Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Somewhere to turn when you think there???s nowhere to turn - by @CashQuestions

Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When people fall on hard times, when their income no longer meets their everyday spending needs, when they become ill or frail and need special help or equipment, or if they fall into debt they often become despondent and believe they have nowhere to turn.

William Beveridge’s aim when he founded the welfare state was to banish the evils of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness, but the truth is that these will always be with us to some degree and we must turn to self-help and community help when the state fails us or its resources cannot stretch as far as they need to.

Before the introduction of the welfare state, community aid was centred on mutual organisations such as friendly societies, which assisted the poor with their medical bills and the burying of their dead, and charitable foundations, whose aims were to help the disadvantaged and those who could not help themselves.

The good news is that despite the state’s role in aiding the less healthy and prosperous among us, mutual organisations and charities are still around and can be found filling the gaps where the state falls down.

If you have fallen on hard times, one of these organisations is exactly where you should turn because that is what they are there for.

And it’s not just the big famous-name charities such as Age UK, Shelter, or Mencap that you should look to.

If you or one of your family have been a member of a profession or trade union, the chances are it has a member assistance fund – previously probably better known under an old fashioned name such as the “widows and orphans fund”.

City guilds and organisations such as the Freemasons may also be able to offer aid to members and the families of deceased members in straitened circumstances. Some schools have aid programmes for former pupils.

If you are not a member of an organisation or group, there may be a local charity that can help people in your area, including you, particularly if you are elderly, disabled or caring for someone.

Some charitable foundations have extremely arcane purposes such as – and I’m picking one at random here – “to relieve either generally or individually women over the age of 40 years who are in conditions of need, hardship or distress preference being given to such women qualified as aforesaid who were born or who reside within a radius of ten miles of the town halls of the city of Liverpool and the former County Borough Of Southport”.

Check out the Charities Direct website to see if you can find one that could help you.

You might also get help from one of the friendly societies such as Liverpool Victoria or Oddfellows.

Members of LV= (the Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society) can apply to the Member Support Fund for financial help. You can apply for a grant so long as you have been a member of LV= for at least 12 months. You can find details on the LV= website.

Oddfellows offers an Advice Line in association with Citizens’ Advice, which can help with benefits, housing and debt advice. It also has a Care Line to answer questions about health and sourcing equipment and nursing services.

People often say “I don’t want charity” or “I’m too proud to take charity”. The fact is the charities want to help you if you are having a hard time, and it’s people like you they were set up to help. They may be just the people to turn to.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Squeeze Back!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ORkjKCNJlI?hd=1]

When experts tell us we're spending less on leisure in recession, we accept the humdrum and forget to question the extra pennies here and there on staple goods and services. Bucking the billy-no-mates, budget lifestyle trend is the village of Bloxham, just outside Banbury in Oxfordshire. On 7th May, they held their second, free family festival, without any grant whatsoever this year.

Local people and businesses rallied round to raise funds and sponsorship, increasing footfall by 500 to 3,000. The village's three pubs, chip chop, deli, WI, bowls club, bell ringers, conservationists, scrap merchant, you name it, came out in an all hands on deck, which saw eight to eighty year olds performing live from ten in the morning till midnight.

We don't need to be told that Britain's Got Talent, when we can entertain ourselves like this. Our hard earned cash stays amongst family and friends, keeping our local economy afloat. This Bank Holiday? Why not give the banks and the spin doctors a real holiday, celebrating creditfree with the big or otherwise society of your choice!


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Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Trading when we are broke?


A little over a month ago, Zero-credit joined the new social networking site, Empire Avenue. Some of you may even baulk at my calling it that, given the game of buying and selling shares in others’ social media activity. On the surface, it is somewhat superficial. Anyway, I started playing it as a game, enjoying the irony as our net worth rose and egging on potential investors with all our hard work, campaigning for borrowers’ rights. I was cheeky. I exploited the contrast of extreme debt and wealth. I had a laugh.

For the last fortnight, I have ceased simply to play the game because Empire Avenue is beginning to take on a whole new dimension, offering considerable potential and value to our cooperative. I am glad. Those of you who know me are aware that my gaming talents include spending the entirety of Boxing Day reverse-racing PS1 cars to the horror of my then six-year-old son. So it helps that Empire Avenue is more than just a game...

What have I learned?

