Customers will be able to invest a further £10,000 in Premium Bonds from Monday 1 June 2015 after the maximum holding limit was increased from £40,000 to £50,000.

The change follows the Chancellor’s announcement in the 2014 Budget that NS&I would help support savers by increasing the Premium Bonds investment limit. It comes 12 months after the Premium Bonds limit was increased from £30,000 to £40,000 with a second £1 million prize winner also being introduced from August 2014.

The total amount invested in Premium Bonds has increased from £19.7 billion in 2003 (when the previous £20,000 limit was increased to £30,000) to over £53 billion today – an increase of 169%.  The total Investment value has increased by £6bn since last June and NS&I expect the total amount will increase again following changes on 1 June this year.

Premium Bonds remain popular with savers for a variety of reasons: they offer a chance to win tax-free prizes, they can be easily bought and managed online or by phone and due to the excitement that ERNIE brings each month when he creates two £1 million jackpot winning Bond numbers and delivers over 2 million other prizes from £25 to £100,000 in value, across the country.

In addition to the changes to the Premium Bonds limit, from Monday 1 June 2015 parents or legal guardians will now have the opportunity to purchase Premium Bonds for their children directly online or by phone for the first time.

Previously parents could only buy by post, or at a Post Office branch, but they can now purchase Bonds for their children (so long as they are under 16) through the internet or over the phone.

Jane Platt, NS&I’s Chief Executive said: “Premium Bonds are one of the nation’s favourite ways to save. Last year we saw a huge level of interest when we raised the limit from £30,000 to £40,000 and this latest increase to £50,000 is further good news for customers who want save more and to give themselves extra chances to win a tax-free prize.”

“Premium Bonds have been with us for almost 60 years and the process of buying them, how much you can invest and even the Bond record itself has changed a lot in that time – but ERNIE and the randomness of how our winners are picked is timeless and well-loved.

M&S Bank is urging British motorists to check their car insurance policy before hitting the roads this summer after research revealed that nearly  one  in  ten (nine per cent) are planning to drive their car in the European Union (EU) over the next 12 months.

The M&S Bank research  revealed that of those that are planning to drive their car in the EU, more than two in five (41 per cent) will do so for a holiday,  nearly a third for a mini-break and 18 per cent to visit friends or family.

However, more than a quarter of those planning to drive their car in the EU either aren’t, or don’t know if they are covered to drive in the region.  When it comes to breakdown cover in the EU, more than two in five aren’t, or don’t know if this would be covered under their car insurance policy.

In addition, nearly a third aren’t planning to take the time to  familiarise themselves with the driving laws of the countries they are travelling  to.  More than one in ten said this was because  they believed it was the same as driving in the UK, while nine per cent  said  they  didn’t  have  time  to  familiarise  themselves  with any differences.

In most European countries, drivers  are  required to have photographic identification  on  them  at  all times and the use of dipped headlights is compulsory  in  poor  daytime  visibility.  However,  there  are  also more specific  laws  of  the  roads  across  different  European countries which drivers  should  be  aware of. For example, in France, vehicles must always carry a breathalyser certified by French authorities, while in Germany, at certain times of the year, it is illegal to drive without winter tyres.

When covering  long  distances, such as with  self-drive holidays, it’s important  for motorists to consider breakdown cover that includes both the policyholder  and  the car across the region. While some insurance policies
will come  with  EU  travel  already included, and for extended periods of time, drivers should not assume this is always the case and check that they are covered before they travel.

Millions of people are regularly being cut-off from their basic gas and electricity supplies because they can’t afford to top-up pre-paid meters, according to research* from the debt advisory centre.

A quarter of people questioned were reliant on pre-pay meters in their homes because they have experienced problems paying their bills or need help to manage their energy spend.

The research found that 4 million people often can’t afford to top-up their gas meters. Of those people, 18% say they are cut-off from their gas meter every few months, while as many as 7% lose their gas supply at least once a week because they can’t afford to top-up the energy key.

Residents in the East Midlands are struggling the most, according to the research, with 63% regularly unable to top-up their gas meters. Residents in the West Midlands and East Midlands had the highest rate of fuel poverty, according to the Government’s Annual Fuel Poverty Statistics Report 2014.

