Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Silence isn't golden

Perhaps you thought I was too embarrassed to speak, tweet or blog? Well, think again! 

Last week I came across a blog post (and after a little bit of digging, hundreds more, courtesy of affiliate marketing sites) from one Leicester based, Steve Thatcher of Help with Debt (UK) Ltd. Something about it just did not ring true – perhaps because it was too easily tailored to St Albans (and then Rochdale, Abingdon and Peterborough etc – you get the picture), or more likely because its only reference to the major advice charities was that they were so overloaded that consumers needed a more immediate solution...

I Tweeted about it. No one else seemed to have heard of Steve either. I e-mailed Advice UK about “The Debt Standard”, which Steve had claimed one of his companies had been awarded. So what have I learned?

1.The Debt Standard was launched in July 2008 to champion good practice from commerical debt counsellors. Fourteen months later, the site remains live, but Advice UK (originally quoted as supporting it) tell me that the initiative launched by Nottingham based TDX failed and is therefore no longer active. It is important to set Advice UK's support in context. They were doing as any reasonable charity would and commenting that regulation was a good idea. Still, the position now is that anyone can visit http://www.thedebtstandard.com/ and with a little help from Google Images, do as I have done to save the logo gif to “My Documents”, enabling them to verify status:

2.

My first question is, do charities like Advice UK need to be overlaoded with tracking down mis-use of claims to regulation like this? 

3.Despite Steve Thatcher's claim to The Debt Standard, neither of his companies, Help with Debt Ltd (formed August 2006, in Nottingham, Company number 05897921) or Help with Debt (UK) Ltd (formed November 2008, in Leicester, Company number 06755405) is listed as qualifying for it on “The Debt Standard” website. In all fairness to Steve, who has yet to contact me, he claimed the standard for Help with Debt Ltd last autumn and the landing page for this site is now under constructon, so changes may be afoot. Even so, the fact that he uses a dot org URL for what is essentially a commercial practice seems incongruous.

4.As you'd expect, if you were looking for debt advice, both direct.gov and the Financial Services Authority provide links to reputable agencies. The Institute of Financial Planning appears to be a main recommendation for securing paid advice, as it keeps the Register of Certified Financial Planners. However, Advice UK also referred me to DEMSA and the Debt Resolution Forum as the two main fee-charging professional associations for debt advisors, although neither of these has links from any government website. Furthermore, I could not find evidence of either Steve or his two companies being registered with any of these professional associations.

Given the unequivocal recommendation by Citizens Advice that there is a need for statutory regulation, my second question is, why do tax payers need to pay for government consultation about basic registers to verify the authenticity of debt management companies?

5.The fact is, we shouldn't have to. Registers of licenced debt counsellors already exist with the OFT and since in order to manage a debt, one must first advise on it, debt management companies must surely hold such a licence? This seems all the more a prerequisuite when, providing Category E commercial debt counselling or category E2 non-commercial debt counselling without a Credit Licence is a criminal offence.

Still, back to my original investigation: try as I might, with every variation of Steve Thatcher and Help with Debt I could think of, I could not find evidence of any Credit Licence being held.

6.Finally, to add grist to the mill of continued confusion and guilty silence when it comes to speaking up about dodgy debt ads, not one of the comments I posted on Steve's blogs, asking him to give some evidence of his Credit Licence Category or his professional associations has been posted. 

I had so hoped to end up with egg on my face after naming names so shamelessly, but for now it seems, my questions simply do not exist.

As I said at the NFPTweetup in London, last Thursday, I am one person, living in a council house, just off benefit and back to work, typing my blog and my tweets on a beat up old Dell Latitude D600, with no sound. For my questions – which I don't think are all that unreasonable – to be asked and indeed answered, I need you to retweet, redirect and generally regurgitate everything I have found out over the past week. I pledge wholeheartedly to apologise in full and in writing to Steve Thatcher if I find anything to the contrary of what I suspect. Afterall, it stands to reason that anyone who genuinely wants to help debtors will also want to promote fair and easy access to good quality and reliable information for getting out of that predicamment.

My final question? How much less will debt cost us when we have some regulation of how to find help with it?