The most cut-throat traders are other not-for-profits! We were doing so well, so quickly that several divested their shares in us rather promptly, in an attempt to move us down the leader boards - nice! But you know, it’s a pretty accurate reflection of the scrabble for third sector funding at the moment. We all want and believe that we need to keep going and not everyone is capable of that beautifully coined phrase “egoless collaboration” that came out of Community Links’ Chain Reaction event last February. 

Keeping an eye on your activity across all platforms is key. Our Facebook Page and Youtube Channel have been weak points in our mix for some time, as the focus on cooperative formation and business development have taken the lead. Looking at others’ channels and engagement has inspired me to take greater action as we gear up to move our website to a new platform in mid June. It will be two years since we came online and there is plenty to sing and shout about, so we want to take that to as wide an audience as possible.

Empty cans make the most noise. Well, I kind of knew that anyway. It is true that there is a gaming contingency on “the Avenue” (the lovely Dr Ron Capps always calls it that and it cracks me up!) and you need to be fully aware of people out to ride your bounce-back and move on. Generally, they blog, tweet and breathe SEO and affiliations, so are no different to the kinds of spam we’ve been avoiding since we started. It’s real connections we are after. People who go the extra mile and don’t take, but make the difference.

Empire Avenue offers potential to all sorts, from the social enterprise start-up, such as ours, to major multi-nationals, happy go lucky snappers and cottage industries - and for now, it's a level playing field. If you have any social networking presence at all, you’d be a fool not to explore it. Forget all the hoo-hah about how it could monetise in 12 months. Forget all the ooh, sparkly, shiny “this is the next big thing”. That’s greed-fodder and has been said too many times before.

Concentrate on the fact that you can search for people with like minds and similar interests through Communities and by clicking on the labels of any interests you record for yourself. And if, like us, your special interest community is not that developed yet, so what! You won’t be a millionaire or join the Century Club overnight, but you will learn a great deal about what you are doing well and who out there might help you to improve on that. I have been amazed at the number of local connections we could and should have made before, not to mention genuinely touched by the international support for what we are doing. 

What do I recommend? 

TEAM ZEN is an Empire Avenue Game community with a lot of big time investors. Its leader Frederic Denomme aka (e)ZEN is a thoroughly decent, fun loving bloke. There are one or two ride ‘em monkeys, as is to be expected in such a large community, but all in all, if you want to make a quick “Eave” (the virtual currency on the Avenue) this is the place to go. As soon as there is anything not quite right in the functionality of the Avenue's systems, you will find out about it here too. There's nothing so urgent as people about to make a loss ;-)

Even more useful for our purposes has been Empire Avenue Tips, Touts & Tutorials led by Dr Ron Capps aka (e)NICHEPROF. Here, we have found short cuts to how-to guides and undoubtedly the most time-saving information of all, an app called EAvTrader, designed to help you review your portfolio and shareholders on one simple-to-follow screen. What’s more, Dr Ron is a charmer! You feel welcomed and at home, able to dip in and out of the advice at your own pace, and confident in making the sorts of connections you value, through this community.

Enjoy the game! In the context of all the research we are doing into spending, saving and borrowing psychologies, I am finding the motivation of Achievements fascinating. Too often, people in financial difficulty are inundated with condescending advice and sanctions, where praise is what’s needed to motivate change. Life is too short for coulda, shoulda, woulda all the time - we need to lighten up! So, gamification it is then... I've sold my soul to a trade in others - bring it on!


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Monday, 23 May 2011

Money - That's What (They) Want

Are you allowing someone else to manage your money?

Buy into the money saving craze and that’s exactly what you are doing. Here at Zero-credit we treat deals with caution. It’s in every marketer’s interest to show their products and services are best, and flavour of the month (if only it were a month!) is saving you money. We thought we’d show you some of the profits these “great deals” make! Due credit if you’ve managed to avoid them so far!

According to a YouGov poll, conducted for the launch of a yet another comparison site last week, these new kids on the broking block take some £650 million in commission every year. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this is around £10 a head, based on total population statistics. But hold on a minute... we buy insurance and utilities as households, right? Yes, you’re absolutely right!

In fact, around 40% of us have switched to digital brokers that charge much the same in commission, and cost considerably more in time than someone ringing around for you. From a household population of some 25 million, online commissions work out at a staggering 24% of sales or £64.59 per customer. Then, of course, comparison sites produce an overpopulated list of “great deals” to choose from. It’s hardly surprising that these run into dozens, when market researchers have been using Lickert scales for decades because people are confused (spot the irony?) by more than a few options.

