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. We are doing 30 days too so it’s all up to you!

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 they 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. Also, carrier bags! Or conference totes/canvas bags for life instead for more eco friendly use! There is talk too of some Foodbanks needing pet food. If you want to support pregnant women and families with infants see the First Steps Nutrition advice. (Note, Foodbanks won’t take formula.)
  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 an eye out for coupons and discount codes for items that you wouldn’t use yourself but would make ideal items for the foodbank
  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 and Checkoutsmart
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.

Checkoutsmart no referral codes but works same way. Seems to have more looking through at the moment.

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 minimum 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.

Quick word on donating Advent calendars
It may cross your mind to donate some chocolate advent calendars. However, for those of us who have them, it leads up to the big day. Most families, if not all using a foodbank, will be using food possibly not even heated for Christmas day. Just another day, no big build up. I am going to donate a load of selection boxes with the calendar box instead.

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.

I’ll leave the last word to Lisi, daughter of Becky Goddard-Hill who blogs at Babybudgeting. So get your kids involved too. My son has decorated (ish!) the box but wouldn’t do anything on camera so well done Lisi!

Day 10
A third of the way in. The more eagle eyed will note that there are more than 10 items in here! That’s because so far I have got 3 jars of baby food, some chick pea puffs and some baked pea snacks for free so they are bonus items!

They came from 3 different shops using Shopmium (referral link) and Checkoutsmart.

Day 13
One of the UKMoneybloggers, Andrew, MoneyTree Man (remember I listed him in my 25 top finance blogs (saving, making, investing, tips & more ‘cos he made me laugh with his style of writing!) has made this video. I particularly like his tip regarding telling at least one of the  shop assistants what you are doing and inspire them to join in and share the word.

Day 15
Half way in (we are doing 30 days)day 15 items for the foodbank, baby food, biscuits, broth, chocolates, tuna, mackrel, toothpaste etc
Day 22
Two thirds (and a day!) in

Day 22 foodbank box, cereal, crisps, biscuits, rice, tins etcDay 30
Finished and ready to donate
2 boxes full of stuff for foodbankYou can still do one if you haven’t and can continue to donate whenever you like. You can even make Tesco donate a further 20% of your donation if you donate in there from 3oth November to 2nd December Tesco doing more than their “Fare Share”?


Plane greedy – Are airlines holding families to ransom?

Update 03 February 2018. The CAA is to investigate airlines and seating allocations. Interestingly you will see below that in August 2017 it told me that this wasn’t a problem. It seems to have changed its mind! Finally, after complaints from consumer groups and others it is to investigate the practice of charging for people to sit together.

Aeroplane in blue sky text - CAA to investigate airlines' charges

Many airlines introduced paying for seat reservations on flights some years ago. Airlines say this is because some customers want to ensure that they are near the loo, by a window, or in the middle if they get travel sick etc. Of course there’s also paying over the odds for legroom seats too! Remember when you could get them for free just by asking at the desk?!

Update 05/02/18 Travelled recently? Have your say on the CAA consultation regarding seating arrangements. The consultation is open for one month. The CAA has said that it depends on the number of responses it gets as to when the results will be published but it expects it to be late Summer/Autumn.

So, what are the legal rules about seat reservations?

EU Regulation (EU) 965/2012
This regulatation states that if a child travels with an accompanying adult in the same class of cabin, the child should be seated in the same seat row segment as the accompanying adult. Where this is not possible, the child should be seated no more than one seat row or aisle away.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is responsible for aviation rules and regulations in Europe and their document known as Annex IV (PART-OPS) says:
CAT.OP.MPA.165 Passenger seating
“The operator shall establish procedures to ensure that passengers are seated where, in the event that an emergency evacuation is required, they are able to assist and not hinder evacuation of the aircraft.”

Civil Aviation Authority guidance
The CAA states it has published guidance material for UK airlines explaining how to comply with the above rule, part of which says that family groups should be seated together.

