Reverse advent calendar campaign

The back ground
Many of us love the Xmas advent calendar, especially those with children who get a chocolate each day don’t we? (And just where did those advent calendars go that just had the picture??) But many families are sleeping in bed and breakfast (that’s a just a term by the way, there is no breakfast).  The breadwinner has simply lost their job or fallen sick  and/or most have fallen foul of the failure known as the benefits system and the chaos that Iain Duncan Smith started. And let’s not forget he resided over it for some time before completely messing up the Universal Credit system for someone else to take the blame! But hey that’s just my opinion! Many of these families are local to you and their children go to your children’s school.

It is just so wrong that whilst many of us over indulge this Christmas, so many people will be struggling to feed their kids at all and/or will go hungry themselves through no fault of their own. With no school meals over the holidays and the need to heat homes, the struggle is even worse at this time than any other.  The use of foodbanks rises by 45% in December. The reverse advent calendar is just one small way in which you can give something back and it’s helping your local community too.

What is the Reverse Advent Calendar?
This reverse advent calendar is a great idea. It’s been happening for a few years now all over the world. The UK Money bloggers have launched a campaign to really give it a push this year and as one of the bloggers I am helping to promote it.

Each day for 24 days you put something for the food bank in a box and at the end of this time give it to your local foodbank. Some sites start on the 1st December and hand it in on the 24th December. But please see Tips and ideas below as most of us are doing it through November.

Statistics
The Trussell Trust’s Foodbank network of over 425 foodbanks handed out 1,182,954 three-day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis in the year April 2016 – March 2017. But remember there are many more foodbanks all over the country which are not part of this network so the numbers are far bigger that need to use these services.

Early Warnings: Universal Credit and Foodbanks, highlights that although the rollout of the new Universal Credit system for administering benefits has been piecemeal so far, foodbanks in areas of partial or full rollout are reporting significant problems with its impact.

The Trussell Trust commissioned an 18-month research project from the University of Oxford, led by Dr Rachel Loopstra where the key findings were:

• Households using food banks face extreme financial vulnerability. All food bank users
had, in the last month, an income well below the threshold for low income. More than
1/3 of households experienced an income shock in the past three months and over 2/3
reported unexpected and rising expenses during the same period.
• Almost half of households reported their incomes were unsteady from week to week or
month to month.
• Half of households included someone with a disability.
• Lone parents and their children constitute the largest number of people receiving help
from food banks, though single male households are the most common household type.
• Over 78% of households were severely food insecure. For a majority of households, this
was a chronic experience, happening every month or almost every month over the past
12 months.
• Food bank users experience multiple forms of destitution – 50% had gone without
heating for more than four days in the past 12 months, and 1 in 5 had slept rough in the
last 12 months.

20 Reverse advent calendar tips and ideas

  1. Think about when you want to do this. Doing it through December may seem like a good idea but if you are going to put some Xmas related food things in there, it may be too late for the food bank to donate. Find out from your local one when would be best to donate, it may want a mix as donations may be fewer in January.
  2. Google foodbank and your local area, not all foodbanks are run by Trussell, many are by other charities and churches.
  3. Contact your local foodbank and see if there are items of which they particularly short, and when would be best for you to drop off the box.  Although they will be grateful for anything 20 cartons of UHT milk maybe something they are short of possibly more useful than 20 different tins of beans and soup.
  4. Remember that some foodbanks also welcome toiletries so that families can maintain dignity and this will last them longer than the 3 days of food that get too.
  5. Obviously foodbanks need non perishables, but look for long term use by dates too to make it easier for foodbanks to manage.
  6. Get the children involved, decorating the box, ideas of what to put in and perhaps even donate some pocket money or sweets?
  7. Drawer full of toiletries gift sets? Donate them
  8. Share the idea on social media with #FoodbankAdvent to spread the word
  9. Pastas, dried fruit, tins of soup, vegetables, rice pudding, custard etc., packets and jars of sauces, biscuits, tea/coffee, UHT milk, long life juices, baby food, rice, cereals, noodles, health bars, lentils, cakes, mince pies, Xmas puddings, bread/similar which keeps longer than fresh, such as part baked bread, waffles, wraps etc., crisps and other savoury items, soap, deodorant, shower gel, toothpaste, toothbrushes, sanitary products, toilet rolls, baby wipes and shampoo. Think of things that don’t need to be heated too, such as cold meats and fish so a substantial meal can still be had and boxes of Smash that only need water to make.
  10. Remember users of foodbanks are struggling to feed their families, as well as the essentials, so think about putting some treats in such as chocolates too (think of buying when buy one get one free on those tubs for even more!)
  11. Get the bargains when you see them in the supermarket and bargain shops which will good for toiletries. When you get the buy one get one frees consider giving them both that day!
  12. Keep and eye out for coupons and discount codes for items that you wouldn’t use yourself but would buy ideal items
  13. Don’t forget to look in your cupboards for food you bought or were given but are now unlikely to use
  14. If you are going to get things with shorter life span such as part bake bread get them nearer the end of the 24 days!
  15. It was on one of those food programmes about saving money a few weeks ago showing that if you go down the World Food aisle that you will often find similar products just with a different name to that you are used to but are actually cheaper
  16. You don’t need a fancy box! Anything will do, everything gets sorted when it arrives at the foodbank and you don’t have to think what goes with what, the volunteers will sort into bags for users for you.
  17. Consider throwing in some sachets of herbs, remember that a lot of those emergency food bags will be full of bulky plain food, herbs and spices will add some flavour and take up little room in that bag
  18. Foodbanks are run by volunteers, consider volunteering or donating long term
  19. Think about getting your workplace colleagues to run some boxes, make it competitive between teams if you work in a big workplace! Or use it as way to spread the cost, you could also do this with your neighbours and your children’s clubs and groups

