The government has announced that sale of the controversial Pensioner Fixed Rate Savings Bonds is to be extended by an extra three months.

George Osborne said he would extend the application deadline until mid-May, because of the overwhelming demand for the high interest bonds. Over 600,000 over-65s have bought them since they were launched in mid January.

The chancellor said that encouraging savers was fundamental to the UK’s economic recovery; and that the over 65’s bonds were “the most successful savings product this country has ever seen”.

With rates of 2.8% for a 1 year Bond and 4% payable for three years the bonds offer returns way better than anything currently available from banks and building societies and many are not surprised about the level of take up.

However, some experts were quick to criticise the move, feeling that that the scheme’s extension was little more than pre election stunt to try to win over wealthy pensioners.

New analysis  from travel money business Centtrip reveals that sterling is now worth around 13.8% more against the Euro than it was this time in 2013, and it estimates this could save the nation around £2.7 billion this year on the value of spending money on holiday and business trips to the EU.

The report issued by Centtrip, which has the first prepaid Mastercard offering 14 currencies on a single card at ‘spread free’ exchange rates, reveals the nation spends around £19.56 billion a year whilst abroad on trips to the EU.  It says if the valuation of sterling against the Euro remains the same this year when compared to two years ago, we could spend £2.7 billion less in 2015 and have more or less the same spending power we did in 2013.

In total we make around 42.5 million trips to the European Union every year.  Centtrip’s analysis reveals that around 73% of the trips we take abroad are to the EU, and of the £34.9 billion we spend abroad, 56% of this is in the EU.

Brian Jamieson, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Centtrip said: “Sterling’s strength against the Euro is great news for UK consumers and businesses alike when they visit the EU.  However, we estimate that on average, people pay around £11.9 in FX ‘spreads’ on their spending money per trip whilst abroad.  People need to pay more attention to the ‘charges’ they incur every time they spend or buy something abroad.”

Superfast broadband speeds can now be accessed by almost eight in 10  households says Ofcom, and yet confusion reigns over which providers offer fibre services, where these are available and the benefits of fibre, according to new research from uSwitch.

The Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme, alongside industry investment, has made superfast services widely available, but figures show that only around a quarter of UK consumers are using fibre broadband.

uSwitch’s research suggests consumers with standard broadband are confused about what is available to them, as less than a third think they can get superfast speeds at home and more than four in 10 have no idea if it is available in their area.

Rural broadband users – who typically suffer most from sluggish speeds – are far more likely to be clued up regarding availability of fibre broadband. Just 28% of rural users had no idea whether superfast broadband was available in their local area, compared to 44% in urban and 52% in suburban areas.

A spokesman for uSwitch said: “As the majority of us become heavy or moderate internet users, we expect even more from our internet connections. With 42% of households regularly using three or more gadgets on Wi-Fi at once, there’s never been a greater need for faster speeds in UK homes.

“Despite significant investment in superfast broadband, this research shows awareness – over whether you can get fibre broadband, and who offers it – is still one of the biggest barriers to enjoying superfast speeds. Many people are willing to spend extra each month for faster internet, but don’t know whether or not it is available in their area.

“Consumers who are interested in superfast broadband should do their research to make sure they are considering all available providers. Using tools such as a postcode checker will allow you to see which providers offer fibre in your area and what speeds you can receive before you commit.

New research from Direct Line’s SELECT Premier Insurance reveals that around 3.7 million people have suffered property damage as a result of neighbours making renovations to their homes in the last five years. In the same period, the repair bill for damages across the country totalled more than £1.5 billion.

Only a third (33 per cent) of neighbours accepted responsibility for damage and a similar number (30 per cent) blamed someone else.

Almost one in six people (17 per cent) did not directly confront neighbours about damage to their property, surprising given that the average cost to repair damages was £533. For one in 12 respondents (eight per cent) more than £1,000 was required to repair the damage.

According to those whose damaged property incurred a cost to repair, the majority of their neighbours (53 per cent) shared at least half of the cost of repairs and more than one in seven (14 per cent) paid over 80 per cent of the costs. However, a fifth (19 per cent) of neighbours paid nothing towards damages caused by their home makeovers.

A spokesman for Direct Line said: “In the UK we take pride in our homes with many seeing extending and renovating their homes as a way to improve their living standards. As such it is not surprising that in the 12 months to September last year we saw more than 55,000 residential planning applications made in England with more than three quarters of them accepted3.