“The seating of children close by their parents or guardians should be the aim of airline seat allocation procedures for family groups and large parties of children.
Young children and infants who are accompanied by adults should ideally be seated in the same seat row as the adult. Where this is not possible, children should be separated by no more than one seat row from accompanying adults. This is because the speed of an emergency evacuation may be affected by adults trying to reach their children.”

The CAA says it receives very few complaints relating to seating. A CAA spokesperson said

“On the whole we are satisfied that UK airlines comply with their obligations to seat family groups together. It is important though that passengers are made aware of rights during the booking process. Our advice to passengers is clear, family groups do not have to pay for reserved seating in order to guarantee they sit together. Airlines are obliged to sit children in the same seat row as an accompanying adult during the boarding process. Where that is not possible, (e.g. Boeing 737s or Airbus 320s, where cabins are configured into rows of three seats either side of the single aisle and more than three people are travelling together) the child should be no more than one seat row away under EU rules. The CAA works closely with UK airlines to ensure they understand this obligation.”

05/02/18 Asked for clarity on this change in view the CAA did not provide a comment.

So, how do major airlines compare when allocating seats for adults with children?

Airline Short haul from & up to long haul Reserving seats
BA £7 £20 Free to gold/silver members at booking, Bronze week before flying, anyone 24 hours before free allocation
Thomas Cook £10 £22 Free allocation at check-in
Thomson £9.50 £15.50 Free allocation to anyone 7 days before flying
Monarch £3 to £11 £11 Free to Vantage Club gold members incl. legroom, 24 hours before free allocation
Easyjet from £1.99 to £21.99 Free allocation at check in and to those with Flexi tickets & easyJet Plus cardholders)
Ryanair £8 or £13 or £15 1 adult must pay €4 so children get free reserved seat. Max. 4 children for each adult per booking get free seat reserved. Anyone free at 4 days 2 hrs before flying

Ryanair aeroplane over fields text CAA to investigate airline charges for you to sit with your party

British Airways
A spokesperson for BA said “We prioritise seating families travelling with children together, which we organise a few days before online check-in opens. We will always make sure than any child under 12 is seated with an adult from their group.”

Thomas Cook
A spokesperson for Thomas Cook Airlines said: “We always give seating priority to families flying with children to make sure that at least one accompanying adult is always seated with a child. To guarantee the whole family is seated together, families have the option of paying for seat selection.”

A Thomas Cook spokesperson said “We always try to seat customers travelling together next to each other wherever possible, with priority given to families travelling with children. If a customer has chosen not to use the pre-booking service and, in very rare circumstances, their child is initially allocated a seat away from them it will be automatically re-assigned.”

A Monarch spokesperson said “Monarch will always try to sit families together and a child (2-15 years) will never be sat without an accompanying adult. During peak periods, it may be necessary to split groups/families, but a child will always be sat with an accompanying adult from the same group/family.”

An Easyjet spokesperson said “If passengers choose not to pay to select their seats our seating systems will always aim to seat families together when they check-in online. If a passenger does leave checking in until close to the time of departure and all of the seats have been allocated to other passengers, we will try to allocate as many of the family together as we can at the airport and if necessary will ask other passengers if they are prepared to move once they are onboard the plane.”

A Ryanair spokesperson said of the mandatory charge, introduced in October 2016:“This way adults can choose where to seat their children. This will also allow adults to check-in for their flight 60 days before departure. It will not be mandatory for any other adults or teenagers in the booking to reserve a seat; however they may choose to do so.”

Comparing Ryanair equality
Does Ryanair apply this policy to all parties that require individuals in need of care to be sat together? Where a reduced mobility passenger is travelling with an accompanying adult, Ryanair says it “…contacts them by email and do our best to ensure the accompanying passenger is seated next to them and allocate them a seat free of charge.”

Is Ryanair in breach of The Equal Status Acts 2000-2015, because adults with children are being charged where others without children are not, which is therefore discriminatory against those with dependants? Also, others in need of a carer are not charged.

