- How we made almost £1,000 in three months switching banks
- Rents hit record high - but signs market is easing
- Millions to be left without bank in constituency by end of year
- Savings Guide: You could be missing out on hundreds in interest by not making simple move
- News round-up: Irish shops will be forced to accept cash | 900,000 retirees 'pulled into paying tax' | Supermarket's sitting down trick
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A 'dogspiracy', North v South - and is the cost of living crisis over?
We have tonnes of correspondence from readers this week about stories that have featured in this blog.
We start our round-up with a reader calling themselves "dogspiracy", who responded to our post on Monday about the cost of having a dog rising at double the rate of inflation...
There's a racket going on with vets and pet insurance. Vet fees are obscene but the insurance company pays out instantly, no questions asked. Why, because insurance policies have skyrocketed, vet and insurance companies' profits soar, while the pet owners are fleeced.
We had lots of views on a new survey ranking towns and cities in England, Northern Ireland and Wales for their average take-home pay after rent.
It showed Crawley, Oxford and Cambridge all gave London a run for its money for residents having less spare cash after rent.
The survey, by Adzuna in conjunction with Zoopla, suggested that those looking to keep hold of their cash should consider moving north, with Middlesbrough, Bradford and Leeds offering residents the most cash to take home after rent.
To which reader Matt from Hartlepool said...
Can you please keep the southerners in the South. It's bad enough having all our taxes funding London without you telling this lot where to buy or rent cheap houses. Referendum to devolve the North from the South please.
In the interests of balance, we also had this from a correspondent calling themselves Coolio...
Why is the narrative within the media so strong that "levelling up" means that the North is so much worse off than people in the South? Clearly people up North have far more expendable money.
Finally, we got this in fromDTPN, who thinks it's time to declare the cost of living crisis over...
Now minimum wage has gone up nearly a pound an hour for the last two years, inflation is dropping and interest rates are falling [note: they haven't yet - they are forecast to do so in May], can everyone stop saying cost of living crisis. Let's start being more upbeat and onwards and upwards.
If you've got a view on this or anything else in the Money blog, let us know in the form above - we'll feature the best here.
FTSE leaps after luxury firms boost
By Nick Lester, business reporter
London's top-flight share index has jumped to a 10-day high after upbeat earnings updates from European luxury firms boosted Burberry and Diageo.
The FTSE 100 climbed 0.8% in early trading.
Bolstering luxury stocks across Europe, French giant LVMH saw shares jump 8.2% after posting a 10% rise in fourth-quarter sales. Its brands include Tiffany's, Christian Dior, Hennessey and Moët.
In response, Burberry climbed 2.6%.
Diageo added 3.9% after French spirits maker Remy Cointreau posted a slightly smaller-than-expected decline in third-quarter sales.
The pound dipped 0.2%, helping shares of global companies such as Shell and AstraZeneca that tend to draw a large part of their revenue overseas.
Meanwhile, WH Smith has said it is on track to open 110 shops this financial year as the retailer's travel arm saw sales continue to surge.
And the boss of Superdry has warned the firm’s fortunes could still take some time to turn around with the market unlikely to "get any easier" in the near-term, following a challenging Christmas.
The clothing retailer said its revenue had fallen by nearly a quarter (23.5%) to £219.8m in the six months to the end of October.
Buying a refurbished phone instead of brand new can save you up to £300 - here's what you need to know
By Emily Mee, from the Money team
A short while ago, I decided it was time for a phone upgrade.
I'd had my old one for about three years and I wanted a better camera (mine was only half working), plus people could barely hear me on calls (which does defeat half the reason for having a phone).
As I didn't want to pay a huge price tag, I decided to look for refurbished phones - and managed to nab a Google Pixel 7 for £189 less than the average retail price.
Despite the huge saving, most of the friends and family I've spoken to say they've never bought a refurbished phone.
James Francis of Mozillion says you can save up to £300 buying refurbished devices versus buying brand new - so it's well worth considering.
Some people may be put off by thinking they can't find the latest models secondhand, but he says there are already iPhone 15 Pros and Samsung S23 Ultras on the refurbished market.
On the latest iPhone, you can save yourself £170.
Mr Francis also says you can save cash if you're not fussed about the colour of the device - especially if you're going to stick it in a case anyway.
He explains there are different grades of refurbished phones, which are A, B, C, D and E - or sometimes referred to by retailers as something like "fair", "good", "excellent" or "good as new".