“If you or your neighbours are thinking about starting a home makeover project it is worth assessing and discussing the risk of damage to adjacent properties with neighbours. It is also crucial to check whether your home insurance policy covers damage caused by neighbour renovations, otherwise you could be left with a hefty repair bill.”

Damage to fencing was the most common ailment for victims of over exuberant home transformation projects, with two in five people (43 per cent) suffering damage. A quarter of people (25 per cent) highlighted damage to windows and damage to garden features (e.g. fountains and sheds) making these the next most common casualties of neighbour renovations.

The Financial Conduct Authority says it may introduce a deadline for payment protection insurance (PPI) claims.

So far banks and credit card companies have received more than 14 million PPI complaints and paid consumers more than £17bn in compensation. Experts predict that the total cost of this long running saga could be as high as £25bn.

The city watchdog has announced it is considering whether “further interventions may be appropriate”. These rule changes could include a time limit on complaints.

The regulator will announce whether a time limit will be introduced later this year.

In January 2013, lenders approached the regulator and asked it to impose a cut-off date of April 2014 for PPI claims.

At the time the FSA said it would only ever consider such action unless it was deemed to be “in the interests of customers”.

Claims continue to pour in at a rate of more than over 4,000 per week, a staggering number, but it only represents around a third of the weekly claims seen at the peak back in 2013.

Almost 20 per cent of those planning to retire this year will do so with debts outstanding, averaging £21,800, according to new research from Prudential.

The insurer’s ‘Class of’ research into the future plans, finances and aspirations of those planning to retire in the next 12 months is now in its eighth year. This year’s results show that the ‘Class of 2015’ are more likely to retire in debt than those who gave up work last year – (17 per cent of those retiring in 2014 said they would have debts outstanding when they retired, compared with 19 per cent this year).

Prudential’s research has tracked retiree debt since 2011 and shows that despite some small fluctuations, the proportion of those retiring with debts outstanding has remained consistently around the one in five mark. There is a noticeable trend though that retirees’ average amount of debt has reduced over the years.

Those retiring with debts in 2015 say they will owe on average £16,400 less than those who retired in 2012 – representing an encouraging 43 per cent drop in the last three years.

The average ‘Class of 2015’ retiree with debts says that it will be just over three years before they are paid off – this also compares favourably with last year’s retirees who said it would take them four years. Meanwhile, almost one in 10 (nine per cent) of this year’s retirees with debts expect to take nine or more years to clear their debts, and a further five per cent believe they will never pay them off.

More than two in five (43 per cent) of this year’s retirees with debts have an outstanding mortgage – another figure that has remained stubbornly high since its peak at 52 per cent in 2011. Over a half (55 per cent) will have credit card debts.

A spokesman for Prudential, said: “Our new research shows a welcome downward trend in the average amount of debt for people retiring this year. However, it is a concern that the proportion of people reaching the retirement milestone still owing money is refusing to fall.

For many, retirement is a time in life when it is necessary to re-assess household budgets, and any debts outstanding will inevitably make this job more difficult. A consultation with a financial adviser or retirement specialist can help people to get their finances ready for life after work.

“Debt does not have to be a major issue in retirement though, as long as people have a realistic repayment plan in place. Citizens Advice Bureaux can provide free help on managing and paying off debt, and the Pensions Advisory Service can help with retirement income planning and related issues.”

The latest research from  Sainsbury’s Bank Loans suggests that up to 212,000 people could take out personal loans worth up to £2.2 billion in the first three months of the year for debt consolidation.

The Bank estimates that this figure could be equal to around a third of all personal loans taken out during January, February and March. The average loan size taken out to consolidate debts is estimated to be around £10,300.

To those looking to consolidate debts, Sainsbury’s Bank is encouraging them to ensure the monthly repayments will be lower under the terms of the new loan and that they can afford to cover any fees from their old lenders, before going ahead.

Simon Ranson, Head of Banking at Sainsbury’s Bank said: “Using a personal loan to consolidate debts can be a good way to bring monthly repayments down and simplify them under one provider. However, it’s crucial you make sure you’re going to see a real advantage to moving, so work out if the total interest paid on the balance at the end of the repayment term will be lower, or at least comparable.”

Andrew Hagger Personal Finance Expert from Moneycomms said; “January is the month when many people take stock of their financial situation and plan for the year ahead, so it’s no surprise that some are consolidating their finances, particularly with some of the attractive loan rates currently available.

