Monday, 31 January 2011

Look after your dishwasher!

 

Research by Dri-Pak has found a more efficient way of cleaning and descaling dishwashers using White Vinegar. Many people have discovered that running an empty wash with White Vinegar can make their dishwasher more energy efficient and eliminate odours in the process. However some people simply pour the White Vinegar into the bottom of the machine, but there is a more effective way. 

White Vinegar has great properties for cleaning away grease, as well as descaling abilities that are used in a wide range of cleaning and laundry tasks around the home. However the effectiveness of using White Vinegar to clear limescale is increased considerably when it is heated. Whilst some people simply pour the vinegar into the bottom of the machine there is a possibility of it being drained away before it has been heated. Research has found that the most complete way to use White Vinegar is to fill two containers on the top and bottom rack and to set the dishwasher on the longest, hottest wash. This way the White Vinegar is released gradually and the heat will ensure that the maximum amount of limescale is removed from the internal parts of the machine.

 Dishwasher users may also want to carry on using the White Vinegar in the rinse compartment of the dishwasher for regular use - it gets rid of any water marks left on glasses with ease, as well as keeping limescale at bay. 

 Dri-Pak White Vinegar is available from supermarkets and other stores in a 500ml trigger spray. Please visit the website for more information: www.dri-pak.co.uk

 

 

Use White Vinegar and Bicarbonate of Soda for most of your Household Cleaning.

White_vinegar

 

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Sunday, 30 January 2011

Pharmaceutical packaging - how much does it really cost...

As a travelling musician, I have to keep a check on my medical issues. I am going to be perfectly frank and speak about some of the more personal little issues that I have to deal with. Some of you might think that I'm a crank ('burn the witch' comes to mind), I will justify this by saying - I live on the bread line for my art. Sometimes, I'm not within  a 'few' miles of my doctor and have a time sensitive diary, as I travel with other musicians too. 

Cystitis and Urinary tract infections... If you haven't suffered cystitis then you won't know about peeing shards of glass... yes a brutal description - but now you understand me. ALWAYS CHECK WITH YOU DOCTOR OR PHARMACIST FIRST, but any pharmacy will carry branded cystitis relief - and boy is it relief! Six sachets of potassium citrate based powder to be mixed with water... around the £5.00 mark... the store's own brand stuff is about £1 cheaper. Okay, so that's 70-80p a dose. Potassium Citrate aids in neutralising the acid in the urine, thus giving the bladder half a chance to recover. It's not a cure - rest and taking a step back can only do that!

However, Care Medicines have a 200ml bottle of Potassium Citrate Mixture for anything between £1.20 and £3.00. Suggested use is 10ml three times a day. So a bottle holds 20 doses, that's between 6p and 15p a dose. Big difference in your spend, especially if you are prone to suffering cystitis.

What to drink and eat to help: water, cranberry juice and even barley water... chamomile tea, thyme tea (bluh!!!) 

Caffeine based drinks are out! No tea, coffee, cola or stimulant drinks. Rich foods are out - no wine based sauces, curries or spiced food. The kidneys can't take it. Flushing the system through is the name of the game now. Try not to eat too much meat - the digestion of protein can put more stress on the kidneys.Paracetamol helps to ease the discomfort and bring down a temperature.

What happens if you can't shake it off? If you are still suffering after 48 hours, get to a doctor for some antibiotics and keep drinking plenty of water.

 

 

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Friday, 28 January 2011

End legal loan sharks lefty clap trap

Ideals - that's where the argument falls down. I'd rather someone paid high interest to a regulated lender than lost their kneecaps. Lenders won't take risks with the unbanked, no fixed abode types, who dodge their bus fares and borrow irresponsibly. There's a reason for the interest rates on high cost credit - low rates of return.

Okay guv, you got me. No, seriously you have. I know lenders hate hard to reach borrowers, that “no credit check” comes at a premium and the bottom line is it makes sense. Beg pardon, I’ll stick with the Provi and keep my mouth shut.

There are plenty of families, who would never celebrate Christmas without the Provi: first Doris, then Margaret, Sharon, Tracey and Shaniah have all helped them out. Year in year out, Christmas on the Provi is a great British tradition - costs spread through the year on a 52 weeker. We should respect Provident Financial for a valued social service, using a business model that most would reject - due credit.

