Do you still have rights if you pay in Tesco (or other) vouchers?

Buy something from a store in cash and the store must obey the Sale of Goods Act rules. But what happens if you’re one of the growing band of voucheristas who buy without cash?

In a nutshell your rights are identical. When you purchase goods or services you are entering into a contract between you and the supplier. They provide you with the product in return for a ‘consideration’. There is nothing that requires the consideration to be in cash – you just need to pay in something that is acceptable by the supplier.

Therefore if you offer ‘Tesco Rewards Vouchers’ (where you trade-in normal vouchers for Rewards worth up to 4x the amount, see Tesco Rewards Boosting guide) and the supplier agrees them (which is of course due to its own contract with Tesco to do so knowing it’ll get some remuneration from Tesco), that forms your consideration.

And if the voucher simply gives you a price reduction, then it’s even simpler. Your consideration is still in cash, just at a discounted amount.

What are you rights

If you pay in vouchers, just like cash goods must still obey what I call the SAD FART rules.

That means any goods bought are faulty unless they are of…

Satisfactory quality, As Described,  Fit for purpose, And last a Reasonable length of Time

(For a full explanation see the Sad Farts Consumer Rights guide).

This ONLY works for faulty goods

Many people often mistakenly believe they have a right to take goods back if they change their mind. That simply isn’t true, whether cash or vouchers, you only have a legal right to take things back if they’re faulty.

If not, it is totally up to the retailers’/providers’ discretion – it can simply choose not to do anything.

Some do have published returns policies, in which case they’re enforceable as part of your contract. Yet if the policy says ‘no returns on goods bought with vouchers’ then that’s it – them’s the rules.

Refunds should be identical to the consideration

If goods are faulty and you take them back straight away, then you have the right of a full refund (later you’re only entitled to replacement or repair).

This refund should put you back in the position you would have been in if things hadn’t gone wrong, so it’s likely you’ll get vouchers back (though obviously it could chose to offer you cash, and then you have a choice to take that or the vouchers).

Again just to emphasise, that is only if goods are faulty. If they’re not faulty, you’re at the mercy of the company’s returns policy. If it were to say, ‘if you pay in vouchers, any returns will be refunded in chewy cola bottles’ then that’s the rule. You then have a choice – keep the goods or get the cola bottles.

Related blogs

Consumer Minister commits to future Financial Inclusion Fund money

This quick blog is more to ensure there’s a permanent record than anything else. Last week I was on a debate panel for CCCS at the Liberal Democrat conference. One fellow panellist was the coalition Consumer Minister, Ed Davey, so I took the opportunity to ask him about the Financial Inclusion Fund (FIF).

In a nutshell the Financial Inclusion Fund provides much of the cash to debt counselling agencies – including Citizens Advice (CAB), to allow them to keep working and providing free help. The fund was under threat this year, but thankfully after much lobbying (including by this site – see my past blog, Don’t cut £25m of debt counselling – how to campaign against the Financial Inclusion Fund closure) it was maintained.

I asked the Minister if at the end of this year, we could be sure the same desperate situation wouldn’t happen again, as both the risk to funds and the planning nightmare for the various help agencies could leave them with an uncertain future, and perhaps a need to make redundancies.

His commitment was unequivocal: “I guarantee we will ensure that last year’s problems will not happen again, the funding will be there” – which is the first guarantee I’ve heard on the fund’s future. He then assured the room that the funding would likely come from a levy on banks and there would be no gap in funding while it happened.

A CAB representative (called Laura) then followed up to note that the problem isn’t just the FIF, but also about local council cuts to debt counselling funding, which he acknowledged was an issue but one that was being looked at too.

So there you go. I think Ed Davey is pretty committed to the job as Consumer Minister and seems to care. But even so, there’s no harm in having this written down on record as a contemporaneous note. Hopefully we can count it as a binding commitment.

PS. Just a quick hello to the lady I met at the Lib Dem conference who’s on the women’s committee there – she was printing out vouchers from MSE and handing them out to delegates to ensure they got a cheap lunch – go you!

What do I do if my MP is the Speaker?

I was slightly stumped by this question yesterday. I had tweeted asking people to take 2 minutes to write to their MP to encourage them to attend the financial education debate in the Commons this Thursday, on the back of the e-petition hitting 100,000 signatures.

