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Top tax-free rates are squeezed after NS&I’s cuts to savings rates

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top tax free rates are squeezed after nsis cuts to savings rates

British savers have been dealt yet another blow after the government-backed NS&I took an axe to savings rates, throwing returns across the board into reverse.  

The average rate paid by the best five easy-access cash Isas had risen from 0.78 per cent to 0.92 per cent between the start of September and 21 September, when National Savings & Investments announced it would slash rates from November.

But since then the average rate has fallen from 0.92 per cent to 0.85 per cent, while one-year fixed-rates have fared even worse, according to figures from analyst Savings Champion.

Tax-free Isa rates have been squeezed since National Savings & Investments announced cuts last month

Tax-free Isa rates have been squeezed since National Savings & Investments announced cuts last month

Tax-free Isa rates have been squeezed since National Savings & Investments announced cuts last month 

NS&I has offered the best deal for savers for months, but customers were told their interest would fall from 1.15 per cent to just 0.01 per cent next month. 

Its tax-free easy-access account will be cut from 0.9 per cent to 0.1 per cent, costing savers with £20,000 saved £160 a year in interest.

Now the effects are being felt by those with savings held elsewhere too.  

Between 1 and 21 September the average rate paid by the five best one-year fixed-rate Isas rose from 0.77 per cent to 0.96 per cent and the best buy rate from 0.85 per cent to 1.02 per cent.

Since NS&I announced, the top five average has slumped to 0.79 per cent and the best buy rate has fallen by 0.2 percentage points to 0.82 per cent, costing a saver looking for the best deal around £40 a year in interest on the full Isa allowance of £20,000 a year.

‘Quite clearly the dreadful news from NS&I is having a negative impact on the savings market, it put a sharp brake on the competition that had been building until that point,’ Anna Bowes, co-founder of Savings Champion, said.

‘At this point, things are still better than they were – but the competition that had been active has fallen.’

The smaller challenger savings banks which often top This is Money’s best buy tables were quick to make cuts to their savings rates in the aftermath of NS&I’s cuts. 

‘I think it’s fair to say that the impact from NS&I was immediate and has stimulated a reduction in rates across the market including Isas,’ one savings chief at a challenger bank told This is Money.

How NS&I’s cuts reversed an improvement in cash Isa rates 
Date  Easy-access top five average rate  Best buy easy-access Isa rate One-year fixed-rate top five average rate  Best buy one-year fixed-rate 
1 September 0.78% 0.9%  0.77%  0.85% 
21 September  0.92%  0.96%  0.96%  1.02% 
28 September  0.97%  1%  0.91%  0.93% 
1 October  0.92%  1%  0.87%  0.92% 
14 October  0.85%  0.96%  0.79%  0.82% 
Source: Savings Champion 

The Treasury-backed savings bank had previously helped usher in a period of calm in the savings market with its best buy rates, and even sparked a recovery towards the end of the summer as the economy recovered and banks in need of money to fund lending had to pay more than its best buy easy-access offerings.

Few banks took on its easy-access deals but many instead improved their short-term fixed-rate bonds so savers were offered a premium to tie their money up.

Bankers previously told This is Money that NS&I’s decision not to cut the rates on its variable rate accounts earlier this year to support savers during the coronavirus and which saw it rake in more than £33billion between April and August, had helped to artificially prop up savings rates.

‘When you have a provider of the scale of NS&I with the government guarantee on deposits they will naturally distort the market which we saw for around six months,’ the senior savings banker said.

With NS&I now out of the way and savers set to see their returns fall significantly, savings banks with smaller balance sheets are likely to fill up with cash quickly and cut rates even further as a result.

Are cash Isas losing their shine?

Savers have largely shunned tax-free savings accounts this year.

Figures from the Bank of England found savers pulled out £386million from cash Isas between March and August, with easy-access accounts seeing £54.4billion deposited over the same period.

Suzanne Lewsley, chief deposits officer at the challenger bank Ford Money, said: ‘Given the current low interest rate environment, we have seen the personal savings allowance, which lets basic rate taxpayers earn £1,000 of interest a year before they have to pay tax on it, stretch further than before when rates were higher. 

‘This has ultimately contributed to a shift in customer demand away from Isa products, as UK savers want products that offer higher non-Isa rates for their savings.’

In an unusual twist, savers who haven’t ditched their old Isa may now be better off.

According to Savings Champion, the average rate paid on a ‘closed’ easy-access Isa no longer available to new customers is 0.4 per cent, but the average rate available on new deals now is 0.28 per cent, a difference of £24 a year in interest on the full £20,000 Isa allowance.