The picture is the same for electricity supplies, the study shows, with 4.7 million people saying they are regularly cut-off. Of those people, about 15% admit to having their energy supply cut-off every few months, and 6% are cut-off at least once a week.

Many households are forced to rely on pre-paid meters because they have fallen into arrears on their utility bills. Some 10% of those questioned were up to three months behind with their gas, electricity or water payments, the research shows.

A spokesman said “It’s alarming to see how many families are struggling with fuel poverty. As customers on pre-paid meters typically pay more each year for their energy, this means that often, the poorest and most vulnerable people are paying the highest prices.

“We are concerned that energy bills will continue to rise in the future, plunging more people into fuel poverty.

We would like to see more help given to these people so they can switch on to better deals and climb out of fuel poverty.”

Households that spend more than 10% of their income on fuel to keep their home in a satisfactory condition are considered to be in fuel poverty.

If you are struggling to pay energy bills or want advice on heating your home more efficiently, call the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99 or visit the website at www.homeheathelpline.org.uk.

Private rents across England and Wales have reached a record high average of £774 a month with costs currently rising at between 5% to 8% per year.

The cost of monthly rental payments were up 4.6% in April compared to the same time last year – the fastest annual increase since November 2010 – while they grew by 0.8% between March and April too.

Whilst these numbers make great reading for landlords, it’s a growing issue for tenants across the UK.

The figures, compiled by Your Move and Reeds Rains estate agents, will come as no surprise to hordes of renters who are struggling to save enough money to afford a deposit for a home of their own.

The research found that those in the east of England are facing the biggest increases. Compared to April 2014, rents have risen in the region by 12.5% over the past year to £810 a month. That rate of growth has accelerated from 12% in the year to March 2015 and 10.2% in the 12 months to February 2015.

Those in London saw the second biggest annual increase of 7.8% in April 2015, compared to an annual increase of 5% in the year to March and 4.9% in that to February.

An estimated 1 million Brits have had a serious family argument after a loved-one has passed away with no will in place, according to new research by Macmillan Cancer Support. Of those that said that they’d had a family feud over a will, nearly a fifth said that it had gone on to break up the family.

Furthermore a third of people who said that they have promised something to a loved one have not actually covered this in a will – which means that a further 5 million people are potentially risking family arguments in the future.

The survey of 2,000 adults coincides with Dying Matters Awareness Week (18 -24 May) and shows that whilst people would describe themselves as organised (93%) and say they are comfortable talking about their dying wishes (44%), they are actually putting off important tasks like will writing and talking about their own end of life plans, leaving many families in turmoil following the death of a loved one.

With 59% of Brits admitting to not having a will, the top reasons given were having ‘just never got round to it’ (34%), the belief that they don’t have anything valuable to leave (31%) and that they don’t think they need to write one until they’re older (20%).

Macmillan Cancer Support is encouraging the nation to use Dying Matters Awareness Week as a prompt to finally start discussing their end of life wishes with loved ones, and move writing a will to the top of their to-do list.

Dani Adams, Legacy Manager at Macmillan, says: ‘We want to encourage people to look to the future in a positive way. Whilst people do not have to leave a gift to Macmillan to use our discounted will writing service, we hope that people will consider leaving a legacy, as another way to help us ensure no one faces cancer alone. With estimates showing that by 2020 one in two people will get cancer in their lifetime, it’s about making sure that there will be support for their loved ones in the future, should they ever face cancer.’

More than one in seven people planning to retire this year have no pension savings, and will either be totally or heavily dependent on the State Pension as their only source of regular retirement income, according to research by Prudential.

In its study tracking the future plans of people who plan to retire this year, the insurer also found that one in six (16 per cent) of the ‘Class of 2015’ will be retiring with expected incomes below the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s  minimum income standard for an adequate standard of living for a single pensioner of £9,500. A single pensioner exclusively relying on the full State Pension of £115.95 a week has a total annual income of just over £6,000 – well below the JRF standard.

