Friday, 5 December 2014


A million low income pensioners will get a rise in their state pension benefits of just 87p a week in April 2015. That is less than a third of the £2.85 a week increase in the basic state pension. Six hundred thousand pensioners who are married or live as a couple will do even worse, typically with an increase of just 60p each.

The increase for these poorer pensioners in their state pension benefits is 0.68%. Lower than the 2.5% increase in the basic state pension. Lower than the 1.2% increase in most disability benefits. And lower than the 1% rise in working age benefits and child benefit.

So they will be getting the lowest percentage rise and one of the lowest cash rises of any of the benefit changes which begin in the week of 6 April 2015.

Who gets the 87p rise?
The 1.6 million pensioners who will get the very small rise in their pensions have a low income. They get that topped up by a benefit called pension credit. That comes in two parts. The guarantee credit which tops up income to £148.35 a week for a single person. And a savings credit which adds a bit more this year for any single person aged 65 or more who has an income between £120.35 and £190.35. It is that middle group on savings credit who will get this low rise usually of 87p. For couples the income figures are higher – £192 and £278.25 – and the typical rise is £1.20 between them, 60p each.

The arithmetic
Mary is 68. She worked all her life and gets a full state pension of £113.10. She also gets another £40 a week from an annuity she bought with a small pension pot she paid into. So this year her income is £153.10. That is topped up by £14.90 pension credit savings credit making a total of £168.00 a week.

From April her basic state pension will rise by £2.85 to £115.95. Her annuity will remain at £40. And her savings credit will be cut by £1.98 to just £12.82. So her total income will be £168.87. An increase of 87p and a rise in her total income of just 0.52%.

In summary, this group will get a rise in the basic state pension of £2.85 but their pension credit will be cut by £1.98, leaving them with a net rise of just 87p, an increase of around 0.5% in their income.

The 87p rise will apply to everyone with a full basic state pension and a fixed income on top of it from £10.55 to £72.30. In other words those with incomes before pension credit of between £126.50 and £188.25. Others with incomes slightly lower and slightly higher than that will get a bit more. And those with an income below £123.20 and above £190.35 will get the full £2.85 rise. So the very poorest and those who are better off – including the very well off – will get the full £2.85 rise in their state pension. It is just the 1.6 million in this band of income who will get the restricted rise as the left hand of the DWP pays them another £2.85 and the right hand takes away £1.98. Leaving the small change of 87p. They are poor but not the poorest.

Why is it happening?
It is happening because the Government is cutting savings credit. It will not be paid at all to anyone who reaches state pension age from 6 April 2016. And for those currently getting it the amount they are paid is being squeezed down year by year. This year the maximum savings credit that can be paid is £16.80. From April that maximum will be cut to £14.82. It was £20.52 in April 2010. Since then the basic state pension has risen 19% from £97.65 to £115.95 while the maximum savings credit has fallen by 28%.

What about the triple lock?
The Government is committed to the so-called ‘triple lock’ for rises in the basic state pension. This means it will rise each year in line with earnings, prices, or 2.5% whichever is the highest. Earnings are rising by less than 1%, prices by 1.2%, so the 2.5% rise is applied raising the basic state pension of £113.10 a week to £115.95 from April. But this triple lock only applies to the basic pension. It does not apply to other parts of the state pension which will rise with prices by 1.2%. And it does not apply to pension credit at all. Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have promised to keep the triple lock for the next Parliament if they are in power.

Didn’t Labour get into trouble over a small pension rise?
In April 2000 the basic state pension went up by just 75p – from £66.75 to £67.50. That rise was announced in November 1999 and made bad headlines across the press. The pension increase was in line with the rules, rising by 1.1% which was the inflation rate in September 1999. However, the political damage was so great that an early version of the triple lock was put in place by Gordon Brown, guaranteeing that the state pension would rise by at least 2.5% even if prices rose by less than that.