Irish Aviation Authority
Ryanair comes under the jurisdiction of the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA). A spokesperson for the IAA said “If a child travels with an accompanying adult in the same class of cabin, the child should be seated in the same seat row segment as the accompanying adult. Where this is not possible, the child should be seated no more than one seat row or aisle away. All Irish airlines must comply with these requirements and the IAA monitors Irish airlines to ensure compliance.” Despite my requesting a response regarding Ryanair’s mandatory charging from the IAA Director of Safety Regulation Ralph James and CEO Eamonn Brennan and repeated requests to the Press Office and making a complaint using the IAA procedure, the IAA has declined to comment any further on repeating the line on the EU guidance and refuses point blank to comment on monitoring Ryanair’s practice and whether it will take any action on the possible breach of the EU guidelines and indeed the Equality Act.

Further confusion
The European Consumer Centre Ireland said that this matter wouldn’t fit under their remit and suggested contacting the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR), as it is the national enforcement agency. But it too said it did not have any legal remit in the area. The European Consumer Centre UK said “This is an area that we would seldom advise on as the experts in this field would be the Civil Aviation Authority who has already provided a comment. It also recommended contacting the CAR.

So, there you have it, none of the organisations in Ireland responsible for overseeing airlines practices want to get involved in monitoring airlines seating children with their adults despite the equivalent in the UK doing so.

Ryanair flies into oblivion the latest fiasco regarding delays

All you need to know about booking/complaining about holidays/flights various posts on laws, guidance, stories, templates etc.

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!


For consumer rights, regulations, laws guidance, advice and template letters for complaining effectively for most situations GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!


All you need to know about credit score rating



Guest post  by James Jones is Experian’s Head of Consumer Affairs


When did you last check your credit score?
Despite now being free, less than half (45%) of British adults have ever taken the time to find out their credit score. So I guess there’s a pretty good chance you answered ‘never’ to the title question, which I think is a shame. Let me explain what your credit score is and why it’s important. And while we’re on the subject, I’ll try to set the record straight on some popular credit untruths too.

Your credit score is an assessment of your credit report (aka credit history), which is your recent track record managing a wide variety of credit accounts such as loans, credit cards, mortgages, mobile phone contracts, car finance, current account and even some regular household bills such as energy, water and broadband.

Ask a lender for credit and it’ll get your permission to check your credit report to help it predict how you’ll behave in the future. There are three agencies in the UK that compile credit reports on people my employer Experian, Equifax and Callcredit. Your report at each agency can differ as we don’t all work with the same credit providers.

To help lenders process large volumes of applications quickly and fairly your credit report is usually turned into a credit score. This indicates the probability you’ll miss future payments based on your credit track record. The higher the score the lower the risk. You can ask each agency for a copy of your report and for a guide credit score. It won’t be the same score a lender uses but will give you a decent idea where you stand.

The Experian Credit Score is calculated on a scale of 0-999. A score of 961 or higher is classed as excellent and around 30% of Experian’s customers have an excellent score. As a result, they should be able to access cheap borrowing from a wide range of providers. On the other hand, a poor score can leave you struggling to be accepted for credit and, if you are successful, paying over the odds for the privilege.

So, it can certainly pay to take a little time to find out your score and, if it leaves room for improvement, to explore how you might be able to improve it.

The three agencies have lots of advice on their websites on building a great score and they can give your personal tips if you get in touch. Services like Experian CreditMatcher can also show you which credit products you’re likely to be accepted for based on your current credit score, removing a lot of the guesswork from applying for credit.

To help make sure your credit score is right on the money, let me sign off by leaving you with my five top tips on getting your credit score in good shape, plus the top credit score untruths.

Top tips for a tip top credit score
1 Build a positive track record – use some credit and don’t miss payments.

2 Don’t max out credit cards, ideally keeping balances below 50% of the limit​. In fact, the lower the better.

3 Space out new credit applications to avoid looking needy.

4 Decouple your report from other people’s if they’re no longer linked to you (eg an ex-partner).

5 Register to vote – it helps ID checks and can give your credit score a boost.

Top five credit untruths
1 There’s a credit blacklist – nope, there isn’t one. Credit reports are factual and mostly positive.