A retired couple both qualifying for the full State Pension receiving a combined income of £231.90 a week, but with no further pension income, are getting by just above the ‘poverty line’. The most common measure of the poverty line is 60 per cent of the median household income, and based on this assumption the Department of Work and Pensions calculates the household poverty line (after housing costs) to be an income of £224 a week.

The research also highlights the importance of the State Pension to all people planning to retire this year – even those who have other forms of pension savings. On average the State Pension will provide 36 per cent of a 2015 retiree’s income. However, despite the important role it will play in providing their future income, a significant proportion of the ‘Class of 2015’ are unsure what the State Pension is actually worth –almost two in five think it is worth more than its current value and a further eight per cent admit to having no idea what it is worth.

Vince Smith-Hughes, retirement income expert at Prudential, said: “The reforms to the ways that people can use their pension savings, that came into effect in early April, present retirees with many new choices. However, only those with their own pension savings will be able to benefit from the new choices, while people who rely solely on the State Pension are likely to have to face serious financial belt-tightening when they give up work.

“For many people reaching the retirement milestone this year, their income will come from a number of sources. Our research shows that the State Pension will make up a significant proportion of income for most people – but it is important not to overestimate its value. To secure a comfortable retirement income the best approach remains to save as much as possible as early as possible during your working life.

“With all the options now open to pensioners, a consultation with a professional financial adviser could help to avoid making decisions that might have an unwanted financial knock-on effect in later life. Retirees should also remember the guidance which is available from the newly created Pension Wise service, which can help them to understand their choices.”

 

 

New research from Direct Line Car Insurance reveals 50 per cent of UK adults are in favour of a ‘tiered’ drink driving system, which imposes lower limits for young and novice drivers.

The UK’s ‘universal’ approach to drink driving limits contrasts markedly with many other leading European nations including Germany, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands, where lower restrictions for young and novice motorists are imposed. Analysis of World Health organisation data reveals that 29 per cent of the 51 countries covered in its Global Status Report2 on Road Safety currently have a tiered system like this in place.

At present, the drink drive limit in Scotland is 50mg of alcohol for every 100ml of blood, and 80mg for the rest of the UK, with limits applied universally, regardless of experience or age. According to Direct Line’s study, just 14 per cent of those questioned agree with UK drink drive limits. Half (50 per cent) of UK adults favour a tiered system where the limit for young and novice motorists is lower than the limit for other motorists, or zero.  A further 36 per cent think that the drink drive limit for all drivers – regardless of age or experience – should be zero, which is currently the case in countries such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

 A spokesman for Direct Line said: “England, Wales and Northern Ireland boast one of the most permissive driver Blood Alcohol Concentration limits in Europe, but there is widespread popular support for lowering this, especially for young and novice motorists.  With many other European nations adopting a zero tolerance approach to drink driving and Scotland reducing the legal drink-drive limit by over a third in December, it may only be a matter of time before the rest of the union introduces tougher drink driving controls.”

“The fact that the majority of people aged 18-34 support a zero tolerance approach to drink driving, or lower limits for less experienced drivers, demonstrates a commitment by the younger generation themselves for tighter restrictions.”

Extending living space has become increasingly attractive to Britain’s homeowners over the past couple of years.  New findings from Sainsbury’s Home Insurance indicates extensions to the rear and side of properties have been the most popular kind of residential extension over the past 24 months, with almost a third (31%) people who have extended their homes having opted for one.

Conservatories are the second most popular residential extension (29%), followed by loft extensions (15%), garage conversions (11%) and the construction of an outbuilding such as a garden room or home office (5%)(1).

Of those who have undertaken home extensions in the past 24 months(1),  25% have added between 11-20mof additional living space have to their homes, while 23% have added 21-30m2 and 18% have added 31 square metres or more.

The findings are supported by a “snapshot” poll amongst a cross-section of 76 UK builders. Amongst the builders surveyed, rear extensions were the type of home extension most frequently carried out, with 92% of builders having completed one in the past 12 months. These were followed by side extensions (72%), loft extensions (54%) and garage conversions (41%).

