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Ding dong. I’m not a fan of strangers turning up at my front door. Unless I have invited you to my home then I’m probably not going to be excited about whatever you’re selling.

Door to door salesmen are not exactly high-tech but I have been reminded this week that not everyone is online and some customers seem to like ‘seeing the whites of their eyes’. For some, it seems, face-time can often highlight products and services in a way that leaflets or TV adverts cannot.

Unfortunately, doorstep selling is also a golden opportunity for a rip-off. You could end up dealing with distraction theft, a scam or a legitimate salesman who is trying to flog something you don’t need. These days you’re more likely to find the salesman wants to switch your energy supplier rather than sell you some tea towels. However, the silver-tongued chat often remains the same.

Mis-selling
Energy watchdog Ofgem is currently investigating NPowerScottish PowerScottish and Southern Energy and EDF Energy for sharp doorstep tactics and mis-selling of their power deals amid claims that they confused customers into signing up for deals that leave them out of pocket. Ofgem said it had received information that doorstep and telephone sales people, who work on commission, are persuading households to sign up for tariffs that are more expensive than their current deals.

This is particularly worrying as it comes just eight months after new rules were introduced to protect customers from energy mis-selling. Ofgem introduced new rules in January forcing doorstep salesmen to provide a written estimate before a sale is concluded. The idea was for the customer to have written proof of what they’d been offered and then use this information to check whether they will be better off switching supplier or not.

At the time, research from watchdog Consumer Focus found that eight out of 10 people with first-hand experience of being door-stopped by an energy representative described it as a “negative experience” and more than a third of respondents said that they had been intimidated by the salesperson.

But customers are still being talked into switching suppliers and signing up to more expensive deals by salesmen working on commission. Around 2.5 million people switched supplier last year after being approached on their doorstep, over the phone or in a public place such as a shopping centre. Citizens Advice said it was dealing with cases of pressure-selling involving many elderly or vulnerable customers. It said: ‘this includes misleading information about “savings” where people end up with much higher bills and being transferred to a different supplier without their knowledge or consent.’

Npower was fined £1.8 million by Ofgem in 2008 after its doorstep salespeople were caught making misleading statements to potential customers in a bid to get them to switch supplier.

Richard’s story
MSN Money user Richard got in touch with me after a doorstep energy salesman switched his provider claiming that one company owned the other and he would get a better deal by moving across. This was a complete lie and the deal was no better. When challenged, the new supplier had the cheek to say there would be a cancellation charge of £30. This was waived after I intervened.

Organised crime
Just last week, Consumer Focus and trade body Energy Watch issued a warning to customers about organised criminals selling illegal electricity meter top-ups across Britain. At least 85,000 prepayment customers (who pay for their electricity in advance through a key, or card, they put into their meters) have already been conned into handing over £25 each in the doorstep scam which seems to offer half price electricity meter top-ups but just ends up with customers paying twice. The con man appears to top up the meter but the energy company can tell that it has been obtained from an illegal source and so does not recognise it. This usually transpires when the customer next tops up and finds the ‘cheap’ credit disappears.

The problem is affecting customers of all of the leading energy companies (British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, Npower, Scottish Power and SSE). And as the scale of widespread illegal sales of electricity top-up on the doorstep is revealed, energy companies have launched a national campaign – ‘Top up Safe’ – urging electricity prepayment meter customers to buy top-up only through official channels.

There are concerns that as we head towards Winter and people start to worry about their fuel bills that they will be even more vulnerable to rip-offs.