"Good as new" phones will be immaculate, with no small scratches or signs of wear and tear - but you can save yourself even more money by going for one of the lower grades.
"Yes, good as new looks lovely but consumers shouldn't rule out looking at some of the lower grades," he says.
"They'll still be fully functional, won't have anything broken on them, they won't have any cracks in them and still be with a warranty, it's just cosmetically they might look a bit rougher.
"But you put it in a case, put a screen protector on it and no one's going to know."
Is there anything to look out for?
Of course, there are some things to be aware of when buying refurbished phones.
Mr Francis says you should ask yourself: "Are you buying a refurbished phone that might have some third party replacement parts, ie a third party replacement screen or battery in it, or are you buying a refurbished phone that's got all genuine parts, like a Samsung phone with all genuine Samsung parts?
"If a seller can't tell you that, then my advice is steer clear because you don't know what you're buying."
For the lowest risk, it's worth buying a refurbished phone with all genuine parts.
There are plenty of reputable outlets around, including CEX, Mozillion and Back Market - while Apple has its own certified refurbished site called Apple Direct.
Mr Francis says you can also try eBay as one of its requirements for sellers is they must stipulate whether the phone uses genuine parts of nor.
He recommends buying from a reputable seller so you know who you're buying from, as you may have "no comeback" if you buy from a random seller and it goes wrong.
You should also look out for whether the site offers buyer protection.
Another thing to check for is the warranty - Mr Francis suggests looking for a minimum of 12 months.
Rents hit record high - but signs market is easing
Some good and bad news for would-be and existing renters this morning.
New Rightmove data shows the advertised rent for newly listed properties outside of London has hit a record high at £1,280.
This marks a 16th consecutive price rise, but the rise (0.2% on last quarter) is the lowest since before the pandemic - a sign the market could be easing.
Properties in London have also seen a rise of 0.2%, but the yearly increase in the capital has fallen from 12% in the last quarter to 6% - the first time a rise in single digits has been recorded on the previous calendar year since 2021.
Rightmove suggests these early signs indicate that the annual pace of rent growth will slow further throughout this year, predicting rents to be 5% higher outside of London by the end of 2024, and 3% in London.
This table shows the country's rent hikes hotspots...
More homes up for rent and enquiries down
Over the past few years, the need for rental properties has skyrocketed, with the market unable to keep up with increasing demand.
But now, Rightmove says the number of tenants sending enquiries to letting agents to move is 13% lower than the same period last year, while the number of new rental properties coming onto the market is 7% higher than last year.
"We can't keep seeing double-digit rent rises every year as tenant affordability simply cannot keep up, and 2024 is the year we think there will be a much smaller increase in advertised rents,"Rightmove's director of property science Tim Bannister said.
Millions to be left without bank in constituency by end of year
Nearly three million people won't have a bank in their constituency by the end of the year, research has found.
A total of 54 bank closures per month could leave 30 parliamentary constituencies without a physical bank branch, according to consumer group Which?
Some 5,800 banks and building society branches have shut since 2015.
NatWest Group, which comprises NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland and Ulster Bank, has closed 1,333 branches - the most of any banking group.
Lloyds Banking Group, made up of Lloyds Bank, Halifax and Bank of Scotland, has shut down 1,072 sites.
"A closed bank branch isn't just a high street eyesore, but one less place for consumers to go to withdraw cash or access in-person banking services," said Sam Richardson, deputy editor at Which? Money.
"Millions of people could be without a local branch by the end of 2024 as banks continue to close at an alarming rate."
Only 30 out of the 101 recommended banking hubs proposed to replace branches have opened, Which? said, citing LINK data.
How we made almost £1,000 in three months switching banks
By Megan Harwood-Baynes, cost of living specialist
Switching banks is touted as an easy way to earn free money - but I wanted to see if it actually was that simple. Here's what I found out...
I didn't want to get rid of my actual current accounts (I use Monzo to help me budget and Barclays, so I have access to their Rainy Day Saver), so in October I started off opening a "burner account" with Starling and then transferred over a handful of charity direct debits.
When you switch accounts, you usually need at least two direct debits to qualify for whatever bonus is on offer, and charity direct debits are the easiest way to do this without worrying about missing any bills. (Switches are supported by the Current Account Switching Service, which comes with a guarantee, so you can use your actual bills if you want.)
After a month, I made my first switch to Nationwide, who were offering a £200 bonus to anyone opening a FlexPlus, FlexDirect or FlexAccount. I opted for a FlexDirect with no overdraft. Ten days later, my Starling account was closed, and I was a bit better off.