This was one of the first replies I received and it got me thinking. For those who don’t know, the Speaker of the House of Commons is currently John Bercow, who is the presiding officer of the chamber, and a sitting MP. By convention the role is non-partisan and the Speaker never votes or takes sides in any debates.

While of course this is a good idea for the man having to referee our heavily adversarial system – where does it leave constituents? They have a Member of Parliament they can’t lobby or push to engage in politics, effectively disenfranchising them from big political activity. Of course I suspect he still acts as a constituency MP dealing with individual issues, but not political ones.

While I love the history of our Parliament and the long established traditions, this is one of the areas where I think the anachronistic system needs a bit of tweaking. I often wonder what it must be like to live in a sitting PM’s constituency too – does he still do weekly surgeries? Or do you effectively lose a constituency MP?

I’d be interested in your thoughts.

The difference between ‘free’ and free

When is a freebie not a freebie? When you have to pay for it! Sounds simple, but in the real world things aren’t that clear cut. So this week we’re introducing a new site convention – the difference between ‘free’ and free.

Our forums have always been clear – we have the freebies (no spend) required and freebies (low spend) boards. The latter is for when there’s a cost associated with getting the freebie eg, you need to send off for it (stamp cost), or pay for delivery. The first means absolutely no cost.

This is a convention we’ve struggled with in the weekly email where space is a premium so from now on it works like this:

  • When it’s freeThis is where there is absolutely no cost to you. Eg, you fill in an online form or web app to get the freebie. I’ve also decided that if you need to pick it up in store then that’s in this category (even though you could argue there are transport costs – but we need draw the line somewhere).

    Example from this week’s email:

    FREE £150 insulation for ALL – here there’s no cost to you whatsoever and provided you qualify it’s a total freebie.

  • When its ‘free’Here we are indicating that the company fairly refers to it as a freebie, but that there may be some costs associated. I know the difference is small, but the key is we will prominently tell you about the charge anyway – so see it as part of the whole package.

    Example from this week’s email:

    ‘FREE’ £8 personalised mug (pay £2 p&p) – there is a real cost associated, but it’s the standard delivery cost only.

    Another use of this would be last week’s:  ‘Free’ up to £32 tie if you buy a £2 newspaper. While the tie itself is free, you need to shell out for the paper – so if you weren’t planning to, it’ll cost you.

In general we’ll be following that convention in the email and all new things on the site. Though there may be editorially justified exceptions. An extreme example (sadly, made-up) will help:

Imagine a company is giving away a £30,000 Mercedes to everyone who sends a stamped, addressed envelope – we’d probably just focus on the freebie as the cost is negligible in context.

Just because they call it a freebie, doesn’t mean we will

If any companies are reading this thinking that calling something ‘free’, but manipulating their pricing means we’ll follow – they’re very much mistaken.

Often this happens with package and postage charges – they’re inflated to cover the freebie. If the p&p is disproportionately high, we’ll simply phrase it differently (as we’ve done in the past).

Eg, suppose a spectacles company said it was giving £30 glasses for free, but the p&p was £10. Provided the deal was good and worth telling people about we’d phrase it as: Get £30 glasses for £10 even if their marketing called it a freebie.

The only problem here is when people go for these deals, what we write doesn’t match up to what they see – so we tend to have to explain it out to help.

Thoughts welcome.

Best-buy payday loans – should MSE include them?

Update: 12 July 2013: On 9 July 2013 we published our Payday loan best buys? guide.

We’re in the middle of writing our new guide to payday loans (eg Wonga, Quickcash etc.) and I’d like to solicit your views. The key concept is actually to explain all the alternatives you can try before using that type of lending.

So it’ll be a big checklist hopefully providing people with alternative safer routes and options. Then we will have a section on what to watch for and how to make it as safe as possible if you do get a payday loan.

The debate

What we’re currently debating in MSE Towers is whether the guide should include best-buy payday loans (or perhaps least worst is a better view), but there’s a difference of opinion – so we thought we’d ask you.

My view – we should include the best buys

This market is now £1.9billion a year – so there are a huge number of people doing it. No matter what we do, people are going to borrow this way and while I would like hardcore regulation to protect people, it isn’t happening yet.

