Oxbury Bank, the first 100% dedicated agriculture bank for over 100 years, has announced the launch of a ground-breaking new carbon-mitigation and biodiversity-promoting savings account.

Oxbury Forest Saver enables consumers to save securely and direct their savings interest to fund dedicated woodland creation projects on farms across Britain, while also helping to maintain a thriving farming and rural community. This unique, UK-first product enables savers to reduce the impact of CO2 emissions and enhance biodiversity.

Oxbury Forest Saver is a truly unique product which offers a 12-month savings bond (fully protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme), with savers’ annual interest at a rate of 0.7% AER directed to fund tree-planting projects run by leading sustainability partner Forest Carbon.

To begin with, trees will be planted in dedicated new woodland in the Scottish borders, with other farm sites across the UK to follow.  Forest Carbon’s woodland creation projects meet the highest standards of the internationally recognised UK Woodland Carbon Code and are audited and accredited by Organic Farmers and Growers and the Soil Association.

The importance of woodland to reverse biodiversity loss and protect and enhance the prosperity of the rural economy was set out clearly in the Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta’s review for the Treasury published on 2 February 2020.

Tim Coates, Co-Founder and Chief Customer Officer at Oxbury Bank, commented: “Climate change has rightly risen rapidly up the agenda, but practical options for consumers to make their own significant contribution to reversing the impact of climate change are remarkably few and far between.

“The publication of the Dasgupta Review earlier this year makes it even clearer that biodiversity enhancement also needs direct financial support and Oxbury Forest Saver is taking this challenge as seriously as carbon emissions.

Oxbury Forest Saver will have a uniquely positive impact – protecting customer savings and the planet, while also supporting British farming – and with interest rates at all-time lows it offers our customers a cost-effective way of making a meaningful difference as they save.”

Forest Carbon Co-Founder, Stephen Prior, said: “For 15 years Forest Carbon has been at the forefront of innovation in this area – being the first to create carbon funded woodlands and peatland restoration projects. We have very much enjoyed working with the forward-thinking team at Oxbury over the past 2 years, and we think Forest Saver is a fantastic way for people to put their money to good works in a transparent and quality assured way – the impacts will be real, measured and monitored.”

The gradual easing of lockdown commences on 12th April and is a much-anticipated restart date for many businesses, whether a sole trader or a larger operation employing many workers.

History shows that for the UK to be able to fight back after a serious economic downturn like the one we’re facing right now; businesses will need a helping hand.

Start-ups and the self-employed who are considering launching new businesses will play a vital role in the recovery, but only if they are given financial support and business banking expertise to help them establish themselves in a challenging environment.

The gradual reopening of businesses of all sizes across the UK is the first but essential step in helping the country get back on its feet following the crippling impact of the coronavirus lockdown.

To achieve a meaningful UK economic recovery in the short to medium term, banks need to turn the tap on to provide essential business banking facilities.

Without this essential lifeline may businesses will struggle and collectively the nation could fail to achieve the rapid return to growth which is vital to achieving a sustained economic recovery.

It will be a challenge for entrepreneurs, many of whom have had to borrow heavily just to keep their heads above water.

Some businesses will need to adopt a bigger web presence as card transactions from Monese customers showed that 80% more was spent online, versus the previous year.

Almost half of the UK’s small and medium-sized businesses sought financial support in 2020, more than three times the level of the previous year, underlining the toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken on the business community.

Getting the basics right

For business owners it’s vital to have professional support including accountancy services, appropriate insurance, and most of all a business bank account that works for them.

This is especially true if you’re starting out in business for the first time.

The golden rule is –  don’t be tempted to try and run your finances through your personal bank account.

It’s vital to keep your business and personal money separate for accounting purposes and to save issues with taxation further down the line.

There are many business bank accounts to choose from, but they are not all the same and it’s important to find one that works best for your business circumstances.