Government defends
The Government justifies this shift as protecting the poorest by ensuring they get the full £2.85 a week rise in the guarantee credit which other wealthier pensioners get. But to pay for that policy the nearly poorest band pensioners are being squeezed. This year the squeeze is particularly hard because under the standard formula for pension credit the guarantee credit would only rise in line with earnings by 0.6% or 89p. In order to raise it by £2.85 the savings credit is being cut by £1.98.

When presenting the pension rise in the House of Commons on 4 December 2014, Pension Minister Steve Webb glossed over the change in these words. 

"resources needed to pay the above-earnings increase to the standard minimum guarantee will be found by increasing the savings credit threshold, meaning that those with higher levels of income may see less of an increase than they would otherwise have done."

Nowhere does he mention the 87p rise. But in a hostage to fortune he does say 

"we will not repeat the mistakes of the past such as the 75p rise in 2000."

Departmental comment
The Department for Work and Pensions responded to this story by saying “Your analysis is correct” and then gave this statement

“In order to protect the poorest pensioners, the Government has again taken the decision to raise the standard minimum guarantee for Pension Credit in line with the cash rise in the basic State Pension.

“The cost of this measure is being offset by an increase in the Savings Credit threshold. In the current economic climate the Government believes it is right to target resources to protect the income of our poorest pensioners.”

Because all circumstances are different the rise for any particular pensioner or couple will be individually worked out and may be different from the amounts quoted here. They are typical amounts and will apply to most of those affected.

version 1.01
19 December 2014


Sunday, 23 November 2014


More than 3000 charities distribute £288 million pounds in grants to individuals in financial hardship every year. And yet these grants are little known and hard to find.

Some give money nationally, others just to people in particular parts of the country. Some concentrate on those in a particular job - or retired from it - others to those with a particular medical need.

The charity Elizabeth Finn Care has held a database of them for some years and this week launched its improved Turn2us Grants Search to help people find the right charity to apply to.

For example a 45 year old woman with a Glasgow postcode can access 88 separate charities which will help with living costs, electricity or gas bills, career training, meeting an emergency, education costs and many other needs.

A 70 year old man living in Somerset can access grants from 73 different charities. And if he had worked in insurance another five pop up. Adding conditions such as occupation, health, religion, or family situation brings up more charities as many operate nationally to cover particular categories of people.

A whole range of disability and illnesses are catered for as well as twenty religions and family circumstances such as adopted, estranged, orphaned or pregnant.

Just about every occupation is covered in the national database, from accountants to writers, farmers to teachers, pawnbrokers to librarians. Among the 3000 charities there is a possibility for anyone in financial hardship to apply.

Turn2us says that people who have used the search have gained £2400 a year in income or more than £550 in one off grants. It also said that two out of three of those visiting Turn2us had not known about charitable help before and a third had been struggling financial for more than a year before finding help.

Apart from the grant search Turn2us also offers information about state benefits and a calculator to work out entitlement. And there are other resources to help people in need and those who work with them on the Turn2us website.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014



A payment of £200 appeared in my bank account last week. I'm a freelance journalist so in itself that is not so unusual. But this payment wasn't a fee for work. Nor was it a payment for something I'd sold. Nor a gift from a kind friend. Unless you count Secretary of State Damian Green MP as a friend. Because Damian's Department for Work and Pensions sent me £200 tax free this week just because I was born before 6 May 1953.

The Winter Fuel Payment was introduced by Gordon Brown in 1997. It was £20 then and was increased in successive years by Gordon and then Alistair Darling to reach £250 in winter 2008. The final £50 – technically an addition to the £200 payment – was taken away for winter 2011 by the Coalition Government. That was one of its first austerity measures and one of the very few that have affected pensioners. Since then the Winter Fuel Payment has been (ahem) frozen at £200 per household and £300 if one person in the home is at least 80 (technically born before 26 September 1936). Its purpose is to help old folk with the cost of keeping warm in the winter.

Although free money is always nice, I don't need it. I haven't been worried, as many people are, about the cost of heating my home when it gets cold. And because it is tax (and NI) free and I am lucky enough to earn enough to pay higher rate tax it is worth the same to me as earning £344.83. So thank you Gordon for inventing it and Damian for continuing to pay it.