Supposing we do accept this, how are we to achieve less dependence on the Welfare State, when credit markets operate as they do? At what point will low-income households achieve the financial inclusion that allows them to borrow at mainstream rates? Moreover, what proportion of benefit payments end up in lenders’ pockets, not simply because those who should not borrow do, but because any hard to reach borrower pays more to do so? Let’s not forget that point scoring from credit records makes no distinction between no and low credit ratings.

Forget the poverty premium for a moment. Let’s talk the hard facts of institutional benefit fraud, in which consumer markets exploit poverty to perpetuate benefit dependence. Surely, if you are the kind of realist who wants bums off couches and an end to scrounging off the state, where is the economic logic in allowing the Treasury to foot the bill for commerce, which exploits this?

But the kneecaps... what, that old chestnut! Have you knocked any doors on a sink estate recently, seen the signs for no unexpected callers, no door to door, no leaflets, no papers and Neighbourhood Watch? Tell me, if in the mainstream world we are accustomed to paperless billing, the phasing out of cheque books and introduction of NFC, do you not think that in satellite city, with its CHAV handsets and hoodies, folk are likewise equipped? Organised crime moves with the times, don’t you know.

No matter how we regulate credit, there will always be thugs, who want Shylock’s pound of flesh. Time was that the Provi offered a safe, though expensive, alternative. However, doorstep lending is a cash cow past its prime. Payday is the new kid on the block. Over the past two and half years we have seen high cost credit pushed through television adverts, event sponsorship, websites, pop-ups and targeted data mining. The sector is brimming with potential and we need to ask ourselves why.

Recession is the short answer, but if you seriously think that lower income households borrow more in recession to the tune of million pound marketing campaigns then you are less of an entrepreneur than I thought - as a Lord Sugar wannabe, you’re fired! The evidence is in the data, in who’s knocking at debt’s door. From 2004 to 2008, average monthly net income in the UK rose by 0.2%. The average monthly net income of Citizens Advice debt clients rose by 25.9%. Quite simply, more people are finding access to credit a problem. A larger target market and more kneecaps, I hear you cry and this time, I concede you are right. 

Whilst the EU reports (p17) that opinion on interest rate capping is divided, what is clear is that the microeconomic preventative measures to address levels of indebtedness necessarily differ between member states. Sauce for the goose may not suit the gander. In short, when the economic drivers of indebtedness are reported as particularly prevalent in the UK, we could be deemed to have a debt dependence.

In this context, an analogy with drug abuse is not so far removed. Thus, if you would refrain from the direct marketing of methadone as a safer alternative to heroin because this would simply boost levels of heroin awareness and use, your refusal to cap interest rates on high cost credit is likewise destined to achieve the virtual kneecapping of middle income Britain. There is no incentive for responsible money management in high cost credit. The Bank of England readily admits that savers are penalised by current economic policy, and they are clearly not benefiting from rocketing interest rates - and rocketed high cost credit rates most surely have.

Take a look at these interest rates from This is Money’s 30 second guide to Payday Loans in August 2008 - the highest is 1845%. Then look at their article about Wonga in November 2010 – the rate is 2689%. Have borrowers become harder to reach? From adverts for Cash Converters on Boxing Day, I’d say not. Whatever you think of Stella Creasy, her efforts for next Thursday are of critical importance. The OFT High Cost Credit review reported market data for 2008 and as we have already seen from the CAB stats, a lot has changed in only a few years. Leaving the high cost credit sector unfettered places us all at significant risk of irresponsible borrowing and lending to the point of widespread over-indebtedness and defaults. If you think we can afford that, by all means, don’t ask your MP to vote.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Life's a Breeze!?

Clingfilm
Are you suffering from draughts through your windows and sometimes feel that you are sitting in a breeze even though you are indoors? The ideal solution is obviously new windows or double glazing but that is the expensive solution!

A very low cost help to cutting out draughts is to use cling film to cover the inside of the window. It isn't the prettiest of solutions but it really does work. And if your previous solution has been closing the curtains in the day - at least this lets in the light and you can still see out of the window even if it is a little fuzzy.

Every winter I put cling film up at the window to make our room more cosy and cut the heating bills. It's now a sign of Spring when the cling film comes down.

If you have successfully used cling film to cut out the draughts - do send in your comments - and photos - and if you are trying it for the first time. Perhaps you have another way of keeping out the breeze.

