Would you benefit from a salary advance scheme or could it get you into more debt?

With many people facing financial difficulties due to the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, some could be tempted to turn to a growing breed of providers who offer the chance to access pay early.

Salary advance schemes let users take a portion of their wages before their payday to help them if they are caught short – but it often comes at a cost to either a worker or their employer.

The cost and the risk of being short in future because you spent money you need early is a downside. 

However, this is very different to payday lending with its sky-high interest rates, however, salary advance instead aims to smooth earnings, can let people simulate being paid weekly instead of monthly, and allow them to access emergency cash.

Salary advance schemes allow employees to access their wages early if in need of money

All apps offer access to a proportion of already-earned pay with many not allowing customers to take more than 50 per cent of their wage – and sometimes as little as 25 per cent. 

Providers have not been cast in the best light of late after ex-PM David Cameron was called out for lobbying the health service to use a Greensill app called Earnd that allows NHS employees to draw their salary earned but not yet paid.

Just 450 health service personnel from three different trusts began using the app, before the firm went bust and where the app stands now is unclear. 

However, there are a number of companies offering a similar service with some claiming to be cost free with thousands already signed up. 

This is Money takes a look at some of the main competitors in the salary advance market and reveals how much it could cost you. 

Borofree

Launching this week, Borofree is a salary advance solution that the firm claims ‘is cost-free for both the employer and the employees’. It doesn’t involve cash but gift cards to spend at certain retailers.

A spokesperson for Borofree said: ‘We know that unexpected moments occur in life and sometimes some additional support is needed.

‘So, whether it’s to help with those everyday essentials, budgeting food shopping, Christmas or birthday presents or for those unexpected emergencies, the user can use their salary advance to give them a helping hand.’

The firm said it believes the service can help staff retention as employees increase staff wellbeing and mental health.

How much can employees get in advance: Rather than giving people direct access to cash, Borofree allows them to use up to £300 of their salary before payday to buy the products and services they need with gift cards without incurring any fees or interest. 

Those signed up will have access to over 50 high street stores and online retailers including John Lewis, ASDA, B&Q and National Express where they can spend the vouchers. 

Repayment for the amount borrowed will automatically be taken on payday.

How it makes money: The service makes money through its brand partners where it earns a small commission. 

Many of the advance salary apps believe it can help financial health to get wages earlier

Many of the advance salary apps believe it can help financial health to get wages earlier

Hastee

Hastee was launched in August 2017 and says it was the first Earnings on Demand platform to launch in the UK.

The company believes the traditional payroll cycle is no longer meeting the changing demands of today’s workforce and says employees need their earnings on demand to meet unexpected challenges. 

It said the increased liquidity from its app can help workers avoid the use of other high-cost credit options and means they can more flexibly access their own money on demand without accruing debt.   

The app is being used by over 300,000 employees from multiple organisations across Europe including NHS South London and Maudsley, Barcelo Hotel Group, Mitchells & Butlers and London City Airport. 

Alongside the Earnings on Demand capability, Hastee also offers employers the chance to provide financial management tools to their workforce, such as savings, cashback, rewards and budgeting guides. 

How much can employees get in advance: It offers customers up to 50 per cent of their salary in advance in cash. 

How it makes money: Workers receive their first withdrawal, up to £100, free of fees. Thereafter, it charges a 2.5 per cent transaction fee – but never charges any interest.

In most cases, the fee is paid by the employee when they withdraw their earnings, but employers have the option to cover this cost for their staff. 

Hastee said this has no impact on company cash flow as it funds all the withdrawals, with the company paying it back on their normal payday.   

Wagestream

Another of the first early wage access firms, Wagestream launched in the UK three years ago.

So far, more than 200 employers offer Wagestream’s service to their employees across industries like hospitality, retail, security and healthcare. 

It added around half a million employees have the option of using the app through their employer but adoption rates vary widely across different industries. 

Some 20 per cent of enrolled users are choosing to use the Earned Wage Access feature, less than once per week, allowing them to roughly replicate the cadence of weekly pay.  

It added within a year of making their first Earned Wage Access transfer, employees are, on average, transferring lower amounts, less often, and at later stages in the pay cycle than they were originally. 

Like other apps, it offers other features that allow employees to track earnings in real-time, set up reminders for recurring bills and build savings.

It said the end goal of its service is less reliance on predatory forms of short-term credit, more savings, better financial literacy and better overall financial resilience. 

How much can employees get in advance: It allows employees to access up to 50 per cent of their earned wages, before the end of the pay cycle 

How it makes money: Employers pay a software fee to offer Wagestream as a benefit which sometimes entails an ‘implementation’ fee as well.

Employers can then choose to subsidise the cost of transaction fees, for the Earned Wage Access feature, as it costs the firm to process these.