Here’s a handy checklist of questions to ask yourself before you sign up for your account:

  • Do you need a nearby local branch for paying in cash takings?
  • Can you operate online without the need for branch services?
  • What is the monthly/annual fee for the account you are considering?
  • Will you get charged any extra depending on number of transactions per month?
  • Do you get any additional services included in your fee – e.g., accountancy software?
  • Will you be granted a debit card and the ability to draw cash from an ATM if required?

Don’t assume the big high street banks are best for business banking services just because they’ve been around for many years, there are many new challenger brands offering excellent accounts which are cost effective and meet the needs of today’s time pressed business owners.

GoCompare customers who purchase car insurance between April and 15th June 2021 will be eligible to receive a voucher which will allow them to book a MOT test for just a tenner.

The voucher can then be used with one of the garages throughout the UK who are participating in the ‘Who Can Fix My Car’ scheme. With MOTs costing up to £54.85, GoCompare customers could save up to £44 through this latest offer from the comparison site.

During the first lockdown, in Spring 2020, drivers were able to defer their MOTs for up to six months and millions took the opportunity to do so, which means those drivers will find their MOTs falling towards the end of the year now instead.

But Al Preston, co-founder at Who Can Fix My Car, sees this offer as an ideal opportunity for drivers to move their MOTs back in line and give their cars a Government-approved safety check as the UK gets back on the road again: “An MOT is the best way to ensure vehicles are safe to drive and with lockdown restrictions having been in place in recent months, many cars could have been parked on driveways or roadsides for weeks.

“But as restrictions now look to ease across the UK, many cars may not be safe to drive or MOTs will have expired, so it’s essential – and a legal requirement – that motorists make sure their car is roadworthy.”

Al added: “We are pleased to be able to offer this deal with GoCompare which we hope will not only encourage motorists to get their MOT booked in sooner rather than later, but also raise awareness of the fact that MOT centres are open and there to keep you and your car safe and legal at all times.”

The GoCompare offer will be automatically sent to anyone who buys a car insurance policy via the comparison site and is the latest in a series of offers introduced by GoCompare to support its customers and help them better protect the things that are important to them. It follows the launch of a free mental health and wellbeing support for its life insurance customers, and a free £250 excess cover for every car insurance customer, which has been in place since 2019.

Lee Griffin, CEO and founder at GoCompare said: “GoCompare realises that these are challenging times for many of our customers and for our local garages too. In support of both, we hope to raise awareness that MOTs are essential to keeping car owners and their passengers safe on the road – having an up-to-date MOT every year is a legal requirement for vehicles three years old or more.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer our customers an MOT for a tenner and, together with free excess cover for up to £250, we are offering anyone who shops via GoCompare incentives that can really make a difference to the running costs of their cars.”

More information on the MOT for £10 offer can be found at: https://www.gocompare.com/motforatenner

Over the last few months, the Chancellor announced a range of support packages to help small businesses struggling in the crisis.

However, research revealed that nearly three quarters (73%) of people find the support from government ‘confusing’ and 85% say that the financial packages are still not enough.

On one Business Support Group for the self-employed on Facebook, many of the 11.5k small business owners in the group said the grants on offer were a ‘disgrace’, as the support covered just 40% of their average monthly trading profits across three months, (with a limit of £3,750 in total), while many said they still weren’t eligible for any support at all.

With worries about tax rising by up to two or three percentage points in the future, 55% of people thought they would really struggle to pay the extra costs, with 4% saying they would stop working completely as they could get more money on benefits.

Tommy McNally, Tax Expert and Founder of Tommy’s Tax which carried out the research, said: “The new measures are welcomed as an improvement, but 40% still leaves the self-employed struggling to survive and too many (around a third) will be excluded due to the eligibility criteria.

“Small businesses and freelancers have seen their income drop dramatically during the pandemic. It’s a tough situation for everyone, but some businesses believe they’re being treated unfairly compared to others.”

There’s no doubt that it is a difficult climate for small businesses to operate in at present which means that important business support providers are key when it comes to ensuring businesses get the professional back up, they need at a competitive price.