Posted @ 11:10:13 on 30 September 2009

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Beginners Guide to Bangernomics Guest Blog Part 1

Running a car is an expensive business. Comprehensive insurance premiums are at their highest levels for a decade, labour rates for car servicing are on the up, plus car values have plunged which means depreciation is now the biggest motoring expense. Luckily there is an alternative and its called Bangernomics.

Put simply, Bangernomics contrasts the absurd expense of buying a new car with the supreme good sense of buying well used. At a stroke depreciation no longer becomes an issue, running costs are slashed and there are no finance charges to be endured. Why buy a brand new car just to drive a few miles to the station each day? Why worry about leaving your pride and joy overnight in an urban street? Please allow me to explain.

Bangernomics Saves Money
Before a new car has turned a wheel you can write off VAT, plus the dealer's charge to put it on the road, but the bad news of new motoring does not end there, depreciation takes an unhealthy bite out of the car's value too. In the first year where the drop is worst you can figure on depreciation being as much as 50% of the original purchase price on some models. 

With Bangernomics you own a car which is unlikely to drop in value much and will be cheap to run. You won’t bother paying through the nose for comprehensive insurance and you won’t worry if it gets left overnight in a dodgy car park, or it gets a scrape, or dent. You won’t care what the Joneses next door are driving because image is less important than practicality. Then if you get bored with the banger, or it breaks down and costs too much to fix, you simply get rid of it and your losses are marginal.

Bangernomics is Green
According to some environmentalists car ownership is irresponsible because of the pollution they cause. However, a Bangernomic approach amounts to recycling. As the natural resources and energy used in building a new car is phenomenal, prolonging the life and disposing responsibly of a used car is very green.

Bangernomics equals Fair Trade Motoring
Bangernomics can also be a long term thing. Since 1976 Charles Ware has championed the Morris Minor as the durable, economic and lovable alternative to a new car every three years. Not only that in 1991 he established a plant in Sri Lanka to make the complex rounded body panels by hand. This is a proper partnership between Chares Ware’s Morris Minor Centre and local interests in that country. 

So long before it became fashionable to be Fair Trade Mr Ware was doing his bit. Indeed, owning a Minor or a simple classic car would also help local businesses to you rather than benefiting the global conglomerates that run car franchises and supply parts. Your friendly local garage can look after a Minor and maybe you could too in the spirit of self-sufficiency.

James Ruppert is writing the Bangernomics Bible which he will publish this year and you can visit his site http://www.bangernomics.com  for more bangtastic tips.

Posted @ 06:16:53 on 21 September 2009 

 

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Wednesday, 16 September 2009

make, do and mend...

Like Eats Shoots and Leaves, I believe this much bandied phrase benefits from punctuation. As we settle into recession with the trend for staycations and what not, how many of us truly consider what making, doing and mending really entail?

For many, it will be a brief flirtation with a cutback or two, or appearing to consume less because that's what's in vogue: “My life on beans for a week” by someone who has the luxury of enjoying the choice. But when you actually live it, no amount of journalism describing the experience can help you. Take note. Make do and mend is not a fad. Nor is it a call to make sure I'm better off, do well for myself and mend my ailing sales figures or finances. 

I find it ironic that so many are signing up for Climate Change initiatives without recognising that this recession is a precursor to yet more going without. The days of ubiquitous consumer choice are at an end - you can't haggle or wheeler deal your way out of that! And even if you do succeed in stock piling some security, how on earth are you going to hang on to it with millions in the have not camp? Haven't you heard of revolution, or are we back to tribal basics here?

We need to stop the “me first” mentality now. Rational thought precludes it. Unlike any other, this recession cannot entail a mad rush to be the first to come out of it because there are longer term futures at stake. When we exploit necessity, we give others a reason to hate. Daren Forsyth captured his understanding of this perfectly in his recent 9/11 blog: 

Want to end knife crime, terrorism, violence and fear? How about ending the bipolarity of wealth which encourages it? Thus “make do and mend” needs a comma. It demands a reflective pause so that we may consider making amends with each other, doing less for personal gain and mending the chasms which divide our now global society. Make, do and mend.  Call me old fashioned, but it's the future.
Posted @ 13:50:08 on 16 September 2009

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Big Barn Guest Blog: mmm crunchy!

