Top Money Saving Tips

 

A few small changes could lead to more pounds in your purse
Tired of being told to bring lunch to work or to cut out the morning coffee to save cash? It’s fair to say that some of “ingenious” money-saving tips can be a little bit, well, patronising.
But when Nectar ran a competition to find Britain’s savviest families, some of the ideas that surfaced were genuinely creative – albeit, not for everyone.
Eight finalist families were tasked with writing a money-saving blog over the course of six weeks before the loyalty points provider picked the Staniforth family from Leeds as winners. You can check out their blog here.
Here are some of the best cash-saving tips gleaned from the finalist families:
Order a ‘Weekend Box’ for free at www.weekendboxclub.com using a free code which you can easily find online. Delivered fortnightly, this is a box with four great ideas for kids in – something to cook, something to make, something to explore and something green. They contain almost everything you need (apart from things you will commonly find in your cupboard) and provide great entertainment for a quiet moment over the weekend.
1. LEGO has two kids magazines that are completely free. Arriving several times a year, they are packed with cartoons, model plans and competitions perfect for any young engineer. And with different editions to suit your child’s needs, it really is a great freebie. Sign up here.
2. Let the shower races begin! Armed with a towel and sand timer we all race to have the quickest shower. Check out Soap and Glory’s 2 minute rinse campaign for more tips on shorter showers and a chance to win prizes too.
3. Did you know that any child who has had an achievement of some sort can apply for a Blue Peter Badge? With it they get free admission into a huge number of attractions. I’m sure most children have done something amazing that has made their parents proud so why not apply.
4. With Nectar points you can get an annual Merlin pass for some guaranteed fun days out at fantastic attractions like Madame Tussauds, Chessington World of Adventures, SEALIFE and Legoland. In fact, a huge number of the UK’s most famous attractions are included.
5. Make sure you keep hold of old books and magazines to make your own bunting. Then you have bunting to tie-in with your kid’s favourite theme, whether it’s Moshi Monsters, pirates or Peppa Pig.
6. Try using up the ends of rolls of wall paper or unwanted samples by re-purposing as wrapping paper. It’s thicker than wrapping paper and gives a really nice quality look to gifts – why not add a bit of ribbon at only 7p a meter from the market too? Left over lining paper is great too, for anything from kids’ craft to making sewing patterns.
8. Mobile phones and printer cartridges can be pretty high value items for charities, so don’t ever bin them. Sainsbury’s has a special recycling scheme where they fetch at least 50p each, so that’s a £3 donation without having to open your wallet.

9. Have a weekly ‘no spend day’ and you’ll find it makes a huge difference to the way you manage your weekly budget. Try cooking bread overnight in the bread maker that you can use for lunchtime sandwiches, and then cook from the cupboard for tea. Any purchases have to be deferred, but you’ll find that a little thinking space makes you realise that you don’t need it, you just want it – especially when it comes to sweet treats!

10. Check out your local council website to see whether there is a recycle/reward scheme in progress Some councils put aside money for every extra tonne recycled, and then ask residents to bid on that pot of money for local projects. It’s a great idea that’s also really beneficial for the whole community.
11. There is always a park or a footpath near to you where you can enjoy a lovely day out for free. Use the internet to search for footpaths in your local area.
12. Consider DIY before paying someone else to do some work for you. Search the internet for video tutorials, and then buy everything you need online too – you’ll make some great savings using eSpare and eBay.
13. Grate the whole block of cheese and put it in the freezer, just using it as and when you require. No need to defrost either, it melts in no time, and grated cheese goes much further too.
14. Check out your local Children’s Centres. They’re a really under recognised resource for parents and young children, throwing lots of free community events throughout the year.
15. When having your car serviced, always ask for a breakdown of the labour charge you are quoted. All garages should follow what is called ‘book time’ or ‘flat rate billing’ meaning that if the book states a repair requires two hours labour the garage can’t charge you for three hours. The stated repair time for the brakes on my car is 40 mins, so as labour is usually billed in half-hour blocks, I would query if the labour was higher than one hour.
16. Create your own free recipe collection; it’s easy to make by using a free app called ziplist. Most times when you are browsing the internet for recipes, there will often be an option on the page which states “add to ziplist” which will then store the recipe in your app. This also gives you the function to add ingredients from the recipes to a shopping list to make it handy for when you’re at the supermarket. On a weekly basis you also receive the top 10-12 recipes that other users have saved via email.
17. Blend lemon rinds with water to form a smooth liquid and then added to a recycled container and diluted with water to fill the container. This makes a fab and fresh cleaning solution to clean your wheelie bins, the fridge etc., or to add to bicarbonate-of-soda for a homemade cleaning scrub.