Although there has been some confusion with so many changes to rules, grants and taxes, during the covid crisis, the government introduced some new measures in the recent budget to support the SME sector through reopening and into 2022, including:

  • The extension of the furlough scheme until the end of September

 

  • A Recovery Loan Scheme – whereby businesses of any size can apply for loans from £25,000 up to £10 million through to the end of this year, guaranteed by the Government up to 80%

 

  • Grants for hospitality and leisure businesses, including gyms, of up to £18,000.

 

 

Although confusion has been rife in some quarters, nobody can accuse the government of sitting on its hands and letting businesses go under.

During these unprecedented times, the Chancellor and his Treasury team has been creative and flexible in the ways it has tried to help small businesses.

Hopefully, there is now light at the end of the tunnel for many individuals and their families who have worked so hard to build their business brands over many years.

Companies today need high-quality administration and a strong sense of culture to keep up with the developments and changes taking place in the business world due to the interruption of Covid-19. Company culture is at the forefront of a happy business, but what does it mean?

What is company culture?

Simply put, company culture is the shared attitudes, values and goals that are put into practice by an organisation. Another way to look at it is to see company culture as the company’s overall personality and what key attributes make it different from other companies out there.

Company culture will affect every aspect of daily business operation and impacts on how other’s inside and outside of the workplace perceive you, how effective the business relations are from team to team and how your employees feel about you as a whole.

For example, some businesses may decide to include their staff retention rates or employee perks as part of their company culture and this will help shape the image that their staff and potential employees might have of the business.

What are the benefits?

Having a good company culture will help to encourage ideal applicants to work for you. If your company sounds like a positive, enjoyable place to work with a high retention rate and great employee perks then you’ll be able to choose from a wider pool of candidates when hiring as more people will want to work for your business.

It also stimulates your staff to work better and more efficiently. Staff who feel valued and know that they will be able to benefit from perks for doing a good job will be more likely to enjoy their time at work and want to work harder to succeed.

With happy staff comes happy customers, the more positive your staff are at work will reflect onto customers and make their experience a whole lot better. For example, a cashier who is always excited to get to work, is productive and is always going the extra mile will entice more customers and positive customer feedback than one who is always slacking off, late to work and acts like they don’t really want to be there.

Then of course, with more customers comes more profit and a higher business success rate. As the demand for your business grows, so will the need for employees and therefore your business will start to expand, too.

How do I make the most of it?

Communication is key. By communicating with your employees at every level of the business, you’ll be able to understand what is required for them to do a good job. You might find out that some of your employees would benefit from regular training sessions, constructive feedback or even office perks like a fortnightly early finish or free lunch.

By communicating with your team, you’ll be able to come to an agreement and set up a number of perks and benefits that will encourage your staff to work harder and reach their targets, as well as speaking about the business in a positive light, in work and outside of work.

Make sure you have the right resources to help your business in every aspect. By bringing onboard specialists whose aim is to make your business more successful, you’ll be able to see the company from a different perspective and detach yourself from any preconceived ideas you had. This allows you to make unbiased developments which will be better for your staff, thus boosting your company culture, and the business as a whole.

Over-55s used housing equity to clear more than £612 million of unsecured debt in 2020, new data* analysis from Key shows.  Credit cards (av. £8,500), overdrafts (av. £2,000) and loan balances (£11,700) were most commonly repaid as people looked to manage their retirement income by reducing outgoings.

Around a fifth (18%) of the £3.4 billion property wealth released last year was used to clear unsecured debts with older customers of all ages facing debt issues, figures from the UK’s leading equity release adviser show.  Around 14% of customers had credit card balances while 12% had loans to pay off and 6% needed to pay off car finance

Key is marking debt charity Step Change’s Debt Awareness Week (22 March to 28 March) by underlining the need to get advice on debt and highlighting the ways that equity release customers are using the modernised and flexible plans to address financial issues.