20. Great Tip! Shopmium
Now, here’s a great little app. If you go to Shopmium you can get food with discounts or even for free. That’s a referral link, so if you go through and sign up on that I’ll get a freebie, you get a freebie and you will see the offers on at the moment which change all the time. Then you will have your own referral code too. I am using the offers to get discounts on perishables plus perishables that I don’t like so that the foodbank can get extra too taking advantage of every bargain I can get to be able to give more. Wins all round! All you need to do is take a photo of the bar code and receipt and you get your cash back. Shopimum uses all the major supermarkets.

Iain Duncan Smith and politics
Can’t really do a post about foodbanks without mentioning this really.

Those of you who have been following my blog for some time will know that I interviewed Iain Duncan Smith when he was Director of Death and Destruction because he is my MP (don’t blame me I didn’t vote for him). The Complaining Cow Meets Iain Duncan Smith #IDSfail and Round 2 The Complaining Cow Meets IDS   when I went a second time much to his displeasure. I used the fact that I could go to his surgeries and took him to task in the limited time I had. One of the things, amongst many, was foodbanks.

I did let the food bank know of his request but I don’t think they wanted him there! One can understand why not.

And whilst we are about it. Jacob Rees-Mogg is one of the wealthiest MPs in Parliament. He has reportedly made millions of pounds in high finance and is due to inherit £100 million from his family estate. Know what he said about foodbanks? “The rise of food banks across the UK is actually “rather uplifting” because it shows the British people are charitable” and “The real reason for the rise in numbers is because people know they are there and Labour refused to tell them.” Idiocy for a supposedly educated man. One of those academics with no common sense. Or empathy. Or compassion. Or understanding of issues facing millions of families in the UK.

So who is first against the wall come the revolution do you think? Duncan Smith? Rees-Mogg? May? Farage? Gove? It’s ok I think there will be enough of us to take them all.

Foodbank volunteers donate at least £30million a year in unpaid work Foodbank volunteers ‘perform £30million a year worth of unpaid work’, shock study reveals Volunteers do a staggering 2,909,196 hours of unpaid work distributing food – and calculating the value of their time using the minimum wage, currently £7.50 an hour for the over 25s, it equates to £21,818,967 a year; or 55,945 hours, with a value of £419,587 each week. Should feeding children with no food or heating really be down to volunteers and donations?

Universal Credit
Trussell Trust and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau is calling for the Universal Credit to be suspended  to tackle and amend the poor administration in the system  before it can be rolled out effectively: reducing the 6-week wait for a first payment and providing more support through programmes like Universal Support which would make a real difference to people navigating the new system. More here.

Pause the roll-out of Universal Credit, particularly until appropriate emergency financial support is available and accessible to all people left with no income or food.

Rounding up
So, are you going to do your box with me? I’m starting on the 1st November. Share on social media using the #foodbankadvent hashtag to encourage others. If you have any more tips, or ideas to share please do add them in the comments and please share the word wherever you can, it is such a good idea and helps so many people who really are in a desperate situation.

