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Is building with cork the future of housing as this home shows?



For thousands of years, cork has been harvested from the outer layer of a distinct species of oak tree found around the Mediterranean rim.

It’s been used for insulating buildings as famous as the White House. Yet until recently, it was rarely seen in our homes — aside from the occasional bathroom floor, set of coasters, a notice board perhaps or the tops of our wine bottles.

But cork made a dramatic breakthrough when it was used to build a house in Eton, Berkshire, designed by Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton, and selected as a 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize finalist.

Futuristic: The Cork House built beside the River Thames at Eton in Berkshire

Futuristic: The Cork House built beside the River Thames at Eton in Berkshire

Futuristic: The Cork House built beside the River Thames at Eton in Berkshire

‘We wanted to see whether we could build a minimal carbon-footprint home without cement or glue,’ says Matthew. 

‘We also wanted radically to simplify housing design, which ordinarily involves many layers between the outer and inner skins of walls to include vapour barriers and insulation.’

What strikes you upon entering this home beside the River Thames is how cosy it feels. The solid cork walls cocoon and create visual interest. There is a distinctive natural smell, a warm sensation to the touch and acoustic quietening, too.

Build costs were not cheap at about £3,000 to £4,000 sq metre, but Matthew and his partner Dido are in talks to design similar buildings, which should bring costs down.

There are other rewarding ways to incorporate cork into the home. It can be found in Ikea’s Sammanhang 6ft-tall cork cabinet (£350) and, via shopping app Fy, Ubikubi’s Marco bench (about £200).

Cosy: The natural-look kitchen

Cosy: The natural-look kitchen

Cosy: The natural-look kitchen

Another online retailer, Red Candy, offers the fun XL champagne cork available as either a side table or stool for £150. Cork lampshades such as the Material pendant, found at (about £130), add warmth to an interior.

Yet one of the more recent trends is a return to natural or ‘expanded’ cork, typically made from recycled chips. 

It is this type of cork that was used so successfully in the Cork House in Eton, and it’s proving popular elsewhere, too. Manufacturer Ty-Mawr Lime ltd reports healthy demand from interior designers taking advantage of the ability to shape it into decorative patterns.

‘Conventional modern insulation materials can trap moisture, potentially creating excess humidity, which might lead to condensation and mould growth,’ says Ty-Mawr director Nigel Gervis.

Natural cork was used to insulate the White House on President Truman’s watch for warmth — and health and similar good reasons are driving its rediscovery today.

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Best cash Isas 2020: Where to get the best cash Isa rates and deals




Every little helps: Savings rates might be low but at least an Isa means interest is tax-free

Every little helps: Savings rates might be low but at least an Isa means interest is tax-free

Every little helps: Savings rates might be low but at least an Isa means interest is tax-free

Our assistant editor Lee Boyce picks his five favourite cash Isas for savers in 2019 – essential reading to help you choose a top savings account for your money.

This top Isa round-up has keeping our readers updated on the best savings deals since 2014 – and is kept up-to-date throughout the year – bookmark it for the very latest developments.

How an Isa works and why you should have one

Each year in April, savers are given a fresh Isa allowance that qualifies for tax-free interest. 

For the 2019-20 financial year, which began on 6 April 2019, the limit is £20,000. 

You can transfer Isa money whichever way you wish between an investment account to savings account, whereas previously you could only shift it from saving to investments.

Although cash Isas don’t currently offer fantastic rates, it is still worthwhile opening one to shield money away from the taxman.   

Isa rules state you can only contribute to one Isa per tax year.

You can also transfer an old Isa for better returns. Here’s a quick guide to Isa saving.

It is possible to switch your current year’s cash Isa if you move the entire amount, but it is far simpler to get your choice right in the first place.

Rates are low and that makes the best Isa more important

Banks and building societies should be apologising to savers for the slim pickings on offer here.

Savings rates really are dire at the moment and unfortunately, institutions are doing little to shelter savers from the assault of the low interest rate environment.

The cut to 0.25 per cent for the base rate, launch of a new funding scheme to pump cheap money to banks, and expansion of quantitative easing, has made things even worse. 

Many now ask themselves why bother?

Yet when rates are low it becomes even more important to make sure you are getting as much as you can from your savings. 

We also think an Isa is still worth having, despite the new tax-free savings interest allowance of £1,000 a year for basic rate taxpayers and £500 for higher rate taxpayers. 

It’s tough to get that much interest now, but one day rates will rise. 

Money sheltered in an Isa will deliver a tax-free income, even above that £1,000 level and if you are building up a long-term pot, you may one day be very grateful for that.

And who knows if the personal savings allowance will be around forever – it is much more likely to disappear than the Isa wrapper.

You may also want to look into stocks and shares version of an Isa – how to choose the best (and cheapest) DIY investing Isa.


Lee Boyce: This is Money's savings expert

Lee Boyce: This is Money's savings expert

Lee Boyce: This is Money’s savings expert

Our five favourite Isas round-up is a permanent feature of This is Money.