Do share you energy saving tips by commenting below or email zerocredit.penny@googlemail.com

 

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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A Student Guide to Credit

Credit_action_logo
NUS and Credit Action launch Credit Crunching- a student guide to credit

A new resource to help students and graduates understand the multitude of credit products available in the marketplace has launched 25 January 2011. Credit Crunching – a student guide to credit has been created by NUS (National Union of Students) and the national money education charity Credit Action.

As the amount of debt that students owe on graduation increases - research shows that the average student now finishes university with debts in excess of £23,000, a figure that is set to rise substantially in the next few years – both NUS and Credit Action believe students and graduates alike must be well-informed about the different credit products available in the marketplace to make sound financial decisions.

Nus_logo

Credit Crunching – a student guide to credit explains the different types of credit available, the pros and cons of each and provides signposts for further information. It also contains a glossary to explain commonly used terms that often go without explanation.

Joanna Parsley, Associate Director of Credit Action says, “With the future of student finance in the spotlight it is essential for students and graduates to both understand credit and use it wisely. Credit can be enabling, but can also be an easy entry into debt difficulties, so it is vital students and graduates are clued up on what different products mean for them.

Credit Crunching – the student guide to credit combines the knowledge and expertise of two organisations that are committed to student welfare and represents a fantastic debut joint publication.”

Ben Whittaker, Vice President Welfare of NUS says, "Loans and other credit are increasingly a fact of life for students, and it's critical that students can navigate the different options. Last year, we saw students being targeted by short-term lenders when student loan payments were delayed. Some took on more debt than they intended, and got into trouble – we want to help avoid that happening.

"We're really proud to work with Credit Action on this important new publication."

Credit Crunching – the student guide to credit combines the knowledge and expertise of two organisations that are committed to student welfare and represents a fantastic debut joint publication.”

Credit Crunching- a student guide to credit is available to read online and download for free.

Get it from the Credit Action and NUS websites.

 

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Tuesday, 25 January 2011

BBC Radio Suffolk interviews Zero-credit's Penny Ritson


James Hazell asked Penny about frugal living, Freecycle and Family Meals for Much Less than a Fiver. You can hear the interview again here.

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Free Bus for Hospital Appointment

Nhs1
Someone I know in Sussex recently discovered that they can travel to the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, Sussex, free on the bus, if they showed their appointment letter. It appears that there are many other buses that offer this, some with eligibility restrictions. Clearly this is of enormous benefit, especially when regular trips have to be made. Of course it also means avoiding large parking fees too.

If you are travelling to hospital for an appointment, it would certainly be worth enquiring if you can travel free.

If you know a service near you is free for for hospital appointments, please inform us on  the comments below, or email zerocredit.penny@googlemail.com, so we can help to spread the word.

 

 

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Monday, 24 January 2011

What Money Can't Buy......

Grandmaandaminnie

When you are feeling low about what you can't afford, take a moment to look around at what you have that money can't buy. I guess it's a bit like counting your blessings, but I recently had a real lesson in learning to appreciate the things you can't put a price on.

My parents, whilst away on holiday, have had a bust water tank that has caused damage to carpets, furniture and walls. Carpets have all been lifted and the house is cold and damp. I have been packing up and moving things to safety. I gave priority to the things that are precious and in most cases - irreplaceable - but probably worthless in terms of insurance.

An incident like this certainly make you focus on what is important - and it isn't the things that you will be able to replace by going shopping. Retail therapy would lose all meaning if these were lost.

Grandad

My parents have many old letters, documents and photographs. In fact I have been planning a visit to go through them all with my mother and catalogue them all, both for me and for generations to come. How tragic then if these had been lost - far more tragic than losing some furniture and carpets.

Happily all these have been rescued, partly because they are what we dived in (excuse the pun!) to save as soon as we saw the problem.  The pictures are not only about the people, but about the clothes, cars and environment of the time.

So next time you re annoyed about what you can't have, think of the things you have that mean more to you than anything money could ever buy. 

 

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Sunday, 23 January 2011

Money Saving Mother

Jackets

 

I don’t usually post words. Photos are more my thing, like the one above which is a picture of my mother, with her hottest creditfree tip to date – how to cut your energy bills cooking jacket potatoes!

