Young journalists, looking for a mentor?

Broadcast journalism is a notoriously difficult profession to get into, and even once you’ve broken down the door, many find it tough to move up the ladder.

This is even worse for those who don’t come from the traditional journalistic bastions of private schools and Oxbridge – yet to better reflect our society, journalism needs to diversify – and I want to do my bit to make that happen.

In a recent blog I wrote how I’m proud to be a journalist; and unlike most journalists I’m also lucky enough to have a very large charity fund. My usual giving strategy focuses on financial issues but I thought it was time to do something within my chosen profession.

So I’ve agreed £24,000 spread over the next three years to fund the John Schofield Trust’s Young Journalist Mentee Scheme (future donations of course are based on it meeting targets).

The latest round of applications for the 2017/18 intake has just opened – apply here.

What does the mentee scheme do?

The idea is to match burgeoning talents from diverse backgrounds, who lack the network and contact book to succeed, with a volunteer roster of senior journalists who can help guide them.

Among those who’ve agreed to mentor this year are BBC economics editor Kamal Ahmed, CNN presenter Nina Dos Santos, Sky News editor (and my mate) Paul Harrison, BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, ITV sports editor Steve Scott, Al Jazeera presenter Felicity Barr (another of my mates), Channel 5 health correspondent Catherine Jones, ABC international correspondent Hamish Macdonald and ITV Granada’s head of news Lucy West.

Here’s a quick note from one of last year’s mentors:

“I am a senior news editor, with more than 12 years’ on-air experience. My mentee is from the BBC. She is a producer who was keen to get on air, to report and one day present. We met once a month – a commitment we are keen both parties stick to. Meetings can be in a cafe, a pub, a newsroom, on location or even on Skype.

“The meetings give her the chance to show me scripts, ask for advice, see inside another newsroom, practice reading autocue, discuss story ideas, meet influential people in our business and just have someone to turn to and ask all sorts of questions throughout an important year in her career. The scheme helps newcomers to the business realise the media world isn’t so scary, and that we value young, diverse talent.”

Broadcast journalism does have its own language and etiquette. The ability to speak to someone senior and ask stupid, and not so stupid questions, and to honestly and openly chat about what you want out of your career, should be extremely powerful. I’m really hopefully over the next few years it’ll help build contacts and confidence for those who otherwise may’ve been disadvantaged by the lack of an old boys’ (or girls’) network

Urgent! Help fight the Government’s student loan U-turn that means many will pay more

The Government is consulting on a retrospective change to student loans in England that could mean many who took them since 2012 will have to shell out more.

I first wrote on this in January in my A threat to the Government, don’t U-turn on student loans blog post. That partially succeeded, as at least the Government agreed to consult on the change rather than just do it. Yet now…


Below, I’ve drafted a free email and letter template to help you do this. This approach worked very well in the campaign to get financial education on the national curriculum, as when real people (not political activists who do it all the time) write to MPs, they sit up and take notice.

First though a bit more detail…

What’s the problem?

Student loans are designed to be repaid once you leave university. You pay 9% of everything earned above £21,000 a year. When the 2012 system was launched, the Government said that from April 2017, the £21,000 figure would be uprated (ie, increased) each year in line with average earnings. But now it wants to freeze it at £21,000 instead.

This means graduates would end up paying more each month than the Government promised and publicised when they took out the loan. Eg, if you earn £25,000 and the threshold is £23,000, you repay £180 a year. If the threshold is frozen at £21,000, you pay £360 a year. For a full explanation see my Don’t U-turn blog post.

This type of change is a disgrace and goes against all the rules of good governance in all areas, which frown on retrospective changes. No commercial company would be allowed to change its terms after the event like this – it’d be slapped by the regulator.

What am I going to do about it?

I have pledged to fight this, as it is an outrage, partly too as I communicated this to people in good faith in my role as head of the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information. As part of this, alongside, today I’m submitting a detailed response to the Government’s consultation.

What you can do?

Assuming you agree – whether you’re directly affected or not, please ensure your voice is heard. We want MPs to know they cannot retrospectively change the terms. Doing so not only hurts those directly affected, it kills faith in the entire system.