It comes complete with an explanation detailing why we’re happy to pick each account.

This page will be kept updated as and when new deals pop up or old ones get scrapped.

Our team work tirelessly to stay on top of the latest rate changes, but banks and building societies can pull deals without telling us. 

If you spot a deal here that is not longer available please email us at

Remember, you can open an Isa or transfer (provided you’re not tied to a fixed-term) at any time during the year.

Note that we don’t just copy the best rates from the savings tables – we scour the market for all-around winners. 

This is a taster of the top deals. For the best rates, visit our savings rates tables, which are comprehensive and independently compiled.

Our five favourite Isas:  

Yorkshire BS, easy-access*, 1.35% [full details]

– Facts: £100 to open

– Transfers in: Yes

– This is Money says: This account from Britain’s third biggest building society is the top ‘easy access’ rate. However, it isn’t strictly easy-access – savers are limited to making withdrawals on just one day a year. After 12 months your money is transferred into a Limited Access Saver account.   

Charter Savings Bank, one-year fix, 1.41% [full details]

– Facts: £5,000 to open

– Transfers in: Yes

– This is Money says: The challenger bank is offering the best one-year deal – but it requires quite a chunky deposit to open. A number of other providers are offering 1.4 per cent, with much lower deposit requirements, including Metro Bank. 

Metro Bank, two-year fix, 1.6% [full details]

– Facts: £1 to open

– Transfers in: Yes

– This is Money says: Metro offers the top two year tax-free rate. It can be opened in branch – money is FSCS protected up to £85,000. 

Cynergy Bank, easy-access, 1.31% [full details]

– Facts: £1 to open

– Transfers in: Yes

– This is Money says: This account from the challenger bank is now the top easy-access rate without limit on withdrawals. It is FSCS protected. 

Metro Bank, five-year fix, 1.85% [full details]

– Facts: £1 to open

– Transfers in: Yes

– This is Money says: This is the best rate you can get on an Isa – but it requires fixing for five years. It can be opened in branch, or over the phone if you hold a current account with the bank.

What you need to know about Isas

Listen to our special Isa podcast – we tackle the basics and have tips for those who are experienced Isa savers or investors.

We also look at why investing is the best way to get inflation-beating returns over the long-term, how savers can eke some precious extra interest from accounts, and why an Isa is worth having.

 Press play to listen to the show above, or listen (and please subscribe if you like the podcast) at Apple Podcasts, Acast and Audioboom or visit our This is Money Podcast page.  


Gatehouse Bank pays a top rate of 1.7% AER interest on its one-year fixed rate account. The minimum deposit is £1,000. The bank is Sharia compliant and therefore pays an expected profit rate rather than guaranteed interest. Earn up to £100 cash when making your first deposit through savings marketplace, Raisin.


Newbury BS pays up to 1.5% AER interest on its easy access Welcome to Newbury account, which can be opened online or in person with a minimum of £5 up to a maximum of £3,000. Only available to new members.


Aldermore pays a rate of 1.4% AER interest (1.39% monthly) on its one-year fixed rate Isa. The minimum deposit required is just £1,000. You can replace money withdrawn without it counting towards your ISA limit, subject to a penalty of 90 days interest.


Yorkshire BS pays a top rate of 1.35% AER interest on its one year Limited Access Saver account. The account permits withdrawals on one day of the year only . It requires A3;100 to open, make sure to switch after a year as the rate drops.


Ford Money pays 1.80% AER interest on its two-year fixed-rate savings account. It requires £500 to open an account, you must deposit fund within 14 days.


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FTSE LIVE: Tech sector experiences ‘fastest growing’ wage growth




Beales department store could go into administration sometime today

Beales department store could go into administration sometime today

Beales department store could go into administration sometime today

Fevertree Drinks said that annual revenue growth of 10 per cent would be below its expectations, after it was hit by subdued Christmas trading.

Bournemouth-based department store Beales could fall into administration today. Sky News has reported that the board of the struggling firm will hold a meeting today that could see KPMG appointed as the company’s administrators. 

Shopping centre owner Intu has confirmed it plans to ask investors for extra cash next month to help shore up its under-pressure balance sheet and debt pile. Reports suggest it could ask for as much as £1billion. 

Workers in the tech sector experienced the highest growth in pay last year, according to a new study from employment specialist Reed. They found that workers in the technology industry experienced a 4.7 per cent rise in the average salary.

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Did my wife lose some state pension while I was a soldier in 1970s?




My wife was divorced with two children when we married in 1976. I was a serving soldier stationed in Germany.

The only way she could get the child benefit at this time (so we were told) was to have it paid into my bank account by the Army.

My wife is now approaching pension age and we checked her National Insurance record to find that she only has 32 years, and the years 1975-76, 1976-77, and 1977-78 are shown as year not full, even though she was a stay at home mum with two children born in 1972 and 1973.

Retirement income: Did my wife lose some state pension while I was a serving soldier in the 1970s?