18. Use toothpaste on plastic headlights when they go a foggy/misty yellow in colour and it will revive them.

19. Grind chicken bones into a fine powder as a great free addition to compost.
20. Instead of letting all the water disappear down the plug hole after a bath, have a bucket handy and decant some bath water to use to flush the toilet – instantly reducing water usage.
21. Use a Terramundi Pot – a money savings pot where the only way to access your money is to smash the pot. Feed the pot with your first coin and then continue to feed until the pot is full, then you can treat yourself to something nice and you’re not tempted to dip in before the collection has built up.
22. Always put an empty water bottle in your hand luggage when you’re packing, as you can get water free at the airport that means you can have a drink on the plane for no cost.
23. If you’re getting married or want a memento from a party you’re throwing, whether it’s a birthday or christening, try contacting local colleges that run wedding photography courses where students are coming to the end of the course. Ask any students wish to do your photos for free so that they can use the photos to build their portfolio. They’ll often do this in return for a party invite and good food.
24. Make a phone speaker out of a simple toilet roll by placing a slit in the top and popping your phone inside. Decorate and you have a quick and easy speaker – no batteries or electricity required.

25. Try making your own baby wipes. Container: Old ice cream containers [no cost] Cloth wipes: Cut from outgrown baby vests and t-shirts [no cost] Baby wipe solution holder: A (thoroughly cleaned out) old cleaning spray bottle [no cost] Baby wipes solution recipe: 500ml of cooled boiled water, 1 tbsp of baby wash, 1 tbsp of oil (almond, olive or baby oil would do), 1 tbsp of aloe vera gel. Add everything to the cooled boiled water, give it a little mix and the solution lasts for a few days if kept in the fridge. When you want to make up a box of wipes, pour the solution into your box of dry cloths and leave it a while to give the solution a chance to soak through each cloth.

26. Many charities working with the homeless run a furniture recycling scheme. They pick up your furniture (for free) and either pass it on to someone who needs it, or sell the item with the proceeds going back into the scheme. This is a great way to pass on larger items of furniture you no longer need.
27. Try geocaching for a great day out – it’s the modern day treasure hunt, and it’s absolutely free. You can join at geocaching.com and the website is full of information with everything you need to get started. Get the children involved to make geocache treasure and use it as a sneaky way of decluttering toy boxes. Foreign coins, fridge magnets, pens, pencils, small figures and toy cars are just a few examples of potential ‘treasure’.
28. World of Golf provides free beginner lessons and you don’t need to have your own set of golf clubs. You can enjoy a round of golf for £10 or less, and remember to choose off-peak times to get the cheapest price.
29. Swap children’s clothes with friends – you’re never going to use those outgrown clothes so swap and exchange with a family who have children who will fit.
30. When unpacking your food shop, use the “First In, First Out” rule. Arrange all your grocery products in order of use by date to avoid any food going off and optimise the freshness. You’re more likely then to use all the fresh food before it becomes spoilt and it’s also a great way to organise your meals and ingredients.
31. Buy second-hand board games from the local charity shop for 50p – £1 each! Why not swap them with friends too, so that you can get a selection of different games.32. When selling on eBay, the best time for your auction to end is a Sunday evening around 7-8pm. However, remember to check the TV schedule to be sure there’s nothing of interest to distract potential bidders around your auction ending time.
33. If you apply for Days Out tickets that you later find you cannot use, Facebook has a number of ‘swap’ groups where you can swap your tickets for something you could use.

34. Set a budget for your food shop and take cash only so you’re not tempted to over spend whilst shopping. Always check that what is in your trolley is a ‘need’ rather than a ‘want’.
35. If you are a British Gas customer, ensure you have an Energy Smart Thermostat controlled unit installed. This enables you to control the temperature of your home whilst out and about, via an app. Savings of around £9 can be made per month by using this device, as well as the convenience of turning on heating so it’s ready for when you get home. If you forget to switch it off, you can do this when you’re out and about.
36. Create a ‘lucky dip’ activity box for the kids by writing down an activity and short instruction for the children to do on a folded piece of card, then let the children choose a card. Some great activities to include are plant rubbings (the children use the garden to collect up the leaves or even something they have found), making a fruity desert using two ingredients, playing a board game (get games from the local charity shop for 50p – £1 each and then swap with friends to keep your collection fresh), story time (the children choose a book each and grab a comfy blanket and sit and read as a family), and treasure hunts (leave no more than five clues around the house, when the children find them all, there is a sweet treat waiting for them at the end!).
37. We have a group of friends who have children a little older than ours and they always pass us clothes that they have finished with. We hardly ever pay full price on clothes, always doing our research on how to get an item of clothing cheaper elsewhere. We use eBay a lot, as there are so many bargains to be had, plus collecting Nectar points is a huge benefit.
38. Always use carrier bags for bedroom and bathroom bins, rather than paying out for bin liners.