Sainsbury’s Bank has a loan switcher calculator to help customers gauge whether they might save money by switching their existing loan to a Sainsbury’s Bank loan.

The Bank, which consistently offers competitive interest rates on personal loans also has a Price Promise Guarantee. This means that if a customer is offered a “like for like” loan that has a lower APR with another lender, Sainsbury’s Bank will beat it by 0.1%. This is subject to qualifying for the Offer and customers must not have already accepted its Standard Loan offer by signing and returning a Sainsbury’s Loan agreement . Car dealership loans and finance excluded.

A new survey from HomeServe reveals that millions of UK homeowners are concerned about unexpected costs hitting strained family budgets this winter.

More than half (51%) of UK homeowners polled in HomeServe’s “Unexpected Costs of Winter” survey reveal they are concerned by boiler breakdowns, expensive car repairs, or burst pipes – examples of unexpected winter costs that can rise into hundreds of pounds.

Strained household budgets (26%), the costs of Christmas and high seasonal spending (20%), rising household bills and outgoings (17%) and a lack of savings (11%) are leading to homeowner concerns, according to the representative survey of 2,000 UK homeowners conducted by Consumer Intelligence.

Unexpected costs topping this year’s list of concerns are boiler breakdown (chosen by 36% of those polled), car breakdown (32%), frozen or burst pipes (27%), appliance breakdowns (23%) and plumbing problems (21%). Storm damage (18%) and unplanned energy bill hikes (13%) also featured highly in the survey.

Greg Reed, HomeServe’s Chief Marketing Officer, said: “It’s not surprising that typical home emergencies feature so highly on the list of concerns this winter. The survey shows that people are having to make some tough financial choices, and we are on hand to help them wherever we can.”

To coincide with the survey, HomeServe has launched a new interactive Seasonal House – available by visiting http://www.homeserve.com/help-advice/seasonalhouse – which highlights potential problems in the home this winter and offers a range of useful tips for UK homeowners and landlords.

“There are many simple steps people can take to protect their homes in the weeks and months leading up to the peak of winter,” added Reed. “By taking care of a few things now, homeowners and landlords can limit their chances of facing potentially more expensive or unexpected costs later on.”

Millions of UK homeowners are believed to have experienced at least one unexpected cost in 2014 (a total of 64% of those polled) and almost three in ten (29%) had problems paying for it. The research also reveals a stark generational gap, with almost half of 18-24 year olds (49%) struggling to fund their unexpected costs, compared to just 8% of over 65s.

 

New research suggests that many mobile phone customers are paying over the odds by an average of almost £160 per annum because they are on an unsuitable tariff.

Consumer group Which? claims that more than 7 out of 10 customers are paying more than they need to for unsuitable tariffs. They either don’t use enough of their data, text and minute allowance or they exceed their monthly allowance.

The Which? investigation found that while 4 in 10 customers think there is a more suitable package out there for them, almost half have never switched provider.

Which? is calling on providers and regulator Ofcom to make it easy for customers to switch and make prices easier to understand and compare.

Which? spokesman, Richard Lloyd, said: “It’s shocking that consumers are overpaying by billions of pounds for mobile phone contracts that just don’t suit their needs. Mobile phone companies must do more to help people get the best deal, making switching hassle free and ensuring that pricing is transparent.

“If we don’t see mobile firms making voluntary improvements then we will ask the regulator Ofcom to step in.”

The much anticipated Pensioner bonds from National Savings & Investments (NS&I) were launched last Thursday (16 Jan) but the unprecedented demand  caused the NS&I website to crash.

The bonds offer two choices for savers aged 65 plus – a one-year Guaranteed Growth Bond paying 2.8% AER before tax (2.24% net of 20% tax) and a three-year bond paying 4% AER (3.2% after  basic rate tax).

Interest is paid on maturity for the one-year bond and annually on the three year option. The minimum amount that can be deposited is £500 and the maximum £10,000 per person and the bonds can be held by an individual or jointly by couples.

In the first two days £1.15 billion worth of bonds had been snapped up – more than 10% of the total £10 billion of funds available under this government initiative.

Money expert Andrew Hagger of Moneycomms.co.uk said: It just shows how much pent up demand there is for decent savings rates – with standard savings accounts offering such miserly returns I expect demand to remain high and these bonds to sell out within the next three or four weeks.”