Thus it’s a bit like drugs, if people are going to do it, we should ensure they are safe. Here are my reasons:

  • It gives us a chance to dissuade. Hopefully our best-buys will get search traction and then we can at least get the counter arguments and warnings in.
  • It’s mostly a bad move, but not 100% bad. Most of the time it’s not a good move, but a few times it is. Sadly there are few alternatives to cheap short term borrowing – and there are worse culprits out there. For example, if you could borrow £100 for a week to stop you getting Clydesdale bank’s £35 a transaction bank charge, and repay on time, it’s much cheaper.
    (Interesting isn’t it? We demonise payday lending but not bank charges, which are even worse for some than the 5,000% rates advertised).
  • There are big differences between the best and worst. Not all lenders are the same, so helping people choose when it’s right for them is worthwhile.
  • Parliament wants this. I was giving evidence to the Business Select Committee on Tuesday and one of their points is about helping people choose if they are going to do it.
  • We can factor in the safest ones. If we did it we wouldn’t just look at cost, but we’d also look at rollover policies, whether companies report loans to credit rating agents (a good thing as it helps prevent irresponsible lending) and most importantly their attitude to people who get in trouble.For example, very few payday lenders co-operate with non-profit debt advisors like CAB and CCCS, making it difficult. We would try and show which lenders do co-operate – so if you got in serious trouble you know they’d behave reasonably.

MSE Wendy and MSE Alana’s arguments against:

Rather than putting the counter point myself, here are MSE Wendy and MSE Alana’s worries about it:

By including specific company names in the guide people may think we approve of the companies mentioned and even with the warnings, people could see this as an active recommendation.

There’s also the issue that there are enormous numbers of small local payday lenders across the UK, so we could only include the big ones in the best-buys.

What’s your view?

PS. We don’t intend to use any affiliate links (links that pay the site) to payday lenders – see how this site is financed.

Past related blogs

Ditch prepay meters for free and let MSE switch for you: ideas given to Chris Huhne

I had a meeting with the Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, yesterday morning. The Government’s big plan is to ‘check, switch and insulate’, and as we’ve been telling people that for years, MSE Archna and I went in with suggestions and ways we could help.

This meet came about on the back of the Energy Summit, (see my PM if prices don’t fall, this summit will be deemed a failure blog) and I was pleased it felt far more constructive. The minister seemed interested in gathering ideas and keen on genuinely checking out the feasibility of them. Here are some of the main things we suggested (it’s relatively scrappy as I just banged these notes out after the meeting).

  • Collective switching for the elderly and others.

    Our system is predicated on ‘keep switching to save’. That’s fine for the information enfranchised, web using audience (see the Cheap gas & elec guide for how to do it!). Yet where it falls down are those who are scared or unable to switch. Whether this be the elderly, or simply people without time, or those who are unsure of what to do.

    We discussed the concept of a ‘collective switch’. People would give their consent for an organisation – whether it be Age UK,, a comparison site or another organisation, to be their switching agent. Then when appropriate, that organisation would mass switch everyone (probably via a mass negotiated collective purchase) – in an ongoing service.

    This is something Consumer Minister Ed Davey is looking at the bigger picture of – I’ve spoken to him about it before. Yet as I said yesterday, the problem is there needs to be clear guidance from the Government and a legal ability to switch people over rather than dealing with complex contract issues – and a discussion of what liability the switching organisation would have.

    While I suspect it wouldn’t mean everyone always getting the perfect deal – both due to the rapidity of change that’d be needed and the unwillingness of big energy companies to agree to super-cheap tariffs for so many – I still think you could keep people in the bottom 10-20% of prices with this system (back of the envelope thoughts).

    We agreed to hold a further meeting on this (with others invited) to discuss how do-able it would be and what the barriers are. While it’d be a departure for MSE this is exactly the type of thing I think the site is in a perfect position to do – and it would help many people.

    Of course though there are costs for any organisation running it (and an opportunity for enterprise) but I suspect they’d be smaller than comparison site referral fees, so may overall take costs out – not done accurate study of that though, so its only back of the envelope.

  • Free credit meters for those on prepay.
    The fact that some prepay customers have to shell out up to £200 to get a ‘credit meter’, (ie, a normal meter where you’re billed after use) which then gives access to more competition and cheaper tariffs, is a huge barrier (some can do it free though see our Cut prepay energy bills guide for help now).

    A simple suggestion we made was that provided customers pass the credit check, they should be allowed to switch to a credit meter for free – but a fair price can be recouped if they leave that company within six months. This would overcome the cash-flow hump that blocks many moving to cheaper bills.