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How to save money on your car insurance

 

Most people are aware that they should not just let their car insurance renew. Just like house and buildings every year, it is rare that your renewal will be cheaper than starting afresh. I have just taken out my car insurance and after recovering from the jaw drop of seeing how much my car has gone down in value, thought I’d give you some figures just to show you the importance of shopping around and not just using comparison websites. These are all quotes from today 11th October 2017

1st Central renewal quote £505.00
1st Central renewal online chat £490.00 (when stopping auto renewal online chat)
1st Central direct on website £473.95
Moneysupermarket.com (1st Central cheapest) £503.31
Confused.com (AA cheapest) £393.91
Comparethemeerkat (MoreThan cheapest) £385.12
MoreThan direct on website £382.28
AA direct on website £348.31
AA through Topcashback £348.31 (minus £40 paid to Topcashback account

A saving of £196.69 (39%) of the renewal price. It is such a boring way to spend half an hour of your life, it really is, but how can you not do it when it saves this sort of money?

Topcashback* is a great cashback site. Go there before buying anything. Sign up and whenever you shop check Topcashback first, and if the store is listed click on the link and get cashback. Don’t rely on this though as there may be terms and conditions that you miss (such as using vouchers) negating the cashback. Other big cashback sites include Kidstart* (where the cashback goes to your nominated child’s bank account), Quidco* and Free fivers*. Others that I’ve not used are  Imutual, Give or take and there are others. It is worth signing up to a few as they all have different traders, different % cashback and different offers on at various times. Time consuming but worth it more often than not! £40 for taking an extra five minutes is quite a nice hourly rate (if only I could do it all hours!)

A dozen top tips

  • Last year, using a cashback site wasn’t cheaper, somehow in the system it knew so don’t think that after getting your cheapest quote you always get the cashback from the same price. Clear your cookies which may help!
  • Don’t completely disregard your renewal quote as most companies are nearly always open to haggling, I’ve yet to hear of anyone failing when they do this. Now I don’t know why I didn’t try it after getting the last quote. Fool.
  • I only went direct to the cheapest on each of the comparison websites
  • Some providers are only able to produce a certain number of quotations per customer, and after the limit has been reached, they will no longer be able to produce quotations online on some sites so don’t hundreds of tweaks!
  • You can always try changing your job title. I’ve heard of people getting cheaper quotes when changing “builder” to “construction” etc., but to be perfectly honest I’ve never seen a difference and of course it does still have to describe the job! But it may work with some insurers so do try it.
  • Save your details on the comparison websites so if you keep the car you don’t have to waste your time filling it all out again.
  • Look at deals that may work out cheaper if you switch your contents and building insurance  same provider and visa versa.
  • Check the additional add ons. Do you already have breakdown cover, is something already covered by your bank, travel or house insurance?
  • Pay up front rather than in instalments if you can as this is always cheaper
  • Adding a more experienced driver to your policy can reduce the premium
  • Check the excess, think about how much you could afford to pay and go with that, the difference between £50 and £100 excess can reduce the amount significantly
  • Don’t leave until the last minute, compare prices about 3 weeks before the renewal date and make sure you cancel any auto renewal!

Bonus tips!
After doing the quote and post I asked some fellow money bloggers for tips that I hadn’t thought of and now I wonder if I could have got it reduced even further!

Katy from KatyKicker  wrote about saving money on insurance and provides lots of tips, one being a really really good point! Check the policy! When you go through comparison websites check like for like, windscreen cover, legal cover, replacement car etc. And consider asking your current provider for a loyalty discount rather than just quoting competitors’ prices.

I never go for all the legal cover. But Emma from TheMoneyWhisperer has written about how to get free legal protection from Freelegalmotor and I’ve just signed up!

Emily from A Thrify Fox says she had an automated email thingy from confused.com telling her that Admiral was the cheapest for her.

Now this is a little known secret and is brilliant! Emma from Mumssavvysavings wrote a post about Reducing the cost of learning to drive and in it says that she got insurance from a company  that they pay for 28 days of insurance and only use on any days they choose within three months. Superb!

Do Morethan just comparison websites for insurance quotes! A couple of years ago I picked up on the differences in prices between a standard quote and a quote going through a cashback site…. I complained, obviously. No laws broken but still got the refund of the difference 🙂

If you need help with a complaint re insurance or anything else see Top 20 Tips How to Complain! For much more advice, guidance, templates, consumer laws and information GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

 

* referral links – I’ll get a few pounds if you sign up once you’ve made more than £10. Depending on when you click on this link you may receive a bonus but that depends on the offer on at the time. You can then use your own referral link and send to friends too.