At 75, my mother is a hive of energy and enthusiasm. Twice a week she volunteers at a local Age UK shop, where she prepares all the stock for the shop floor. The cost of lunches in town tot up when you are on a pension, so every weekend, when she cooks Sunday lunch she pops a couple of jackets into the oven as well. Foil wrapped and left to go cold, these are then frozen for her microwave lunch at the shop. Genius! 

 

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One for the "Happiness" agenda?

As consumers we are surrounded by choice: compare the market, go compare, confused...

Money Saving Expert, Martin Lewis claims it only takes a few minutes to change your car insurance, energy, telecomms supplier or bank account, but with an increasing number of deals on the market, how do you feel when it doesn't, or you failed to switch to the cheapest?

At Zero-credit, we've been exploring the psychology of spending in more depth recently for our Information Service, so it was interesting to find this TED talk from Barry Schwartz back in July 2005, explaining why more choice leaves us feeling less happy. If you have 20 minutes or so to watch it, do!

 

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Thursday, 20 January 2011

Top Ten Money Saving Tips

Everyone loves some new ideas and top tips for saving money. Well here are mine. I would love to hear from you about your money saving tips. The more we share, the more we will learn from each other.

In no particular order, here are my tips.

1. Cook meals from scratch and cook twice as much as you need, saving half to freeze. For some economical recipes see my Family Meals for Much Less than a Fiver series. Saves electricity as next time you have the meal you only use energy for reheating (it's most economical to defrost the food first)

2. If you shop in the supermarket, try to shop an hour or so before closing time and you will get the fresh produce that they must sell that day at a marked down price. Choose things that can be frozen or that you can use within a day or two. I save £3-£4 a week like this especially on bakery products.

3. Eat veggie, at least some of the time as pulses, eggs and lentils are a much cheaper source of protein than meat. Use quorn or soya mince as a meat substitute in recipes - it's about half the price of good minced beef. For recipes, look at articles in this Household section of the website

4. Try the supermarkets basic range and see which you like. You will save at least one third of the price. For me beans, sweetcorn and tinned pineapple are all fine. 

5. Go on to  'sim only'  when your mobile phone contract runs out, instead of being tempted into a new phone. I save £15 a month doing this and have the same package as before.

6. Wherever possible book your train or coach tickets several weeks in advance. It almost always saves loads. I have just booked a journey from Exeter to Burgess Hill in Sussex and back for £27.50. Read our article on cheap train tickets for more information. Megabus offers tickets for as little as £1.

7. When you need new furniture or larger household items, look no further than freecycle.org. Join your local group and see what is in offer and put in a 'wanted' post. For more information read 'Household Goods for Less'

8. Try Eco Balls for your washing. They can be used for six months to a year and there is no need for detergent. Green and economical. Saves whatever you normally spend on detergent each month.

9. I know its old hat, but switching everything off when you are not using it really does save money, things on standby still use electricity. And you are reducing your carbon footprint.

10.Driving within the speed limit, or slower. Driving at between 50-60mph on a motorway saves at least 10% of the fuel cost as driving between 70mph and 80mph - or more. And you are not vulnerable to getting a speeding ticket. and its kinda nice to take life a little slower.

These are a few of my favourite savings - hope they are helpful, and I would love to hear about yours. Do email at zerocredit.penny@googlemail.com or comment below.

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Tuesday, 18 January 2011

EMA - Support our Students

As the students prepare for a day of action, a day ahead of the debate in Parliament on the ending of EMA I just wanted to pledge my support and share my views.

EMA is a payment made to 16-18 year olds, in full time education, where the household income is less than £30,800.The payment is between £30-£10 per week. Around 47% of all full time students receive it.

For many the payment makes the difference between going on to further education or not, and for many more it enables the household to support the student in books, equipment and travel expenses that would otherwise push an overstretched budget right over the edge - into debt or poverty.

Complaints are made that some EMAs are misspent on booze and cigarettes or get otherwise frittered away. Others argue that the students should get a job to help subsidise their career.

While I do not doubt that some money is wasted,  that is not a valid reason for abolition when for the vast majority the EMA provides a lifeline to enable the poorest in our society to access education - and isn't that what our society is aspiring to? Should they get a job? Well with increasing pressure to attain the highest A Level results to continue in higher education - how many hours can realistically be given to working now  without sacrificing grades for getting into a university of choice for the future.