Cooking on a budget Recipes

Budget recipes by top chefs

Recipes donated by Mark Hix

Corned beef fritters with tomato

Serves 4

I always have a few tins of corned beef in my larder, usually to make a brunch-style corned beef hash with a fried egg on top, but on this occasion corned beef fritters seemed appropriate, with a sauce made from a can of chopped tomatoes.

1 x 340g corned beef, chilled and cut into rough 1cm chunks
3tbsp self-raising flour
Cold water to mix
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for frying

For the sauce

1tbsp vegetable or corn oil
1 small onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
Half a large 400g can chopped tomatoes
A good pinch of dried oregano

First make the sauce: heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-based saucepan and gently cook the onion for 2-3 minutes until it softens. Add the tomatoes and oregano, season, bring to the boil and simmer for about 12-15 minutes, adding a little water if necessary. Meanwhile, put the flour into a bowl and gradually whisk in enough water to make a thick-ish batter and season. Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer.

Mix the nuggets of corned beef with the batter and drop them into the oil in batches, moving them around with a slotted spoon as they are cooking until they are crisp and golden; then remove from the oil and drain on some kitchen paper. To serve, spoon the sauce on to warmed serving plates and arrange the fritters on top.

Corn chowder

Serves 4-6

Sweetcorn is one of my favourite foods in tins. It’s always sweet and flavoursome, vibrant yellow and has a bit of bite to it. Corn chowder is a great American brunch dish. A large bowl with some crusty bread makes a welcome lunchtime meal on its own. You can modify chowders and add all sorts of things from crab meat to smoked haddock – the idea is really to be as hearty as possible

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
4 rashers of rindless, smoked, streaky bacon, chopped into rough 1cm squares
60g butter
1tbsp flour
1tsp tomato purée
1.2litre hot chicken stock
1 x 250g can of sweetcorn
1 large potato, peeled and cut into rough 1cm cubes
2tbsp chopped parsley
60ml double cream

Gently cook the onion, garlic and bacon in the butter for 4-5 minutes until soft. Stir in the flour and the tomato purée and cook on a low heat for 1-2 minutes. Gradually add the hot chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the sweetcorn and potatoes, season with salt and pepper and simmer for another 20 minutes. Remove about one-fifth of the soup from the pan; blend until smooth.

Return to the pan with the cream and parsley and simmer for 5 minutes. Check the seasoning and re-season if necessary. Serve immediately.

Tuna tortilla

Serves 4

A can of tuna can often save the day when it’s transformed into a tasty snack or a brunch-type dish such as this. It’s pretty good value for money and it will go quite a long way when you add in a few cooked potatoes.

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
A couple of knobs of butter
8 medium eggs, beaten
A couple of medium-sized potatoes (250-300g) peeled, cooked and cut into rough 1cm dice
2tbsp chopped parsley
1 x 200g can of tuna, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a non-stick frying pan and gently cook the onions in the butter for 3-4 minutes without colouring until soft. Meanwhile, mix the eggs, potatoes, parsley and tuna and season to taste. Add the egg mixture to the pan with the onions and stir over a medium heat until the mixture begins to set, then stop stirring and allow the tortilla to set on the bottom without colouring. Remove from the heat and turn out the tortilla on to a plate. Serve hot or cold.

Griddled peaches with rice pudding ice-cream

Serves 4

This is not really an ice-cream as such, but simply frozen rice pudding enriched with egg whites. But it makes a delicious and colourful dessert that any novice cook could turn out for an impressive dinner-party pudding.

1 x 425g can of rice pudding
2 egg whites
2tbsp caster sugar
1 x 410g can of peach halves, drained

Whisk the egg whites with the sugar in a mixing machine, by hand or with an electric hand whisk until stiff. Carefully fold the egg white into the rice pudding, transfer to a plastic container with a lid and place in the freezer for 4-5 hours, stirring occasionally until it is firm and frozen.

Reserve 4 peach halves and blend the rest until smooth in a liquidiser.

To serve, heat a heavy or non-stick frying pan and fry the peaches, cut side down for 3-4 minutes, until they are nicely coloured. Spoon a little of the peach purée onto serving plates and place the peach on the purée, cut side up. Spoon or scoop out the rice pudding with the help of a spoon or ice-cream scoop dipped in hot water and place next to the peach. You’ll probably have some frozen rice pudding left which I’m sure the kids will devour.

 

 

 

7 Common Money Mistakes to Avoid

7 Common Money Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Not having a budget 

This is a key point to start everything off, once you know your income and outgoings each month, you can then start planning what to do with any spare cash you have left over at the end of each month (if any). Without a budget, you are flying blind as you cannot measure the reality of your financial situation, which can lead to debt, as your outgoings may exceed your income.