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Ofcom call for better broadband speed honesty

 

Most of us are broadband users and most of us have complained about broadband speed  have we not? Today (6th October 2017) Ofcom proposed to strengthen the current codes to improve speed estimates provided at the point of sale, after sale and in customer contracts and to enhance customers’ right to exit.

 

 

 

The proposals:

• Improve speed information at the point of sale and in contracts, by reflecting the slower speeds people can experience at ‘peak’ times; and by ensuring providers always give a minimum guaranteed speed before sale.
• Strengthen the right to exit if speeds fall below a guaranteed minimum level. Providers would have a limited time to improve speeds before they must let customers walk away penalty-free. For the first time, this right to exit would also apply to contracts that include phone and pay-TV services bought with broadband.
• Increase the number of customers who benefit from the Codes, by expanding their scope to apply to all broadband technologies.

Ofcom has a voluntary code of practice for residential and business broadband providers. This code requires companies to provide estimates of the speeds customers are likely to receive at the point of sale. It also ensures that customers are able to exit their contracts, without penalty, if their speed falls below a minimum level.

Sound good? Hmm not really when you consider that 1) Ofcom says “This does not guarantee compliance but we expect signatories to commit to honour the letter and spirit of the Code. We will monitor compliance with the Code using measures such as ongoing mystery shopping” and 2) only:

  • BT
  • Sky
  • Virgin Media
  • KC
  • EE
  • Talk Talk
  • Vodafone
  • Zen Internet

have signed up to the code and as a Virgin customer who has taken them to the Ombudsman 3 times and won all three times (on different issues) I don’t suppose many people have fared any better with this issue, but anyway I digress…

The consultation is 40 pages long. However, if you go to page 40 you will see the questions which it is asking. The big question should all this be compulsory? Not there. For crying out loud! Expecting telecom companies to be honest in their advertising is not going to be compulsory! The closing date for consultation is the 10th November 2017.

You can still complain though! (I would say that, but you can!)

How to complain about broadband speeds/service interruptions

For more on all things telecoms see All you need to know about complaining to telecom providers

And if you need more information on your consumer rights, advice, templates and general guidance and tips GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

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Argos caught out again – this time for race discrimination in toy pricing…

Press release

Argos is in the spotlight again, this time for apparent race discrimination in the toy department… After recently finding itself embroiled in the furore of eagle-eyed shoppers noticing that its “3 for 2” offers were not as they seemed [1] the Argos pricing debacle continues. The latest error shows the company discriminating between two similar dolls, both named Luvabella.

Blogger Lottyearns noticed that whilst the white, Caucasian Luvabella doll was available as a “3 for 2” offer, the “African American’ Luvabella is not….

Consumer expert Helen Dewdney  The Complaining Cow and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! is disgusted by Argos’ apparent discrimination. “In 2017, surely we expect companies to be more mindful of equality and ensuring that they are not discriminating against any one group. It beggars belief that Argos think it is acceptable practice.”

An Argos spokesperson added to the confusion by claiming that the doll in question was not part of the offer: “The other Luvabella doll is available online only, and our online only toys were not part of the ‘3 for 2’ promotion”, said their statement.

Argos has been plagued by criticism recently. Earlier last month it piloted removing its iconic catalogue from various stores. It claimed to be testing demand as more and more people shop online. However, it misjudged customers, who were astonished at the store’s decision and ignited a social media outcry. This was especially due to its lack of understanding about the widespread use of perusing the catalogue by adults and children alike for circling their Christmas wishes!

Only last week Argos again faced a mass of condemnation for its “3 for 2” special offers, where many toys worked out more expensive than the day before the offer started, and a lack of stock in many stores.

Dewdney says that she is seeing an increasing number of people lambasting the retailer over recent months and taking their custom elsewhere and looks forward to inspecting their trading figures for the run up to Christmas. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they are down on the previous year, reflecting what seems to be consumers’ growing disdain for Argos.”

The offer ended on the 3rd October 2017 

 

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Monarch – all you need to know (situation, rights and refunds)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What has happened?
On the 2nd October 2017 Monarch Airlines and Monarch Holidays went into administration including those companies trading as:

  • Monarch Airlines Ltd
  • Monarch Holidays Ltd (ATOL Number 2275)
  • First Aviation Ltd (ATOL Number 4888) previously trading as Monarch Airlines
  • Avro Ltd (ATOL Number 1939)
  • Somewhere2stay Ltd

Customers were informed at 4.00am on the 2nd October. The administrators, KPMG said it had to wait until all of the airline’s planes had landed before issuing the statement, as it does not itself have a licence to operate planes and therefore could not take control of the company until aircraft had landed.