How would anyone be able to trust the student finance set up again if future Governments can change it with hindsight?

What to do…

If you want to read the Government’s consultation and do your own response, you can until 14 October, and that’d be great. However, an easier option is to put pressure on the Government by writing to your MP. Plus, please spread the word on social media. Here’s how…

  • Go to Enter your postcode into or click the link to your MP’s name and check for an email address.
  • Email them a message. Here’s a template for inspiration. You can copy and paste it, or even better, please personalise it with your views and experience. Are you a parent of a post-2012 student? Are you at university now? Tell your MP why this matters to you.

Template statement to get you started

As your constituent, I’m writing to ask you to urgently tell the Government to abandon its dangerous plans to retrospectively change the student loan system, and to join the campaign against this proposal.

The Government wants to freeze the repayment threshold at £21,000 – even though students were told they would be uprated with average earnings from April 2017. This means students who started university since 2012 will pay more back than they’d legitimately planned on. Effectively, their loans will have their T&Cs written after they’ve taken them out.

This is outrageous, it is unfair, and it should not be allowed to happen. Not only will it be against natural justice for all who have these loans, it will kill faith in the system for a whole generation of new students. How can you make a decision on whether university is worth it, if a future government will pull the rug from under your feet?

As my MP, I am calling on you to join the campaign to #StopStudentLoanUTurn. The Government must change its mind.

Yours sincerely, ENTER YOUR NAME HERE

If you’re having trouble copying the above text try this Microsoft Word version instead.

Please tell us when you get a response. We’d love to know if your MP gets back to you – please forward any reply you get to

If you’re told to contact the consultation directly. We’ve heard that many people are being told by their MPs that they should respond to the consultation directly themselves. If this is what you’ve been told, and you’d like to do it, you can email them directly at

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Hurrah! The Citizens Advice ‘Martin Lewis’ Fund is up and running

Last year I blogged that as part of my ongoing giving strategy I made a donation to support the superb work of Citizens Advice. The charity decided to use the money to set up the ‘Martin Lewis innovation fund’ (its name, not mine).

Well, I’m delighted to say that launched today, so rather than me regurgitating, here’s its press release…

Citizens Advice services share £625,000 through Martin Lewis Fund

Citizens Advice services across England and Wales are today celebrating sharing £625,000 from the Martin Lewis Fund to help make a real difference to local people’s lives.

Awards of £25,000 are being given to 25 local Citizens Advice services to deliver projects that will provide more support to particular groups of people and help them in new and inventive ways.

Local Citizens Advice will be able to share their learning and potentially encourage others to launch similar projects so that more clients across England and Wales benefit.

Projects include:

Citizens Advice Elmbridge West: Will train volunteers to provide longer term support for people who have experienced domestic abuse and additional problems they may face such as housing and finance to help them towards independence.

Citizens Advice Denbighshire: Will engage mothers and families in need of support by working with their local health visitor and midwifery team to deliver early advice on problems such as debt, benefits and managing finances which will in turn improve their health.

Citizens Advice South Sandwell: Will promote and deliver advice services to people who do not have English as their first language and are not currently served by interpreting services locally by using a digital translation platform, trained volunteers and staff.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“We are delighted to be able to announce this funding to 25 Citizens Advice services. The funding will give them a chance to build on what they have already achieved with their pilot projects. Not only will the funding help local people to solve their problems, but the local services will capture what works well and share their learning so that other people across England and Wales may also benefit. We’re very grateful to Martin Lewis for his ongoing support.”

Martin Lewis said:

“Few realise Citizens Advice, which is at the bedrock of British society, is a charity not a government agency – a shame as the work it does is truly life saving. I’ve met many people who were suicidal over legal or money life challenges they couldn’t cope with, yet a visit to their local Citizens Advice put them on the path to dealing with it.  As a huge fan of the organisation, I wanted to do something to help it pioneer new ways to reach out and improve people’s lives, and I’m excited to see where this takes us.”