But averages can be misleading. Both rates can be comfortably beaten by switching. 

The best easy-access Isa available is offered by Coventry Building Society, and pays 0.96 per cent on deposits of £1 or more. It can be opened online, accepts transfers and limits savers to three withdrawals a year.

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How do you buy new £157.50 TV licence when you are over 75?

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how do you buy new 157 50 tv licence when you are over 75

Over-75s are being reassured they can buy a TV licence without leaving home during the pandemic, after it emerged some felt they needed to post forms or get documents photocopied.

Some elderly people are making postal applications because they are nervous of falling prey to scammers if they do it online or over the phone, according to Age UK.

The charity says feedback from 15,000 people showed most have found the BBC’s new process straightforward to use, although some are reporting financial hardship.

TV licence: A rush of over-75s have already claimed pension credit in order to carry on getting the free perk

TV licence: A rush of over-75s have already claimed pension credit in order to carry on getting the free perk

TV licence: A rush of over-75s have already claimed pension credit in order to carry on getting the free perk

All but the poorest over-75s lost the right to a free TV licence this summer, and must pay £157.50 this year unless they qualify for pension credit – find out how to apply here. 

The BBC postponed axing the perk due to the coronavirus outbreak, after the Government withdrew funding for it in June, but the extension ended on 1 August.

‘Some of the stories we have heard from older people who do not receive pension credit and who are living on a low income are extremely upsetting,’ says Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK.

‘It’s awful to think of an older person having to choose between buying a TV licence or going to the dentist, or being forced into debt in their 80s or 90s just to keep watching TV.’

The charity says most older people sending it feedback found the BBC’s new process straightforward to use.

However, a minority experienced problems, and Age UK is sharing the information with the broadcaster to make the system as easy as possible. 

It identified the following problems.

Why are free TV licences being axed for over-75s? 

Charter renewal negotiations between the Government and the BBC in 2015 safeguarded the licence fee system for funding the broadcaster.

The Government boosted the BBC’s income by requiring iPlayer users to have a licence, and unfroze the licence fee for the first time since 2010.

But as part of the deal, the BBC agreed to take over responsibility for bankrolling free licences for the over-75s. This would cost it an estimated £745million in 2021/2022 alone, and force it to drastically cut services.

It therefore announced plans to ditch the free perk for an estimated 3.7million people, while around 1.5 million households will remain eligible if they claim pension credit.

A rush of over-75s have already claimed pension credit in order to carry on getting free TV licences. This has caused a knock-on £600million rise in Government spending on pension credit, This is Money revealed earlier this year. 

1. Some older people felt the need to leave their homes to post back forms or get supporting documents photocopied, and though all the transactions required to get a licence or an exemption can be done by phone and online, not all had heard this yet.

2. There were reports that some are feeling overwhelmed by the information and choices, and find hard to wade through the details posted to them by TV Licencing.

‘The new scheme includes various different payment options, to offer choice, but this necessarily makes it complex and the information quite lengthy,’ says the charity.

3. A number of people encountered difficulties paying online or by using the automated telephone payment processes.

4. Fear of scams is making some very nervous about falling prey to fraudsters while applying for their TV licence.

This is deterring some from paying online or over the phone, and encouraging them to use the post when they would rather have stayed safe during the pandemic by remaining indoors, according to Age UK.

5. Some are feeling anxious about dealing with something new in the midst of a pandemic.

Separate recent Age UK research found about one in three older people are finding living through the crisis really tough, and it heard from significant numbers who were deeply anxious, lonely and depressed.

‘It is therefore not surprising that this survey of over-75s generated a number of responses indicating that the stress of dealing with a new TV licence scheme was being keenly felt, especially at a time when they were worried about other things, the pandemic above all,’ says the charity.

6. Some over-75s are struggling to cope with the cost of a TV licence, and are in acute financial difficulty and deeply troubled about having to pay for a licence, it says.

How do over-75s apply for a new TV licence? 

TV Licencing has information and frequently asked questions for older people who need a licence here. 

It has a free telephone line giving recorded information to help over-75s – the number is 0800 232 1382.

TV Licensing is offering a £3 a week payment plan, and it has Covid-safe processes in place which you can find out about on 0300 790 6151.

Age UK has a help page on TV licences here and it urges any older person who is struggling financially to get in touch on 0800 169 65 65. 

What have hard-up pensioners told Age UK about losing free TV licences?