With or without standing charge, dual fuel, excess, complimentary random stuff: all these variations for something to turn on a light or keep a car on the road. Can you imagine if we did that to water? Oops, I forgot. Coke tried that already. 

One area where comparison sites are starting to excel, is in suggesting alternatives that you’ve not yet considered. It’s become so mainstream to have a no-to-low credit rating these days that products and services, which were the preserve of the poor, are hitting digital shop windows like never before. Check out the wide range of credit-builder and prepaid-cards or non-debt current accounts that charge around 30% APR or £15 a month to do pretty much what a basic bank account does for free. That’s at least £180 a year taken out of your already squeezed middle.

Feel a midweek or weekend break coming on from the savings we've made? Well, watch our for money savers there too, because you can’t afford these small luxuries now, unless of course you take out a Payday loan. These pesky little blighters keep slipping under the net with people who don’t know the value of £25 paid as interest on a £100 loan, and who justify their existence with their “It’s cheaper than an unauthorised overdraft” millarky. Not only did the volume of Payday loans increase 400% in the four years up to 2010, but between the 2nd and 12th of May 2011 sales were up 58% on the same dates in April. It seems the Royal Wedding was a match made in heaven for more than one happy couple.

Recent research by Zero-credit reveals that “money saving” is beginning to have a dictionary definition in its own right. Want to know what it is? Something that helps you spend less money. In other words, far from cutting out unnecessary spending, the assumption is that you will still spend... Buyer beware! They want your money...


Friday, 20 May 2011

Simple gifts

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,

'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find oursleves in the place just right,

'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd,

To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come round right.


I received a simple gift last night - a family friend emailed me the link to a recently uploaded recording of my father. It's the second now in a couple of months and I listened to it as I went to bed.

It is hard to describe the absolute joy that I experience upon finding and sharing these recordings. It is the most extraordinary gift to hear a voice that was an every day overture to my entire childhood, defining what I saw, where I went, who I met, framing the realisation of how incredibly lucky I was, how incredibly lucky I am still. As a performer's child I am not alone in feeling this - it is almost as though I have siblings amongst complete strangers. 

There's nothing new in recommending YouTube or any other video sharing platform for that matter as a great communications tool. Yet often in the wave of enthusiasm for new features and technology we forget the simple gifts that increased connectivity brings, the human story of memories and affections, which mean so very much.

Technology is at its finest when it allows us to escape the narrow confines of daily life, but true reach is neither return on investment nor measurable output, so much as the capacity to create and innovate in new ways through the people we connect to. How many events, projects and start-ups have come about through people sharing ideas? How much faster, broader and more creatively can we do this online?

Creativity and innovation are our lifeblood and in communications technology in particular, there is a new kind of social mobility, in which potential is infinite. How sad therefore to see some of the finest architects of our age attempting to own human nature by patenting behaviour that has existed since time began. In a world strapped for resources we should be exploring opportunities, not shutting them down.

I could, if I wished, take royalties when people play Dad's recordings. Yet it is only through the digital platforms which increase Dad's audience that I experience the sensation of his living still. Comments and feedback are not possible when I play the recordings left to me. There is no spontaneity or element of surprise, no serendipity that an e-mail should arrive just as I am ready to sleep, creating my own perfect lullaby.

It is an insidious variation of poverty and oppression, when we are forced into paying for things that come naturally to us. There is nothing clever in screwing every penny out of ordinary activities and needs that people need to survive. If your idea has reached or passed its prime, move on, accept it and for goodness sake, make room for others.

Great wealth should be the outcome of rare talent, not some sordid little deal to stake your claim. You may not own my father, my childhood or dreams and any attempt to do so is nothing more than rape, robbing our world of its capacity to self-sustain. I will not be a slave to your debt-ridden connivance and the inheritance I leave will be to crush it. Rest assured that I am not alone. We, the people, are many.


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Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Biting the Bullet


Image: Andy Newson / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Have you ever forgotten the date of a direct debit and ended up paying for it? It’s easily done when you’ve just lost your job and your number one priority is finding another.

Focused on the adverts and agencies that might hold a lead, you assume from the comfort of monthly salary date memories that a loan will be paid at such and such a time.

Thump! The harsh reality of losing two weeks’ benefit to a payment you had not yet anticipated kicks in. You have £5 left to live on for a fortnight and the word broke takes on a new meaning.