I am not sending it back. Nor am I giving it to Age UK or any other charity which helps people over a certain age cope with their heating bills. I prefer to concentrate what charitable giving I do on homeless people, especially young ones. By gift-aiding this tax free payment it will be worth £250 when it reaches the charity after Chancellor Philip Hammond kindly adds £50. In fact I will give £267 so the charity will get £334 and when I settle my self-assessment tax bill and claim higher rate tax relief it will have cost me just 25p.

So thank you Damian and Philip for giving me a bit more money to help the growing number of people left destitute by your sanctions (taking their benefit away if they fail to jump through all the JobCentre hoops). Left unhoused by councils whose government grants you have cut. Left paying a growing amount of their council tax even though their income is at poverty levels. Left paying a bigger and bigger share of their rent however low their income. Freezing their benefits last April, next April all the way through to 2020. And left with nothing by employers who want them to turn up as and when there is a bit of minimum wage work to do and go away unpaid if there is none, because your Government - like the last - has not legislated to end zero hours contracts.

Happy Christmas

4 December 2016

Sunday, 26 October 2014


Paul Reynolds (also known as Paul Brian Reynolds) was an independent financial adviser authorized and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA and the FSA before it) for nearly eight years. This week the FCA revealed it had fined him £290,344 and banned him from holding any position in financial services. Mr Reynolds is contesting the findings and appealing the decision to the Upper Tribunal, the equivalent of the High Court. It could clear Mr Reynolds and allow him to pursue his career in finance.

We know these details because the FCA has finally published its December 2013 decision notice setting out the action against Mr Reynolds. It was delayed by Mr Reynolds's request to the Upper Tribunal that the details should be kept secret until the Tribunal had heard his case and decided if the fine and ban are imposed. After a hearing on 15 October the Upper Tribunal refused that privacy request.

The findings against Mr Reynolds are serious. They include reckless recommendations, deliberately misleading the FCA, investing clients' money without asking them, falsifying signatures, inflating the stated value of clients' investments, misleading clients, and submitting false loan applications on behalf of clients.

Eight clients were encouraged to invest a total of £2 million in Unregulated Collective Investment Schemes (UCIS) some of which have now been suspended losing them money. He also advised some of these clients to invest in Geared Traded Endowment Policies (GTEPs) where the invested money is borrowed. That substantially increases the risk of these already risky products. Aside from the eight people cited in the decision, a total of 41 clients invested £8.3m in these products earning his firm, Aspire, more than £600,000 commission.

Generally the FCA says that UCIS and GTEPs are only suitable for high net worth individuals who understand the risk, are happy to take it, and can bear any losses. Among the eight clients specified in the FCA decision notice was a retired woman living on a state pension, a hairdresser earning £3000 a year who remortgaged her home to raise the money to invest, and a chef and his accounts assistant wife, also on low incomes, who borrowed £500,000 against their home to invest.

I asked the FCA why it and its predecessor the FSA had allowed Mr Reynolds to be authorized for nearly eight years before taking action given the serous nature of the findings which stretched back several years "That is a very difficult question to answer. As soon as these issues were discovered we acted quickly" a spokeswoman told me.

The Upper Tribunal will hear the case on 8 and 9 December. The FCA told me that Mr Reynolds will represent himself and it could not put me in touch with him. No contact details for Mr Reynolds could be found. 

The FCA Decision Notice.


Two million people can get £140 off one electricity bill this winter. It's called the Warm Home Discount. Some will be paid automatically. Others have to claim or they will not get it. And the sooner they claim the better. Some who should be eligible are excluded. 

Core Group

The biggest group – called the ‘core group’ – are more than one and a half million older people who get pension credit. They must get the guarantee part of pension credit - which means their income is no more than £148.35 single or £226.50 for a couple. Pension credit guarantee credit will make their income up to that amount. They must have received it on 12 July 2014. which means they must have been born on 5 July 1952 or earlier and so will be about 62½ now. There are about 1.8 million who could qualify and the DWP expects 1.4m of them to do so. They qualify even if they also get the savings credit part of pension credit. This is a slightly wider definition than was used in 2014/15.