 

https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/beginners-guide-to-managing-your-money

 

  1. Not having an emergency fund

A rainy day fund or whatever you wish to call it, is essential to help avoid getting into debt. Today, the number of people in severe problem debt stands at 2.6 million. There are many things government and creditors can do to reduce this number but helping families build savings could be a key response to the crisis. Having £1,000 saved halves the chances a family will fall into debt. Unexpected bills or expenses are the main cause of your finances wobbling and getting into debt to resolve it.

The best way to combat this is to build up a reserve fund, this should be kept separate from your day to day account and your savings account.

 

https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/categories/how-to-save-money

 

  1. Not Having Life Insurance

A lot of people place insuring their possessions above insuring their own lives, which amazes me to be honest. The one think you should ask yourself is: How would my family cope if I were not around? Life assurance is not very expensive, so you should look into it.

 

  1. Relying on Credit to Get by Each Month

Being in debt can be very stressful and whilst it can be useful for bigger purchases, using credit to get you through to payday is a shortcut to financial disaster.

When you resort to quick credit offered by credit cards, or heaven forbid payday lenders you will be paying high rates of interest, that could ultimately cripple your finances.

 

  1. Not making a will

Making a will is vitally important, as it allows you to have control over how your assets are distributed. A will allows you to decide what happens with your assets and even who you would like to look after your children in the event of your death.

If you die without a will, you die what is known as intestate and your assets will be distributed by the rules of intestacy which may differ considerably from what you wish to happen. See link

http://www.legacywillsuk.com/docs/Rules_of_Intestacy.pdf

 

  1. Not making the most of your savings

No matter how much or how little you have saved up, it is important to get the best return on your savings. The latest budget has increased the allowance to £20,000 from April 2017, so it is important to take advantage of this savings vehicle.

 

http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/savings/best-cash-isa

 

  1. Not Insuring Your Possessions

Most of us will insure our car, but then leave our property and possessions under insured, or without any cover at all. Just a small unexpected loss can throw your finances off kilter. Even if you have insurance, make sure you are adequately covered on these policies, so that any claim will be paid in full.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Expiring Fixed Rate Tariffs

Expiring fixed rate tariffs

Here’s a list of fixed rate energy tariffs that are coming to an end in the next few weeks.

If you’re on a fixed rate tariff, you’ll be automatically switched to your provider’s standard variable rate (SVR) tariff when the fix comes to an end. The SVR will almost certainly be considerably more expensive, so you should shop around for another fix before your current one expires.

If you switch out of your expiring tariff in the six weeks running up to its end date, you won’t have to pay an exit fee, even if one is normally charged on that tariff.

By switching, you can grab yourself another cheap energy deal, and avoid any upcoming price hikes to SVR tariffs.