The awards announced today follow an initial award of £1,000 in September 2015 to test initial project ideas. The funding comes from a £1 million donation from Martin Lewis to Citizens Advice across the UK in 2015.

Projects had to fit into categories including making people more digitally skilled, working closely with health and social care providers, and future opportunities for volunteers.

The 25 Citizens Advice services are:

Citizens Advice Braintree, Halstead and Witham
Citizens Advice Bury District
Citizens Advice Central and East Northamptonshire
Citizens Advice Denbighshire
Citizens Advice East End
Citizens Advice Elmbridge (West)
Citizens Advice Enfield
Citizens Advice Exeter
Citizens Advice Greater Manchester
Citizens Advice Kensington and Chelsea
Citizens Advice Leicestershire
Citizens Advice Liverpool Partnership
Citizens Advice Merton & Lambeth
Citizens Advice Middlesbrough
Citizens Advice Peterborough
Citizens Advice Powys
Citizens Advice Sandwell
Citizens Advice Sheffield and Law Centre
Citizens Advice South Somerset
Citizens Advice Southend
Citizens Advice Stockton & District
Citizens Advice Stroud & Cotswold Districts
Citizens Advice Taunton
Citizens Advice Three Rivers
Citizens Advice Welwyn Hatfield


You DO have to show your boarding passes at duty free

You don’t need to show your boarding pass at airport shops, but you do at duty free. A media furore over the summer has sown confusion, so it’s time to clear it up…

The great boarding-pass scandal

During the height of the summer, a scandal was revealed by The Independent that most airport retailers were wrongly forcing people to show their boarding passes.

Many people willingly complied thinking it was done for security. In reality it allowed shops to claim back VAT on goods bought by those travelling outside the EU – they should’ve been passing the saving on to customers but they weren’t.

I was very vocal on the subject, and did countless broadcast and print interviews, urging consumers to band together and refuse to show their boarding passes at shops like WH Smith, Boots and others, to deprive the stores of extra income unless they at least split it with customers.

The whole thing became a media circus, politicians got involved slating stores for not passing on the gain, and many retailers including Boots and Dixons said they’d no longer make it compulsory for staff to ask.

Below is a video I recorded at the time…

The big misunderstanding

The whole campaign was about airport retailers – not duty-free shops. It was something I mentioned in my quotes and you’ll hear it briefly in the video. Yet my concern is I continue to get tweets and emails from people like this…

And even some duty-free staff have been getting frustrated with it.

So I wanted to take this opportunity to spell out the differences and clear it up. As HMRC states…

Sales in duty-free shops are tightly controlled as they can hold goods where the duty or VAT has been suspended. To ensure sufficient controls are in place, HMRC require duty-free outlets to provide evidence of destination for all goods sold.

In other words if you’re buying any goods, specifically from the duty-free stores, you do need to show your boarding pass.

Addendum: 5 October 2015: Looking at the comments below, I can see some still clearly angry duty-free staff. It is a disgrace that people have been abusive to you – something I’d never condone – and it’s a shame people have got the wrong end of the stick.

However, I think you over credit my role. I didn’t break the story and I suspect I was involved in less than 10% of the coverage on it (Google it and you’ll see). As explained above, when I was involved, where possible (note that I don’t choose which bits of my quote other publications use), I made it plain that duty free is different.

But as I have said already on social media, I am more than happy to try and help – we need people to be correctly informed. If the management of WDF want to get in touch, we can work on a joint poster that can go up in stores explaining it – and I’d have my picture and brand on it if that’d help.

Why I’m proud to be a biased journalist…

In 1997-98 I took a postgraduate diploma in broadcast journalism at JOMEC which is part of Cardiff University. It was one of the best years of my life, and I made many friends. 

As part of an expansion of the journalism school they asked me if I would like to write a 250 word piece on my thoughts on journalism both here on MSE, in papers and broadcast. Having just written it, I thought some of you may be interested in a read…

I’m very proud to be a journalist, even though many often think I’m not. It’s a glorious profession that, done well, empowers millions. I admit I never (and never wanted to) wander into war zones, walk a local beat, or frankly even network for stories. Much of my research is done with data, spreadsheets, product information and thinking. It’s also true that my broadcast work is as much about enthusing as it is informing.