The debt effect:

Key’s data shows customers with credit card debts were making monthly repayments of around £292 while loan repayments added up to £267 a month on average. Even overdrafts cost nearly £18 a month on average.

With the full basic State Pension amounting to £179.60 a week or £9,339.20 a year from April, struggling over-55s would lose more than 70% of their state support just meeting minimum repayments.  Indeed, credit card repayments (av. £292 month) would eat up 37% of their annual income while loan repayments (av. £267 month) would account for 34% of their annual income.

Using equity release to borrow £20,000 to repay unsecured debt which is then managed via making ongoing repayments to service the interest would see the client pay £42 per month fixed for the life of the loan if they managed to secure the market leading rate of 2.5%.  Depending on lenders’ criteria, capital payments can also often be made without incurring any early repayment charges.

Will Hale, CEO at Key, said: “Unsecured debt is a major issue for people of all ages and our data shows that it affects those in their 70s and 80s as well much as younger people. Nobody wants to retire in debt but sometimes it is unavoidable.

“The problem is that people on fixed incomes will struggle to clear debts and often end up paying the minimum amount each month which inevitably means it takes longer to pay the debt off as interest mounts up.  For those who rely heavily on the state pension, losing 70% of this state support just meeting these minimum repayments must be devastating.

“Those who are struggling with debt need to look for support as there are options available.  For some this might mean refinance debt using a more modern and flexible approach.  Equity release plans enabling people to make repayments on interest and capital are increasingly playing a major role and can help people who are struggling.”

How the debts mount up across the country

Average credit card debts being cleared go as high as £20,300 in the South West of England with London also seeing higher debts at more than £15,700. Loan debts top £20,000 in London and more than £15,000 in Scotland while overdrafts are a major issue in Northern Ireland and the North East

REGION AVERAGE CREDIT CARD DEBT AVERAGE LOAN DEBT AVERAGE OVEDRAFT DEBT
East Anglia £9,388 £13,602 £2,707
East Midlands £10,118 £11,925 £4,000
London £15,729 £20,085 £6,818
North East £7,698 £9,713 £11,617
North West £10,741 £10,674 £3,147
Northern Ireland £12,078 £6,300 £25,000
Scotland £10,750 £15,311 £6,039
South East £11,411 £14,316 £7,111
South West £20,364 £11,949 £3,256
Wales £12,104 £12,259 £3,005
West Midlands £11,814 £12,651 £2,793
Yorkshire & Humberside £10,276 £10,432 £5,200
UK £8,428 £11,762 £2.012

 

Anyone looking to release equity from their home can get Key’s independent guide to equity release by calling 0800 531 6027 or visiting https://www.keyadvice.co.uk/equity-release/is-it-right-for-me

UK homeowners living near tourist hotspots should prepare for a money-making parking bonanza according to new research as foreign holiday travel plans are severely restricted, including proposed £5,000 fines for those flouting the new curbs.

The research conducted by online parking portal YourParkingSpace.co.uk found overwhelming evidence that many Brits would still prefer a staycation rather than holidaying abroad, even if they had the option to jet away.

It means British homeowners with an empty driveway, such as those living in seaside resorts, can rent out their space to tourists needing somewhere to park.

In fact, the independent investigation discovered that 2-in-5 Brits are now less likely to travel abroad, while a similar number (35 per cent) said they are more likely to book a staycation, and this is even without being forced to stay in the UK by law.

Indeed, with the Government proposing a £5,000 fine on anyone going on holiday abroad without good reason for the foreseeable future, and stating that it is still too early to set out new foreign travel rules for the summer, it would appear that holidaying in the UK is the only option for most.

Moreover, if the evidence of last year’s summer lockdown easing is anything to go by, then residents in some coastal towns and cities could soon once again be earning a tidy sum.