2 Previous occupants affect your credit rating – not the case. Someone else’s credit history can only come into play if you’ve linked up (usually via joint credit with a partner).

3 Credit refusal damages your score – no it doesn’t and the outcome isn’t even shown on your report, just the fact that you applied. But do avoid multiple applications (see pt. 3 above).

4 Credit reference agencies decide who gets credit – not at all. We do help but only the lender can decide which customers to accept.

5 Checking your credit report (or your score) harms your credit score – absolutely not! You can do this as often as you like – so what are you waiting for?

About the author. James Jones is Experian’s Head of Consumer Affairs and leads the company’s public education programme, advising people on, for example, credit reports, credit ratings and identity fraud. James is frequently on TV and radio, and regularly answers people’s questions through both traditional media and online via the Experian website, Facebook and Twitter. He began his career at Experian in 1992 after graduating from Cambridge. He loves travel, sport and real ale, and regularly combines all three by following Nottingham Forest and Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club.


The customer is still the boss. Interview with the new Tesco Chief Customer Officer

Regular followers of this blog know that I have quite a history with Tesco. From predicting Philp Clarke’s demise, taking the company to court (and winning), meeting Dave Lewis the group CEO and his executive team, continuing to criticise various initiatives such as fake farms and interviewing Dave Lewis (Group CEO and Matt Davies (UK CEO) in a filmed exclusive last year.

So, not being one to miss an opportunity, when Alessandra Bellini joined Tesco on 1 March 2017 to become their Chief Customer Officer I requested an interview!

So who is Alessandra Bellini and what is she responsible for?

Alessandra Bellini is the new Chief Customer Officer at Tesco, reporting to Dave Lewis, and putting the customer at the heart of everything that Tesco does.

Prior to joining Tesco, Alessandra worked at Unilever for over 20 years, latterly as the Vice President for the Food Category in North America and Food General Manager for the USA. She has a track record in growing global and local brands as well as a passion for developing her people. An international executive, Italian-born, Alessandra has held executive-level roles in markets including Italy and Central and Eastern Europe. (Tesco press release).

Alessandra is responsible for everything customer related and believes that it a fantastic opportunity to work for a company with 460,000 employees. She is very pleasant and personable and I’m not sure whether she thought I’d give her a hard grilling or not! To be fair, she’s only been there a little over two months, so I wasn’t too mean!

What does she want to achieve?
I ask her what she wants to achieve in the first, third and fifth years of her role (bearing in mind that her predecessors have never lasted more than a couple of years!) Alessandra says that she’s not letting me know the specific targets for every day, next month or years, but she will be focussing on building the Tesco brand so that it becomes strong again as it used to be. It’s important to her to regain customers’ trust with a sustainable vision for the long term. That’s the headline. She is quite clear that it’s not a finite process to serve customers better. She wants to continue to talk to customers and listen to those who care, like me, she adds! Oh good, I think, another Tesco person to whom I can complain! 🙂

What are her biggest challenges?
She is quite candid explaining that she feels she has two very different ones. Firstly an internal one, a steep learning curve to understand the current issues, while at the same time looking towards the future. Secondly, the biggest external one is regaining customers’ trust. She feels that Tesco has started this process strongly, the recent results presentation shows that the Tesco brand is the most improved in the last year and that quality has improved.

Alessandra talks about how Tesco is simplifying offers and price and continues to do so more and more regularly. She acknowledges that the path is not smooth and that she has a long journey in front of her but that she tries to read comments from customers on a daily basis as part of gaining ideas.

Her main priority is to earn trust. “I would like to earn trust, being honest in activities and communications with customers. The challenge is to do this in an interesting and engaging way with them. It’s super important to listen to new ideas which is a challenge for any company, particularly ours, given its size”.

