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Chase Bank Limits Cash Withdrawals, Bans International... Before you read this report, remember to sign up to http://pennystockpaycheck.com for 100% free stock alerts Chase Bank has moved to limit cash withdrawals while banning business customers from sending...

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Richemont chairman Johann Rupert to take 'grey gap... Billionaire 62-year-old to take 12 months off from Cartier and Montblanc luxury goods groupRichemont's chairman and founder Johann Rupert is to take a year off from September, leaving management of the...

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Cambodia: aftermath of fatal shoe factory collapse... Workers clear rubble following the collapse of a shoe factory in Kampong Speu, Cambodia, on Thursday

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Spate of recent shock departures by 50-something CEOs While the rising financial rewards of running a modern multinational have been well publicised, executive recruiters say the pressures of the job have also been ratcheted upOn approaching his 60th birthday...

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UK Uncut loses legal challenge over Goldman Sachs tax... While judge agreed the deal was 'not a glorious episode in the history of the Revenue', he ruled it was not unlawfulCampaign group UK Uncut Legal Action has lost its high court challenge over the legality...

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Cold snap boosts profits at British Gas owner

Category : Business

But Centrica says it will try to avoid more price rises for ‘as long as possible’ as it faces protests at its annual meeting on Mondayx

British Gas-owner Centrica enjoyed a huge boost from the cold snap, as consumers turned up the heating, driving consumption up by almost a fifth compared with last year.

The company, which raised prices by 6% shortly before the harsh winter set in, said any benefit from the “exceptionally cold weather” would be used to prevent further price rises “for as long as possible”.

Finance director Nick Luff said: “The fact is we make a margin selling gas. We will have made a higher margin because of the extra volume and we will use that to keep prices down during the rest of the year.”

But he said the cost of implementing the government’s energy efficiency scheme and higher transport costs would hit profits, while the gas price remains unpredictable – meaning there may be little extra to invest in keeping prices low.

Energy comparison and switching service uSwitch.com still welcomed the news at a time when consumers are struggling to pay bills. Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch.com, says: “British Gas has recognised the pressure facing customers and is using the financial gain from the extended cold weather to maintain its competitiveness. In plain English, this means that British Gas customers should expect no further increase in prices at least for the foreseeable future.”

Centrica faces protests at its annual meeting in London on Monday afternoon, as campaigners gather to challenge the company on price hikes, multimillion pound payouts to British Gas bosses, and plans for a new generation of gas power stations instead of cheaper, clean renewable energy.

Households’ average gas consumption was 18% higher in the first four months of 2013, compared with the same period last year, while electricity consumption was 3% higher. Residential customers in the UK also rose by 28,000 in the first four months of the year, which Centrica put down to competitive pricing and good customer service.

The company said this “strong performance” put it on course to meet expectations and deliver full-year profits before tax of £602m, down 1% on last year.

As an oil and gas producer, Centrica also benefited from higher commodity prices, and the group’s full-year earnings after tax are expected to be 2% higher at £1.4bn.

Nationwide failed to act against identity fraudsters

Category : Business

Standing order scammers have taken £1,300 from my account, but Nationwide has not been helpful

I recently logged in to my online Nationwide account, only to discover that two unknown standing orders had cleared more than £1,300 out of my current account, leaving me with just £21. As I had had nothing to do with them – they were both to estate agents I had never heard of – I printed the statement and rushed to my local Nationwide branch. There was no manager available but a cashier cancelled the two standing orders. I asked whether I had signed the forms indicating I had consented to them being set up, and she said I hadn’t.

My card was stopped, and I was put in a cubicle and told to ring Nationwide HQ to sort out the problem. No one offered any support.

After lengthy waits and several more questions, I was told that once it was proved that I had not set up the standing orders, I would be refunded. Someone would ring me on Friday or Monday. When I arrived home, I had a message from a woman who worked for the Carlisle branch. She wanted to know if I had set up a standing order to Alpha Lettings. She said the signature very clearly did not match mine, so she had declined it.

Since then it has emerged that someone – or a group of people – has tried to set up a string of standing orders on my account, all to estate agents around the country. A second trip to a bigger branch wasn’t much good, either, and promised call-backs have not materialised. It seems to me that Nationwide doesn’t know what it’s doing when it comes to identity fraud of this kind. Can you please help? CB, south-west London

It’s clear from your letter that the building society hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory when dealing with this problem. The staff seemed to have no idea how stressful it was to discover £1,300 had gone from your bank account, and you should have been treated more sympathetically.

Standing order fraud is, according to our research, relatively rare, but your case has highlighted how easy it is to commit. You later realised that one of your bank statements failed to arrive around Christmas and, armed with this, the culprit probably set up the standing orders, relying on staff not looking at the signature too closely.

We suspect that although estate agent names were used, the money ended up in an unrelated, non-business account. For some reason, these frauds often seem to lead to a Barclays account at a branch in east London.

Nationwide accepts it should have handled the matter better. “While we have measures in place to prevent standing order fraud, and the overwhelming majority of attempts are prevented, it is clear we have let CB down on this occasion. It is important to note any innocent victim of fraud will always be refunded,” says a spokesman.

