdrawals are unaffected”.

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From the start of next month, if you call a premium-rate number starting with 084, 087, 09 and 118, you will be told the cost of the call but also that an access charge will be added depending on which phone supplier you use. Your phone company will have to let you know what your access charge is.

The changes are designed to make it easier to work out how much you’ll pay if you use a so-called “service” numbers. The Fair Telecoms Campaign has been battling for five years for the changes, and for public-sector bodies and companies to stop using rip-off 084 and 087 numbers.

“The identification of the ‘service charge’ makes it clear that 084/087 numbers should never be used where the imposition of a charge for the service delivered to callers cannot be justified,” the campaigners said.

Meanwhile freephone numbers beginning 0800 and 0808 will finally actually become free if you’re calling from a mobile phone.

***

If you’ve bought an insurance policy or switched energy through comparethemarket.com in the last year you will have qualified for free cinema tickets. The company launched its Meerkat Movies offer in April but gave existing customers automatic membership to get 2 for 1 tickets every Tuesday or Wednesday for a year. Yet it says some 3 million customers are yet to make use of the deal. To do so, simply download the Meerkat Movies app to your phone and follow its instructions.

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More people than ever are cashing in HM Revenue and Customs rewards to spill the beans on tax evasion by ex-spouses or former employers, reckons City law firm RPC. It says the tax authorities paid out £605,000 to informants in the past year, up from £402,000 in the previous year.

It says people working in financial and professional services are most likely to pass up information in the hope that HMRC will pay them for it.

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Father’s Day falls this year on next Sunday 21 June. To help avoid it becoming too expensive a business, check out a list prepared by parents’ site Play Pennies of where to get free meals, pints and more for dads at bit.ly/1e8eqKi

 

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