 Provider  Tariff Fixed Until Average Bill Value Cancellation Fees
 EDF  Blue +Fixed Price February 2017 28/02/2017 £998.51 NA
 EDF Blue +Price Promise 28/02/2017  £840.87 NA
 Extra Energy Bright Fixed Price Feb 2017 v1 28/02/2017 £800.31 £25/Fuel
 Extra Energy Bright Fixed Price Feb 2017 v2 28/02/2017 £804.57 £25/Fuel
 Extra Energy Clear Fixed Price Feb 2017 v1 28/02/2017 £798.55 £25/Fuel
 Extra Energy Clear Fixed Price Feb 2017 v2 28/02/2017 £781.60 £25/Fuel
 Extra Energy Clear Fixed Price Feb 2017 v3 28/02/2017  £772.46 £25/Fuel
Co-operative Energy Co-op Online Fixed February 2017 28/02/2017 £850.18 NA
SSE Brands x 4 Fix & Shop Feb 17 28/02/2017 £1,098.87 £25/Fuel
GnERGY Fixed February 2017 v1 (not S Hydro) 28/02/2017 £802.06 £24.99/Fuel
 Extra Energy Fresh Fixed Price Feb 2017 v1 28/02/2017 £791.03 £25/Fuel
 Extra Energy Fresh Fixed Price Feb 2017 v2 28/02/2017 £781.61 £25/Fuel
 Extra Energy Fresh Fixed Price Feb 2017 v3 28/02/2017 £772.46 £25/Fuel
 Extra Energy Fresh Fixed Price Feb 2017 v4 28/02/2017 £768.31 £25/Fuel
 First-utility iSave Fixed February 2017 28/02/2017 £829.48 £30/Fuel
 First-utility iSave Fixed February 2017 v2 28/02/2017 £824.48 £30/Fuel
 Npower Online Price Fix February 2017 28/02/2017 £805.02 £20/Fuel
 Npower Pre Pay Fix Feb 2017 28/02/2017 £1,210.42 NA
 Npower Price Fix Feb 2017 28/02/2017 £1,084.50 NA
 Places for People Together – February 2017 – fixed 29 Online  28/02/2017  £794.07  £30/Fuel
 Places for People  Together – February 2017 – fixed 30 Online  28/02/2017  £793.74  £30/Fuel
 Places for People  Together – February 2017 – fixed 30 Paper billing  28/02/2017  £833.74  £30/Fuel
 Places for People  Together – February 2017 – fixed 31 Online  28/02/2017  £778.27  £30/Fuel
 Places for People  Together – February 2017 – fixed 31 Paper billing  28/02/2017  £818.27  £30/Fuel
 EDF  Blue +Price Freeeeze March 2017  31/03/2017  £1,201.78 NA
 EDF  Blue+Fixed Prepay March 2017  31/03/2017  £1,169.12  NA
 EDF  Blue+Price Promise March 2017  31/03/2017  £824.50  NA
 Flow Energy Connect v5 31/03/2017 £774.16 NA
 Flow Energy  Connect v5 31/03/2017 £772.75 NA
 Co-operative Energy Co-op Online March 2017 31/03/2017 £775.25 £0/Fuel
Co-operative Energy Co-op Online March 2017 (paper bills) 31/03/2017 £805.25 £30/Fuel
 First-utility First Fixed March 2017+ 31/03/2017 £849.45 £30/Fuel
 Sainsbury’s Fix and Reward March 2017 31/03/2017  £1,075.42 £30/Fuel
 Npower Fixed Energy Online March 2017  31/03/2017 £781.16 £20/Fuel
 GnERGY Fixed March 2017 v1 (not S Hydro) 31/03/2017  31/03/2017  £774.99 £24.99/Fuel
 SEE Brands x 4 Fixed Price Mar 17 31/03/2017 £1,186.27 £25/Fuel
 Co-operative Energy Fixed Price March 2017 31/03/2017 £1,225.60 NA
 Npower Home Safe Fix March 2017 31/03/2017 £1,050.26 NA
 Npower  In Control March 2017 31/03/2017 £1,174.64 £50/Fuel
 First-utility iSave Fixed March 2017 v4  31/03/2017 £805.80 £30/Fuel
 First-utility  iSave Fixed March 2017 v2 31/03/2017 £817.49 £30/Fuel
 First-utility  iSave Fixed March 2017v3  31/03/2017  £816.56  £30/Fuel
 First-utility  iSave Fixed v47 March 2017  31/03/2017  £1,044.97  £30/Fuel
 M&S Energy M&S Energy Fix & More Mar 17 31/03/2017 £1,068.14 NA
 Npower Online Fix March 2017 31/03/2017 £765.13 £20/Fuel
 Better Energy Supply Ltd Online Fixed March 2017 31/03/2017 £363.30 £20.00
 Npower Online Price Fix March 2017 31/03/2017 £807.91 £20/Fuel
 Better Energy Supply Ltd  Postal Fixed March 2017 31/03/2017 £382.46  £20.00
 Npower Price Fix March 2017 31/03/2017 £1,036.18 NA
 Npower Price Protector March 2017 31/03/2017 £1,341.36 NA
 Spark Tenant Saver (fixed) March 2017 31/03/2017 £1,027.27 NA
 Spark Tenant Saver Fixed 31/03/2017 £1,102.34 NA
 Flow Energy Winter Warmer (Fixed April 2017) 31/03/2017 NA £0/Fuel
 EDF Blue+Price Promise April 2017 30/04/2017 £827.00 £0/Fuel
 Flow Energy Connect v6 30/04/2017 £751.97 £30/Fuel
 Npower  Feel Good Fix April 2017  30/04/2017 £1,001.42 NA
 First-utility First Fixed April 2017 v4 30/04/2017 £762.19 £30/Fuel
 First-utility  First Fixed April 2017 v5  30/04/2017  £753.47  £30/Fuel
 First-utility  First Fixed April 2017 v6  30/04/2017  £757.97  £30/Fuel
 First-utility  First Fixed April 2017 v7  30/04/2017  £751.48  £30/Fuel
 Sainsbury’s Fix and Reward April 2017  30/04/2017  £1,050.20 £30/Fuel
 GnERGY Fixed April 2017 v1 (not S Hydro)  30/04/2017 £763.70  £24.99
 Npower Fixed Energy Online April 2017 30/04/2017  £772.33 £20/Fuel
 Co-operative Energy Fixed Price April 2017 30/04/2017 £855.35 £30/Fuel
 Scottish Power  Help Beat Cancer Fixed Price April SC Online 30/04/2017 £1,229.09 £25/Fuel
 Npower Home Safe Fix April 2017 30/04/2017 £1,023.73 NA
 Npower Intelligent Fix April 2017 30/04/2017 £1,216.91 £50/Fuel
 First-utility iSave Fixed April 2017 30/04/2017 £804.32 £30/Fuel
 First-utility iSave Fixed April 2017 v2 30/04/2017 £783.42 £30/Fuel
 First-utility iSave Fixed v17 April 30/04/2017 £1,176.70 £30/Fuel
 Npower Online Fix April 2017  30/04/2017  £795.44 £20/Fuel
 Better Energy Supply Ltd Online Fixed April 2017 30/04/2017 £363.30 £20.00
 Npower Online Fixed Energy April 2017 30/04/2017 £777.40 £20/Fuel
 Scottish Power Online Fixed Price Energy April 2017 30/04/2017 £805.69 £30/Fuel
 Better Energy Supply Ltd Postal Fixed April 2017 30/04/2017 £383.46 £20.00
 Npower Price Fix April 2017 30/04/2017 £1,073.31 NA