The money taken from your account has been returned, with an additional £200 to make up for the poor service.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at consumer.champions@guardian.co.uk or write to Bachelor & Brignall, Money, the Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include a daytime phone number

Contactless payments: which banks are in touch?

Category : Business

Retailers have readily embraced the ‘wave and pay’ revolution, but some banks have been slow off the mark

Starbucks is the latest big-name retailer to embrace contactless payments, but has the cash-free shopping revolution hit a roadblock?

Some of Britain’s banks have only issued contactless cards to a small proportion of customers and a survey published last week found many people are wary of the technology.

For several years, debit and credit cards displaying the contactless “wave” symbol have been hyped as the next big thing in banking and retail because they enable customers to pay for less costly items (£20 or less) without having to key in a pin number or scrabble around for cash. Instead, they simply scan their plastic over a reader at the till.

Since the first such cards were introduced by Barclaycard in 2007, a growing number of retailers have been offering this form of payment. Now Starbucks, after testing the technology in a few of its outlets, is rolling it out nationally. From this Friday, 10 May, all 570 Starbucks-owned branches in the UK will accept contactless payments and the company predicts that by the end of the year, they will make up around 10%-20% of all eligible transactions.

Ian Cranna, the UK marketing vice-president of Starbucks, which has come under fire recently for its UK tax arrangements, says: “More and more of our customers are using alternatives to cash and we want to offer them the quickest and most convenient way to pay – which is not only great news for them but also for other customers in the queue.”

Getting more household-name retailers on board will boost the scheme but shoppers can only make contactless payments if their bank or card company has given them one of the new-style cards. When Guardian Money rang round some of the main financial institutions, we found they have adopted varying approaches to the technology. Of the 31m-plus contactless credit and debit cards in circulation in the UK, almost 20m have been issued by Barclays or Barclaycard.

New research from price comparison site Gocompare.com claims that only 6% of Britons have so far made a contactless payment using a credit or debit card. This was based on a survey of more than 2,000 UK adults carried out in March. The study also found that large numbers of Britons are wary of new payment technologies, with one in four saying they find the idea of contactless

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British Gas customers whose ‘special’ tariff cost £800 more

Category : Business

Many British Gas customers on a heavily promoted fixed-price deal would have done better on the standard tariff

Thousands of British Gas customers who signed up for one of its fixed-price tariffs two years ago have, in effect, been overpaying for their gas and electricity since then, it has been claimed. In some cases they have paid £800 more than if they had taken a rival deal.

In May 2011 British Gas contacted many of its long-standing customers to offer them a new tariff called Fixed Price March 2013. At the time, the company was just about to increase prices, but offered this deal on the basis that it was more expensive than standard prices, but there would be no hikes until it expired at the end of March.

It was marketed, in particular, to those coming off previous British Gas fixed-price tariffs as offering them peace of mind. But while thousands of other households coming off rival fixed tariffs will soon be paying more for their energy, those who signed up to this particular deal will see their prices fall after being moved on to British Gas’s standard tariff.

With the average household energy bill having risen to an estimated £1,350 a year, and against a backdrop of energy chief executives constantly warning that bills are only set to increase, experts often suggest that the best bet is a fixed-price tariff.

In recent years all the big energy firms have offered fixed-price and guaranteed-discount tariffs in a bid to keep hold of customers. While those on other British Gas fixed tariffs have done well in the past, those unlucky enough to have signed up to this deal have overpaid.

According to an analysis by the switching comparison site TheEnergyShop.com, they have typically paid £480 more than they would have done had they been on the most competitive fixed price tariff offered by rivals.

Those living in households that consume above-average amounts of power could easily have overpaid £800 or more over two years. Had they stayed on the company’s standard tariff they would have still paid less, even though it has seen two price rises in the past two years

Joe Malinowski, founder of TheEnergyShop.com says: “This tariff was sold to British Gas customers who were coming off previous fixed-price deals, but it was a just a terrible deal,” he says. “It was offered at an initial 30% price premium over standard prices but was only available direct from British Gas.

“If your energy company phones telling you it’s got a great new fixed-price deal, it should send alarm bells ringing. Go online and do a comparison, and you may find it’s not quite as good a deal as you were led to believe.”

A spokeswoman for British Gas says: “Fixed-price products are offered to customers to insure against price rises and to guarantee the price they will pay for their energy for a fixed period. Customers can make a choice about the product they decide to buy, and in many cases this will prove to be a better long-term option. But prices can go down, as well as

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Openreach leaves customers unconnected and angry

Category : Business

Frustration over endless waits for Openreach to instal phone lines is made worse by being unable to complain directly

Letters about the unreliability and inscrutability of Openreach, the division of BT which, in theory, provides access to the national phone network, has unleashed a torrent of woe from readers stranded, often for months, without phones. The complaints have a common thread: Openreach is unanswerable to the customers it lets down because grievances must be channelled through their own service provider, some of whom seem equally unable to communicate with the company they rely on to install new lines.