Without the EMA the burden falls once again, disproportionately on the lowest income families and those already struggling with debt. These are households that will feel its loss the most. Households who are keen to ensure their young people get the best education they can, to increase their earning powe,r and lift them on to a higher standard of living.

At a time when education and qualifications have never been a more essential requirement of entry to work, is the government jeopardising young people's chance to gain the best education they can?

Wishing you well on your day of protest.

 

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Money Matters Action

When Emma went to the Unltd awards last week she expected she would meet some inspirational people. However she was bowled over by Aaienna Azia, one of three debt advisers who have recently been made redundant by Birmingham City Council and who have set up their own debt advice agency, called Money Matters Action, as a Social Enterprise

Leigh Findlay, Aaienna Azia and Lynn Grattidge have decades of experience giving debt advice, and being fully aware of the huge need for their services, they set up the not for profit organisation with the help of a grant from Unltd.

When people are struggling with debt they need good advice and an empathetic ear. Money Matters Action also provide education and workshops in schools and community venues, which judging by the testimonials on the website, have been great fun too. They have recently been the subject of an article in the Birmingham Post

Aaienna1a

Aaiena (standing) with her colleague Leigh Findlay



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Monday, 17 January 2011

Blue Monday - Just a Walk in the Park.....

Blue Monday today! The third Monday in January has been dubbed  'the most depressing day of the year'. The mornings are dark, the daylight hours few, the weather is dull and cold and the bills are in and it's still a long time till pay day. 

Well the best way to counter all this is to do something fun and joyful that will lift the spirits! But I have no money I hear you cry! There are many things you can do that will lift  the spirits and not cost anything, or very little!!

1.Smile at people! We all know smiling is infectious and it will make you feel so much better too!

2.Do something kind for someone - make them a cup of tea, hold the lift for someone, give up your seat - small actions can have big reactions!

Picture_520

3. Plan an outing at the weekend to an open space near you. Even the planning will make you feel better. Pack up a lunch and plenty to drink and head for the hills! 

4.Plan an outing to a museum or place of interest that is free - Try the website DoStuffFree to find local attractions in your area.

5.Go to your local library or arts centre to find out about any talks or events that are happening in your area.

6.Some local tourist attractions may have special deals for locals. For example Exeter Underground Passages are offering half price entry for residents until January 24th.

7. Join the library if you are not already a member, and borrow a book or DVD for those dark evenings. Or find a book of local walks and explore your area.

8. Pamper yourself - get some ideas from Luxuries for Less

9. Email or phone a friend that you have been meaning to get in touch with and make some arrangement to meet up - may be for a walk in the park!

10. Do an overdue chore - sew on that button, tidy up a cupboard, get cash for your old mobile phone. It might not seem exciting but you will feel so much better when it's done. Go on - you know it makes sense!

Whatever you choose to do, enjoy!

If you have any ideas for dispelling the winter blues, we would love to hear from you. Comment below or email zerocredit.penny@googlemail.com.

We would love to hear your ideas.

 

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Saturday, 15 January 2011

Ripped-off Britons

Media_httpstaticguimc_tlkfh

Loving this cartoon strip from The Guardian - click through to the link for the #creditfree rss feed for a giggle every Monday, Wednesday and Friday!

Friday, 14 January 2011

??50 for British Gas Essentials customers

Essentials Programme

Helping our Vulnerable customers

 

Our Essentials Programme offers a range of products, services and advice for our most vulnerable customers with different needs.

Around 340,000 customers on our Essentials discounted tariff will receive a £50 credit on their winter bill.

We have taken this step because we understand that things are difficult for many customers at the moment - particularly older and disabled customers on a very low income.

That is why we promised to hold prices for Essentials customers throughout the winter, and is why we are now offering this one-off payment of £50 to give our Essentials customers some extra help following the recent extremely cold weather.

Essentials customers can call to talk to us about the £50 credit, or any other enquiries they may have, by calling the freephone number: 0800 072 8625.

Whilst we abhor the complexity of comparisons to achieve the best energy deal, invariably favouring the most digitally and financially included, access to this fund is imperative for the most vulnerable in our society, so share this information far and wide, please.

 

 

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Thursday, 13 January 2011

No bonuses for guessing...