If not, employees then typically have free access to ‘Track’, ‘Save’ and ‘Learn’, and pay £1.75 each time to access their earned wages if they use the Earned Wage Access feature. 

Usage and fees are capped, by controls put in place and monitored by each employer such as caps to prevent the employee from accessing more than a fixed portion of their earned wages, in-app notification to ensure transparency of usage and a maximum cap on fees.   

Most of the apps charge a fee to the employee or employer to access their salaries early

Most of the apps charge a fee to the employee or employer to access their salaries early

Level

So far, the Level app, which was launched in 2020, has been rolled out to tens of thousands of employees. 

Capita is the first business to deploy the Level app to its workforce, which it says makes it the largest rollout of this kind of technology ever in the UK. 

Steve Holliday, CEO of Level, said: ‘The app is designed to encourage users to develop good habits and empower people to meet their personal finance goals and aspirations – particularly around savings and budgeting.’

Asked whether such an app could lead to a user getting in debt, he said the trouble with salary advance schemes arise when a person becomes reliant on them month in, month out – but it believes this is at odds with a responsible approach to implementation.

The app also offers a suite of services that include budgeting tools, financial education and, above all, savings.

How much can employees get in advance: The maximum a person can take out each month is £500 and the maximum number of advances they can take is three (checking if this is year/ever)

How it makes money: Level said its principal offering is to charge the employer for each employee that uses its product and to charge the employee a flat fee for each monthly advance.

Its website states there is an admin fee of £2 per advance.  

The average amount taken out by each employee depends on the salary and the hours worked by the individual employee.

However, for a full-time salaried worker who earns more than the Real Living Wage, the average monthly advance is £210. 

There was an industry review into the schemes, looking at whether they are considered safe

There was an industry review into the schemes, looking at whether they are considered safe

Is salary advance a help or hindrance? 

The recent publication of the Woolard Review, a review of change and innovation in the unsecured credit market by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), examined the advanced salary practice. 

As part of the review, the FCA said employees can use such schemes to ‘smooth’ their income throughout the month to better manage regular monthly spending or deal with unexpected or emergency expenditure. 

It found that, depending on how they are used, they can be a low-cost, easy-to-access alternative for people who may not be able to access mainstream credit. 

However, it added the services should be implemented responsibly and with accompanying tools which encourage good habits to improve savings and budgeting.

Debt charity, Stepchange, agreed with the findings of the review. 

Adam Butler, Public Policy Manager at Stepchange, said: ‘Last year, 52 per cent of the people coming to StepChange or their partners were in some form of employment so it’s evident that people are still struggling with their debts while in work.

‘That is why it’s so important that employers examine how they can support the financial wellbeing of their employees.

Well-designed salary advance schemes can help reduce demand for high cost credit but any form of borrowing needs to be considered carefully 

 Adam Butler, Stepchange

‘Well-designed salary advance schemes can help reduce demand for high cost credit but any form of borrowing needs to be considered carefully to ensure that it is affordable and does not mask or cause a bigger problem.

‘For employers, one of the questions might be whether demand for borrowing indicates an employee needs more tailored support. 

‘Employers can help prevent borrowing to make ends meet by supporting employees to build an emergency savings pot and build financial resilience, including signposting to free debt advice.’

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.

Asda tries out unattended food deliveries as customers return to the office

Asda tries out unattended food deliveries in bid to maintain shoppers’ appetite for grocery drop-offs once they return to the office

  • The supermarket is installing delivery boxes outside of customers’ homes
  • Food inside can stay fresh for up to 4 hours and is securely locked
  • Leaving deliveries unattended could make grocery shopping more convenient as many people stop working from home

Asda is trialling food deliveries that will be left outside customers’ homes unattended, as it prepares for a time when more people will be returning to their place of work.

Shopping will be delivered within a four-hour delivery window whilst a customer is away from home, with the boxes fixed securely outside.

The metal containers can keep chilled and frozen items cold for up to four hours and are a suitable size for a ‘regular’ shop, the supermarket said.

The service is free to use throughout the trial, and Asda hopes it will make grocery drop-offs more convenient in a post-lockdown world.

Asda is trying out unattended food deliveries in bid to make grocery shopping convenient

The trial is currently taking place with a small number of customers, predominantly in Yorkshire but also in locations in the North East, Wales and the South.

The shoppers currently testing the service will provide feedback to the store.

How does it work? 

Those signed up to the trial will have metal boxes fixed to the ground or an outer wall of their home. 

Shoppers then fill their basket on Asda’s site as normal, before choosing a four-hour delivery slot. 

The delivery drivers will bring the shopping to the metal box, entering a one-time code that allows them access to the box to make a single delivery. They will then lock it securely until the customer arrives home.

Two box sizes are being trialled depending on the size of the household, which can accommodate four or six tote bags of shopping respectively. 

