Weekly Money : the personal finance stories you might have missed 29 June to 3 July

The money stories we noticed this week

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The Independent Online

This week: lower variable energy deal; students resorting to payday lenders; Scams Awareness Month; EU roaming charges capped; energy complaints double; Apple Pay fears; home renters’ tax alert

3 July

Fed up with having to go to a branch to deposit a cheque?  If you bank with Barclays, you can now simply take a picture of it with a smart phone to deposit it instantly.

The bank has been running a pilot version of the service with 30,000 customers but has now offered it to a million more. Barclays customers simply need to download the bank’s app to a smart phone or tablet to use the service.

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One of the biggest risks of switching energy suppliers to get a cheaper deal is that if you’re not diligent, you will eventually end up on a high variable rate when a fixed deal ends.

Independent supplier Flow Energy has solved the problem by reducing its standard variable tariff to match its cheapest fixed rate, which is currently £860.

Boss Tony Stiff said: “Many fixed gas and electricity plans from other suppliers expire this month and households moving to standard variable rates could see their energy bill rise by up to 22 per cent.”

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Almost a quarter of over 65s are owed money by their adult children. The average amount outstanding is £3,100 reckons MetLife. Meanwhile one in eight over-65s still has adult children or grandchildren living with them.

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Current accounts are now the most-targeted financial product by fraudsters, reports. Experian. In the first three months of the year at least 89 in every 10,000 applications for a current account was made by an imposter.

Until now, mortgage application fraud had been the biggest target. Some 83 out of every 10,000 mortgage applications in the first quarter of the year were from crooks.

2 July

Around 32,000 students are resorting to expensive payday lenders to get by, according to new research. Accommodation provider Unite Students says more students than ever are struggling with finances with 7 per cent more than last year admitting they’ve taken on more debt than they expected.

Jenny Shaw from Unite said: “It is hard to imagine how taking out a payday loan is the right choice for any student looking to get their finances back on track.

“If a student is struggling financially there are a wide range of options and support services available. Universities and some students’ unions have student finance advisors who offer an excellent service.”

* * *

Scamsters are targeting people claiming tax credits. HMRC says nearly 51,000 “phishing” emails were reported to it between April and July 2014, double the number in the same period the previous year.

Messages claim to be from a “tax credit office agent” and offer a tax refund, or include a link to a dodgy version of the gov.uk website. But they’re all bogus. HMRC will never use texts or emails to tell someone about a tax rebate or penalty or ask for personal or payment information.

It has tips on how to spot scam emails at www.gov.uk/dealing-with-hmrc/phishing-scams.

* * *

There are more than 6,500 drivers on the roads with 12 or more penalty points on their licences, despite that total normally leading to a driving ban. The startling figure was revealed through a FOI request by The Co-operative Insurance to the DVLA.

Drivers can be let off a ban by magistrates if it is considered that disqualification would cause exceptional hardship.

1 July

How do most scams begin? Not with some clever and complicated sting from the likes of George Clooney and his mates in Ocean’s 11, but with a simple cold call. When finding a victim, the phone is a crook’s most valuable tool. And they then use it to hook you in with some clever trick.

Major new analysis of 20,000 scam cases from the past year has revealed that two in five of all scams are cold calls. And, tellingly, more than half of the scams seen by Citizens Advice targeted the over-55s.

“A huge number of scams go unreported, leaving the path clear for scammers to devastate more lives,” says Leon Livermore, Trading Standards chief executive. “We urge citizens to report fraudsters.”

If you spot a scam or think you may have been scammed, call Citizens Advice on 03454 040506.

***

Plans to scrap exorbitant EU mobile charges have been announced by the European Commission. Under new rules which will come into force in June 2017 mobile users will pay the same price for calls, texts and data use wherever they are in the EU.

However UK consumer groups criticised the EC for taking so long to act on the rip-off charges and for leaving British holidaymakers facing another two years of mobile phone misery.

***

Complaints about energy companies more than doubled last year. Ombudsman Services said it handled 61,019 energy complaints during 2014/15, up 128 per cent on the previous year and more than five times the 11,291 dealt with in 2012/13.

It’s been a bad year for the energy industry, with growing consumer dissatisfaction, market investigations and Ofgem-imposed sanctions. “The large energy firms, which dominate the market, need to tackle this and put an end to poor service,” said Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd. “With the Competition and Markets Authority reporting next week, we need to see remedies that will sort out this market once and for all.”

* * *

If you need to borrow cash, don’t take out a personal loan. The cheapest way to borrow a few thousand right now is to use a balance-transfer credit card, says Moneyfacts.

“Those who borrow £3,000 over three years using the best loan today will end up paying around £290 more than if they used the best balance-transfer card to pay off their debts,” points out Rachel Springall of Moneyfacts. It’s much worse if you choose the worst loan on the market -  £3,000 over three years would leave you more than £1,000 out of pocket.

* * *

More than half of adults eligible for government money-saving policies may be missing out. OneFamily reckons Help to Buy and Marriage Allowance are the most underused support, while free childcare worth £3.8bn a year remains unclaimed.

30 June

Santander is the latest to target first-time home buyers with a range of tempting mortgage rates. However, you’ll need a huge deposit to take advantage of the best deal and then you’ll have to be prepared to pay a massive fee.

The Spanish-owned bank is offering a two year fixed rate at just 1.69 per cent exclusively for first time buyers. But to get that you’ll need a 25 per cent deposit and then stump up a £1,495 booking fee. The bank also has a two year fixed rate 2.14 per cent for those with 15 per cent deposit which  has a a £995 booking fee. 

* * *

High-loan to value mortgages which demand just a 5 per cent deposit, typically aimed at first-time buyers, are disappearing. The latest Genworth / Moneyfacts Mortgage LTV Tracker published yesterday revealed that 95 per cent loan-to-value lending slumped £147m year-on-year in the first three months of 2015, which has led to a 10 per cent fall in first time buyer numbers.

It means that some 10,400 fewer people have succeeded in buying their first home so far this year than was the case in 2014.

* * *

One in four people fear the launch of Apple Pay in July. They’re worried that the ease of mobile payments will encourage them to impulse buy and lose control of their spending. That’s according to research by uSwitch.

However the majority is looking forward to being able to check their balance on the go which they say could actually help curb their spending.

One in 10 are clearly worried about spending when drunk as they’d like limits on when and where they can use mobile payments. Specifically they’d like a ban on being able to use them in bars and club.

29 June

If you’re thinking of cashing in on the summer of sport, make sure you don’t fall foul of the tax authorities. HM Revenue & Customs is looking out for taxpayers renting homes near the tennis or the cricket and not declaring the income, warns Blick Rothenberg.

There’s money to be made from renting a room or parking space if you live near a venue, such as Wimbledon or Lord’s, or even giving souvenir sellers a pitch in the front garden. But all income must be declared, warns the accountant’s Stefanie Stapleton,

She said: “The rise of websites such as Airbnb demonstrates the popularity of short term lets but taxpayers should bear in mind that if potential customers can see their advertisements online, so can HMRC.”

* * *

University students now own an average of £3,658 worth of gadgets and other possessions, reckons insurer Endsleigh. Take tablets, the iPad kind; four years ago only around one in 20 students had one: now it’s almost half.

Oddly enough, the total value of students’ belongings has actually fallen since last year when it stood at £4,591. But that’s probably because of the recent low inflation and the falling cost of gadgets such as TVs and laptops.

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