Please note: any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.

Source: Money Supermarket

 

 

Council Tax Problems/Issues

Let’s Talk Money

 

Council tax arrears. What to do if you can’t pay council tax debt.
Your council tax bill is a ‘priority debt’, as there can be serious consequences if you can’t pay your arrears.

Council tax makes up around a quarter of local authority incomes in England, Wales and Scotland. Most households have to pay council tax, but the amount you’ll pay depends on the value of your house, your age and income, and who else lives with you.

Local authorities have extra legal powers to collect council tax and they often act quickly if payments are missed. This could result in bailiffs (or sheriff officers in Scotland) visiting your property. This means council tax arrears are treated as a priority debt.

If you fall behind with your council tax it’s important to contact the council and try to make arrangements to clear your arrears. Send them a copy of your budget showing your income and outgoings to show them your situation. If you need help with this or you’re struggling to deal with the arrears, we’d recommend getting free, expert debt advice as soon as possible.

 

How is council tax paid?

An annual bill will be sent in March each year showing how much you need to pay.

You can spread the cost over 12 months by paying in weekly or monthly instalments. Council tax bills often show payments over 10 months but your local authority must let you pay over 12 months if you ask.

If your council tax bill was sent out later than April, for example because you’ve moved house, you’ll have a shorter time to pay it. The bill must be paid off in full before the end of the following March.

Am I entitled to council tax reduction and relief?

There are some ways to reduce your council tax bill, you may qualify for council tax relief:

  • You’re entitled to a 25% single person discount if you live on your own. Some people aren’t counted when working out council tax, so if you live with a full-time student, apprentice or someone who is ‘severely mentally impaired’ you may still qualify for a 25% discount.
  • If you’re on a low income, you may qualify for council tax reduction where your bill is reduced based on how much you earn. All local authorities have different rules for who qualifies.
  • If you’re above pension age, you’ll get extra council tax reduction.
  • If someone in your house is disabled and the property has been adapted, you may qualify to have your council tax reduced by one band.

If your circumstances change during the year, make sure you tell your local authority so they can send you an updated bill.

What happens if I am in arrears or miss payments?

If you’re more than 14 days late paying a council tax instalment you’ll be sent a reminder letter.

If you make the payment within seven days of the reminder letter you can continue paying your council tax in instalments.

But if you don’t make the payment within seven days, your local authority can ask you to pay the whole council tax for the rest of the year. You have another seven days to pay the whole amount, then the local authority can take you to court. The court process differs depending on where you live.

Council tax court action in England & Wales

If your local authority starts court action, you’ll get a summons in the post which will give you a date and time for a court hearing. An extra charge will be added at this point.

If you get a letter about council tax court action, call us for advice.

At the hearing, a magistrate will issue a liability order. This order gives the local authority permission to take further action to collect the unpaid council tax.

You can attend the hearing and tell the magistrate if a mistake has been made, or if your council tax has been paid in full before the hearing date. You should keep in touch with the local authority before the hearing and ask them to agree to you paying the arrears in instalments.

Once a liability order has been issued, your local authority has several options to collect the unpaid council tax. The most common ways are:

  • Using bailiffs or ‘enforcement agents’
  • Taking payments straight from your wages using an attachment of earnings. This will be a fixed percentage of your take-home pay.
  • Taking payments from your benefits. £3.70 a week can be taken from income support, income based jobseekers allowance, income related employment and support allowance or pension credit.

They also have the following options, but these are rare and are only used as a last resort if there are no other ways to collect the debt:

  • Securing the debt to your home using a charging order if you owe more than £1,000
  • Make you bankrupt if you owe more than £5,000 in England or if you owe them more than £750 in Northern Ireland.
  • Send you to prison for up to three months. This is extremely rare, and only used where someone is deliberately refusing to pay their council tax. The local authority can’t send you to prison if any of the other methods above could be used instead.