Insulating materials are being used to maintain the correct product temperature when shopping is placed in the box, and to ensure items are not affected by hot or cold weather.

Customers can bring their food inside when they arrive home, and lock the box behind them.  

The boxes will stay outside of the customers’ home unless they no longer want to use the service. 

It is hoped the trial will appeal to those who are reverting back to ‘normal life’ after lockdown and will be out of the house more often.

It is hoped the trial will appeal to those who are reverting back to 'normal life' after lockdown

It is hoped the trial will appeal to those who are reverting back to ‘normal life’ after lockdown

Supermarket sales soared during 2020 as grocers benefited from having essential retailer status. 

Data from Kantar recently revealed that Asda was the fastest-growing of the big four retailers for the first time in nearly two and a half years. 

Whilst its larger stores were visited less often by shoppers looking to stay local in the early days of the pandemic, footfall has now returned strongly. 

Its share of the market increased by 0.4 per cent to 14.8 per cent during the 12 weeks to 18 April 2021 compared to the same period a year ago, on the back of 8 per cent growth. 

Home deliveries increased dramatically as a result, with Asda increasing its delivery capacity from 450,000 to 850,000 slots a week since the pandemic began.

Simon Gregg, vice president of online grocery at Asda, said: ‘We are pleased to be trialling an unattended delivery service as we continue to innovate and learn from new initiatives to help enhance our grocery home shopping offer.

‘As things begin to open up again, the boxes provide a convenient way for customers involved in the trial to take delivery of their regular shop while they are not at home.’

Asda is in the midst of a £6.8million takeover by the billionaire Issa brothers who agreed to buy the retailer last year.

Last week, the two offered to sell 27 of their petrol forecourts to ease concerns of potential fuel price hikes raised by the Competition and Markets Authority.

As a result, it is likely the duo will avoid a full probe by the watchdog.  

It said this week: ‘The CMA considers there are reasonable grounds for believing that the undertakings offered jointly by Mr Zuber Issa, Mr Mohsin Issa and TDR Capital LLP, or a modified version of them, might be accepted by the CMA under the Enterprise Act 2002.’

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Symbio Energy given formal warning after ‘aggressive’ response to negative reviews online

Symbio Energy given formal warning after ‘aggressive’ response to negative reviews online as customers complain about meter readings being ignored

  • Symbio Energy has been given a ‘cease and desist’ warning by Trustpilot 
  • It was accused of ‘aggressive’ responses by customers who left bad reviews 
  • Complaints included bad customer service and meter readings being ignored 

Symbio Energy has been slapped with a formal warning by Trustpilot after receiving complaints about how the small supplier responded to negative reviews on the site.

Many frustrated Symbio customers complained on the review site and on social media about customer service issues at the small electricity-only supplier.

Other complaints the provider received centred around the estimates it uses to calculate bills, with people saying the provider has ignored the meter readings they’ve provided and used inflated estimates instead.

Symbio had been replying to the negative reviews on Trustpilot with a link to an unrelated BBC News article regarding a man that was forced to pay thousands in libel damages to a legal firm over a bad review.

Symbio Energy has been given a formal warning over the way it responds to reviews online

Customers of the firm said they feel this is ‘aggressive’ and Trustpilot has now launched an investigation – sending Symbio what it calls a formal ‘cease and desist notice’.

Symbio Energy told Money Saving Expert, who first reported the story, that it has a back office in Goa, India, and that ‘due to pandemic issues in India there have been operational issues resulting from curfews and lockdowns’.

As of today, the supplier was still responding to reviews with the BBC News link attached and in the last few hours it has ceased responding at all.

However, there is an alert on Symbio’s Trustpilot page saying it is investigating the company and the reviews on the page.

Currently, the provider has 1.7 out of 5 stars on average on the website.

Another common complaint, aside from ignored meter readings and bad customer service, was from customers who said they struggled to get a response to their queries from the company at all. 

This is Money has contacted Symbio for comment but had no response at the time of publication.

When trying to call the firm, it was advised a large number of people were trying to get through and it would take around 50 minutes before it would be answered.  

An alert on Symbio's Trustpilot page says it is currently investigating the company & reviews

An alert on Symbio’s Trustpilot page says it is currently investigating the company & reviews

This is one of the most common responses from Symbio to those leaving negative reviews

This is one of the most common responses from Symbio to those leaving negative reviews

A Trustpilot spokesperson said: ‘Trustpilot is a place where consumers can provide publicly open feedback about the experiences they have with any business – positive or negative.

‘We expect everyone to be a respectful contributor to our platform. Amongst other things, our guidelines for consumers and businesses require everyone to “Play nice”. 

‘Where consumers or businesses act in a way that is threatening, or is perceived to be so, we treat this as a breach of our guidelines and take steps to put a stop to it.