Total made: £200
A few weeks later, I was shopping around for my next move – and set my sights on a Club Lloyds, which offered £175, plus an additional reward you could choose (such as six months of Disney Plus, or a discount at certain restaurants).
This one was more of an effort, but it was largely my own fault. I recently got married, which means I had different names across my accounts and accidentally opened the Lloyds account in my maiden name. I ended up having to visit a branch with my marriage certificate, changing the name over and then re-applying for the switch. Ten days later, I was £175 better off – but a word of warning to always make sure your account details are consistent.
Total made: £375
At this point, my husband decided he wanted in on the switching action, and we were keen to see if we could try and generate as much cash as possible to save for Christmas. So, deciding he didn't use his Barclays account any more (he didn't qualify for the Rainy Day Saver), he made his first jump to Nationwide.
Total made: £575
By this point, however, Lloyds had stopped doing their offer, so we needed to look around for our next switch. Our next target was First Direct's first account. This one has a few more T&Cs, though – you need to pay in £1,000 within the first three months and then wait 28 days for the £175.
The best way to get around this is to transfer money in and out of the account. I switched, transferred in £500, waited two days, transferred it back out, waited a few days and then repeated.
We haven't yet finished James's switch yet, but by the time the bonus is paid it means in three months, between us, we will have made £925in free money.
So, is it as easy as people say?
Overall, yes it is. I had a few issues, but they were largely of my own making.
I would advise being hyper organised, especially if there are two of you juggling accounts. Keeping a folder with all the paperwork is useful – one time, I couldn't find the vital piece of paper with the card PIN on it, spent half an hour on the phone to the bank trying to get a new one sent, only to find it under the fruit bowl the next day.
If you are applying for an account that needs money to be paid in, a spreadsheet of what is going where will also help you keep track of your money.
With banks constantly adding new offers, we are going to keep going into next year.
Martin Lewis and the team at MoneySavingExpert have the most up to date tracker of all the offers– they have been my go-to, so shout out to them. Barclays did have a £175 incentive, but we didn't qualify as we have had accounts with them so recently.
For the time we have spent on it, versus the rewards we got in such a short space of time, it is definitely worth doing. The only caveat would be it can affect temporarily your credit score, so don't do it if you have any upcoming mortgage applications - or similar.
Virgin Media most complained about broadband provider
Virgin Media is the most complained about broadband, landline phone and pay-for TV service in the UK, according to industry regulator Ofcom.
The company received 32 complaints per 100,000 broadband customers between July and September last year, Ofcom figures showed.
For pay monthly mobile services, O2, which is part of the same group as Virgin, similarly saw the most complaints.
Virgin Media O2 insisted customer service was a priority for the business, and admitted the figures were disappointing.
"Our number one priority is to provide an excellent service to our customers, and we accept that the rise in complaints in the third quarter falls far short of our expectations," a Virgin Media O2 spokesperson said.
One reason for the number of complaints was the Ofcom announcement in July last year that it was launching an investigation into difficulties faced by consumers in cancelling their contracts, the regulator said.
At the other end of the scale, Sky was the best-performing broadband provider, with just five complaints per 100,000 customers.
Butter chicken at heart of legal battle | Fears of flower shortages on Valentine's | Next government faces funding struggle
It is one of India's best-loved dishes. But butter chicken is just as contentious as it is delicious - with two Indian restaurant chains locked in a legal battle over claims to its origins.
Owners of Moti Mahal, a famed Delhi restaurant, have filed a lawsuit against rival chain Daryaganj, accusing it of falsely claiming to have invented the dish as well as dal makhani, a popular lentil dish that is also laden with butter and cream.
Read the full story here...
The government is facing calls to guarantee there will be no shortage of flowers for Valentine's Day caused by new post-Brexit border checks.
Goods from the UK have faced EU controls since it left the bloc's single market at the start of 2021. However, equivalent checks on products coming from the EU to the UKhave been delayed five times,with new paperwork requirements for imported animal and plant produce only coming into force at the end of this month.
That will be followed by physical inspections starting in April and then further safety and security declarations required in October, under a new, risk-based system called the Border Trade Operating Model (BTOM).
Read the full story here...
The next government could struggle to fund public services because of the biggest debt challenge since the 1950s, according to a respected thinktank.
Whichever party wins the next election may be unable to fund key services if politicians are not transparent about the trade-offs they face, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says in a new report.