... that this government, like the last, seems increasingly ill equipped to take on the banks. Small matter that countless times, we have shared significant evidence to suggest that bonuses on the scale our banks seem intent on paying are a con: http://zero-credit.co.uk/bonus-boloney. In many ways, it isn't surprising that our comments go unnoticed, when government agencies misreport UK borrowing and lending statistics to justify a high cost credit sector which exists purely and simply to fuel unmanageable debt. Left, right and centre, civil servants are failing to represent our interests.

In a democracy, there is an expectation that the State will intervene in matters of national interest: the economic stimuli of late 2008 were largely accepted on this basis. However, the State is ineffective when attempts at intervention continually cost the public purse and consumers remain passive. The contradiction of Charles Bean’s advocacy of consumer spending on 28th September and a mere six weeks later, Mervyn King’s concerns about half of UK households struggling with personal debt reveals the most fundamental flaw: borrowing cannot secure spending whilst demand for debt advice and insolvency soars. 

Within the currency of financial services to meet basic human needs are the forces with which to control them. Consumers may not house, clothe and feed themselves when burdened by crippling debts, enterprise cannot trade with a customer base in default and nations will not survive widespread dissidence. Zero-credit is innovative in that it re-imposes market forces on a sector, which has overlooked its accountability to the electorate and its social responsibility to consumers.

Market forces begin and end with the consumer. Where consumers are willing to buy, there is a market and where not, there is none. Traditional market intelligence relies on observational methods to interpret behaviour and identify target markets, but this is inappropriate to sectors which impact on the public services of a democratically elected State. Financial services are such a market, with the overselling of largely consumer debt resulting in, and now threatening to perpetuate, the global economic crisis.

Zero-credit is pioneering a trade in market intelligence based on participatory techniques. Co-operative membership and therefore shared ownership of our company is open to debtors as consumers of credit past or present, manageable or unmanageable, and organisations may subscribe to or commission our research, training and development. With at least half of UK households currently facing unmanageable debt, and our membership open to all borrowers, we are confident of achieving the authority for consumers to engage fully in the development and regulation of financial services, so if you don't want to pay the price the banks are demanding, there's never been a better time to join us.

 

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Rewarding Awards

Image

Business Development Director, Emma, attended another UnLtd awards ceremony yesterday - this time to share our experiences and hand out awards.

Emma says "These days are so inspiring. As an UnLtd awardee you feel part of a great family in which the capacity to effect change is real. I met a number of other social enterprises taking action on the rising levels of personal debt and am looking forward to developing our connections with them".

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

We have staff!

It's been a long time coming, but at last we are in a position to employ staff on a permanent basis. We're delighted to announce that after a series of meetings with the Management committee, Penny Ritson joins us from January as our Zero-credit website editor. Her role is to continue and expand our creditfree blogs as free to use and free from advertising and sponsorship. We really could not be more delighted. Penny has a wealth of commissioning experience from her voluntary work at Freshties.

With a Little Help from my Friends......

 

Penny_editor1a
It's official! I am now the Editor of Zerocredit. I am looking after the website's content, encouraging contributions to the blogs, as well as writing articles. But I would like some help, because its all about sharing.............

Zerocredit campaigns and comments on all debt issues, researches the problem and provides information. Importantly a key goal, is eradicating the stigma associated with being in debt.The website provides supportive information, about managing on less money, whilst still living a fulfilling life. There are untold millions of people out there struggling with debt. Many are doing so in their own private hell because they feel unable to talk about it. 

Being on a low income, or struggling with debt is tough, every single day. I know because I've been there.  Working together, Zerocredit seeks to lighten the load, share some tips and experiences and eradicate the stigma attached to being in debt. In fact, it can mean that you find different, and more satisfying ways of enjoying life, without increasing your financial burden.

And, if you have even begun to feel the crippling anxiety and worry of wondering how you are going to get through the next week, or even the next day, that is something you will appreciate.

By sharing information on the website, people can learn from each other and feel less isolated. Many people have found wonderful and innovative ways of living, that cost very little. Some of these ways and tips can be found on the existing content on the website. But we need many, many more...........

With a Little Help from my Friends

Zerocredit is a cooperative. By working together we can share in the wealth of information and experience, that is out there.

If you have any money saving tips or debt related experiences to share, then we would love to hear from you. We welcome advice and comments on any aspect of debt, saving money and living well, on less.

You can become a contributor and post blogs to our website, or email your tips, comments and thoughts to be included in our articles. Your name will be attributed to your contibutions. Or not, if you prefer it that way.