‘In this instance, we have taken swift action, sending a formal Cease and Desist letter to the business demanding that all responses contravening our guidelines be quickly amended. 

‘As we investigate the business’s profile further, we have also placed a Consumer Alert to warn everyone of our latest actions. Should a positive response from the business not be forthcoming in the next week, we will take further action.’ 

Below are just some of the complaints from customers on social media.  

This Twitter user said they were charged double what their meter reading indicated

This Twitter user said they were charged double what their meter reading indicated

Another user said the Symbio app wasn't working and they couldn't get through on the phone

Another user said the Symbio app wasn’t working and they couldn’t get through on the phone

One customer said they still hadn't heard back from Symbio after several months of waiting

One customer said they still hadn’t heard back from Symbio after several months of waiting 

This isn’t the first time Symbio has found itself in hot water.

It was revealed in January that the Watford-based provider could be fined as much as £100,000 for making late payments into government renewables schemes.

Ofgem said it failed to pay four instalments on time, something it added that other firms had managed to achieve despite problems arising from the coronavirus.

Symbio Energy did eventually pay the money it owed – totalling around £1.2million – when Ofgem threatened or began enforcement action. 

If you are a customer affected by Symbio Energy, you are advised to first contact the supplier directly before making a formal complaint if the matter is not solved to your satisfaction. 

If you feel that, after that, there is still no resolve, you can contact the Energy Ombudsman which will investigate the dispute.  

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Alzheimer’s Society: Play fair on council tax discounts for dementia

Alzheimer’s Society urges councils to play fair on discounts for households where family member has dementia

Charity Alzheimer’s Society is urging local authorities to stop playing hard ball over paying council tax discounts to households where a family member has dementia. 

It believes too many councils are not classifying those hit by Alzheimer’s as having a severe mental impairment. As a result, households are missing out on a 25 per cent discount normally granted when people fall into this group. 

Unfair: Alzheimer’s Society believes too many councils are not classifying those hit by dementia as having a severe mental impairment

The problem stems from the fact that the legal definition of ‘severe mental impairment’ is open to interpretation. It does not depend on someone being diagnosed with dementia or losing mental capacity. Instead, the person should have a severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning that appears to be permanent – with a certificate from a doctor confirming this.

 Gavin Terry, director of policy at Alzheimer’s Society says: ‘No person with dementia should be losing out on a council tax discount because of where they live. It’s a postcode lottery.’ One Somersetbased reader is outraged that he gets no council tax discount even though his 78-year-old wife suffers from dementia. 

He said: ‘My wife now gets lost looking for rooms. She needs constant support – but I would rather provide this myself than have her placed in care. Although I have a doctor’s certificate confirming her condition, North Somerset Council refuses to bend. Indeed, it threatened to take me to court unless I paid the full council tax demand.’ 

The council failed to provide a comment. Alzheimer’s Society provides a support line for carers: 0333 150 3456.

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Can I store my solar power and use it later so it doesn’t go to waste?

Solar panels are a popular option for those looking to become more environmentally-friendly and save money on their energy bills in the long run.

However, many have been put off purchasing them – not only because they can be a costly investment, but also because they worry they will not make the most of the solar power provided.

Often, electricity generated by the panels can go to waste as the most energy is produced during the day when there is more sun. In normal times, this is when most people are at work and not using appliances. 

In fact, two thirds of the world’s energy is wasted somewhere between generation and usage.

Energy saving: Batteries that can store energy from solar panels are becoming more popular

But there is a solution, in the form of batteries that store solar power and keep it so consumers can use it later.

A number of companies have now designed these batteries, which can be attached to the home.

This means energy generated from the sun can be used outside of daylight hours, reducing a home’s reliance on the grid and making it more environmentally friendly.

Jonathan Maxwell of Sustainable Development Capital, an investment management firm which specialises in environmental infrastructure, said his firm is working on a number of projects where such batteries are used. 

He said: ‘Over the last two to three years it has become possible to buy solar power generated on rooftops for the same price or cheaper than from the grid – even in a less sunny country like the UK. 

‘The power goes straight to the point of use and, paired with battery energy storage, can even be stored for when it is most needed, or at the times of day when buying from the grid is most expensive. 

‘This has changed the game for many businesses and is a huge opportunity to reduce the carbon emissions cost effectively in homes’. 

This is Money takes a look at which firms are offering batteries that store solar power, how much it costs and whether it could be a viable option for your home. 

A Powerwall for home usage costs £8,700, which includes £1,400 for supporting hardware

A Powerwall for home usage costs £8,700, which includes £1,400 for supporting hardware

Which firms offer batteries?

Tesla’s Powerwall is one of the most well-known devices, but several other UK energy suppliers also offer similar batteries including Eon and EDF. 

British Gas, however, said it was not something it currently provides.