For instance, bookings for rented driveways rocketed by more than 300 per cent in Southend-on-Sea, Brighton, Weymouth and St Ives last July compared to the previous month when lockdown restrictions were eased and Brits flocked back to the great British seaside, earning some local residents more than £160 per month.

Harrison Woods, managing director at YourParkingSpace.co.uk, said: “Our latest research clearly indicates that, even if given the freedom to travel abroad, millions of Brits would now prefer to holiday much closer to home.

“This presents a great opportunity to homeowners with an empty driveway or off-street private space near a tourist hotspot to rent it out to holidaymakers and day trippers looking for somewhere to park which they can pre-book online, guaranteeing them availability when they arrive.”

To list an empty driveway for free, or to pre-book online one of its 250,000 parking spaces, visit www.yourparkingspace.co.uk

With the roadmap to recovery, the vaccine rollout and the economy slowly re-opening, there is a newfound sense of optimism in the UK after what has been a torrid 12 months. It is thought that SMEs will be critical to the economic recovery over the coming months and years, so what is the best way to support these businesses?

The last 12 months

First, it is worth reflecting on the year gone by which has been devastating for UK businesses and in more ways than one. In 2020, the UK economy shrank by a record 19.8% in the second quarter and many SMEs struggled to survive even with Government support. Despite this, SMEs returned £18 billion to the UK economy over the course of 2020 through community initiatives like cash donations and volunteering. This is impressive, especially when you consider that 22% of SMEs state that they face significant risk of closure in 2020 which means that now the time they need extra support.

Supporting SMEs

Obviously, one of the best ways to help out small businesses is to choose their services over the larger corporations. Many state that SMEs will be the ones driving the economic recovery and there are new opportunities for success in a post-pandemic marketplace, which means that there are also ways to benefit from this in terms of investing.

Investing

Investing in SMEs in 2021 could be an excellent way to support local businesses, help with the economic recovery and make money. There will be many sectors which could flourish over the next year and beyond, including ecommerce, health and fitness and food delivery/mobile food all of which could be worth looking into for anyone looking to invest.

The Enterprise Investment Scheme

For those that like the idea of investing in SMEs, one of the most attractive ways to do this is via the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS). The EIS was established by the government in 1994 in a bid to encourage investors to invest in UK startups with the benefit of being able to claim 30% income tax relief on EIS investments up to £1 million.

If your shares are disposed at of a loss, you can get up to 45% loss relief against income or capital gains tax too. There is the potential for substantial returns as you are investing in SMEs at the earliest stage and, as outlined above, 2021 could be a bumper year for small to medium businesses in the UK.

While the effects of the pandemic will be felt for some time in the UK economy, there are now signs of optimism and SMEs could play a major role in the recovery. In addition to supporting small and medium-sized businesses, you could also look to invest which would allow you to support these small businesses and the economy with the potential for substantial returns.

As a motorist, it is important that you appreciate the potential hazards and costs you can face when owning a car  and how to protect against them.

Insurance the obvious and best way to protect your vehicle although there are various types of insurance available that every motorist should familiarise themselves with.

The right product could not only save you money, but also provide peace of mind knowing that you have suitable protection in place.

 

Car Insurance

The first and most obvious type of insurance is car insurance, which is a legal requirement. There are three different levels of cover available:

  • Third-party: Covers damage to others but not yourself
  • Third-party, fire and theft: Same as above but with cover for fire damage and theft of the covered vehicle
  • Comprehensive: Covers you and other drivers for injury, damage, fire and theft whether or not the accident was your fault

 

Breakdown Cover

Breakdown cover is an extra to a standard car insurance policy and one which should always be considered.

This type of insurance will cover the costs of the car being towed away and taken to be repaired if you breakdown and as such can save you a lot of money.

 

Extended Warranty

A new car will come with a manufacturer’s warranty that will cover the costs of any faults or mechanical breakdowns that occur in the first couple of years. When this original cover expires you might want to consider an extended warranty. Vehicles can break down at any time and the cost of repairs can be high, so it may be better to be safe than sorry and extend the original warranty.