People in the core group should not have to claim. Suppliers will use information from the Department for Work and Pensions to pay them automatically. However, some who qualify may not be identified. If you have heard nothing by Christmas and you think you qualify, contact your energy supplier. Some of the smaller suppliers do not pay the discount and if your energy is supplied by one of them you will not get it. Details below.

Those with slightly higher incomes who only get the savings credit part of pension credit but do not get the guarantee credit will not qualify automatically but may qualify under the broader group described below.

Broader Group
The broader group who qualify are low income households where there is a young child or someone with a disability. With some suppliers pensioners not in the core group can qualify as part of the broader group. People in this broader group have to make a claim.

Unfortunately the energy suppliers all have different rules and their own definitions for what is a low income, what age of child counts, and what counts as a disability. These rules are complex.

If your income is low and there are young or disabled children or disabled adults in the household you may be entitled to the discount.

Pensioners who only get the savings credit part of pension credit or who get another means-tested benefit may qualify in this group too. Again suppliers have different rules.

The DWP expects 600,000 to qualify in this group this year. 

If you think you may qualify contact your supplier using the phone number on your bill and say you are asking about the Warm Home Discount. Or look online on your supplier's website and search for Warm Home Discount. The Government publishes a list of suppliers which are in the scheme. The links there take you to the websites of each supplier that is a part of the scheme. Almost all take you direct to the Warm Home Discount page. With one or two you may have to do a search. 

Claims should be made as soon as possible. Suppliers have a fixed amount of money for this group and when that runs out the supplier will close its scheme. Some may close by the end of December. 

People in the broader group should not switch supplier until the discount is made. They could be disqualified if they do.


The discount is normally taken off your winter electricity bill which could mean waiting until March 2015. People in the core group who have moved supplier since 12 July 2014 will be sent a cheque by their old supplier. Broader group customers who move supplier before the discount is made will probably lose it. All discounts should be made by the end of March 2014. People on prepayment meters will have the credit added to their key. Some will be sent a voucher to take to the Post Office to credit the key. Other suppliers will update the key automatically.


The big six electricity suppliers are legally obliged to offer the Warm Home Discount. They are British Gas (including Sainsbury’s), EDF Energy, E.on, npower, Scottish Power and SSE (that includes Atlantic Energy, Scottish Hydro, Southern Electric, and Swalec). SSE also operates the scheme for Ebico, Equipower, and M&S Energy. First Utility, Utility Warehouse, and Cooperative Energy are also in the scheme. If you get your electricity from any other small supplier you will not get the Warm Home Discount. If you have switched to one of these excluded supplier you may have lost the right to the discount.

Sixteen small suppliers which are not in the Warm Home Discount scheme: Better energy, Daligas, Ecotricity, Extra energy, Flow energy, Good energy, Green energy, GreenStar energy, isupplyenergy, LoCO2 energy, Oink Energy, Ovo, Spark Energy, Utilita, Woodland Trust Energy, Zog Energy.

The Warm Home Discount applies in England, Wales, and Scotland. It does not apply in Northern Ireland.

The Warm Home Discount scheme does not apply to people in Park Homes.

Last year British Gas added £60 to the Warm Home Discount which was then £135. This year it is not adding this amount. So British Gas customers who qualified last year for £195 will only get £140 this year.

The future
Until this year the Warm Home Discount was paid by the energy companies out of their own money. That amount - about £11 per customer - was added on to all customer bills. Under a deal with the Government they have taken that £11 off bills and the Government now funds the Discount directly. So it is a nonsense that each supplier has its own rules for the broader group and that smaller suppliers are not included.

The Government has issued a consultation paper about extending the Warm Home Discount for winter 2015/16. It proposes fixing the amount at £140 though the overall cost is expected to rise to £320m compared with £310 in 2014/15. One question is whether the the broader group rules should be the same throughout the industry. It does not seem to suggest that all smaller suppliers should be included though there is a question where that suggestion could be made. There is also an impact assessment. The main change considered includes extending the scheme to park homes.

More information

The official Government guide to the Warm Home Discount.