Tesla’s Powerwall

Powerwall is a rechargeable home battery that lets you store solar energy generated during the day and use it to power your home at night, helping create a self-powered home. 

It also gives households the ability to use solar power when there is a power outage, and can be used to charge an electric vehicle. 

Other benefits include being able to use the Tesla app to monitor a home’s energy production and consumption in real time, as well as controlling usage.

If your energy costs vary, or if you are on a time-of-use rate plan, Powerwall can also take that into account to maximise your savings. When electricity is expensive, Powerwall uses stored low-cost energy to power your home. 

The Powerwall can be placed inside or outside the home, as well as being floor or wall-mounted. 

For those interested in making money by selling their unused energy back to the Grid, Tesla said customers can use a feed in tariff – but the returns are less than they used to be, so you would likely save more money by filling up your Powerwall and using at peak times. 

Cost: One Powerwall for home usage costs £8,700, which includes £1,400 for supporting hardware. Currently the devices are only available to reserve online. 

Eon's batteries can be bought for £2,574 if a customer also has solar panels through the firm

Eon’s batteries can be bought for £2,574 if a customer also has solar panels through the firm

Eon’s solar battery 

Eon is one of the UK’s energy suppliers that offers solar batteries. 

To have one fitted, the provider said one of the firms solar experts would have an initial consultation with a customer where they would discuss details to understand what it is they are looking for and give the customer more detail about the exact costs. 

It currently offers four sizes of batteries depending on what size and type of solar panel system a customer chooses for their home and how much storage capacity they require. 

The supplier offers solar panels only, solar and battery storage as a package, or battery retrofit for someone who already has panels but would like to add a battery. 

Cost: Consumers can add a solar battery to their system from only £2,574. 

However, costs vary depending on customers’ demands and requirements. 

There is also a range of flexible payment options. 

Duracell is one of the only solar battery providers that lets customers sell back to the Grid

Duracell is one of the only solar battery providers that lets customers sell back to the Grid

EDF’s Powervault

EDF, through its partnership with Powervault, is offering what it says is ‘one of the most advanced and cost-effective home battery systems on the market’.

Powervault is compatible with any solar photovoltaic system, and customers can choose to purchase Powervault 3 from EDF with or without the EDF grid services.

Those who add grid services through EDF will be allowing the energy stored in their Powervault 3 battery to form part of a network of small, domestic batteries across the country, which can be used to help balance the grid.

Powervault said customers who have installed a Powervault 3 to store solar energy can expect to save up to 50 per cent on their energy bills. 

This saving is even higher for customers on time of use tariffs, which draw electricity from the grid when it is cheaper to store for later use. 

Cost: The 4kWh Powervault 3 is currently £4,599 down from £5,599, whilst the 8kWh Powervault 3 was £7,999 but is now £6,499.

Duracell’s Energy Bank

Arguably the world’s most famous battery provider, Duracell has its own solar power storage system called Energy Bank.

Different from many of the others, it is one of the only batteries where customers can sell excess energy back to the Grid, making them money. 

Customers can also monitor electricity generation and storage via an app. 

Duracell says the system is small and lightweight, which makes for easy installation and maintenance. 

Cost: The Bank costs £4,499, according to Which?, excluding the price of installation. 

Is it worth it?  

There are a number of other firms offering similar solar batteries for varying prices – ranging from £2,000 to £10,000, depending on the size of the battery needed for your home. 

However, whether splashing out on a battery is worth it for you will depend on a number of factors.

If you have an existing small solar panel system, with little excess to go into a battery or other storage options, it’s not likely to make financial sense, according to the Energy Saving Trust. 

New build homes integrating small PV systems into their designs are also unlikely to benefit.

On the other hand, if you have installed a large number of panels on your roof and there’s generally no-one around during the day using the electricity generated, it may be well worth considering your storage options. 

Prices of storage batteries are likely to go down in the next couple of years, according to the EST, so it may also be worth biding your time. 

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.

Key ways to challenge the spiralling cost of council tax bills

Local authorities increase council tax bills by up to 5%, but some households can mitigate impact by challenging them or applying for discounts

Cash-strapped local authorities have just increased council tax bills for the year ahead by up to 5 per cent. But some households can mitigate the impact by challenging them or applying for discounts. 

The Taxpayers’ Alliance has been among those to criticise the increases at a time of hardship for many households – especially given that some 3,000 council workers now earn more than £100,000 a year, plus are eligible for gold plated pensions. 

John O’Connell, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, says: ‘Households struggling with unpopular council tax increases can explore a variety of options to cut bills that are not advertised.’ 

On the rise: Cash-strapped local authorities have just increased council tax bills for the year ahead by up to 5 per cent

The first is to challenge your property’s tax band – based on home valuations made three decades ago. If part of your home has ever been demolished or it has been split into flats it might have changed band. By dropping a band you can save £400 a year. Bands are ‘A’ to ‘H’ in England and Scotland, plus an extra ‘I’ in Wales.