    The minister did reply by asking if we could take it a step further and simply move people who qualified over automatically. My thought was that wouldn’t be good as a few people do still prefer prepay for budgeting purposes even though it’s not cheapest. Yet a letter offering it to all customers would work. In the long run it should be easier once smart meters are introduced anyway.

  • When you switch they shouldn’t be able to raise prices for 6 months.

    This wasn’t our original suggestion, it was mentioned at the summit, but I think it’s a corking idea. One of the big switching problems is people tend to switch when one company has hoicked prices – yet they often move to a company who then follows suit. This rule would stop that happening and stop sales staff saying “we haven’t put prices up” to sell deals, when they know full well it’s likely to happen soon.

    The alternative view being considered is a “transfer window” when companies can only shift prices twice a year.

  • Lockdown on the differential between tariffs.

    The biggest problem with energy is we want people to ‘switch and save’, yet this punishes those who don’t. For example, one customer would pay £1,000 for energy that someone else pays £1,350 for. It’s a wrongful penalty for ignorance, apathy, fear or a lack of ability.

    For me that makes it a failed marketplace. So I mooted the consideration of a differential cap – ie, a maximum 15% between the most and the least expensive. Of course the worry is they’d simply ditch the cheap deals at first, yet in the long run, simplified tariffs are what most people want (see the simplified tariffs poll results).

  • Tips not from the energy companies.

    There are many reasons people don’t switch (see my Note to energy minister: it’s not just laziness that stops people switching blog) and are on the wrong tariffs. One of the energy summit actions was that energy companies would write to customers suggesting they switch to direct debit.

    Yet who believes their energy company? Won’t that just be chucked in the bin as more direct mail spam? So we suggested we do a ‘ten tips for all customers’ that’s branded by us and (if they’re willing Which?, Consumer Focus, Age UK etc) and the Government to ensure everyone knows the crucial info about how to cut bills.

    This would include such things as “you won’t save, but you will pay less than you would’ve done.” For me this is what puts many people off. They’ve been burnt by being told they’ll save by switching but their bills don’t drop. That’s because when prices are rising, what switching actually does is stops the price going up (ie, if bills are up 20% and you save 20% it puts you back where you started).

    This type of info on helping people to switch and on where to get free insulation, all from combined sources that are there to help, may actually do the trick.

Those were the big points from the meeting, though it was a long discussion and lots of other things were mentioned. I’d love your thoughts.

P.S. The best bit of the meeting was when the lights dimmed, as it seems true to cause the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) offices have energy efficient motion sensor lights: cue Chris Huhne waving his arms above his head mid-meeting.

“I’ve had terrible service, why do you still recommend those b*****ds?”

This type of message isn’t rare. We often get people emailing, tweeting or facebooking us with things like this. The other day it was over a telecoms company, a gentleman had received hideous customer service, was angry and demanded we drop the company from our guide.

Yet if we stopped mentioning every telecoms provider (or most companies for that matter) that someone had had abysmal service from we wouldn’t list any. Of course while we’re sympathetic, it’s not fair or practical to start deciding a policy from one person’s nightmare. When you have 10 million users, we have to look at a bigger picture.

For almost every company we see scores of complaints and equally scores of thank yous. To try and quantify this, in some areas these days we do regular customer service polls, which we publish to help people make their mind up. Interestingly the company this person complained about has a better than average feedback– with over half of its customers who voted rating it as ‘great’.

But this gentleman was angry and furious that we wouldn’t remove it even though, as he’d exhausted all other routes, we offered to intervene for him and push for a solution.

It’s one of the reasons I have a site rule that we usually focus primarily on the rate – because service is just too subjective. Unless there’s a widespread and obvious problem that means the entire service is sub-standard, (like TalkTalk when it launched) we don’t remove it (though with our polls we do try and give the info as a choice).

Let me use First Direct as an example

To move it away from that specific complaint, let me use the example of First Direct. It has come overwhelmingly top for customer service EVERY time we’ve done a poll for our best bank accounts guide.

It has 93% great rating, 5% ok and 2% poor – the best rating for any company in any of the guides we do service polls for. Yet that still means 1 in 50 customers rate it poor. I do remember someone stopping me once to tell me a First Direct horror story and how they’d never use it and we shouldn’t include it.