The Home Heat Helpline 0800 33 66 99 can give advice about the Warm Home Discount and other schemes to help with heating bills. You could also contact the Energy Saving Trust or the Centre for Sustainable Energy They can give advice about local help with insulation as well as national schemes.

29 October 2014 version 1.1

Saturday, 11 October 2014


In the Autumn Statement on 4 December 2014 the Chancellor George Osborne changed Stamp Duty Land Tax from midnight that day. This change brings it much more in line with the Scottish LBTT, though the bands and rates are different. The examples below have not been updated and relate to the old SDLT. The description of the Scottish tax is accurate.

Anyone buying a property in Scotland from 1 April will pay no stamp duty. Instead they will pay a new Land & Buildings Transaction Tax. The Scottish government says the new tax will be fairer and 90% of home-buyers will pay less. It will raise the same amount of money. So it follows that the other 10% will pay more – in some cases a lot more.

Stamp Duty Land Tax
At the moment throughout the UK anyone buying a residential property has to pay Stamp Duty Land Tax – SDLT. It is a strange tax. Nothing is payable on a property bought for £125,000 or less. But once that threshold is crossed a 1% tax applies to the whole price – not just the amount above £125,000. That is why it is called a ‘slab tax’. So a home sold for £150,000 is taxed at £1500. Once the price goes over £250,000 the tax is 3% - again on the whole price. So a £250,000 home costs £2500. But a £250,001 sale would generate a tax of £7500. The next threshold is a 4% tax above £500,000, 5% on homes selling for over £1 million and a 7% tax on those over £2 million.

Land & Buildings Transaction Tax
The new Scottish tax is very different. It starts later – not until a sale exceeds £135,000. And then the tax is only levied on the excess above that level. It starts at 2%. So on a £150,000 property the tax works like this. Take £135,000 from £150,000 which is £15,000 and multiply it by 2% which gives tax of £300. A lot less than the £1500 SDLT. The 2% tax applies up to £250,000 when it rises to 10%. But again that is only due on the amount above £250,000 plus of course the 2% on the amount between £135,000 and £250,000. But that still means any home bought for £324,285 or less will pay less tax in Scotland than in the rest of the UK from April. Another band taxed at 12% begins at £1 million. Some very expensive properties will pay almost double under LBTT compared with SDLT.

The table shows how the taxes compare.

Sale price

Stamp duty is widely resented. Buyers have already struggled to save up a big deposit, paid a fee to the lender, a surveyor, a broker and a solicitor, and will probably have paid for removal costs. So having to pay a tax as well – which is demanded before the deal is done – can sometimes be the last straw. And if it is difficult for first time buyers it can be doubly so for those who trade up. Crossing one of the slab thresholds can put the tax up by thousands of pounds.

The Scottish government says that 90% of sales will attract a lower tax and 10% will pay more. It also says that the tax take will be the same. So a lot of people will pay a few hundred or thousands of pounds less. And a few will pay some thousands or tens of thousands of pounds more. Although the LBTT will be welcomed by the majority the few with expensive houses will resent it even more than Stamp Duty.

England, Wales, and Northern Ireland
Given the dislike of Stamp Duty, would a version of the Scottish tax in the rest of the UK be more popular in the rest of the UK?

An analysis for Money Box by Savills estate agents found that the vast majority in England and Wales would pay less under the Scottish system. In the north of England, the east and the Midlands between 91% and 96% would pay less. Even in the south the great majority would benefit – 85% would pay less in the south-west and 73% in the south-east. In Northern Ireland I estimate that 97% would pay less and in England as a whole 87% would pay less with 13% –  about one in eight – paying more. Those two figures are my estimates not Savills’.

Only in London would most buyers pay more – and it is small majority at 53% paying more and 47% paying less. The resentment against Stamp Duty is particularly strong in London where in many Boroughs even a modest size family home can incur tens of thousands of pounds in tax. But these same homes will usually exceed the £325,000 balance point and cost more in a version of LBTT than it does in SDLT.