Now let me take this confessional a stage further. I’m proud to be a biased journalist. There, I said it. I don’t aim for balance. I am unashamedly pro-consumer. I don’t put the other side. My aim is to show people how to cut their bills and fight financial injustice. If the TV lawyers demand a firm’s given a right to reply on my show, fair enough, but I never voice it myself.  

Too often lip service is given to impartiality. Yet campaigning journalism has a truth of its own. An agenda can be a good thing – as long as it’s declared, not hidden.

The hidden reason Amazon is paying Clarkson & co so much for Top Gear

The papers have repeatedly splashed Amazon TV’s triumphant signing of “star turns” Clarkson, Hammond and May in a rumoured £160 million Top Gear deal. The obvious reason for doing this is the motoring show’s been one of the world’s most commercially successful brands, and Amazon hopes people will sign up to its service to watch it.

Yet dig beneath Amazon’s business model and this is about far more than just TV. It’s a much more interesting and commercial move than it first appears.

It’s all about Amazon Prime

In the UK, US and elsewhere, the main route to watch Amazon TV is by joining its Amazon Prime £79-a-year service – which also includes a ‘free’ next-day delivery service on Amazon-bought goods. While you can get a TV-only subscription, it’s only a fraction cheaper and is nowhere near as heavily marketed.

Amazon uses a free month-long trial to draw people into Prime. This is a proven technique across many industries that plays on what’s called the ‘inertia dividend’, which means people are naturally predisposed to not liking to lose something they already have (see my The real reason firms do free trials blog for more on that).

PS: If you’ve paid for a trial and never used it, our Amazon Prime refund story shows how to get your £79 back.

However, to really see why this all works, let’s take a step deeper…

Prime’s secret isn’t the fee, it’s the fact it locks you in to buying from Amazon

Research on the US market by Millward Brown Digital shows that Prime members tend to stick with Amazon. Fewer than 1% of Prime members are likely to consider another retailer during the same shopping session – whereas a non-Prime member shopping at Amazon is eight times more likely to shop elsewhere in a session.

Research from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners also shows that the average US Prime member spends $500 more annually with Amazon than non-members.

It’s therefore likely that Prime would be profitable for Amazon even if you ignore the subscription fee, just because it engenders so much more customer stickiness.

Yet this wouldn’t work without the subscription fee, as I suspect perversely the fact it charges works to Amazon’s benefit as people have an “I’ve paid for it, so I should use it” feeling, which keeps them entrenched within the Amazon empire.

That’s the genius of the business structure; the firm gets £79 and then because it’s charging, generates more sales.

So if the new Top Gear works, it should pay for itself many times over

Therefore if the new motoring show can increase subscribers to Prime, it’s likely Amazon not only gains revenue from the TV fee alone, it increases its domination in the retail space with a huge host of more consumers who feel locked into its marketplace and spend.

I’d love your views. Are you a Prime member? If so, do you think you shop there more because of it? Please let me know below.

Related Links:

British Gas customers – there’s a hidden way to cut £130+ off your bill…

British (and Scottish) Gas is the UK’s biggest energy supplier, serving over 10m homes. And no surprise for a provider still benefitting from its past monopoly advantage, it ain’t cheap!

After all, why should it be – many of its customers stick with it, price hike after price hike, bill after bill.

Currently though, there is a way to stay with BG and hugely slash your cost, but you can’t just call it and ask. Any of its customers in the UK (not Northern Ireland) can do this, providing you…

  • Already do or are willing to pay by monthly (variable) direct debit
  • Use it for dual fuel (so electricity and gas)
  • Are willing to be billed online

What is this magical British Gas money-saving potion?

Quite simply it will sell you the same gas, same electricity, same safety etc as you get right now, but charge less for it and it’ll guarantee it won’t hike the rate for over a year.  Yet you can’t just call British Gas and ask for it.