And that’s the problem, circumstances are individualised. I suspect it’s one reason there’s no as there’s no form of homogeneity. I’d be interested in your thoughts (below) in how we should balance the individual case versus the mass feedback.

Travel money rip off – what the OFT needs to do

The entire ‘paying abroad’ industry is under scrutiny. A Consumer Focus super complaint on the subject, means the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) needs to give its view on unclear charges and how they work. We were asked to submit our view, so here’s what we said (mildly edited and in a less formal form)…

Using debit, credit or prepay cards overseas

Foreign currency costs are a secondary consideration for most consumers when choosing credit cards and current accounts.

For this reason we suggest to our site users that the best-practice scenario is to use a credit card prepaid in full, that is used specifically and only for holiday use – chosen for its overseas fees.

There are a number of specialist cards that have low overseas fees (though they are not very good for UK spending) and can be used this way (see the Top overseas plastic guide).

Yet overall, the lack of transparency makes comparing and consumer choice extremely difficult.

i. If a debit, credit or prepaid card adds a foreign exchange loading, that must be broken out in statements

The foreign exchange rate charged on plastic contains a cost most providers keep hidden. The loading is an extra fee of up to 3% on the exchange rate of the day, which effectively means card companies charge for using foreign currency (so, spend £100 worth of euros and it costs £103).

The fact most companies don’t include this on both debit and credit card statements means many consumers are unaware it’s being charged and that they may be able to cut the cost by using other plastic.

Where the loading fee does appear independently on statements, there is usually little description, if any, leaving it unclear what the charge is for.

We propose all loadings must be broken out on statements for each payment and indicate both the cost in pounds and percentages.

ii. The exchange rate used by debit, credit and prepaid cards must be published and available each day

While most cards base their exchange rate on the Visa and Mastercard wholesale rate, not all cards do. Some use their own rates (akin to trackers and standard variable rates in mortgages) and few publish which rate they use.

This makes exchange rate comparisons difficult, even for those who know what a loading is. Therefore we would propose that the exchange rate used must be published in a summary box as well as the loading.

If the exchange rate is not the Visa/Mastercard wholesale rate, the card company must publish the rate being used each day on its website – alongside the Visa/Mastercard rate to allow ease of comparison.

iii. Foreign currency withdrawals should not count as cash withdrawals

On all credit cards and some debit cards (full list on the purchase of foreign currency isn’t always treated as a UK transaction and is often considered to be a cash withdrawal, incurring an extra fee of around 3%.

Many consumers aren’t aware of this and of the fact that it results in them having to pay higher charges than if they simply withdraw cash from a UK ATM on their debit cards and use that to pay for the foreign exchange. This anomaly needs to be corrected.

iv. Lack of warning about credit card cash withdrawal interest, even if the card’s repaid in full

Spend on most credit cards and repay in full and there’s no interest. Yet if you take cash out, most cards do charge interest even if repaid in full. This is particularly a problem for overseas spending as it’s often the only time people use their credit cards for cash.

Consumers are not aware of this fact, or the majority would be more likely to pay in full at the earliest convenience to save on unnecessary interest costs, and providers do not go out of their way to warn their customers about the consequences of taking cash out on a credit card or paying for currency in this way.

We think this should be relatively straightforward to rectify.

Foreign currency sales in the UK

i. The nonsense of commission free offers

The phrasing used by most foreign currency retailers also concerns us. ‘Commission free’ offers mean little when it is simply paid for by increasing the spread of exchange rates.

While this may be more of an issue with the financial capability of today’s travellers, too many consumers are led to believe that 0% is the best option when it is just one of many elements to be factored into a decision.

Companies should not be allowed to advertise on commission alone without warnings that this does not mean people are necessarily getting a good rate.

ii. Bureau de change transactions must be regulated and safe

While not covered by this investigation, by far the most pressing concern over bureau de change providers in this internet age, is safety of the cash used. This applies especially where money is held by a currency provider eg. buying in advance.

In this case, as happened with Crown Currency Exchange in 2010, if an organisation becomes insolvent consumers have no protection and any money held by is lost. As long as this remains the case consumers will be more likely to use the main high street banks or the Post Office for their travel money needs, which results in restricted competition and a lack of consumer choice in the market as smaller operators are not able to survive, except for a few local specialist dealers.

We believe a review of the regulation of bureau de change safety and consumer protection is therefore necessary.

Those are our views, your thoughts and discussions on this are most welcome below.