I don’t get pension credit but am on a low income and I have to pay a contribution to my care fees [I am 92 years old]. My heating costs are huge and I had trouble paying last winter. Paying for my TV Licence is just going to make it even harder for me and I am very worried about it. I can’t go without TV because I am housebound and here all day mainly on my own. I feel very depressed about my financial problems. Dorothy

I found it extremely difficult and out of fear and pressure I had to borrow money to pay for the licence. This is a disgraceful situation to expose elderly people to hardship after the promises of a free TV licence. Jean

It has hit me financially and will take me several months to put the money back into the envelopes that I save for electric, gas, insurances and other household bills. I was hoping to be able to afford to go to the dentist now that we are able to. Unfortunately, I will not be able to afford even the NHS charge now I have had to redirect the money to a TV Licence. Jackie

Now with all the other household expenses rising the cost of TV licence is becoming prohibitive. But it is my only contact with the outside world. I shall have to pare down my spending in order to afford the licence. I don’t know yet where from as everything is at rock bottom – no treats or unnecessary expenses. Sad to have reached this state at the end of my life. Esther

STEVE WEBB ANSWERS YOUR PENSION QUESTIONS

34469726 0 image a 3 1602850113491        

We had to start taking money from our food money per month to try and start saving. David 

What does Age UK say?

‘This feedback confirms that while most over-75s have so far coped well with the new TV licence process, some have had problems,’ says Caroline Abrahams of Age UK.

‘In response to these findings, Age UK will now work with the BBC to try to make their new scheme as easy as possible for all older people to navigate and we will also do everything we can to get the message across that no older person should worry about leaving home to get their new licence, they can do it all by phone instead.

‘Older people have more than enough to be concerned about at the moment without the added anxiety of believing, mistakenly, that they have to go out to post a payment form or obtain a photocopy to show they’re on pension credit.’

‘We always knew that some older people would find it really stressful using a new TV licencing process, but it’s the inevitable result of the Government’s decision in 2015 to taper their funding away until by 2020 all of it had gone.

‘The upshot is that everyone in this age group now has to make a decision and do something new: buy a licence, certify they are eligible for a free one because they receive pension credit, stop watching TV, or choose to break the law.

‘That’s an unfair ask in our view, and we deeply regret the distress caused to some older people as a result – in this year of all years.

‘The situation is however the direct consequence of decisions ministers made five years ago, which this Government has declined to overturn, despite repeated requests for them to do so.’

Abrahams goes on: ‘These survey findings show once again that the Government should never have passed responsibility for free over 75s’ TV licences to the BBC without the money to pay for them.

‘Sadly, it’s the older people who are most vulnerable and alone, with no one to help them, and others on low fixed incomes, who are losing out the most.

‘Age UK told the Government repeatedly that this would happen but unfortunately our warnings were ignored.’

What does the BBC say? 

A TV Licensing spokesperson said: ‘We will continue to work with Age UK to do all we can to make the scheme is easy to use and safe.

‘More than two million households have now successfully set-up a paid for licence and we will continue to implement these changes with the greatest care, including consideration of the survey feedback.

‘No one needs to leave home to apply for a free or paid TV licence as everything can be done online or on the phone – and we are currently running a national radio campaign to increase awareness.

‘We also appreciate this is a tough time for a lot of people, which is why we have protected the most vulnerable on pension credit and put in place payment plans from around £3 per week to help spread the cost for those who do have to pay.’

The Government was approached for comment but had not responded by the time of publication

TOP SIPPS FOR DIY PENSION INVESTORS

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US economy’s 7.4% growth gives Trump boost though future uncertain

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us economys 7 4 growth gives trump boost though future uncertain

The US economy has staged a dramatic recovery, clawing back roughly two thirds of output lost during the first half of 2020. 

Official figures published yesterday showed the world’s biggest economy grew by a record 7.4 per cent between July and September. 

This followed an historic contraction of 9 per cent between April to June as lockdown measures forced vast numbers of businesses to shut down. Spending picked up as states eased those restrictions over the summer and people returned to work, 

Boost: The figures were hailed by President Trump as the 'biggest and best in the history of our country'

Boost: The figures were hailed by President Trump as the 'biggest and best in the history of our country'

Boost: The figures were hailed by President Trump as the ‘biggest and best in the history of our country’

The US Bureau of Economic Analysis said a boost in sales of goods was buoyed by strong demand for cars, clothing and footwear, while sales of services were led by healthcare, food, accommodation and transport. 

Healthcare spending alone was up 18 per cent as patients felt safer attending doctors’ surgeries and hospitals, while purchases of new cars and car parts jumped 17 per cent. 

Clothing sales rocketed by 27 per cent, while sales of household furnishings also rose by 13 per cent. 