MN of London

has been waiting since November for his Sky telephone and broadband to be installed: “Appointments have been made, and each time the engineer failed to show. In desperation, I cancelled my contract with Sky and placed a new order with BT in February. I’m still waiting and was recently asked by an amused BT operative what life is like without a phone line.”

Primus customer VC of Althorne, Essex,

lost her line in January and is still awaiting reconnection. “We feel powerless before these faceless organisations,” she says. Londoner LN-C has also been waiting since January for a new line. Engineers have either turned up with the wrong parts or qualifications, arrived unannounced and were unable to gain access or did not come at all. “We have wasted more than 40 hours waiting for BT to show up, or telephoning them to complain. BT’s delays are also costing me thousands of pounds in lost productive working hours as we are unable to conduct our business effectively without the internet,” she writes. “One of the telephone lines awaiting installation is for our Dualcom alarm system, which is necessary to comply with our insurance requirements.”

SC of Colwyn Bay, Conwy

ordered a new line through Sky in January and was told she would have to wait seven weeks. Snow meant the engineer was a no-show and she was told the next available appointment was in May: “We have been told that you can’t contact Openreach, you have to go through our provider – Sky – but then all Sky will say is ‘sorry’ this is the first available appointment.”

SC of London

complained to his provider Zen of a slow broadband connection in December. “Zen has been fighting hard to get Openreach to resolve the issue… Openreach has no telephone number or email address for end user complaints and insists we must go through our ISPs. It seems absurd that Openreach has been set up as a monopoly supplier of the communications infrastructure without there being any way for the end user to complain to them directly about their services, or for there to be an external body to which we can seek redress.”

Telecoms regulator Ofcom tells me it doesn’t publish complaints about Openreach as the number is so small. Of course it is. Because of Ofcom rules, Openreach gets to skulk behind the service providers who have to deal with customer complaints on its behalf. However, even Ofcom has realised that Openreach’s performance has “deteriorated” since the summer and it is reviewing the wholesale access market – ie Openreach’s monopoly on installations agreed with Ofcom in 2006 – to enable service providers to access BT’s national network. It is planning to introduce new rules such as payouts for customers who suffer delays.

Meanwhile, Openreach blames last year’s wet weather for a backlog of delays, including SC of Conwy’s five-month wait (her appointment was brought forward a month thanks to press office muscle) and says it has appointed 1,000 new engineers and carried out 1.7m visits in the last quarter. It blames MN’s saga on the fact that both Sky and BT coincidentally committed an “administrative error” when processing the order. His line has now been installed.

VC is the victim of a faulty telephone pole, which requires input from the electricity company and the council to remedy. The council also had to be invoked in LN-C’s case because it had concreted over relevant manhole covers and she now has a working line. SC of London apparently suffered delays because of the technical complexity of the problem which necessitated several visits.

Although customers’ contracts are with their own service provider rather than Openreach, it’s worth complaining to Ofcom if Openreach irks you. While unable to intervene on an individual basis, it will add it to the growing tally. For mediation when you reach deadlock, turn to the telecommunications ombudsman,

Online presence boosts companies, survey finds

Category : Business

Two-thirds of online businesses questioned said they were optimistic about their growth prospects for the coming year

Companies with a strong online presence are performing substantially better than the overall economy despite the current difficult consumer environment.

In a survey of more than 300 online businesses conducted for Barclays, the average business reported 11.4% compound annual growth over the past three years. During the same period the UK economy grew by just 0.2%, said the bank.

Given this strong growth, it is unsurprising that nearly two-thirds of the businesses questioned said they were optimistic about their growth prospects for the coming year. Perhaps not so obviously, 48% were positive about the UK economy in general.

Sean Duffy, managing director and head of technology, media and telecoms at Barclays, said: “Online businesses have bucked the trend over the last three years and experienced success in spite of the stagnant economic conditions. The next challenge for companies operating online is sustaining this level of growth and ensuring that they take advantage of new and rising trends. We are advising our online clients to become mobile-ready, as it’s a significant opportunity, particularly with the imminent roll out of 4G networks across the UK due to make mobile browsing easier for more and more consumers.”

But many companies do not yet appear to have a mobile strategy. The survey showed 89% of online businesses had not yet developed their website for mobile devices.

Meanwhile the continuing rise of internet shopping has helped John Lewis reach £1bn of online sales a year ahead of schedule, and the retailer has invested nearly £40m in designing a new website to help boost future growth.

Paul Coby, IT director at John Lewis, said: “With sales up over 40% for johnlewis.com in 2012, we are seeing an unprecedented pace of online growth and customers are making more demands on our website, than ever before.”

The news comes as a report from marketing group Tradedoubler suggested that footfall – the number of people entering shops – was no longer a reliable measure of retail business. It said 60% of customers used smartphones while out shopping, with three-quarters looking up information on products in the store, 70% checking for a better price elsewhere and 60% going home to buy the product on line.

Customers are increasingly seeking out loyalty and reward schemes, as well as voucher codes and coupons, said Tradedoubler.