How did this happen?
In the year to October 2016, Monarch made a loss of £291m compared with a profit of £27m for the previous 12 months. It carried 5.7 million passengers in 2015 a 19% drop from 2014.

On the 24th October 2014, Monarch Holdings was acquired from the Globus Travel Group by private investment company and turnaround specialist Greybull Capital for a nominal sum just hours before Monarch’s licence with the Civil Aviation Authority expired.

Security threats and terrorism in Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey has contributed to the downfall of the airline, there aren’t enough bums for seats in the highly competitive short haul market.

On the 25th September 2016, there were numerous online rumours about Monarch Airline’s imminent bankruptcy. And in the days that followed, Monarch obtained additional funds from shareholders, and on 30th September 2016 its Civil Aviation Authority ATOL licence was temporarily extended until 12th October 2016. Monarch Airlines retained it after Greybull Capital provided £165m in investment funding.

However, it wasn’t enough to save the airline. On the 30th September 2017, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) extended Monarch’s licence for 24 hours due to financial issue but on the 2nd October 2017 at 4.00am the airline went into administration.

What now?
The airline’s website is now managed by the CAA, and corporate and staff affairs directed by KPMG.

What about passengers?
110,000 Monarch passengers were/are stranded overseas and 300,000 future bookings have been cancelled. Although the CAA is keen to point out that passengers are not stranded as they have plans to bring everyone home.

What to do if affected
From The CAA website:

“Flights booked directly with Monarch Airlines from 15 December 2016 onward
Customers with these bookings are not ATOL protected and are not entitled to make a claim to the CAA. You are advised to contact your card issuer, insurer or PayPal for advice on how to claim a refund.

Flights booked on or before 14 December 2016 directly with First Aviation Ltd trading as Monarch Airlines
If your flight was booked with Monarch Airlines on or before 14 December 2016 and you received an ATOL Certificate stating that your flight is protected with First Aviation, you are ATOL protected. We are making arrangements for refunds to be made as soon as possible to these UK customers.

We will be providing more information on how you should claim shortly. You will be able to submit a claim when we make the Monarch claim form available. Please do not submit a claim until advised to do so.

Bookings made directly with Monarch Airlines from 15 December 2016 onward are not protected by ATOL. For further information please read how do I know if I am ATOL protected.

Holidays booked directly with Monarch Holidays
Customers booked directly with Monarch Holidays are ATOL protected and will have received an ATOL Certificate when they made their booking. We are making arrangements for refunds to be made on these bookings as soon as possible, and we aim to complete this by the end of 2017 at the latest. We will be providing more information on how you should claim shortly. You will be able to submit a claim when we make the Monarch claim form available. Please do not submit a claim until you are advised to do so.

Monarch flights and Monarch Holidays booked through another travel company or travel agent
If you booked a flight or holiday with another travel company or travel agent you should contact them directly about your arrangements.

Stranded overseas?
The UK Government has requested that the CAA charter more than 30 aircraft to bring UK passengers home at no cost. It is expected that holiday makers will not have to cut short their holiday.

Yet to go, what are your rights?
Don’t go to the airport as there is no point.

  1. Tour operators must use an ATOL License for package holidays abroad. So your package should be covered by ATOL so you will be able to claim a refund
  2. If you have booked a hotel (worth up to £200) or car hire (worth up to £300) with the flight you should be able to get a refund under ATOL . This is known as a Flights Plus booking, protected by ATOL when booked through a tour operator. Flight-Plus is part of the ATOL Regulations 2012
  3. If you did not receive an ATOl certificate and you are not covered by ATOl (see above) then you are not entitled to any refund. However, if the flight cost was more than £100 you may be able to claim under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. If you purchased the tickets on a debit card or they cost less than £100 you may still be able to claim from the bank under their voluntary Chargeback scheme.
  4. You may be able to claim on your travel insurance but it would need to be a high level cover policy.

Reports of hotels making holidaymakers pay again
The CAA says “There are a few cases affecting passengers on Monarch package holidays who are ATOL protected. Some hoteliers wrongly think that they will not get their money for the Monarch booking and therefore ask the customer for payment. When this happens the CAA steps in to reassure the hotel that payment will be made. We have done this with two hotels in Lanzarote today and the situations have been resolved.”

All you need to know about booking/complaining about holidays/flights for links to posts regarding various issues you may have with flights and holidays. Your rights, guidelines, laws and information on how to complain effectively.

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