It’s a new tariff called British Gas All Online January 2019 and it’s only available via comparison sites (we’ve no indication of how long it’ll last, so it could be pulled at any time). So to make it easy, just quickly plug details from your bill – guesstimate if you don’t have it to hand – into our special Cheap Energy Club ‘My Current Supplier’ comparison.

This filters out all but British Gas’s tariffs. Then you can see your exact saving (it depends on where you live and how much you use) and then click the button to turn that tariff on, and pay less.

PS: While this should save you decent money, you can save far more if you’re willing to switch provider. So when you’re looking at the results page of your British Gas comparison, why not play with the filters on the side, to see how much you can save elsewhere too?

The new tariff is a fix, which means you’re guaranteed no price hikes until January 2019 (unlike the normal British Gas tariff, which can be increased any time), though of course if you use more, you’ll pay more. If – as is unlikely if you’re doing this – you want to leave British Gas before then, you’ll pay a £40 early exit fee.

Those who don’t already have a British Gas smart meter will need to book installation for one by 31 July 2018. These automatically send meter readings to your supplier, so you get exact bills and pay only for what you use (for more on that, see our Smart Meters guide). And you’ll need to join the free British Gas Rewards loyalty scheme, but that just earns you things such as free movies from the Sky Store.

PS: If you’re wondering why it’s only available via comparison sites, it has likely done this so it can target switchers from elsewhere, but thankfully it has allowed existing customers to get it too.

How much cheaper is it likely to be?

Someone with typical usage (defined by regulator Ofgem) currently on a British Gas standard tariff (as most with it are) currently pays £1,100/year.

On the same usage, the new tariff will cost you on average (it depends where you live) £995/year. Plus, switch via our Cheap Energy Club and you get £25 cashback, making the saving a typical £130.

Though obviously if you’ve higher bills you’ll likely save more than that, lower bills less than that (yet the cashback is always £25 regardless).

It is worth noting on the same usage the very cheapest deals from elsewhere would save you about £300 (hence the big bold writing in the box above).

Why is there a Sainsbury’s Energy deal in my ‘British Gas only’ results?

Sainsbury’s Energy is just British Gas in disguise – it’s the same company, just selling its wares under a different name. And there’s a new Sainsbury’s deal out at the same time which for some will top the new British Gas deal – it depends on where you live and how much you use.

It’s called Sainsbury’s Price Freeze November 2018, and as the name suggests it’s also a fixed tariff, though the price guarantee is shorter than British Gas’s. If this is cheaper for you, you may decide to plump for it instead. Frankly, it’s a very similar deal, though doesn’t require you to have a smart meter.

How come MSE pays cashback on this?

Like all energy comparison sites, if you can switch through us, we get paid. Though unlike some we still include all tariffs, whether they pay us or not (unless you choose to filter them out).

Yet we aim to give you about half of what we’re paid in cashback. Just to be clear, you get exactly the same deal as you would if you went to the firm (but in this case you can’t do that) plus the cashback on top that you wouldn’t get otherwise.

The rest helps cover our costs and hopefully makes us some profit. We’ve had to drop the cashback from £30 to £25 recently as suppliers can give us less – for more see MSE Jason’s blog.

The secret of how to pick your new energy provider from a list of firms you’ve not heard of

Comparing energy tariffs is easy. Yet as I’ve learnt over the last year, it’s picking your new supplier from a list of unknown names that is putting many off. So I wanted to bash out a quick blog to show you how to navigate through that.

The majority of people in the UK are overspending on energy by 30%, often £300+ a year – simply due to being on the wrong tariff. If you’ve not switched in the last 12 months and are with one of the big six – British Gas, EDF, E.on, Npower, Scottish Power or SSE – almost invariably that means you’re one of those people, as you’ll be on their very expensive standard tariff. If you’re with anyone else, you could still be overpaying too, so the right thing to do is check.

The easy way to check is using a comparison site. That’s necessary as who your cheapest is depends on where you live and how much you use. It’s best if you have your bills to hand to do this, but even if not, most comparison sites will estimate for you and the sin of inaccuracy isn’t as big as the sin of doing nothing. Yet many people find, or at least perceive, switching to be complex.