It is easy for money experts to extol the virtues of budgeting, when downshifting from monthly to four weekly pay cycles rarely enters the equation. Their advice is not for you.

The simple maths of a few days out can make all the difference to us mere mortals, so what can we do? At Zero-credit, we bite the bullet.

Procrastination is our greatest enemy when fear thrives on ignorance. The longer you peruse a solitary £5 note and contemplate its inadequacy, the less of it is yours to live on. You need to act.

Think logically. If lenders seriously thought we were all budding Martin Lewises, would they bank so dependably on accounts unswitched and scams like PPI?

As a jobseeker you have as much drive and potential as any entrepreneur starting out. You are looking at anything and everything to put you back in the workplace.

Not only is £5 insufficient to take your product to market, but more importantly it won’t get that all important return on investment, which keeps you paying. Your lender will lose if they don’t help now.

With so many on the job market, lenders are more than aware that they need to share our knocks. The sooner you get in touch, the more accommodating you’ll find them and the better deal you will get. You so need to avoid high cost credit at this time.

Stand your ground when you call – remember the value of what you had and can offer again. Yes, it is hard. But millions of us are facing job losses, pay cuts and shorter hours, so remember, you are not alone. You are no better or worse a candidate than anyone else in recession.

When you ask for a payment holiday or overdraft facility, talk up any job applications, interviews and leads. This should make you feel better and them impressed. A small investment in you, now, will make all the difference. You know you believe this because you cannot look for a job without it.

Be realistic. You’re unlikely to be given months to get back on track, but a few weeks breathing space may be all that you need to find a job or repayment solution that does not exploit your situation. No matter how broke you are, our economy needs you to earn.

Isn’t it time the banks did their bit to bail you out?


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Saturday, 14 May 2011

Money's too tight to mention?


Image: Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


We’re coming up to two years of campaigning for borrowers’ rights here on Zero-credit. From the outset, we have been blocked and ignored by all sorts of people, who thought we were out for what we could get, but we’re a voice that cannot be ignored.

More and more people are waking up to the idiocy of becoming a victim of their own circumstances when they suffer financial difficulty in silence. Money’s too tight to mention? Pah!

Shark infested waters await anyone who has no idea of where to go for reliable money advice and the less money you have, the worse it gets. That’s why so many people end up in unimaginable financial difficulties – they make do and mend with shoddy lending and impossible debt advice until insolvency is the only option. 

My goodness, where should we all be if £1453 billion ended up in default?

With so many people navigating shorter hours, unemployment or benefit changes, no matter what your politics, few of us can afford what we used to afford, so the only sensible thing is to band together as one voice. 

Zero-credit is that voice and right now, it’s shouting loud and clear: Borrowers have rights!

Since incorporation last August, we have worked long and hard on our Articles of Association and  Membership & Subscription terms so that joining Zero-credit can be as much or as little as you want it to be. 

Individuals pay £1 a year to join as Members, with full voting rights and all of the opportunities to work with, for and manage the company that this entails. As co-owners of our company, our Members shape our every move.

They also enjoy a free “Sustainable Spending” e-book and monthly Newsletter with an increasing number of creditfree tips, events and offers that don’t ask you to bogof or pay up front with the lure of cashback! 

When the pound in your pocket is worth a bob or two, we want yours to work as hard as it can, so come join us and start living, creditfree! 


Friday, 13 May 2011

Whose money is it anyway?


Image: vichie81 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


There’s been a lot in the media this week about small print, after the scandalous mis-selling of PPI by the banks. As Annie Shaw rightly warns, we need to “Be careful out there” because the vultures are all too ready to prey on our next phase of uncertainty or greed.


Mopping up the aftermath, once we’re totally floored by the minefield that is simply being a consumer, are the dodgy debt advisers, hoping we’re too scared, ashamed or stressed to notice a scam. What’s more, the number of debt companies going bust whilst key advisers abscond with borrowers’ money remains grotesquely underreported.


Glorified loan sharking is all it is, when you con someone into trusting you to make their debt repayments for them and pocket the lot. Honest people, trying to do the right thing, are being conned. But when debt’s a dirty word and the government wants us to spend, spend, spend, it’s swept under the carpet to keep the consumer paying.


Have we got news for you...


The extra quid here, there and everywhere that we're forced into paying for not fitting into the convenience of “competitive markets” overlooks one glaringly obvious fact. These leeches need us to spend our money and no matter how little we have, they want it. In fact, without us they are powerless because a market cannot exist without consumers.