It is of course Dave Lewis’ mantra, to listen (after all, before he even started he told me to keep complaining as it was the only way they would improve!) and for Tesco to behave its way better, so it comes as no surprise that he has chosen someone for this role who echoes his aspirations for the company.

Are big changes coming too quickly for customers?
It has been reported that Dave Lewis has made, and continues to make, a lot of cuts which affect the customer, such as stacking shelves in the evening rather than overnight, and cuts to some 24 hour stores. Customers have reported to me that they have found some changes annoying, for example one cited changes to home delivery in her area. I asked Alessandra how she thought these changes will affect customers’ perception of Tesco service and convenience?

She starts by saying that Matt Davies, UK CEO is more informed to answer this question! But says that everything they do is with customers in mind to simplify the trip. There are lots of changes to try and simplify things and to be able to focus on customers more, with better support for staff to help everyone through new systems. She tries to assure me that the changes have been shown to make improvements and that they take a view then learn and are always learning.  She is excited by a company this size, decisively listening and learning new ways.

There are, of course, cuts in some areas and whether they are all driven by improvements for the customer remains to be seen and perhaps I’ll have to challenge Matt Davies a little more?!

As Alessandra is adamant that she is all about making changes and improvements for the customer, I ask her if there has been anything specific in which she has been involved? She tells me that she worked on the finishing touches of the Tesco health campaign Helpful Little Swaps.  This includes the reformulation of their own brand, offering fruit and healthy alternatives, as well as free blood pressure and cholesterol tests. The little steps are apparently coming from observing colleagues and customers. There’s still more to come and more work to be undertaken to make it more visible. (I have already fed back that if Tesco wants to show me healthier alternatives to my usual choices, it needs to be better for online shopping. I want to be able to click on my items and say “show me a better alternative”. Watch this space, particularly as Alessandra insists that Tesco will be ensuring that healthier alternatives will not be more expensive).


She is particularly proud of the basket comparison of products and their healthier alternatives and urges me to go into store and look.


Of particular interest to me though is that she touched upon assisting people with disabilities, improving accessible toilets and recognising that not all disabilities are visible. (Interesting comment on that Tesco post showing there’s a long way to go). I return to disabilities later in the interview.

Empowering customers
When I interviewed Dave last autumn I gave him a complaint/question from my Mum! Living on her own she doesn’t want to buy a huge bag of oranges, she wants to buy just a few, so why can’t she? Now, Dave answered that he wanted to work towards customers feeling empowered to do things like open up a bag of oranges and buy one when no single ones available. So! Has this happened I ask?

Alessandra agrees with my Mum. Clearly Alessandra is a sensible woman! She explains that they are working with store managers to accommodate customers. For example in convenience and express stores people are able to buy one apple or a loose banana as they walk to work etc. and that it is less likely in bigger stores because they are more for family shops. But, I argue, the bigger the number of customers overall the more single people will be shopping there too! They still need to do their weekly shop, they just don’t need loads of oranges! She agrees and insists that they are leaving it to local store managers to do what is right for their customers.

It looks like they have moved away from empowering customers to feel comfortable in breaking a bag of fruit when single ones aren’t available and empowering store managers instead. And I have to say my Mum is still complaining that she has to buy a big bag of potatoes for roasting/mashing and that vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli (often pointlessly packaged) are too big. So, more work needed in this area, thank you. Tesco may need to do more to try to get feedback from customers who don’t usually interact with them. That’s always a challenge and I don’t think many companies understand that. I do, a lot.

Improving accessibility for people with disabilities
Having already touched upon this area, I was keen to find out more and ask what Tesco currently does to ensure access to all services for everyone, including those with disabilities and what Tesco is going to do to improve in this area?