Up to £325,000
Over £325,000
South East
South West
East England
West Midlands
East Midlands
North West
Yorks & Humber
North East
N. Ireland*

Source: Savills from Land Registry data.
* PL estimate
** Scottish government

Pressure to change
Once the new LBTT begins in Scotland comparisons with SDLT in the rest of the UK are bound to grow. And for the vast majority the comparison will demand change. But of course in Westminster where the decision is made the argument would go the other way. So it could mean that demands grow for a version of LBTT in the rest of the UK outside London and perhaps a different tax exclusively for London that took account of the very high prices in many Boroughs. There are even suggestions that London should be able not just to set its property sales tax but to keep the proceeds as well. And that could set the capital on the road to its own form of devolution.

Further Information
Scottish Government announcement with links to a LBTT calculator
HMRC Stamp Duty Land Tax calculator

Thursday, 9 October 2014


Some carers face losing £61.35 a week after their earnings rise just £3 due to a Government failure to coordinate its policies.

The people affected claim Carer’s Allowance – which means they already work unpaid looking after a disabled person for at least 35 hours a week. And they supplement that with part-time work of 16 hours a week on the minimum wage. Most of them will be parents – many single parents; some may be over 60 without a state pension; others may be disabled themselves.

Until 30 September 2014 National Minimum Wage was £6.31 an hour. For 16 hours work that is £100.96. On 1 October it rose to £6.50 an hour. So 16 hours’ work comes to £104 a week. One of the conditions for getting Carer’s Allowance is that you do not earn more than £102 a week. So before the change in minimum wage carers could work 16 hours and stay below the threshold. From 1 October 16 hours’ work will put them above the threshold. Once that line is crossed the whole £61.35 a week benefit disappears completely. So an extra £3.04 a week costs them £61.35 in lost benefit.

The simple answer of working fewer hours creates another problem. People on low pay can claim a benefit called Working Tax Credit. This group of people (single parents, some other parents, over 60s, and those who are disabled) must work at least 16 hours a week to get Working Tax Credit. So if they cut their hours below 16 to bring their pay under the threshold for Carer’s Allowance they stop being entitled to Working Tax Credit. It is worth up to £75 a week for some.

So this small rise in the National Minimum Wage faces this group of carers with the choice of losing a benefit of £61.35 a week or one of up to £75 a week.

Benefit complexities
Nothing in benefits is quite that simple. If they give up Carer’s Allowance they would not lose the full £61.35 a week. That is because their income is lower and Working Tax Credit might therefore rise – though never by more than £25 a week.

And two things might stop Working Tax Credit increasing. First there is a maximum amount payable and if they are close to or at that level already a further cut in income may not result in a significant rise in Working Tax Credit. Second, the Credit is worked out on annual income in the previous tax year. So it is insensitive to changes in the current tax year. You can apply for it to be changed if income has fallen significantly. But then you might hit a further problem. Unless your income in the current tax year falls by more than £2500 a year compared to the previous tax year no adjustment is normally made to tax credits. And losing £61.35 a week for half a tax year will not pass that test. So to get Working Tax Credit changed is going to be difficult. And of course HMRC which administers it may not get the sums right. It often doesn’t.

If the carer also pays rent and council tax they will probably already get help with those expenses through Housing Benefit and local Council Tax Support. Again, a reduced income from losing Carer’s Allowance could mean those benefits rise, though always by far less than the amount they have lost. They will have to apply (remember they are already working at least 51 hours a week plus travelling time doing their caring and part-time job) and hope that the local council works it out correctly and swiftly.

But even at the very, very best they are going to lose many tens of pounds for a pay rise of £3. Earn £3, lose £30 is not a slogan to encourage work.

Government steps in
As this problem emerged this week the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced a rise in the earnings threshold for Carer’s Allowance. It will increase to £110 a week. But not until April 2015. So six months after the National Minimum Wage went up the threshold will finally increase.

This year is not the first in which this problem has occurred and unless something changes will not be the last. The rise in April 2015 will sort the problem until at least October 2015 when the minimum wage rises again. But if that goes up to £6.90 an hour – and remember both Conservatives and Labour plan big rises – then that will again put this group of carers above the earnings threshold for getting Carer’s Allowance.