The figures were hailed by President Trump as the ‘biggest and best in the history of our country’, as he sought to rally his supporters ahead of the presidential election on November 3 with a jibe at his Democratic rival. 

‘Next year will be FANTASTIC!!!,’ the US president tweeted. ‘However, Sleepy Joe Biden and his proposed record setting tax increase, would kill it all.’ 

However, experts warned the outlook was still uncertain. The US is reporting record numbers of coronavirus cases and some 23m are still claiming unemployment benefits, while hard-hit businesses are beginning to permanently lay off people placed on furlough. 

Constance Hunter, chief economist at KPMG, warned that the strong demand for goods would not necessarily last. 

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US tech titans are raking in £2bn a day during coronavirus

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America’s technology titans are raking in nearly £2bn a day even as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the global economy, it was revealed last night. 

In a blowout set of earnings, Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter all reported quarterly results within minutes of each other – unveiling combined revenues of £177billion and profits of £29billion for July to September. 

The astonishing figures stand in stark contrast to the fortunes of many traditional businesses, which have been devastated by the Covid-19 crisis, as consumers flock online to buy goods and switch to working from home. 

Making a fortune: Jeff Bezos ¿ pictured with partner Lauren Sanchez

Making a fortune: Jeff Bezos ¿ pictured with partner Lauren Sanchez

Making a fortune: Jeff Bezos – pictured with partner Lauren Sanchez

Perhaps no tech company has benefited from this trend as much as e-commerce giant Amazon, which said its third-quarter revenues rose 37 per cent to £74.3billion while profits trebled to £4.9billion. 

As families under lockdown have turned to internet shopping, the firm’s sales have soared and its share price has surged 70 per cent. 

That has in turn boosted the fortune of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, from £89billion to £145billion this year. 

And to help deal with the massive boom in demand, the 56-year-old’s company has taken on more than 175,000 temporary workers during the pandemic. 

For the fourth quarter including the crucial Christmas period, the company predicts sales could rise by as much as 38 per cent to £93.5bn – an astonishing £1billion per day.

Bezos said: ‘We’re seeing more customers than ever shopping early for their holiday gifts, which is just one of the signs that this is going to be an unprecedented holiday season.’ 

However shares in Amazon dipped 1 per cent in after-hours trading as the company warned of higher-than-predicted costs related to Covid-19. 

Shares in iPhone maker Apple also fell by more than 4 per cent as the firm reported a 1 per cent rise in revenues to £50billion and a 7 per cent drop in profits to £9.8billion. 

This was slightly better than expectations but Apple did not offer any forecasts of sales for the festive season, leaving investors in the dark about how well the firm thinks its new iPhone 12 handset will sell. However the company reported a 21 per cent drop in iPhone revenues in the July to September quarter, worse than analysts had predicted, with strong sales of its Macbook computers and iPad tablets failing to make up for the decline. 

At the same time, Google parent Alphabet’s shares roared almost 8 per cent higher in post-session trading after the firm blew analysts’ expectations out of the water. 

It reported a 14 per cent rise in third-quarter revenues to £35.7billion and a 60 per cent rise in profits to £8.7billion, significantly exceeding forecasts of £33.2billion and £6billion respectively. The company, which makes most of its income from digital ads, benefited from higher spending by businesses seeking to attract online shoppers over the summer as well as a 45 per cent rise in sales at its cloud computing division. Elsewhere, the return to higher advertising spending by businesses also buoyed the rival ad businesses of social networks Facebook and Twitter. Facebook reported a 22 per cent rise in revenues to £16.6billion and a 29 per cent rise in profits to £6.1billion. 

It said daily users rose 12 per cent to 1.82billion during the quarter. 

Twitter said its third-quarter revenues were up 14 per cent to £723.6m – well above the £601m predicted by analysts – but profits fell 21.5 per cent to £22m as the company took on more staff and ploughed more cash into research and development.

It pulled in some 187m daily users, an increase of 29 per cent from a year ago, with the additional eyeballs allowing it to make more money from advertising. 

WIll BEZOS SWOOP ON CNN? 

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has been touted as a potential buyer of American television network CNN. 

The 56-year-old, who is the world’s richest man, already owns the Washington Post newspaper. But there are rumours among investment bankers that he is now ‘sniffing around on a potential purchase’ of CNN from owner AT&T, Fox News reported. 

A move to buy CNN would put Bezos in control of two media outlets that are reviled by Donald Trump, who has repeatedly accused Bezos and the Post of being biased Lots to like: Facebook’s against him.

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