 

Useful Money Saving Links

Useful Links for Money Saving

Here are a few of my favourite sites, that I use when shopping around for various goods and services :
Switching Gas & Electricity suppliers
(You will need a recent energy bill and bank details if you decide to switch, ideally your annual usage statement would be the best)

http://www.goenergyshopping.co.uk/en-gb
http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/cheapenergyclub
https://www.uswitch.com/gas-electricity/
https://www.theenergyshop.com
http://www.simplyswitch.com
http://www.moneysupermarket.com/gas-and-electricity/

Buying/Switching Mobile Phone and/or Tariffs
https://www.mobilephonechecker.co.uk/
http://www.uswitch.com/mobiles/
http://www.moneysupermarket.com/mobile-phones/

Phone or Broadband Deals
https://www.cable.co.uk/
http://www.simplifydigital.co.uk/
http://www.broadband.co.uk/
https://www.uswitch.com/broadband/compare/broadband_and_home_phone/

Budgeting / Money Advice
https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/tools/budget-planner
https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/living-on-a-low-income-tips
http://www.which.co.uk/money/money-saving-tips/guides/50-ways-to-save-money-/

Moving From Benefits into Work

  1. Firstly it is important to try and do the majority of the legwork before starting your new employment.
  2. Initially I advise all clients to carry out a benefits calculation, ideally they should look to do one called a better off calculation. As this will ask for your current benefits and then ask you to input employment details and wages. It will then recalculate what your entitlements will be based on your expected income. Although not an exact science it is a good approximation.
  3. When you start work you should do several things, first inform the Department for Work and Pensions (Jobcentre) 0345 608 8545 or if claiming Universal Credit 0345 600 0723 you will need to have NI Number, details of hours and wages, start date, type of contract, etc.
  4. If you are in receipt of Housing Benefit or Council Tax Reduction, or both. You should inform your local authority in writing, typically via a change of circumstances form and explain that you are starting work, start date, hours per week, etc.

Extended benefit payments
Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support

If you move from benefits into work, or extend your hours to 16 or more per week, you may be entitled to four weeks run on of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support at its previous level if: – the work is expected to last for at least five weeks; – neither you nor your partner has claimed a Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support extension in the last 26 weeks: – you (or your partner if you have one) were claiming one of the benefits below before work started or hours increased:

Jobseeker’s Allowance

  • Income Support
  • Income-related Employment & Support Allowance
  • Incapacity Benefit
  • Severe Disablement Allowance
  • Contributions-related Employment & Support Allowance.

After the 4 week extension period expires Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support will be based on your new income.

How to claim

  • You (or your partner) must be about to return to work or have just started work of more than 16 hours per week
  • When you close your out of work benefit claim with Jobcentre Plus the extended payment of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support should be arranged automatically
  • You must confirm that you have been claiming benefits for the previous 26 weeks and that the work is expected to last for at least five weeks
  • During this four weeks you can give details of your expected earnings to your local council who can process your Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support claim with your in-work details.

Support for Parents
Childcare Element of Working Tax Credits

An award of Working Tax Credit (not Child Tax Credit) can include an amount towards the cost of childcare with a registered childminder or nursery. This can also include childcare costs such as summer school and after-school clubs.

The amount is 70% of the actual childcare costs up to £175 for one child and up to £300 for two or more children (so an amount up to £122.50 or £210 can be included in the Working Tax Credit award).

An amount towards childcare can be included for

  • A lone parent working 16 hours or more a week
  • A couple if they both work 16 hours or more a week
  • A couple if one partner is working 16 hours or more a week and the other partner is incapacitated, in hospital, entitled to Carer’s Allowance or in prison.

Childcare Vouchers
If a person cannot get an amount towards childcare included in their Working Tax Credit they may should ask their employer if they run a childcare voucher scheme. The employee receives a voucher towards childcare in return for a reduction in their pre tax salary. This allows them to purchase childcare without paying tax and national insurance on that amount and can save up to 30% of childcare costs.

Note that accepting a cut in pay that drops a person’s salary below the national insurance lower earnings limit may affect future entitlement to benefits such as Maternity Allowance and State Retirement Pension.

Not all childcare provision is payable by vouchers so parents will need to ensure that their childcare provider is happy with this arrangement.

Most people would be better off receiving help with the cost of childcare through Working Tax Credit if they qualify, but the calculator can illustrate what the better option might be for someone based on their circumstances.

Early Years Learning
There are free ‘early learning’ classes (for example, a school-attached nursery) available for all 3 or 4 year olds (starting from the term following the child’s third birthday).

This is for at least 38 weeks a year and 15 hours a week (to be spread over at least three days). Families with a low income may also get free classes for 2 year olds.

Help for disabled people
The Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) at Jobcentre Plus provides specialist advice to disabled clients on finding work, job retention and getting practical help through the Access to Work scheme.

Access to Work
If you have a health condition or disability which affects your ability to work you may be entitled to financial support for costs such as travel to work and workplace adjustments through the Access to Work scheme.