Doorstep selling: your rights

  • Doorstep selling is where a salesperson calls at your home, or stops you in the street or shopping centre, for example, to sell you goods or services – it doesn’t have to be literally on your doorstep. The salesman might be offering anything from double glazing to home improvements or a gas or electricity supplier. If you buy from a doorstep salesperson you have the same rights under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 or Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 as you would if you bought from a shop plus some additional protection (see bellow).
  • The seller must show ID and give accurate information about products and services.
  • If you sign a contract made during a sales visit to your home, the Doorstep Selling Regulations (DSR) give you a seven-day cooling-off period during which you can cancel. Any credit agreement you took out to pay for the goods or services would automatically come to an end when you cancel too. Whether you have a written contract or not the salesperson must tell you, in writing, about your cancellation rights.
  • To cancel a contract made at home, write to the company within seven days of signing it, saying you want to cancel, the company should then return any money you have paid. If you said you’d pay by credit agreement this will be automatically cancelled, as it’s up to the company to notify the finance company rather than you. Make sure you keep a copy of the letter and send it via recorded delivery if you can. If the supplier does not respond to your letter, won’t let you cancel your contract or you think they have breached the Doorstep Selling Regulations in any other way then contact your local Trading Standards(or DETI in Northern Ireland).
  • Be aware that the Doorstep Selling Regulations do not apply to goods or services that are worth less than £35 (a fact which made it easier for the £25 electricity top-up scammers), insurance, credit and investment agreements or to perishable goods.
  • If the salesperson or organisation you’re buying from is a member of the Direct Selling Association, you normally have a 14-day cooling-off period during which you can cancel your order and get a refund of any money you’ve paid. Before you take out a credit agreement to finance your purchase though, check whether you would need to cancel within 7 days to ensure that this is also automatically cancelled.
  • If you’re being sold an energy deal the Association of Energy Suppliers’ Code of practicealso applies.

Is it time for all doorstep selling to end? I contacted the six main energy suppliers to ask if they planned to stop selling on doorsteps. British Gas – which is not being investigated by Ofgem – told me it “remains an important sales channel” and that it welcomed the Ofgem investigation into the other suppliers, hoping they would raise their standards.

Scottish Power said that it “remains one of the best and only methods for certain customers to access better deals” and is “committed to promoting responsible practices across all of our sales channels at all times.”

EDF Energy told me that it “currently has no plans to stop its doorstep sales activities” and is “committed to offering an honest, transparent and professional sale to all potential customers.”

E.ON said “We respect and follow guidance from Regulatory bodies such as the Office of Fair Trading with regard to doorstep selling and have no plans to stop this form of selling.”

Npower and Scottish & Southern Electricity did not respond.

Weighing up the potential benefits against the known pitfalls, I do struggle to see that there is any justification for anyone to sell anything on your doorstep. I realise that it’s harder to those without a computer but most libraries provide free internet access and assistance now. Mis-selling and fraud is a worry but even legitimiate sellers don’t seem to be able offer cheapest deals. Recent research from Confused.com reveals that those signing up to energy deals on the doorstep pay as much as £167 more than they would online with the same supplier. In other words, you’re paying for the doorstep seller’s commission.

I’d like to hear your views…

Have your say… have you ever been ripped-off by a doorstep seller or landed a great deal? Would you miss doorstep sellers if they were no longer around? Please share your experiences with others and leave a comment below…..

If you have been ripped off, have a complaint about a company or product or just need to know your rights, then contact me: consumerchampion@hotmail.co.uk

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We are always being reminded how important it is to make a will. If we shuffle off this mortal coil without one then ‘intestate‘ law means our worldly goods go to our next of kin.

But this may not be what you want. For instance, if you live with a partner but are not married, then without a will everything goes to your parents or perhaps a sibling. This could mean your partner loses their home if your folks want their share. In the worst case scenario, if no relatives can be found, it goes to the State. Eugh.

What a shame then that the latest rip-off involves some companies that provide private will-writing services.

Anyone can set up as a will-writer
I was surprised to learn that no legal standing or even qualifications are needed for someone to offer to draw up a will for you. You can even draw one up for yourself and it will be valid providing it has been correctly dated and witnessed.

Personally, I wouldn’t do this as it’s not worth the risk of getting it wrong. Also, for a will to function properly the appointed executors must be granted powers and a certain amount of ‘what if’ planning is usually required, along with the tricky issue of inheritance tax.