The obvious answer is to link the earnings threshold for Carer’s Allowance to the minimum wage – fix it at 16 times as much plus £1. So when the minimum wage rose to £6.50 on 1 October the threshold would automatically have gone up to £105. Problem sorted.

But if you want to lobby for this change where do you go? The Department for Work and Pensions administers Carer’s Allowance. Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs runs tax credits. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills determines the National Minimum Wage. And the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister announced the rise in the Carer’s Allowance earnings threshold for 2015. Oh, and local councils determine the rules of Council Tax Support and administer Housing Benefit.

Joined up Government anyone?

Buried deep in the rules is one small glimmer of hope. The income which counts for the Carer’s Allowance earnings threshold is earnings minus half the contributions paid into a pension scheme. So a carer who earns £104 a week but then pays £4 a week or more into a personal pension (or a pension at work) would bring their weekly income down to £102 and just scrape below the threshold.

Even though these carers earn far too little to pay tax the Treasury would still boost this £4 contribution by another £1. And the small fund they build up could be cashed in at any time once they reach 55. If their circumstance remained the same no tax would be due on it. All that is needed is to find an insurer who will take such a small contribution and levy reasonable charges on it.

PS A benefit geek writes: when they cash in their pension it may reduce any working tax credit, housing benefit, council tax support, or other means-tested benefit they receive.


Version 1.1 updated 10 October 2014

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


Do you pay for your current account? More than 10 million of us do. But it may have been mis-sold, especially if it was sold to you before April 2013. If it was then you may be able to get compensation.

A packaged current account is one which comes bundled with insurance products, such as mobile phone cover or a car breakdown service, and other benefits such as access to airport lounges. Some give better deals on overdrafts or loans.

In 2011 the regulator investigated these accounts because of concerns about the cost, the claims that were made about their value, and the suitability of the insurance products included. As a result it introduced strict new rules from 31 March 2013 to improve the way they were sold. Since those rules began several banks have stopped selling packaged accounts at all and others have changed their offers.

If you have a packaged account – especially it was sold to you before that date, as millions were – you may find that the account was mis-sold and you can claim compensation.

The banks are resisting such claims. In 2013/14 complaints about packaged accounts to the Financial Ombudsman Service more than trebled to 5667. Every one of these cases had already been rejected by the bank concerned. The Ombudsman upheld more than three out of four of these complaints reporting that many people were sold deals that did not meet their needs or with inadequate information.

You may be one.

Check your bank account and whether you do pay for it – it will be shown on your monthly statement. The Ombudsman found some people were not even aware they had a packaged account. If that is you then it was probably mis-sold

Then look back to when it was sold to you.
  • Were you told that taking the packaged account was a condition of getting another bank product or service such as a loan or mortgage? That may have been a mis-sale.
  • Were you sold the packaged account without being told that a free alternative was available? That may have been a mis-sale.
  • Did the monthly fee cause you financial hardship? That may have been a mis-sale.
  • The most common problems are with the insurance policies bundled with the account.
  • Were the separate insurance policies explained to you? If not that may have been a mis-sale.
  • Were the policies suitable? For example:
  • Was travel insurance included without asking about pre-existing medical conditions or age which may mean you could not claim on it anyway. That may have been a mis-sale.
  • If car breakdown insurance was included did you have a car? If not that may have been a mis-sale. If you did was it already covered by you? That may have been a mis-sale.
  • If mobile phone insurance was covered was your phone already covered by your home insurance policy? If so, that may have been a mis-sale.
Those are just examples. If the packaged account was sold to you without full disclosure and information about all the separate products you were paying for or without your full understanding of the products and the conditions attached to them then you may have a valid complaint for mis-selling.

Write to the bank setting out your complaint. Ask for the account to be cancelled and for a full refund of all the fees paid to date. Make it clear that if you do not get compensation you will be taking the matter to the Financial Ombudsman. If you do not get a satisfactory result then go to the Ombudsman. You can talk to the Ombudsman service on can be reached on 0300 123 9 123 or 0800 023 4 567.

This article was first published on the website