If you would like to contribute in any way, please email zerocredit.penny@googlemail.com

I am really looking forward to hearing from you.

 

Want a say in how we do things?

For £1 a year, Zero-credit membership
is open to anyone, 
aged 16 or over
with personal experience of debt.

Alternatively, if you're a business, why
not subscribe to our Information Service

Come on, join us today! 

Friday, 7 January 2011

The real losers

As we draw to the end of this Dealing with your Debt campaign week, we at Zero-credit are stuck by what seems to be an ongoing feud between the free and paid advisers, even between organisations we respect and trust. When charges of inadequacy come from both sides, the real losers are consumers. Lost in the furore that paid services are corrupt or that charities cannot cope, lies the real issue that, despite Credit Action's debt statistics, all we really know are the numbers in debt solutions and seeking advice. We remain dangerously unaware of the extent of undeclared problem debt - those who attempt to cope alone, too stigmatised, stressed or set in their ways to seek support.

Amongst recent research, two studies stand out. The first by R3 in June 2010, Struggling with debts without help, suggests that around two thirds of problem debtors struggle alone. The second, produced for the Money Advice Trust in December 2010, Demand, capacity and need for debt advice in the UK, reports that only one in six of those with unmanageable debts seek advice. Both are reputable organisations, but it doesn't take much to work out that, only six months apart and reporting the same patterns of consumer behaviour, these figures are significantly at odds. The fact that we simply do not know how many are in debt denial is a catastrophe waiting to happen: consumers may not house, clothe and feed themselves when burdened by crippling debts and enterprise cannot trade with a customer base in default. We can forget any hopes of recovery. 

At least a quarter of the UK’s total population struggles with personal debt - Mervyn King even suggested half of all families - but despite substantial growth in the uptake of credit, attitudes to debt remain unchanged. Debtors are stigmatised and excluded, although little more than consumers for whom borrowing has failed. Some may be irresponsible, others simply unfortunate, but common to all are the sheer numbers in similar situations. We persist in pointing the finger, blaming the individual and not the system, regardless of a crisis rooted in irresponsible lending and borrowing - it doesn’t add up. Worse still, it suits the market to blame the poor. Nobody ever pays quite so much, so often and on time, as those ashamed that they can least afford it. Have you considered this could be you?

In the UK, problem debtors are widely reported as having low income and low educational attainment, yet detailed examination of such data as are available indicates assumptions based on scant research. For its High Cost Credit Review of June 2010, the OFT found only 82 out of 7,600 respondents using home credit and mere handfuls taking out other high cost loans. Subsequently, the Consumer Focus report of August 2010 published recommendations from a sample of but 20 Payday borrowers. Widely reported in the media as authoritative government reviews, both refuted the need to ban or cap interest rates on these types of borrowing based on claims of their contribution to financial inclusion. Regrettably, much as we support the campaign to End Legal Loan Sharking, this too misses the point: the vulnerable are a much bigger community than many of us conceive, let alone consider ourselves part of.

Let us be quite clear. It is impossible for such a small proportion of borrowers, especially if they are, as claimed, lower income households also, to generate a market for high cost credit valued at £7.5 billion. There is also significant evidence that, at one in five, the extent of functional illiteracy and innumeracy has remained broadly the same over the last twenty years, whilst levels of debt have not. Indeed, the correlation between debt and education is anything but a foregone conclusion. Financial literacy or rather consumers’ lack of it covers a multitude of sins, not least the inconsistency of terms used to describe expensive credit by government and the finance sector, as they confuse us with euphemisms for exploitation.

Qualitative indicators provide a different view of borrowing and lending. The value of personal debt has not contracted in recession, whereas insolvencies and demand for debt advice soar. Moreover, the proliferation of pawn broking on high streets and the prevalence of payday advertising on prime time TV suggest a middle-income target market, unlikely to have, and more particularly to admit to having, low income or educational attainment. Indeed, fears of normalising the uptake of high cost credit were at the root of much of the controversy surrounding Boris Johnson’s decision to allow payday lender Wonga to subsidise New Year’s Eve transport in London. Amidst squabbles between commercial debt advisers, plagued with charlatans, and charities, which are overstretched, the struggling consumer remains rich pickings for even steeper repayment terms by irresponsible lenders. 