Alessandra is keen to tell me that she believes every customer has the right to shop with Tesco. Tesco is working in partnership with a disability organisation and forum in improving aspects of the shopping experience and becoming smarter. For example, it is currently experimenting with special trolleys for disabled children and has already been running the quiet shop times for children with autism and is now developing slow lanes for people with dementia. Visual Impairment Audio Mapping – Tesco is trialling in Reading Extra (in partnership with the charity Guide Dogs) this month, the second phase of audio mapping in stores, where customers who have a severe visual impairment will be able to “listen” their way round the stores. The trial works like google maps on an audio basis where the stores and products are mapped and customers can be guided round the shop by it, allowing for greater independence. An industry first so will be interesting to see who it develops. Stories are coming from colleagues but she is aware that they need to do more and be better with sensitivity in this area.

Those BOGOFs and other “special” offers
I show Alessandra a screenshot:
Complaining Cow challenges Tesco on pricing 
Whilst a lot of BOGOF items have gone, here’s an example of something that’s still confusing:  Which is cheaper? Cathedral City Lighter at £2.00 for 350g (£5.72/kg) or Tesco Lighter at £2.00 for 250g (£8.00/kg) when the “two for £3.00” option is used the price per kg is not given on the shelf. So the maths to work out which is cheaper is to divide price by weight in kg to get price per kg. So, using normal prices:

£2.00/0.350 gives £5.72/kg (Cathedral City) and £2.00/0.250 (Tesco Lighter) gives £8.00/kg. Using the “special offer”: Two for £3.00 means the price for one is £1.50 So: £1.50/0.350 (Cathedral City) gives £4.29/kg or £1.50/0.250 (Tesco Lighter) gives £6.00/kg. That’s what you want to be doing when out shopping, huh?

Alessandra points out that BOGOF offers have been reduced by 24%. But this particular offer is an example of where one has to stand there at the aisle and work out what is the cheapest. Alessandra explains that the Cathedral will be cheaper but I’m not sure if she sees my point. Some people’s maths might not be as good or as speedy as hers and for most of us time is of the essence. She does, however, concur that there is more work to do here to make sure these kind of offers are made more understandable. There are also offers that suppliers make which they have to go with sometimes but I am assured that Tesco continues to work on more honest pricing.

The interview comes to an end as we’ve run over time. It’s a pity as me being me I had more questions and well, I know my Mum would have wanted me to challenge a bit more, if nothing else! Another time, another time!


Everything you need to know about financing your car purchase

Rob Sams is a contributor to Legal Beagles, a forum for people who require assistance or an understanding of their legal rights. He particularly answers questions on the Consumer Rights Act as well as queries on voluntary termination rights under car finance agreements. He has kindly agreed to produce this post on different ways of financing a car and what to do if it all goes wrong!

Everything you need to know about financing your car purchase
Over the last few years, reports have shown that a large proportion of cars are mainly financed as opposed to buying outright.  With a number of finance options available depending on the buyer’s needs, this article provides a short explanation of the various finance deals as well as your rights if something goes wrong.

What finance options are available?
Hire Purchase: a HP agreement is a type of agreement which the car is hired to you over a fixed period of time. At the end of that fixed period you have the option to purchase the car (though you are not under an obligation to do so) or return it back to the lender.

Conditional sale: a conditional sale is almost identical to a hire purchase agreement except for one difference. under a hire purchase, you have the option to purchase the car at the end of the agreement whereas a conditional sale obliges you to purchase the car and make the final payment.

Personal contract purchase (PCP): similar to conditional sale and hire purchase agreements,  PCP agreements tend to have lower monthly instalments because they only cover the depreciation over the term of the agreement, leaving a much larger balloon payment at the end.  PCP agreements are becoming increasingly popular with consumers.

Personal Contract Hire (PCH): a PCH agreement is essentially a hire agreement over a long period of time, returning it at the end of the agreed term.  One thing to note is that there are strict limits on the mileage you can do, and if you go over, you may get stung. Be sure you estimate your annual mileage correctly but as a guide, the average number of miles is around 10-12k per year.

Fixed Sum Loan: Fixed sum loan agreements are simply personal loans that you would usually obtain from your bank however the loan can only be used for the purchase of the car.  Ownership of the car will immediately pass to you on entering into the agreement and you repay the monthly instalments in accordance with the terms.  Some finance companies such as Santander and FCA Automotive Services (a subsidiary of Fiat who offer loans) offer fixed sum loan of agreements.