Fresh English apples, fantastic food! One a day to keep Swine Flu away!

English apples are now in season but very few are on the supermarket shelves. How long will it be before they are, and how many varieties will we see, will they all be the same size and will they be fresh? Where do we find a really good, fresh, apple?

We have over one thousand varieties of apple in the UK but only 15 are grown commercially. Most, like the delicious Cox's Orange Pippin, have been de-listed by supermarkets and as a result most of the trees have been destroyed by growers, also with the help of EEC grant aid!

Different varieties of apple are ripening on their trees between now and October. Many are now in season and should be available to us all. Most fruit and veg is most nutritious and tasty when it is fresh and ripe. Far too much of what we eat has been picked early to satisfy the needs of distribution and shelf life. As always to get the best, grow it, or buy direct.

To find your nearest fresh apple try your local farm shop by typing in your postcode here: 

or visit our MarketPlace in the autumn to buy a tree to plant. 
Posted @ 11:53:17 on 10 September 2009

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Oh Wow!

I have just passed 1000 visitors to this website and I'm over the moon! I know the MrSite analytics include my own visits for publishing the site so I need to discount 300 or so (I am a technodud) but 700 visits in less than three months is fantastic, not least given the dip I had in July, before I got all the internal links sorted.

This news could not have come at a better time. I've started back at teaching part-time, so demands on my attention are at a premium, though I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm also delighted to report that there will soon be more guest blogs from others committed to getting the most out of less, in a bid to banish borrowing!

Thank you all so very much for your support - I'm loving every minute of launching Zero-credit. I've met some wonderful people and have every faith that the inheritance we'll be leaving our loved ones in the future will be anything but a lifetime of debt. Good on yer!

Posted @ 20:32:30 on 08 September 2009

Friday, 4 September 2009

Make a list and stick to it!

When was the last time you heard that top budgeting tip? I did, a couple of weeks ago, so I hope I've calmed down some, now that I'm settled to commenting on it.

I did a spot of blobbing in front of the telly last night, some repeat of a daft documentary called Time Warp Wives1. And there it was, as plain as the nose on your face, the reason why sticking to lists is a false economy. Mrs 1950s was merrily wheeling her trolley through Asda, whilst complaining that she'd prefer to shop in a nice little high street with grocer and butcher. 

You'd have thought that with all her research into wallpaper, kitchenware and clothing, she'd have managed to shop local and use markets by now - goodness knows she'd have saved a bob or two for her ration book - but no. Within the routine of expectation came the assumption that there is no alternative. And that my friends, is the crux.

Perhaps the most harrowing aspect of Barnardo's Breadline Report2 is the obsessive accuracy with which its subjects calculate and recalculate the pittance off which they live. For a few pence more an entire budget has to be reworked, so that oil can be paid for, or uniforms, or just enough petrol to get to work. Tethered to the list, there is no scope for creativity, no innovation, nothing new. 

How easy it becomes to bank with the doorstep lender who'll sell you a telly for a grand more than retail. The lender makes your list. And you... feed each pound into a set top box, blinkered from the certainty that freecycle, charity shops or mail order returns could have met your need for so much less. The irony of such escapism cannot be lost.

Of course there is the very pertinent argument that the piecemeal nature of benefit payments disables our most vulnerable. Packaging poverty out of existence we have multi buys, bulk buys and cash deals. But an overhaul of our welfare state is not the remit of this post. Much as it is overdue, we need to think differently.

Irrespective of wealth, the primary weakness in any budget is the assumption that perceived needs can only be met in one way. The more routine our essential pursuits, the more vulnerable we become. How else do we succumb to unswitched bank accounts, energy suppliers or insurers, for instance? And who loses out most? Why, it's those who are unaware of the alternatives - the elderly, people without Internet access; creatures of habit and victims of received wisdom.

So, thank you, but no thank you. I won't be making a list for what I need. Poor or otherwise, I should very much like to know what else may be achieved beyond mere existence. 

Posted @ 06:55:44 on 04 September 2009