If you want to change the vicious cycle peddling of credit and debt, now is the time to join our co-operative, Zero-credit, in which consumers give the industry a real taste of market forces. Anyone aged 16 or over with personal experience of borrowing, past or present, manageable or not, may own a share in our company and have a say in how we run it. Government? Financial institutions? They can throw us on the scrap heap and we’ll all go bust or buy our information to keep us spending sustainably.

 

Want a say in how we do things?

For £1 a year, Zero-credit membership
is open to anyone, 
aged 16 or over
with personal experience of debt.

Alternatively, if you're a business, why
not subscribe to our Information Service

Come on, join us today! 

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The great LLU swindle

As some of you may know, for the past six weeks I have been struggling with the most intermittent of broadband and telephone connections. Initially, I was told that disruption had to with my migration from Tiscali to the new Talktalk network and could last indeterminately. Most recently I was cut off entirely for several days over Christmas, in the midst of a family bereavement, with no forewarning, no apology and since finally contacting an engineer four days ago, an incessant barrage of conflicting calls and SMS updates, including the prospect that I could be charged £100 if the fault was deemed mine... 

Since I had been down this sorry route with BT some years ago, I decided it was time to switch. Simple, you may think, get the MAC code just as OFCOM suggests, and off you go. Not so. Somewhere along the line, or should I say lack of it, I have been switched to an LLU network - or at least that is what the suppliers were telling me. In fact, each had a different account of my line status and switching costs: without an LLU connection I was not eligible for a cheaper tariff (add up to £10 a month), or because of my LLU connection I needed to pay over £80 to have a new line installed with a different number. 

First off, let me say that there is absolutely nothing for consumers on the OFCOM website about LLU networks or switching between these, despite a host of technical and industry reports. Moreover, when I rang, the representative I spoke to seemed quite unperturbed that suppliers should be asking me for money to switch, stating that this helped to make the market competitive. For whom, I asked? The market, came the reply. I lodged a complaint: the market is anything but competitive when consumers are confounded into paying additional charges merely to leave a supplier that fails to deliver a service, and for a public body which is paid to represent consumer interests to condone this is outrageous.

Perhaps I should be satisfied that I was given the phone number for the only OFCOM approved telecomms comparison and switching service, Simplify Digital, who promptly secured a deal at slightly less than I am paying, without additional costs, but I am not. No offence to Simplify Digital who are clearly ethical, professional, reassuring and offer a freephone and web based service, but the fact that there is only one intermediary to put an end to the conflicting information given out by suppliers is a dangerous precedent to set.

Like Billy Bragg, I am looking forward to 2011, for whilst I have been unable to upload all sorts of information about our model for participatory market intelligence, in which consumers represent their own interests through cooperative membership, I know this: the days of fudging market forces are well and truly numbered.

 

 

Want a say in how we do things?

For £1 a year, Zero-credit membership
is open to anyone, 
aged 16 or over
with personal experience of debt.

Come on, join us today!


Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Eco Balls - Just a load of old Green Wash?

Ecoballs

Eco Balls - not a green way to be rude but a product to do your laundry. I am trying them out for all my washing this month to see if I will make a permanent switch to using them all the time.

What are they?
They are tennis sized plastic balls with lots of smaller balls inside them. They have a ring of foam around them which give them a sort of flying saucer look. You just put one in with your washing - and do your normal wash. They work in a similar way to detergent, in that the little balls break down the water so it cleans the laundry.

They are eco as in 'green' as they can be re-used six months to a year. There are no nasty chemicals going into your clothes or into the rivers. It also means you can miss out the rinse cycle on your washing machine, saving electricity.

They are also eco as in 'economic' as they will save you £££s in washing detergent. Prices are very variable but the ones I am using cost only £2.50.

Are they any good?
So far I have tried them once and I am happy with the initial results. I will try a few more washes before I give any final verdict.There are plenty of reports on the web about using ecoballs, and on the whole, they are satisfactory. The general report seems to be that they are great for everyday washing, but perhaps not so great on some stains.  Prewash stain remover may be a good solution to that.I will report in with an update in a couple of weeks.

What do you think?
I would however, like to know what you think. If anyone out there has used eco balls, please let us know your experience of them and which ones you used. 

Any tips for making the most of them, would also be welcome.

 

Want a say in how we do things?

For £1 a year, Zero-credit membership
is open to anyone, 
aged 16 or over
with personal experience of debt.

Come on, join us today!