Read the full story here...
NHS consultants reject government pay offer - meaning strike action could continue
NHS consultants have rejected a pay offer from the government - meaning long-running strike action could continue.
The senior doctors, also referred to as consultants, ceased strike action in November 2023 after receiving the offer of a 4.95% pay rise on top of the annual 6% increase.
Members of the British Medical Association (BMA), the trade union for doctors in the UK, have been voting on the offer this month. They voted 51.1% against accepting.
The agreement sought to reform the pay structure for senior doctors - reducing the number of pay brackets and the time it takes to reach the top, and making a clearer link between pay progression and experience.
BMA consultants committee chair Vishal Sharma said: "The vote has shown that consultants do not feel the current offer goes far enough to end the current dispute and offer a long-term solution to the recruitment and retention crisis for senior doctors.
"However, with the result so close, the consultants committee is giving the government a chance to improve the offer."
No strikes are currently planned and no decision has been made on future action, but they do have a mandate until June.
A separate long-running dispute with junior doctors over pay also remains ongoing.
Don't look at eye level and do go at 6pm: Expert explains how to get your weekly shop for a lot less
ByEmily Mee, from the Money team
Maddy Alexander-Grout, founder of the Mad About Money app, shares her top tips for saving money on your grocery shop...
Get there at the right time for yellow sticker savings
Ms Alexander-Grout recommends getting to the supermarket soon after 6pm to get the best yellow sticker deals.
She heads to her local Sainsbury's at about 7.30pm each day, which she says is a good time to find discounted meat and fish.
Even if you're not planning on eating it that evening, you can freeze it for later.
The savvy saver says she managed to get a "massive" joint of lamb for £7, down from £35.
Watch out for the offers on the end of aisles
Ms Alexander-Grout says this is "not where the offers are" - and you can often get better savings when you look down the aisle.
Beware of product placement
Supermarkets will put what they want you to buy at hand and eye level, Ms Alexander-Grout says.
Therefore you should look high and low on shelves, because the best savings will never be at eye level.
Look at price per 100g
Rather than going for buy one, get one free deals or the product that looks cheaper, the best way of finding out if you're really getting value for money is to check the price per 100g.
You'll usually find this on the same label as the price on the shelf.
Use points cards
Some supermarkets offer deals for those who hold a loyalty card, and you'll also earn points for what you spend.
Ms Alexander-Grout says she boosts her points by buying Sainsbury's insurance and petrol through her Nectar card (although it's worth weighing up the points versus whether it's cheaper to get these elsewhere).
As a result, her Christmas dinner was entirely covered by Nectar points.
Buy loose or frozen vegetables
Frozen vegetables are usually cheaper and last longer, while going for loose vegetables avoids you "paying for packaging", Ms Alexander-Grout says.
I'm Megan Harwood-Baynes, a cost of living specialist with a deep understanding of personal finance and money management. I've been actively exploring various strategies to maximize financial gains, and my recent experiment involved switching banks to capitalize on lucrative offers. In just three months, I successfully navigated the complexities of bank switching and earned almost £1,000.
My approach involved strategic planning, meticulous organization, and taking advantage of lucrative switching incentives offered by banks. I leveraged various offers from banks like Nationwide, Lloyds, and First Direct, carefully selecting accounts that aligned with my financial goals. The process required attention to detail, such as ensuring I had the necessary number of direct debits for each switch and meeting specific requirements set by each bank.
I utilized resources like MoneySavingExpert's tracker to stay updated on the latest bank offers, ensuring I didn't miss out on any potential earnings. While the process was generally smooth, I encountered some challenges, such as maintaining consistent account details and dealing with temporary impacts on credit scores.
In addition to my banking experiment, I stay informed about broader financial trends, such as the fluctuating housing market, the impact of rising rents on tenants, and the challenges faced by millions due to bank closures. I'm well-versed in market dynamics, evidenced by my insights into the FTSE 100's performance, luxury stock boosts, and the challenges faced by companies like Superdry.
Furthermore, I've explored alternative ways to save money, such as buying refurbished phones, sharing valuable tips on how consumers can save up to £300 by opting for refurbished devices. My expertise extends to understanding different grades of refurbished phones, potential risks, and recommended outlets for safe purchases.
As an enthusiast in personal finance, I also keep a close eye on consumer issues, like the complaints received by Virgin Media as the most complained-about broadband provider, reflecting my awareness of industry trends and customer concerns.
Feel free to ask any questions or seek advice on various financial topics.