The findings indicate a trend towards families spending more time in larger kitchens where they cook and eat together. According to the builders’ survey(2), bigger kitchens and kitchen diners were the most frequent reason cited for a home extension, with 84% of builders having worked on these. The second most popular intended use for the new space was for additional bedrooms (61%), followed by new bathrooms and home offices (53% each).

Tom Thomson of Sainsbury’s Home Insurance said: “For those who are improving and extending their homes, it’s crucial to advise their home insurance provider. Making revisions to a property such as adding new rooms could change the value of the property significantly and failing to report alterations may see people left under-insured or with invalidated insurance policies.”

With over half of the UK population planning one or more European holidays this year, new research from pre-paid currency card company, Caxton FX, reveals that Brits are clueless when it comes to their knowledge of the current state of the Euro. Over half (52 per cent) did not feel that instability within Europe would affect the strength of the Euro, and just 13 per cent admit they have taken advantage of the weak Euro and booked more holidays in Europe this year.

While the Greek crisis remains in the headlines and the Euro is at a seven year low, it appears that many Brits remain entirely unaware of what is happening across the channel. According to the findings, 37 per cent do not know what is currently happening with the Euro and 29 per cent reveal they simply do not care.

Despite the fact that a significant proportion of the population will be holidaying in Greece this year , 31 per cent of respondents admit to being oblivious of what is happening with Greece’s economy. In addition to this, only a third felt it was the perfect time to go to Greece due to the country being affordable.  Moreover 1 in 10 (11 per cent) did not think that the strength of the Euro would be affected by the disputes happening within the Eurozone.

Managing Director of Caxton FX, James Hickman, said:The instability in the Eurozone has been a blessing and a curse for those travelling abroad to European countries in the last few years. The instability in the Eurozone has meant the Euro has lost a good portion of its value, rendering the pound and dollar more valuable when compared to the Euro, which is good news for those exchanging sterling or dollars. However, the heightened state of uncertainty has made it risky travelling to, or planning a trip to Greece, as the Greek ATM’s may stop issuing euros if the Eurozone falls apart and there is a bank run.”

 

At the beginning of April the media went into overdrive speculating what would happen when people were given greater access to their pension cash, but it seems that the scare stories of people splurging their pension pot on fast cars and expensive holidays were well wide of the mark.

Having spoken to some of the pension providers, they have been much busier as you’d have expected however it seems that most people are seeking guidance and clarification regarding their options and the most suitable ways to manage their retirement savings.

A spokesman from Scottish Widows said: “We were prepared to expect a surge in calls the week beginning 6th April with people deferring accessing their pensions until the freedoms came into effect and we had on average a call every 10 seconds.

“It was also a watershed for us in terms of online – more customers have contacted us digitally than by phone.  We received 45,000 phone calls in the first three weeks with 55,000 people visiting our Retirement Freedoms website”.

One positive that has come out of the high profile changes is that there is now a growing choice of excellent online resources for consumers who are keen to understand more about their retirement planning options, without them having to book a face to face appointment with a financial adviser.

With more people aged 60 or over in the UK than there are those aged under 18 you cannot underestimate the need for straightforward help and guidance for this fast growing sector of the UK population.

As well as the Scottish Widows ‘5 steps to retirement’ guide, Unbiased.co.uk has launched ‘Your retirement countdown checklist’ in partnership with Prudential.

More than a fifth of people admit that they have taken no steps to plan for their retirement, so this sort of online resource will prove an invaluable help in making that first step.

It covers the key stages every new pensioner needs to take in order to ensure they make the right choices for themselves under pension freedom, and in the decade leading up to retirement.

Skipton Building Society has been proactive in this area too with the launch of RetireSavvy an online retirement community.

As well as helping demystify retirement through a range of articles, real-life user blogs and discussion on its live forum, retiresavvy aims to contribute to the wider social debate around retirement and provide a strong voice for retirees and pre-retirees.

Dr Ros Altmann CBE, the UK Government’s Business Champion for Older Workers and an independent expert on consumer finance, pensions and retirement, praised the move:

“There is certainly a need for this, as too many people fail to plan ahead and don’t make the most of their later life opportunities. Retirement is not just about money – it is something that has a major impact on people’s lives and their families – and you really need to be prepared for it.