Retirement income: Did my wife lose some state pension while I was a serving soldier in the 1970s?

Retirement income: Did my wife lose some state pension while I was a serving soldier in the 1970s?

We can only assume that this is because my name was on the child benefit form. 

Is there anything we can do about this as it will cost her more than £500 a year at current pension rates?


Steve Webb replies: Where someone does not pay National Insurance Contributions in any given year, there are various ‘credits’ which are available to help protect their state pension.

Each of these has quite specific rules about who does and does not qualify.

In your case, unfortunately your wife would not qualify for credits as a parent for the period from 75/76 to 77/78, but there is a possibility she might qualify for credits as a military spouse, provided she was also in Germany with you.

Steve Webb: Find out how to ask the former Pensions Minister a question about your retirement savings in the box below

Steve Webb: Find out how to ask the former Pensions Minister a question about your retirement savings in the box below

Steve Webb: Find out how to ask the former Pensions Minister a question about your retirement savings in the box below

Let me explain each scheme in turn.

When child benefit was introduced in 1978, parents receiving it could get help towards their state pension record even if they were not in paid work.

When the system was originally introduced it went by the old-fashioned name ‘home responsibilities protection’ (or HRP) and served to reduce the number of years that you had to pay NICs to get a full pension.

More recently, years of child benefit receipt since 1978 have been ‘upgraded’ and count in full as qualifying years towards your state pension.

However, the years that are gaps in your wife’s record are 1975/76 to 1977/78. 

Unfortunately these were before HRP was invented and so they do not count towards her state pension.

This would be true even if the child benefit (or family allowance as it was called back then) had been paid directly to her rather than into your bank account.

I should mention, for the benefit of other readers, that if you have a situation where we are talking about years since 1978/79 and where the only problem is that the child benefit was paid to the ‘wrong’ parent, it may be possible to sort this out after the event.

You can fill in form CF411 for state pension qualifying years before 2010 and form CF411A for qualifying years since then, and ask HMRC to transfer the credits from one partner to the other.  

For qualifying years since 2010, you are meant to apply before the end of the following tax year. 

If you do it later a swap is at the discretion of HMRC, so is not automatic, but they do seem to have been taking a more lenient approach to this issue in recent years (see the box below).

Turning now to the position of military spouses, there has recently been a recognition that for those stationed abroad it can be difficult to get paid work and pay NI contributions.

Indeed in some cases the wife of a senior military officer would have been expected to devote herself to supporting her husband’s work and any outside employment would have been frowned upon.

As a result, for women who reach state pension age under the new state pension system – since 6 April 2016 – there is a system of National Insurance credits for military spouses who served overseas. You can find out more about the scheme here. 

Very unusually for a scheme of this sort, you can make backdated claims for credits all the way back to 1975.

For your wife, it would only cover complete years of service abroad (so would not help if your wife was only out of the country for a limited period in any given tax year) but even if it only added one or two years of credits this would clearly be valuable. 

An innocent paperwork blunder after giving birth shouldn’t cost parents tens of thousands of pounds in old age 

This is Money is campaigning on behalf of parents who miss out on valuable credits towards their state pension because they either fail to apply for child benefit or make innocent mistakes, writes Tanya Jefferies. 

One of our key campaign demands has been for the Government to drop the time limits on credit transfers between couples who put the ‘wrong’ name down on the form.

HMRC has since said it would accept late applications from couples wanting to transfer credits, though only if they can persuade it the delay is ‘reasonable in the circumstances’ and meet all other conditions.

A London couple successfully used this loophole to win state pension credits worth tens of thousands of pounds last year. 

They managed to convince HMRC they were unaware his filling in the form could result in her losing huge sums in state pension in old age, and the taxman waived the usual time restrictions on correcting the record.

Have you lost state pension by not signing up for child benefits or filling the form in wrong? If this has happened to you, contact and tell us your story.


Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb is This Is Money’s Agony Uncle.

He is ready to answer your questions, whether you are still saving, in the process of stopping work, or juggling your finances in retirement.

Since leaving the Department of Work and Pensions after the May 2015 election, Steve has joined pension firm Royal London as director of policy.

If you would like to ask Steve a question about pensions, please email him at

Steve will do his best to reply to your message in a forthcoming column, but he won’t be able to answer everyone or correspond privately with readers. Nothing in his replies constitutes regulated financial advice. Published questions are sometimes edited for brevity or other reasons.

Please include a daytime contact number with your message – this will be kept confidential and not used for marketing purposes.

If Steve is unable to answer your question, you can also contact The Pensions Advisory Service, a Government-backed organisation which gives free help to the public. TPAS can be found here and its number is 0800 011 3797.

Steve receives many questions about state pension forecasts and COPE – the Contracted Out Pension Equivalent. If you are writing to Steve on this topic, he responds to a typical reader question here. It includes links to Steve’s several earlier columns about state pension forecasts and contracting out, which might be helpful. 

If you have a question about state pension top-ups, Steve has written a guide which you can find here. 

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