There’s a problem with my car, what can I do about it?
Contrary to popular belief, whenever something is wrong with your car, it is not the responsibility of the dealership but the lender because there are two transactions that take place.  First, the lender will purchase the car from the dealership and second, the lender will then enter into an agreement with you to hire or purchase the car.  Whilst it may seem practical to approach the dealership first, they are not under any obligation to repair the car on your request, though there is no harm in speaking to the dealer first.

If you notice a fault, defect or the car was not described then you may have certain rights against the lender under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA).   The lender must ensure that the car is of:
Satisfactory quality: the lender is obliged to make sure that the car is in a roadworthy condition at the time of entering into the agreement and is
Fit for purpose: If you made it known to the dealer that you wanted to use the car for a specific purpose or that it must be able to do specific things, and the dealer confirms that it is suitable for those needs, but subsequently turns out to be false, the car would not be fit for its intended purpose.

Wherever possible it is always best to get things in writing so that you create a paper trail of what has been discussed in the event you need to escalate the matter.  It may also be helpful to bring another person with you who can back up your story at a later date.

Complaining to the lender
If you haven’t been able to resolve the matter informally, then your next step is to write a formal complaint to the lender, setting out the problems you have experienced, why it is still not resolved and what needs to be done to resolve the issue.  There are several options you have under the CRA:

Short term rejection: If the car is faulty within the first 30 days then you have the right to reject the car and immediately terminate the agreement, although you need to prove that the fault existed on the first day.  This can be done by obtaining an independent report confirming the faults.  Where you exercise the short-term rejection, the agreement is terminated and you are entitled to the total sums paid to date.

Repair or replace: You may choose the option of having the car repaired or replaced, but if one is disproportionate to the other then the lender can opt for the alternative.  The lender must repair or replace within a reasonable time without causing significant inconvenience as well as covering any costs incurred.

Final right to reject: This remedy is only available after 30 days if the repair or replacement fails to resolve the issue or it was not carried out within a reasonable time.  The difference between this option and the short-term rejection is that the lender can deduct a sum of costs for usage where the final right to reject is exercised.  An alternative remedy is to keep the car but require a price reduction either by future payments or a proportionate refund of what has been paid already.

Complaining to the Financial Ombudsman
Most complaints tend to be resolved with lenders without any further action.  However, if it is still not resolved, then you can bring the matter to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).  The FOS will investigate your complaint and review the evidence from both sides, taking into account any relevant law but also what is fair and reasonable (they are not obliged to follow the law).  Once the adjudicator has reviewed all evidence, they will contact you with an initial decision and explain their reasons.

If you do not agree with initial decision, you can ask an Ombudsman to review the matter and provide a final decision.  If the Ombudsman does not find in favour of you, the decision is not legally binding and you do not have to accept it (you could take further action by bringing legal proceedings in the Small Claims Court).  However, if you accept their decision then it becomes legally binding on both parties and there is no further recourse.

Other rights: voluntary termination
Another common right for consumers who enter into car finance agreements is voluntary termination.  If you have a HP, PCP or Conditional Sale Agreement and you are struggling to keep up with the repayments, the Consumer Credit Act 1974 allows you to terminate the agreement which limits your liability to 50% of the total amount payable.  It goes without saying that, before entering into an agreement you should always make sure you can afford the monthly repayments.  Provided you have taken reasonable care of the goods and paid any overdue instalments then you will have nothing more to pay.

You do not necessarily need to have paid 50% of the total amount payable as you can terminate at any time by giving notice in writing.  However, if you have underpaid, the lender is entitled to the remaining balance which makes up the 50% and this option is not available where the lender has terminated the agreement first.  You should note however, that once you have given notice to terminate the agreement, the notice cannot be revoked.

More on Voluntary Termination

Car buyers alert: how not to get fobbed off

How not to get fobbed off by a garage (and what to do if you have been!)

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