I’ve always found this difficult to understand, as when even newcomers to my Cheap Energy Club have tried it, the comparison process is completed in an average of around five minutes. And changing itself is no biggie – it’s the same pipes, gas, electricity and safety, and you don’t lose supply. The only difference is price and customer service.

However, when over the last year I’ve observed people switching at my TV roadshows, my eyes have been opened to the real problem. It’s not doing the comparison. It’s picking who to switch to that’s the real problem for many.

Too many small firms you’ve not heard of?

The huge encouragement given for new entrants to the energy market is actually putting many off switching. And to an extent, there’s good reason. The energy market is swamped with new firms, and often at launch they offer super-cheap deals to build a customer base. Yet the customer service feedback on these firms is either limited or worse poor, as they can’t handle the number of customers flooding in.

If you do a comparison right now, almost invariably the first five cheapest providers on the list are those you’ve never heard of – and for many that’s enough to put them off and stop the process.

The simple answer is SCROLL DOWN to a name you know, or one – small or big – which has a good customer service rating.

In fact, with so many new providers, you could scroll down a couple of pages of names and still only find it’s £10/yr or £20/yr more than the very cheapest, still saving you nearly £300/yr on typical usage. To make it easier use this good customer service only comparison energy club link, which automatically selects the service filter.

What if I just want a name I recognise though?

In that case, even though many of the big six have hideous tariffs, they can also offer some good ones too. At the time of writing, the cheapest big six deal for most people on average is a one-year fix with Eon, saving £230/yr compared to the average big six standard variable tariff. Yet always do a comparison, as the cheapest does depend on your situation. Again, to help use this big names only comparison energy club link, which automatically filters out smaller firms.

And remember most cheap tariffs are fixes, meaning you’re guaranteed no price rises for a set time.

What if I just don’t want to switch firm?

Many people ask me questions like: “I’m with Npower – is it cheap?” I can’t answer that, as what you pay depends on which of a firm’s tariffs you are on. Npower, for example, has one of the most expensive standard tariffs – for someone with typical usage it’s £1,161/yr – yet right now it also offers a relatively cheap fix at £969/yr.

In fact, EVERY big six provider has a cheaper deal than its standard tariff. So through gritted teeth, let me say: if you won’t switch as you’re loyal to your existing firm, at least ensure you’re on its cheapest tariff. Call them up and ask them. (Or better, use the what’s my current provider’s cheapest comparison energy club link, which filters out all other firms.  Though if it has tariffs under another name – eg Sainsbury’s Energy is really part of British Gas –  they’re included.)

What if I’m on a prepayment meter?

If you pay by a key or card meter, as many of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable do, then outrageously there’s nowhere near as much competition, and you pay more – though prices have been capped, which has helped a touch. If you do a prepay comparison there are often savings to be made, but often less than £100/yr.

If you can, try and switch to a billed meter. It’s free to do with one of the big six providers, and you’ll usually be credit-scored to check you’re capable of keeping up with payments.

Is comparing safe though? Isn’t it all about energy comparison sites making money?

Comparison sites, including my Cheap Energy Club, do get paid roughly £50 to £60 if they can switch you. Yet the price you pay is the same as if you switched direct with the energy firm. It comes from their marketing budgets, and if not paying a comparison site they tend to be paying advertisers.

In the case of Cheap Energy Club, we roughly split what we get paid with you (our share goes towards the pretty high costs and hopefully makes us a profit too). So on a dual fuel switch, if we can switch you we give you £25 cashback (£12.50 single fuel). That actually results in you getting a better deal than if you went direct to the energy firm (so we have a filter that enables you to factor this into the saving you make).

You have to be careful with some comparison sites as they are now allowed to only show you tariffs that pay them, which means you may not see the whole of the market. For the sake of transparency, Cheap Energy Club always defaults to the whole of the market – obviously if you click a link with a filter on as explained, then that cuts some providers, but not based on whether they pay or not.