One probate expert I spoke to said he would “only ever get a will drawn up by a solicitor, accountant or an independent financial adviser, who should ideally be a member of STEP(the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners) or be a chartered tax adviser.”

The rip-offs
So how are these private will companies ripping people off? Last night’s Panoramaprogramme looked at Willmakers of Distinction, based in Lincoln, which stole hundreds of thousands of pounds from its beneficiaries including a hospice for the dying which relies on charitable donations. Two men, David Nash, the firm’s founder, and Nicholas Butcher, a previously struck-off solicitor whom he employed, were sentenced last month to three and a half years in prison for their fraud and theft. Neil Hollingsworth of Lincolnshire Police told the BBC: “A lot of the times, probably 90% of those cases, the beneficiaries didn’t know they were beneficiaries and so they weren’t asking questions. I guess they probably thought they’d got the perfect crime.”

Panorama also found firms bumping up costs or hiding them in contract fine print. In one case, a gentleman was suddenly presented with a bill charging a percentage of his late wife’s estate amounting to £2,500 because he thought probate was included but was in fact extra.

From my own research, it seems far more common for these companies to simply charge enormous and unnecessary fees up-front. For instance, a simple will should cost around £100. But some will companies offer add-on products. They may offer a ‘lifetime service’ on your wills for any re-writing for an extra amount – I have seen figures of £850 for this, but they could be higher. They may also offer a service for your executors, again at considerable expense.

Firstly, the charge is unwarranted. Unless you change your mind about the will (and even then there are cheaper ways to alter it), the main reason that you might need it re-written is if you got married or divorced. Even then it should not cost £850, unless you end up being married more than Joan Collins. Executors are also unlikely to need £850 worth of help. More to the point, will the company even exist when you pass away? If it has shut down or gone bankrupt then the £850 or any services you paid for will not be available.

What’s being done?
Not nearly enough. In June this year, the Office of Fair Trading gave the green light to many of these companies when it signed-off a new code of practice drawn up by the Institute of Professional Willwriters (IPW). Although the new code means IPW members will have to pass an entrance exam, complete ongoing professional training and give customers a seven-day cooling-off period, the voluntary membership is relatively meaningless. If an IPW member decides to leave the body or even if they are thrown out, they can still carry on writing wills.

The Society of Will Writers is another purely voluntary trade body with a code of practice. It regulates individuals not firms, but don’t assume that dealing with a member of these trade bodies means you get a better service, expertise or more protection. This is only something you can rely on with regulated experts such as solicitors, accountants or financial advisers. These professionals also have industry indemnity schemes for client protection.

In Scotland, around the time that the OFT was rubber-stamping the new IPW code, Scottish politicians were calling for the compulsory regulation of non-lawyer will-writers.

What you can do
Law Society research reveals that at least one third of UK adults do not have a will. You can:

Have your say…. have you been charged a lot of money for drawing up a will? Are you a solicitor, accountant or IFA with concerns? Are you a private will writer? Please share your views and experiences – leave your comments below…..

 

If you have been ripped off, have a complaint about a company or product or just need to know your rights, then contact me: consumerchampion@hotmail.co.uk

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100 days to fix the economy

As the coalition government marks 100 days in office, we rate their attempts to fix our ailing economy.
We look at whether David Cameron and Nick Clegg have managed to fix the economy

(PA Wire)

The task list for the coalition government when it formed in May might seem a suitable script for Mission Impossible:

* Tackle the largest UK government debt in post-war history
* Slash government spending but simultaneously revive the economy
* Raise taxes but don’t terrify businesses
* Show enough determination on debt to stop a run on the pound, but don’t make sterling so strong that exporters get hit
* Get banks lending again for mortgages and business but make sure they have more safety capital put by too
* …And don’t make yourselves too unpopular to be re-elected

However, after just 100 days, the joint Conservative/Liberal Democrats government has set a blistering pace.

In policy and the economy, much has gone their way and they have got grudging public support for the more controversial measures that have yet to come.