When every pound in mis-sold goods and services, unfair charges, and packages of so-called convenience is a trick, we are fools to buy into claims of competition. We can make or break competition as easily as Susan Boyle became an overnight success, because we are competition and these rogues damned well need to start competing for our business.


Are you seriosuly going to allow the energy companies to treat us as fools, demanding increases to match wholesale prices, when it never works the other way, or to continue packaging countless saver deals, making it impossible to compare value for your hard earned cash? 


Will you swallow Ofcom’s party line that Telcos converting our lines to LLU networks, then demanding £80 when we want to dump an inadequate service are investing in our interests?


Is it okay for Tesco to make £6000 profit a minute yet refuse to pay checkout staff a living wage, or worse still cut these jobs entirely with machines that save them millions in employment taxes? Their taxes go down yours go up by the way - every little helps, don't you know?!


Are you happy to accept banks that gear the entirety of their services on unwitting over withdrawals simply to justify yet more charges for handling our money? Not sure they're being paid enough?


Or will you simply be paying billionaire, Mark Zuckerberg, 13% of every transaction you make in his empire for the joy of using his Facebook credits? Yes, sir, my money sir? Please rob me blind, sir.


It’s time we woke up Team GB! This is our country. It is our money and we are worth one hell of a lot more than the deals we are getting.  For goodness sake let's give it some wellie!



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Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Young gun kicks us up the bum!

via kristiancarter.com The top 10 words recruiters love to see on your CV


CVs are brilliant. They’re your ticket to a new job, a new client, and a better life. It’s amazing how a little effort on a two page document can transform your life chances so comprehensively.

I’m currently giving my CV a little tone-up (I promise to post it online when I’m done), and I came across a 2005 University of Hertfordshire Psychology Department study into the top words to include on a CV.

Top 10 Words to Include

  • Achievement
  • Active
  • Developed
  • Evidence
  • Experience
  • Impact
  • Individual
  • Involved
  • Planning
  • Transferable Skills

This study is amazing. It’s so hard sometimes to know the ‘right’ thing to say on a CV. It’s not like the normal advice of ‘Just be yourself’ really applies, so to have some hard data about the right words to use is really helpful.

Look at the focus on returns though. “What am I going to get out of hiring this person?” These are great words for demonstrating that.

How many of these are on your CV at the moment? How are you going to include them?

Top 10 words to avoid

  • Always
  • Awful
  • Bad
  • Fault
  • Hate
  • Mistake
  • Never
  • Nothing
  • Panic
  • Problems

These words seem fairly common-sense. What I find really interesting is that “Always” and “Never” made the list – the researchers tended to feel that people who used these words were exaggerating their abilities in some way.

Tips for using these words

Clearly, just using these words is not going to be enough for you. You have to be realistic and link them to real life situations. Use them to show how you’ve really made a difference in your existing roles.

Right now everyone is looking for new hires to add value to their organisation. They’re looking for the outcomes you’re going to bring when they hire you. The money you’re going to bring in. The customers you’re going to serve. What’s your return on investment?

Use these words to complement the overall feel and design of your CV, and show them just what they’re getting with you.

More action words to include

While these words didn’t quite break into the top 10, the researchers thought that these words were pretty useful as well. How many of these do you have?

Accelerated : Accomplished : Achieved : Adapted : Advised : Advocated : Aligned : Allocated : Analysed : Applied : Arbitrated : Arranged : Assessed : Attained : Attracted : Audited : Authored : Awarded.

Balanced : Boosted : Briefed : Broadened : Built : Calculated : Canvassed : Centralised : Chaired : Clarified: Coached : Collaborated : Communicated : Compiled : Completed : Constructed : Contributed : Controlled : Convinced : Coordinated : Created : Cultivated : Customised.

Decreased : Defeated : Defined : Delivered : Demonstrated : Designed : Determined : Developed : Devised : Diagnosed : Differentiated : Directed : Discovered : Disseminated : Distinguished : Diversified : Documented : Doubled : Drafted.

Educated : Eliminated : Enabled : Encouraged : Enforced : Engineered : Enhanced : Enjoyed : Enlarged : Enriched : Ensured : Equipped : Established : Evaluated : Examined : Exhibited : Expanded : Experimented : Explained : Explored : Extended.