Next, you should look to see if you are due a discount. If living alone or only with someone aged under 18 or still in full-time education, you may be entitled to a 25 per cent discount. If a live-in carer shares the property with you or if the house has been renovated to help with a disability, such as putting in an easy access downstairs bedroom or bathroom for wheelchair use, you might also get 25 per cent off. 

If someone has a severe mental impairment, such as Alzheimer’s, you should also claim the discount.   

If on a low income and receiving benefits, such as universal credit or pension credit, you can claim up to 100 per cent of the bill. Householders who have suffered financial hardship due to coronavirus may also be granted a ‘payment holiday’ by their local council – but bills must still be paid at some stage. 

Before making a challenge based on a disputed banding, check out the Government’s Valuation Office Agency website in England or Wales – in Scotland the Scottish Assessors Association. You should compare your property band with neighbours’ homes. 

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Save hundreds of pounds a year on shopping with one click!

Save hundreds of pounds a year on shopping with one click! Use cashback websites to cut your costs

‘Coupon kid’: Money blogger Jordon Cox

Millions of households now regularly use the internet to do their shopping – and although lockdown restrictions have eased, many are expected to continue to shop from their homes rather than venture on to their local high street. 

Apart from convenience, one big advantage of buying goods online is that you can use cashback websites to cut your shopping costs. 

These popular websites provide ‘money back’ offers on all types of products from big-brand retailers, including Marks & Spencer, Sky, Argos and Tesco. 

In effect, a percentage of your spending is paid back into your online cashback account, which you can then either empty into your bank account or convert into shopping vouchers. 

To get the cashback, shoppers need to remember to first click on the cashback website and then look for deals from the retailer they want to buy from. 

Money blogger Jordon Cox, who is known as Britain’s Coupon Kid, is a big fan of cashback. He says: ‘One extra click through to the retailer of your choice can save you money. Using a cashback website each time you buy online could add up to savings equivalent to hundreds of pounds a year.’ 

Cashback websites TopCashback and Quidco say their customers save £300 and £325 on average a year, respectively. 

TopCashback and Quidco are the two biggest providers, but others include My Money Pocket – a sister company of TopCashback – and Widilo. 

TopCashback and Quidco offer deals from more than 5,000 retailers and have over 10 million subscribers each. They tend to offer the best deals, but not in all cases. For example, TopCashback pays 8 per cent cashback on Adidas items, rather than between 6 per cent and 6.6 per cent from other providers. 

Quidco pays £210 when you take out a phone contract with Tesco Mobile, but other websites do not offer this deal. 

Widilo and Quidco, meanwhile, offer 3 per cent on all Halfords transactions, whereas TopCashback does not offer cashback with the bike retailer. 

And TopCashback and Quidco both offer 16 per cent cashback to new customers of online clothes retailer Asos, as well as 4 per cent to existing customers. Widilo pays new customers 3 per cent and existing customers 1 per cent. 

There are three ways to shop via cashback websites. 

Shoppers can sign up to several websites and then compare deals each time. Alternatively, they can pick one website and accept it will not always get them the best deal available. Or they can take advantage of the price guarantees offered by TopCashback and Quidco. These mean that if you spot a better deal on a different website, they’ll make up the difference if you let them know. 

Signing up to a cashback website is free, so it may feel like there is little downside to using one. After all, you are effectively receiving free money just for shopping. 

But Sara Williams, of money blog Debt Camel, urges caution. She says: ‘It’s easy to think you are getting a bargain, but it can result in people spending more than they intended – simply to get the biggest cashback.’

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Only 55% of homes applying to Green Homes Grant were approved

Only 55 per cent of homes that applied to the Green Homes Grant in the eight months it operated were approved, new data has revealed.

Applications for the scheme were also revealed to have soared in the month before it was due to close, official Government figures show.

Nearly 31,000 people applied in March 2021 before the programme was shut down a year earlier than planned – the largest number since October 2020. 

However, the figures reveal just £191million of the initial £1.5billion budget has been allocated for improvements, with 52,000 households having an application approved – far from the 600,000 homes promised.

Just 55% of homes that applied to the Green Homes Grant were approved, data has revealed

The grant, which launched in September 2020, was billed as a way of helping homeowners improve the energy efficiency of their home and to help stimulate a green jobs revolution.

However, the Government withdrew a £1billion worth of funding in February this year.   

The scheme was also beset with problems including smaller traders being alienated from the scheme due to the current registration process which was said to be both lengthy and costly.

It also faced criticism after it was revealed it was only due to be available for six months in which time households would have to sign up, find a trader and have all works completed.

But new data reveals exactly what measures did take place under the scheme.