“They should be pretty pleased with how things have turned out so far,” Vicky Redwood, UK economist at Capital Economics told MSN Money.

The new threat to the economy

Some improvement seen
The economy has grown by a surprising sprightly 1.1% in the second quarter, £6 billion of public spending cuts have already been implemented in the June Budget and much, much more will come from a detailed spending review due in October.

The jobless total is falling, with a record number of jobs created between April and June, though cuts in the public sector have yet to bite.

Growth was always going to be tricky. Despite the robust Q2 figures, the Bank of England has just revised down its forecast for economic growth in 2010 to 1.6%, down from the 1.7% it forecast in May.

That is still more optimistic than most economists, who expect growth of around 1.2%. For 2011, the Bank’s downward revision was even more marked, to 2.7% from the 3.4% it expected in May. Again, economists are more pessimistic, seeing just 2.1% growth.

Any growth is a blessing
Still, given the current circumstances any growth is a cause for relief. The biggest test comes in the future, when public sector cuts could result in a torrent of new jobless claims.

“We think that the private sector will be unable to compensate for the public sector jobs that are being lost,” said Redwood, who forecasts unemployment to peak at three million in 2012, up from the current 2.46 million.

More work to be done on banks
The coalition has fallen down badly over one particular roadblock in the economy: the banks.

While £85.5 billion of taxpayers’ money is still tied up supporting banks, lenders have turned from being utterly profligate with credit to very cautious – at a time when many businesses are crying out for loans.

That is partly because new lending is being outweighed by existing customers repaying debt, but also because banks are following regulatory commands to bolster their capital bases. To add insult to injury, the bonus culture shows no sign of disappearing from the banking sector.

Have the bankers won?

National debt still ominous
It is also too early to see progress on reducing the national debt, which currently stands at £814 billion and is due to peak at £1.3 trillion in 2015/16.

However, it was vital to reassure those who are funding it by lending the government money.

Nobody wants Britain to become another Greece, which has to pay overdraft-type rates to get investors to lend to it. So the unequivocal statement by chancellor George Osborne that dealing with debt was the top priority was well-received from day one.

As a result, the pound has been buoyant. Its trade-weighted index has strengthened from 80.2 at the time of the election to 81.9 now, and well above the record low of 74 plumbed in November 2008.

Some of that is due to troubles within the eurozone, but it shows that sterling remains a refuge from risk.

Trade figures have improved too, showing that exporters are doing better than at any time since the start of June 2008.

Radical cuts are the biggest challenge
However, it is in the radical plans to cut the size of the public sector that the biggest challenge will come.

With a leaked memo within the Justice Department foreshadowing cuts of £2 billion from its £9 billion budget and 15,000 job losses, this is going to be just one of a number of explosive debates over the £621 billion a year the state spends.

“Given the scale of the savings they are looking for, unprecedented since World War II, something radical was required,” said Gemma Tetlow of the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

While there are plenty of critics who see public services as intrinsically unsafe in the hands of Conservatives, the anxiety has been partly neutralised by the inclusion of left-leaning Liberal Democrats in the coalition. The coalition has successfully argued that cuts are driven by need and not by ideology.

However, sensitivity will still be important, something that education secretary Michael Gove learned when his list of education authorities to be removed from the new schools buildings programme had to be corrected again and again.

Expensive food costs keep inflation high

Reshaping rather than cutting
Where the coalition gets its top marks is for preparing the public for a reshaping of public service provision.

Cutting frontline services or cutting the pay and conditions of those who provide them may be tenable when cuts of 5% are required. If the cuts are closer to 40% – the figure that Whitehall has been told to plan for – then they are not.

Instead, there is starting to be a complete rethink of the mechanism through which state services are delivered.

That is where innovative outsourcing deals, like Rotherham’s local authority joint venture with BT, which has so far saved £28 million, can come in.

David Cameron’s Big Society idea also neatly dovetails with the role of volunteer organisations like Homestart in child health and Tomorrow’s People in welfare to work, roles which it is hoped will bring better results – and save money.