 

GAP Insurance

This is a type of insurance that many motorists are unaware of, but if your vehicle were to be written off in an accident or stolen and never recovered, your comprehensive insurance policy would only pay the current market value of the vehicle.

This could leave you out of pocket by thousands of pounds due to depreciation, but GAP insurance will cover the shortfall between the insurance valuation and the amount originally paid/outstanding on the finance agreement.

It is an optional policy but one which every motorist should consider, as it could save you a serious amount of money, especially for those with brand new cars where depreciation is at its highest in the first few years.

 

Tyre Insurance

Car tyres can be expensive, and you might find that this is a cost that you face if you find your tyre tread depth approaching the legal minimum of 1.6mm (less than this can result in a fine of up to £2,500).

Tyre insurance covers against the cost of repairs and replacements, which could end up saving you a large amount. Alloy insurance is often bundled in with tyre insurance and offers the same protection for the actual wheels.

Having sufficient protection in place is important because it could save you from unexpected expense, plus it is also gives you peace of mind knowing that you are covered in case anything unexpected happens to your pride and joy.

Nearly one in five (19%) employees aged between 65-74 have delayed their retirement as a result of the pandemic according to new research from Close Brothers. The figure among those aged 55-64 is also hugely worrying with 14% having had to make the same decision.

The report, ‘Expecting the unexpected: a spotlight on preparing for a crisis’, highlights the extent to which the past 12 months have changed the financial plans of employees across the UK. These figures correlate closely with further findings from the report around the number of employees that have an accessible savings pot for emergencies.  A fifth of those employees approaching retirement age (over 65s) admit to not having an accessible savings fund for such an occasion.

Despite this, just 5% of those employees aged 65-74 recognise that they were financially unprepared for the Coronavirus crisis and subsequent lockdown that followed in March 2020. This figure more than triples to 16% among the 55-64 age group.

Looking at all employees, one in five workers in large organisations say explicitly they were financially unprepared for the COVID crisis. Younger workers were also found to be much less prepared than their older co-workers – 24% of those aged 18-34 admitted to being unprepared, the figure was half that (13%) among those aged 55+.

Many employees have been reflecting on what changes can be made to improve their level of financial preparedness and appear to be determined to build back bolder and more resilient. Nearly two in five (38%) in the 65-74 bracket either already have or plan to make changes to their financial preparedness, and 43% of those aged 55-64. This is, however, notably lower than the average which sees three in ten (30%) workers in large organisations having already made some changes to improve their financial preparedness, with a further quarter (26%) are planning on making changes to improve theirs.  Younger workers are much more likely to have made a change or plan to make a change to their financial preparedness, our research finding it to be the case with nearly three quarters of 18-34 year olds.

This is already translating into greater confidence. A third of UK workers are more confident about weathering a fresh financial storm compared to before the pandemic (30%), rising to 33% among 65-74 year old s and 36% among those aged 18-34.

But what is very clear is that, as employers start to come to grips with the shape of their workforce, with the UK tentatively emerging from the third lockdown, there is likely to be a lot of rebuilding to get back to pre-coronavirus levels as well as adjusting to whatever the new world looks like.

Jeanette Makings, Head of Financial Education at Close Brothers comments: The COVID-19 pandemic risks being a ‘sliding doors’ moment for UK employees and their employers. It has impacted financial health in a multitude of ways, with some suffering hardship, some having to postpone long held plans and others benefitting and adding to savings.

“At the forefront of those best able to help employees improve their financial health are their employers; they are trusted, they can reach large numbers of people via the workplace, they already offer rewards and benefits that can be used to improve financial wellbeing and both employee and  business performance will benefit from improved financial health.

“Understanding employees financial health as a whole, and knowing those that need most help, has to be the starting point to ensure that an inclusive, effective, and targeted financial wellbeing programme is implemented. A single channel, ‘one size fits all’ financial wellbeing approach is likely to fail many.”