Between November 2020 and April 2021, of the nearly 10,300 measures installed, 81 per cent were insulation measures with low carbon heat accounting for most of the remaining 19 per cent of all measures installed.

The most common measure installed was loft insulation, with nearly 2,800 fitted, equivalent to 27 per cent of measures. 

A further 18 per cent of measures installed were for cavity wall insulation.

Experts say the figures show the public is committed to making their homes greener.  

Jess Ralston, Analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: ‘The public message on decarbonising Britain’s homes cannot be clearer. 

‘Sky-high interest from the outset and a final surge just before its premature end demonstrates an overwhelming desire for a Green Homes Grant successor that can actually keep up with demand.

The most common measure installed was loft insulation with nearly 2,800 fitted in the scheme

The most common measure installed was loft insulation with nearly 2,800 fitted in the scheme

‘Achieving our world-beating emissions targets won’t be possible without action on homes, now the most obvious policy gap. Filling this is not only vital to meeting long-term goals, but for bringing Britons along with the transition to a zero-carbon society.

‘We can also see that households are up for improvements that were previously thought to be unpopular; solid wall insulation and low carbon heating each account for a fifth of total applications. 

‘This new evidence, alongside lessons learnt from the green homes grant, should give policy makers confidence to deliver the ambitious scheme that millions of families are desperate for.’

The data also showed nearly 4,500 measures were installed in low income households – accounting for 43 per cent of measures installed.

The most common measures installed in these households were pitched roof insulation, external solid wall insulation and solar thermal. 

Regionally, the most applications came from the North West at 24,437 whilst the least came from the North East with 6,424. 

Justina Miltienyte, policy expert at Uswitch, added: ‘The Green Homes Grant was an innovative and well-meaning idea that hoped to increase the energy efficiency of our homes, while giving tradespeople a boost at a difficult time.

‘It’s unfortunate that a flagship green policy failed to have the impact it could have done, and there are lessons that must be learned about administering such schemes.

‘However, the core idea of improving the energy efficiency of our homes is solid, and it is vital that households are encouraged to make changes that cut heat loss. 

‘Without improving energy efficiency at home, we will not be able to cut carbon emissions in line with the Government’s new targets.

‘With the torch now passed to local authorities, we expect households should still be able to effectively use the £300million allocated towards upgrading their homes.

‘Insulating your home is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to make your house more energy efficient and cut your power bill.’

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Eon ordered to pay back thousands in refunds to 1.6m customers

Eon rapped by watchdog after taking direct debit payments early for 1.6m customers on Christmas Eve

  • Eon is paying back over £55,000 to customers who had payment taken early 
  • The supplier took Direct Debit payments from many early over Christmas 
  • It is also paying over £650,000 to the Energy Redress Fund

Eon has been forced to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds into a redress fund after taking payments early from 1.6million customers on Christmas Eve, causing panic for many over the festive period.

The majority of the affected payments were due to be taken in January 2021, but Eon wrongly took payments on 24 December 2020.

This meant customers may have experienced out of pocket expenses, unexpected overdraft bank charges, difficulty making payments in the run up to Christmas and other unforeseen circumstances.

The industry watchdog, Ofgem, said the energy firm has made goodwill payments of £55,039 so far to compensate customers affected by additional bank charges.

Eon must pay £627,312 into an energy redress fund after taking payments early from 1.6million customers

It is also paying £627,312 to the energy redress fund which provides money to charities to deliver energy related projects that support consumers in vulnerable situations.

The affected payments were taken due to a technical fault, following changes Eon made to friendly credit hours for pre-payment customers between Christmas and New Year.

Ofgem said Eon failed to conduct the appropriate checks to ensure this would not lead to any unintended consequences for customers.

Michael Lewis, Eon UK chief executive, said: ‘This error should not have happened and it was unfortunate that it was so close to Christmas. 

‘We apologised to those affected at the time and I apologise to them again now. As soon as we noticed the issue, we took immediate steps to put things right for our customers.’

The energy provider reported the issue to Ofgem itself on 24 December and continued to engage throughout January and February 2021.

It made redress and goodwill payments totalling £55,039 to customers who contacted the supplier to say they had suffered additional bank charges, out of pocket expenses or other detriment, as a result of the Direct Debits being taken early.

Eon has also committed to continue to make these payments for customers with similar issues who come forward now.

It will also pay £627,312 in recognition of its failure to address underlying system and governance weaknesses, which would have prevented the error from occurring, to the energy redress fund.

Over a million customers had money taken from their Direct Debit early last Christmas by Eon

Over a million customers had money taken from their Direct Debit early last Christmas by Eon

Ofgem agreed to close engagement following commitments from Eon to address the causes of the issue and compensate any customers that suffered detriment.

Anna Rossington, director of retail at Ofgem, said: ‘Ofgem expects suppliers to adhere to the terms of contracts they have with customers, in particular the agreed Direct Debit payment dates.