The Eurozone crisis has little impact on you, but a lot on us

Today’s Eurozone news is bleak. The Greek government’s in turmoil, European interest rates have been cut. It is a genuine financial crisis. Unsurprisingly, the question I’m often being asked is: “What does it mean for me?” So I thought I’d try and give a simple answer.

The impact on individual’s finances is limited

For most individuals in the UK the actual direct impact is negligible. Very little has changed. The markets are a worry for those with pension funds, but actually the market is up slightly compared to a few weeks ago. Even without this, it’s only a paper loss unless you sell. Though for those nearing retirement it is a worry – as it’s a big decision deciding when the right moment to convert a pension to an annuity is (see the Annuities guide).

The real impact is for ‘us’

That’s why the real worry isn’t for you, but for us collectively, our economy as a whole. While we’re quite removed from Greece, the nightmare scenario is a domino effect (the game, not pizzas) that could sweep across Europe and eventually topple on us too.

That would have a hit on the real economy, at best, further effecting jobs, salaries, the ability to borrow and stability, and at worse putting our entire financial system under threat of collapse (if you have savings it’s worth double checking the Are my savings safe? guide.)

Yet if I were looking for a bright spark amongst the overwhelmingly black sky, if we are heading for a recession, it’s likely to result in lower demand for oil, so energy and petrol bills could drop on the back of it. Plus of course, specifically with the Euro weakening, it means things will be cheaper for those who go abroad.

So that’s my view in a nutshell, though remember my specialty is personal finance, not economics. Is there anything I’ve missed?

There are more savers than debtors

With all the talk of the nation’s finances creaking (or crashing depending on where you read it) it’s easy to think everyone is mired in debt. This week’s site poll belies that though, with 54% net savers, to 41% net debtors (and 5% in the middle).

Now some may be shocked at this, especially as it’s a poll, and many assume our users are primarily in trouble. Actually that’s a common misunderstanding about the site demographics – we tend to closely map the make-up as internet users in general – rather than favour any group. After all some come as they need help, while others enjoy saving money and are good at it, hence having cash.

The poll excludes mortgages

It’s important to note this site poll (view the latest results) did ask people to exclude mortgages and student loans, as I thought it would be a fairer measure of the state of the nation.

Mortgages are a form of investment debt that results in an asset and offsets the necessary cost of housing – though of course there will be some who have a big struggle with covering their mortgage debts. Student loans can’t really be included as you only have to repay it if you’re earning – so it doesn’t hang over you (and currently most shouldn’t try to repay more quickly than they need to – see Should I pay off my student loan?).

Of course, there are people who have both savings and unsecured debts – for a few who are savvy, this is fine if they’re stoozing. Yet for many it’s an absolute waste of cash – what’s the point of having debt on a credit card at 20%, just so you can say you’ve some savings which are only at 3%. Most should simply pay off debt with savings.

However, I think we will re-run this poll without the exclusions in a month or so to see how the two compare.

Far more big savers than big debtors

At the extreme ends the stats are even more polarised. A quarter of respondents have over £25,000 saved (and 8% over £100,000), compared to just 8% with over £25,000 debts (2% over £100,000).

For those with jaws dropping open wondering where on earth all these supersized savers are, I suspect there’s a big age differential going on here. Some older people who are mortgage free, can build savings relatively quickly. Others will have taken the 25% tax-free lump sum from their pension fund and are sitting on that.

In fact, I once heard a note that there are six times more savings accounts in the UK than debt accounts. Though I’ve no idea if it’s substantiated (and of course there are more iterations of savings, e.g. multiple cash ISAs, than debts).

A democratic recession – hitting both savers and debtors

It’s worth noting both groups have been hit by this recession. Of course everyone is affected by rising prices and the necessary squeeze on disposable incomes – though of course the less income you have the more disproportionately hard rising fixed costs like energy, petrol and food hit you.

Also, while lower interest rates should’ve benefited those in debt, the credit crunch means while best-buy rates are lower, lending criteria has tightened like a noose, meaning it’s difficult for many to cut the costs of their existing debts – leaving interest rapidly accruing.

Yet savers too have been hit, with interest rates limboing substantially under the prior two hundred year lows. Worst still, the net effect of high inflation and low interest rates is that many savings are in reality losing’s, as the spending power of the money in them is shrinking (one reason why repaying a mortgage with savings, then finding the top savings deals are so popular).