Still, that doesn’t help much in cushioning the blow. The biggest spending departments, Health and Work & Pensions, spend most of their cash on staff. That has to fall because these two account for a third of the public sector.

Talking the talk
In just 100 days, we’ve heard a parliament’s worth of policy pronouncements. Tough as it was, the talk remains the easy part.

The hardest work for the coalition in cutting public spending has yet to be done. The drip-drip of details about closures, job cuts and dislocation that will emerge on the ground is sure to spark uproar as it becomes known.

The first casualty in that is likely to be public confidence, and when complaints reach an uproar, as well they may, the second casualty may well be the integrity of such an unlikely coalition.

The last thing David Cameron wants to hear is another phrase redolent of Mission Impossible: “This coalition will self-destruct in five minutes.”

Read original article 100 days to fix the economy

Nick Louth, columnist, MSN Money

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Saving money is important. We all know that But knowledge is not the same thing done.

For some people, saving money is like a healthy diet. You get inspired and begin to do so, but after a few weeks, self-pity creeps and you begin to hate it. If you do not usually save money or you think it’s really hard to do, then here are some tips for saving money that can help you.

Save first, then spend the rest.
At the moment you receive your income immediately put aside a portion and put it in your savings account. After that, you can now spend the rest of your salary, without guilt. That is what they call pay yourself first, which is easier and more fun to do than scrimping on your expenses if you have money in your savings and left until the next pay day is. Try it, it really works .

To save money automatically.
How do you make automatic savings There are several ways. One is to go to the bank where your company has payroll and ask if they have an automatic savings plan, or if you can have a place. What this means is that whenever it comes to pay day, the bank will automatically deduct a fixed amount of your salary and deposit it in another savings account.

A few months ago, a blogger friend, writing on the Marhgil BPI Direct Save Up plan that does for him. Personally, I have a somewhat similar UCPB Insurance Cocolife automatically charges a fixed amount on my credit card each months – a “payment” that goes to savings and personal insurance.

Make your savings not readily accessible.
When your savings account is an ATM withdrawal in a row, then you’re more likely to touch. Make it inconvenient for you to withdraw money from your savings. All you need is a simple book of account Banking is a good start. As for me, I have a personal Optimum BDO savings account which allows you up to three over-the-counter withdrawals per month (but not limited to filing).

The Filipino Paluwagan System provides access to your savings. In fact, many have recently started and joined Pinoy paluwagans to “force” to save money in light of the recent global financial crisis. hate-saving-money

Always use cash.
When you always use the money, you are more aware of your budget. This will help avoid the accumulation of debts and encourage you to live within your means. Simply put, pay yourself first and always use cash. To do this, and you end up without credit and a savings account that you do not have to touch to pay your debts.

Set a baseline and a reward for saving money.
They say you can save money for “rainy days”. Personally, I think that is a pessimist (and vague) reason to encourage you to save. I am more motivated by saving the money when I put a reward for myself every time I reach a certain amount.

For example, I would guiltlessly dive P2, 000 for what I want when I am able to increase my savings by P10, 000. Other times, I reward myself with a desire for a meal in a restaurant after every three days expenditures.

money-saving-tipsIn summary, if you have trouble saving money, then try to pay you first. Find a way to make automatic and be sure your money is not easily accessible.

Then you can spend the rest of your income, without guilt, but remember to always pay cash and avoid debt. And finally, give you a reward for passing the savings. Make it as often as you can afford.

Wriiten by Fitz @ Ready To be Rich

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If you’re a parent, then I’m sure one of the things in your mind right now is your budget.

When I was a kid, I would always notice how stressed my parents were during the opening of the school year. They’d go through their finances over and over to check if they’d have enough to cover for the tuition, books and school supplies of me and my brothers.