‘This failure is a reminder to suppliers that when making changes to their systems, they need to undertake appropriate checks to avoid any unintended consequences for customers.

‘Ofgem is always prepared to work with suppliers who have failed to comply with their obligations, but who have self-reported and are determined to put things right, as Eon has done.’

Customers who have been negatively affected and haven’t already spoken to Eon, should contact the provider if they wish to make a claim for any bank charges or other detriment caused by the early direct debit payments.

Will Owen, energy expert at Uswitch, said: ‘What looks like the fallout from a technical issue had the unfortunate timing of happening on Christmas Eve – the worst possible time to leave families struggling with out-of-pocket payments and unforeseen bank charges.

‘It’s somewhat reassuring that Eon noticed the issue themselves and acted quickly to offer goodwill payments to customers who spotted the error to cover any extra expenses they suffered.

‘There are likely to be many more customers affected by this error who have yet to get in touch with Eon for compensation.

‘If you are an Eon customer, check your bills to see if you were charged early and contact the supplier if you do not hear from them about a goodwill payment.

‘It’s important to always keep an eye on anything coming out of your bank account and if you spot something unusual, contact your provider straight away.’

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Number of homes with a landline has fallen by 4m in last 20 years

The number of households with a landline has fallen by four million since 2000, new research has revealed.

There are now around 22million connections in the UK, down 15 per cent from its peak at the turn of the century when 95 per cent of homes had one, according to data from Uswitch.

Some 1.41million have decided to ditch theirs in the past three years alone, additional data from Statista shows. 

The research shows the landline is in terminal decline, with five million households never using theirs for phone calls.

The number of households with a landline has fallen by 4m since the year 2000, data shows

Meanwhile, four in five homes have a landline, but more than a quarter don’t have a handset attached.

A further 35 per cent say they only have a landline because it’s necessary for having a broadband connection.

On average, households spend just five minutes a day — 35 minutes a week — talking on their landlines, down 27 per cent from two years ago, when people made 48 minutes of calls a week.

However, older people make 46 minutes of calls a week on their landlines, compared to 25 minutes for the younger generation.

There are several reasons the landline is no long popular with the main one being the rise of the mobile phone.

The number of spam phone calls received is another turn off with 29 per cent of people saying the last call they received was suspicious or an unsolicited marketing call – 17 per cent higher than for those on mobile phones.

While the number of nuisance calls reported has not changed dramatically in recent years, the proportion of scam calls has risen to now make up 26 per cent of unwanted contacts — up from just 4 per cent in 2017.

In fact, 22 per cent of those with a landline say they avoid answering their phone in case it is a nuisance call and 28 per cent of older people say they have had a bad experience with scam and sales callers.

To avoid these calls, 35 per cent have registered for the Telephone Preference Service with younger consumers taking more drastic action to avoid such calls, with the most popular option among 18 to 34-year-olds being to stop answering the landline altogether.

Landlines are much more popular for the older generation with 95% of over-65s having one

Landlines are much more popular for the older generation with 95% of over-65s having one

There’s a generational divide in attitudes to landlines, with their popularity far lower among younger people.

More than 95 per cent of the over-65s have one but this falls to 82 per cent of those aged 35 to 54 and ownership drops to just 52 per cent among under 25s.

Meanwhile, landlines remain a lifeline for residents in rural areas where mobile reception can be poor.

Some 83 per cent of rural households have a landline, compared to 65 per cent in urban areas.

While many relied on phone calls to communicate during lockdown, landline use fell even further during this period with 27 per cent using their connection less, compared to 15 per cent using it more frequently.

Part of the reason for the decline in landline use is that calls are more expensive than on a mobile phone.

Some 59 per cent of consumers that have both a landline and a mobile phone say making a call on a mobile is cheaper.

However, 37 per cent don’t know how much their calls cost and 18 per cent can’t remember the last time they used their landline for a call.

Nick Baker, telecoms expert at Uswitch, said: ‘With the rise of mobile phones and network coverage improving all the time, landlines aren’t the necessity they once were.

‘Many consumers – especially younger generations – don’t see the need for landlines, and find it odd that they have to pay line rental in order to have a broadband connection.

‘Nuisance calls have been a problem on landlines for years, and unfortunately they are not getting better, with nearly one in four households reporting the last call they received was from a scammer or sales person.

‘However, it isn’t time to forget about the landline just yet, as they continue to be a lifeline for those in rural communities where mobile reception can be unreliable.

‘If you’re struggling with nuisance calls, make sure you have registered for the Telephone Preference Service, which should reduce the amount of sales and marketing calls you receive. If you suspect you are being targeted by a scammer, hang up immediately.’

Uswitch compiled the data after conducting a survey of 2,001 adults in March 2021. 

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