There is further information about Access to Work here: https://www.gov.uk/access-to-work.

If you are unemployed and moving into work or a work trial (not voluntary work) or have been working less than six weeks, Access to Work pays 100% of the following costs:

  • Travel costs if public transport can’t be used
    A support worker or reader in the workplace
  • A communicator for support in interviews
  • Workplace adjustments which are not considered ‘standard equipment’. Guidance is available on those items considered ‘standard equipment’ (such as analogue hearing and walking aids) at your local Access to Work Contact Centre.

If you have already been employed for more than six weeks, Access to Work will only pay a proportion of the costs above. The employer will be expected to make a contribution towards the cost based on their number of employees.

How to claim

  • Speak to your local Access to Work Contact Centre:
  • South East England/London/East of England – 020 8426 3110
  • South West England/Wales/West Midlands/East Midlands – 02920 423 291
  • Scotland/North West England/North East England/Yorkshire and Humberside – 0141 950 5327.

Other financial support available
Jobcentre Plus advisers’ discretionary fund

Personal advisers at Jobcentre Plus offices may have access to a discretionary fund to help certain groups of people in exceptional circumstances. Payments can be made, for example, to buy a new suit to attend an interview or to help pay initial childcare and travel costs.

To be eligible a person must be on a New Deal scheme or entitled to certain benefits, such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support or Carer’s Allowance.

In-Work Emergency Discretion Fund

If a lone parent in work has an unexpected financial problem that could stop them carrying on with their job they can apply to the In-work Emergency Discretion Fund.

A person must be:

  • A lone parent working for at least 16 hours a week
  • Their job must be expected to last for at least 26 weeks and
  • They must have been in the job for less than 26 weeks.

The Jobcentre Plus personal adviser can award up to £300 from the In-work Emergency Discretion Fund. Ask your local Jobcentre Plus office for more details.

Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card
You may be eligible for a Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card to help with your fares during the first few months of commuting to a new job if you’re claiming one of the following:

  • Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit, if you’re aged between 18-24 and have been unemployed for 3-9 months
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit, if you’re aged 25 or over and have been unemployed for 3-12 months
  • Incapacity Benefit, Employment and Support Allowance or Income Support, from 3 months into your claim if you are working with an adviser on returning to employment

You won’t be eligible for a Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card if you’re participating in the Work Programme.

Card holders are entitled to a 50% discount on selected rail tickets.

When you have a Jobcentre Plus travel discount added to an Oyster card you can get:

  • Half adult-rate pay as you go fares
  • Child-rate 7 Day, Monthly or longer period (up to three months) Travelcard, or Bus & Tram Passes
  • Jobcentre Plus discounts are not available on transport for london cash fares.

How do I apply?
To apply for a Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card, you’ll need to go to your local Jobcentre Plus office.

To have the Jobcentre Plus travel discount added to an Oyster card, you’ll need an Oyster card which you’ve registered at a Tube station, Oyster Ticket Stop or Visitor or Travel Information Centre. You can then ask the staff to add your discount entitlement onto your Oyster card.

Being budget conscious and thoughtful on Valentine’s Day

Love is in the air again, with Valentine’s Day looming it’s commercially polished marketing campaign and pressuring us into spending money. Well I think it is a time where we should be more thoughtful, whilst not necessarily wasteful, 100 minutes is worth more to your partner.

Here are some Valentine’s Day ideas to keep more of that hard-earned money in your wallet and less in the shops

Dinner
Most frugal option: Eat at home! You can make a fabulous steak dinner for a fraction of the cost of most restaurant meals on Valentine’s Day. There will be good deals at most grocery stores for steak and shrimp and a bottle of wine at Aldi or Trader Joes is about the cost of one glass of wine at many restaurants. And the big plus is that you won’t be waiting in line to get into a crowded, loud restaurant for your romantic evening. Light some candles, get out the nice dishes, play some sweet music and enjoy the peaceful evening.

If the thought of cooking on Valentine’s ruins the mood completely, then at least get a deal on your meal.

* Go out for lunch instead of dinner – the menu prices are usually less expensive and so are the crowds.

* There is no rule that says you have to go out to dinner exactly on February 14th. Go out on a different night to take advantage of weekly specials that some restaurants offer. Plus, you won’t have to fight the Valentine’s Day masses yearning to eat out.

* You could even get take out for the main entrees from your favourite restaurant and then enjoy a peaceful evening at home. Provide your own dessert and drinks and you have saved a bundle. * Daily deal sites: Groupon and Living Social have all been offering vouchers for restaurants. With these daily deals sites, you’ll find meals that are 50% off the retail price or better.

Fun with the Kids

* Start the day off with some heart shaped pancakes using a cookie cutter. I like to top them with some fresh strawberries or raspberries and powdered sugar.