And now, it’s just a few days before the start of another school year. And for the parents out there, here are some back to school money saving tips that could help.

back to school Back To School Special: Money Saving Tips For Parents

School Uniforms

  • Take inventory of what you have in the closet. Determine which ones can still be used.
  • Consider having some of those that don’t fit anymore tailored or altered to fit.
  • Trade uniforms with other parents. Maybe their kid’s old uniforms would fit yours and vice versa.
  • Buy good quality clothing so they’d last the whole year and maybe even more, same goes for those leather shoes.
  • For college students who don’t have school uniforms, then maybe you’d like to read this article on how to save money on clothing.

Textbooks

  • Ask the upper grade students if they are willing to sell or maybe even give you their old textbooks.
  • Likewise, you might be interested to sell your kid’s old textbooks to those who might need it.
  • It might help to ask the school which of the textbooks are required and which ones are supplementary or optional.
  • Go to second hand bookstores for old textbooks. Search in online auction sites or maybe post inquiries in parenting forums for used textbooks.

school supplies Back To School Special: Money Saving Tips For Parents

School Supplies

  • Make a list of the required school supplies. Remember to prioritize and buy the necessities first.
  • Consider recycling or using old supplies.
    • Take an inventory of what you already have at home choose which ones are still okay.
    • “Jazz up” old school supplies which are still in good condition to give it a fresh look. This works best for backpacks.
    • Go through your office cubicle and give those extra pens, pencils, memo pads and other supplies that you don’t use to your child. I know these things tend to accumulate on your desk and inside drawers, specially those given by colleagues and clients.
  • Buy the plain and simple designs becaue they’re usually cheaper, but also consider durability. Give it individuality by customizing with your own design. I used to do this for notebooks.

Other Back To School Savings Tips

  • Be honest with your children when it comes to your budget. Make them understand the situation.
  • Be on the look out for back to school specials and sales in your area.
  • Hunt for scholarships. Not all of them are based on your financial capacity or your child’s intellect. For example, some organizations give scholarships to children that show good leadership skills.
  • It may be good to consider enrolling your child in a school near your home to lessen transportation expenses.
  • Prepare packed lunches for your child to save on food expenses.

That’s all the back to school money saving tips I can think of. Maybe you have some more things to add? Please share them below as a comment.

Written by Fitz @ http://www.fitzvillafuerte.com/

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A top economist predicted an even bleaker housing recession, saying it will last at least another two years, dragging down the American economy to trail the rest of the world.

“Housing prices won’t hit bottom until next summer and the losses won’t peak for another two years, until 2009,” said David Wyss, chief economist of Standard & Poor’s.

“We are not halfway through this crisis yet.”

S&P forecasts the U.S. economy will grow 2 percent in 2007 and in 2008, while the global economy is expected to grow 3.6 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively.

The comments came as another mortgage company, Thornburg Mortgage, surrendered to a new onslaught of collapsing mortgages, saying it has lost $1.1 billion, 27 percent more than it had expected.

The company, which specializes in jumbo loans above $417,000 to buyers of more expensive homes, said its losses came when it tried to sell bonds backed by adjustable-rate mortgages that were increasingly falling into default.

“The global dislocation of the mortgage finance and credit markets this past summer has had a greater impact on our balance sheet than we initially estimated,” Larry Goldstone, Thornburg’s president and chief operating officer said.

Shares tumbled $1.17 to $12.29, and have lost 51 percent of their value this year.

The U.S. Federal Reserve estimates that credit losses resulting from the U.S. subprime crisis are approximately $150 billion, less than 1 percent of the $16 trillion U.S. mortgage market.

Another troubled mortgage firm, American Home Mortgage Investment Corp., which is in bankruptcy, is fighting a request to probe finances leading to its collapse in August.

The company said the probe could interrupt the planned bankruptcy sale of its mortgage collection group to investor Wilbur Ross for $500 million. A Thornburg investor, Vantage Pointe Capital LLC , wants the company books investigated.

Meanwhile, signs of life are continuing to surface in the mortgage refinancing business.

Sales of U.S. agency backed mortgage securities rose 5 percent in September to $103 billion, reflecting the popularity of fixed-rate mortgages.

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