Facilitated : Filtered : Finalised : Fine-tuned : Fixed : Focused : Forecast : Formulated : Fortified : Founded.

Generated : Guided.

Handled: Harmonised : Headed : Helped : Highlighted.

Identified : Illustrated : Implemented : Improved : Incorporated : Increased : Influenced : Initiated : Innovated : Inspired : Instigated : Integrated : Introduced : Invested : Investigated.

Launched : Led : Liaised : Located.

Managed : Marketed : Maximised : Mediated : Mentored : Minimised : Mobilised : Modernised : Modified : Monitored : Motivated.

Navigated : Negotiated : Nurtured.

Operated : Orchestrated : Organised : Originated : Outlined : Overcame : Overhauled : Oversaw.

Persuaded : Piloted : Pinpointed : Pioneered : Planned : Prepared : Presented : Prioritised : Promoted : Proved : Publicised : Published.


Raised : Ran : Recommended : Reconciled : Recruited : Rectified : Reduced : Refined : Regulated : Rehabilitated : Reinforced : Renewed : Reorganised : Repaired : Replaced : Researched : Reshaped : Resolved : Restored : Retained : Revamped : Reviewed : Revitalised.

Saved : Scheduled : Secured : Selected : Set Goals : Set Up : Shaped : Shared : Simplified : Sold : Solved : Sorted : Spear-headed : Specialised : Standardised : Straightened : Stream-lined : Structured : Summarised : Supervised : Supported : Surpassed.

Taught : Tested : Trained : Transformed.

Uncovered : Unified : Updated : Upgraded : Utilised.

Validated : Verified : Visualised : Volunteered.

Won : Wrote.

Love to get your comments

Are you working on your CV at the moment? How’s that going for you? Which words have you found that work for you?

We love Kristian's get out there enthusiam and hope you find some inspiration in his article too!

Want a say in how we do things?

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aged 16 or over
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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

We believe...


Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Zero-credit is a consumer cooperative, representing borrowers’ interests. Who do we mean when we say borrowers? Ordinary people, who have used or are using a credit card, loan, or mortgage.  


Some of us may slip into the red now and then – most often at Bank Holidays, when the balances don’t update – and we pay for it...


Many of us have jobs to go to, to look for, or families to worry about, so any small print opting us into unforeseen extras is not an option. Life is far too important for that!


Precisely because we are a cooperative, which shares ideas, our Members expect, and are gaining, respect from government, the media and financial services.  


And if one or two bankers seem to have forgotten that the customer is always right? Well, the more fool them, we say – after all, what ARE market forces if not consumers...


Why not join us if you are aged 16 or over, have personal experience of borrowing and believe that borrowers need:


to be valued as consumers

to have clear, reliable and actionable money advice

to receive credit information only when requested

to find lending that is purposeful and sustainable

to repay lending without harassment

never to feel helpless


With personal borrowing worth £1453 billion in the UK, the pound in our pockets is worth a bob or two, and there’s no doubt that we are many! 



Want a say in how we do things?

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is open to anyone, 
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Monday, 9 May 2011

Small print, big trouble - @CashQuestions

The decision of the major banks not to contest the High Court ruling on the sales of payment protection insurance (PPI) brings to a close another sorry chapter in the mis-selling of financial products story. It won’t be the last, but it is probably the most widespread. Because PPI was sold alongside everything from personal loans and mortgages via credit and store cards to HP (hire purchase) and PCP (personal contract purchase) deals, no area of the credit market was left untouched.


It was certainly a nice little earner for the banks. In 2008 the Competition Commission found that sales of PPI were bringing in between £2.2bn and £2.6bn a year for the banks. Now the latest figures show that compensation for mis-sold customers could cost the industry more than £10bn. It seems the banks will still end up ahead despite their misdemeanours.


PPI is not in itself a bad product. The policy pays out – that is, continues to make repayments on your loan – if you fall sick, have an accident or lose your job. What was wrong with many sales was that the policyholders would never, ever have been able to claim – because they had a pre-existing medical condition that excluded them, or they were self-employed. These people should never have bought the product.


The fact that so many people were gulled into buying these useless policies demonstrates how much we are at the mercy of clever salesmen when we come to buy financial products.


The fact is that PPI was a secret weapon used by the banks to maximise profits while continuing to make their interest rates look attractive. They were able to advertise loans with an apparently attractive headline rate while actually pocketing a hefty extra charge for the PPI policy they sold at the same time.


Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but when it comes to financial products you can rely on the maxim “If a thing looks too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true”.



Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


If you are getting an exceptional deal, make sure you look at the small print – and understand it. Anyone who bought PPI would have realised they were likely to have been mis-sold straight away if they had done this, especially if they weren’t able to see the policy until the deed was done.


If you are offered an apparently good deal, but you can’t see the details until after the deal completes, then reject it.


If there’s a great offer on the internet, from a company you haven’t heard of, make sure you know what your consumer protection is if things go wrong. If you are not sure, buy somewhere else.


If you are being offered a free gift, consider why a commercial organisation might be offering you something for nothing. To obtain your address, perhaps, so they can bombard you with marketing material, or give you the hard sell over the phone.


What is the point of a 0% credit card deal? To lure you in as a customer and charge you a higher than average rate of interest when the 0% deal ends, maybe? Think twice and think hard about signing up for special offers. Ask yourself what’s in it for the organisation making the offer.


While consumers may have won the PPI battle, and those mis-sold will eventually be refunded, clever marketing people will continue to lay traps and play tricks that consumers need to avoid.


Some of those most at risk are people who believe they can “play the system” and grab the free gift and then cancel, or meet the onerous obligations that a moneyback offer prescribes.


If you are really a match for the marketing mafia then good luck to you, you can probably save yourself a bob or two. But if you are a normal person with a family, a busy life and want to do more than study spreadsheets to check your finances every five minutes, you won’t go wrong by paying a fair price for a fair deal.


Radix malorum est cupiditas, as the Pardoner said in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Greed is the root of evil. That applies to consumers as well as banks. Be careful out there.



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Thursday, 5 May 2011

Family Meals for Much Less than a Fiver - Cauliflower Pilau

The humble cauliflower is in season and available nearly all year round. Full of nutrition, it can be used in a variety of recipes. Cauliflower cheese will always be one of my favourites but sometimes it's good to do something different.

So here is a recipe for cauliflower pilau. This is a recipe you can adapt according to what is in your kitchen cupboard. It uses carrots, lentils and frozen peas. You could use chick peas, mushrooms and/or sweetcorn instead.

I used basmati rice, becuse I love the flavour, but you could use rissotto rice or long grain rice. Adjust the spices acording to your taste and add extra chilli if you want to spice things up.

Approximate cost for all the ingredients is £2.50 and it generously feeds 4 people.


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 red onion, peeled and chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushes

1 medium cauliflower, cut into florets

200g basmati rice

100g lentils

1 litre vegetable stock

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp turmeric

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

100g frozen peas

10 cashew nuts, chopped


In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the onion and fry until soft.

Add the garlic cloves, florets, and carrots and cook for 3-4 minutes.

Add the lentils, rice, stock and spices.

Bring back to the boil and turn down to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Add extra water if it gets too dry.

After 25 minutes add the peas and cashew nuts. Bring back to boil and cook for further 5 minutes. Check rice and lentils are soft and vegetables are cooked. Serve.

What is your favourite cauliflower recipe?



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Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Businesses and Insolvency

In these troubled times it is not just consumers who are experiencing financial difficulties. Many businesses are struggling for a variety of reasons in these difficult economic conditions. 

An effective recovery is dependent on businesses surviving and prospering. So the question needs to be asked if more could be done to protect a business from insolvency and help it to recover and find a future.

Currently, suppliers of services essential to the business can make demands for excessive premiums for their services, with the penalty that they will withdraw their services altogether, potentially making continuation of business difficult, if not impossible.


R3, The Association of Business Recovery Professionals campaigns to protect and rescue viable businesses.

  • R3’s Holding Rescue to Ransom campaign focuses on the unreasonable action taken by suppliers, which often prevents business rescue during insolvency.
  • At a time when corporate insolvency remains high on the agenda it is important that the insolvency regime does all it can to rescue viable businesses.
  • Currently the ability of the insolvency profession to rescue viable businesses is being undermined by the actions of certain suppliers.
  • As the law currently exists, utility suppliers must continue to supply to a business in the event of insolvency, however there is nothing to prevent them changing their terms of supply, increasing tariffs or demanding one off ransom payments.
  • The Insolvency Act dates back to 1986 and thus needs modernisation. Currently only utility suppliers are deemed ‘essential’ to the everyday functioning of businesses, however, the business environment is very different today. 
  • R3 is calling for section 233 of the Insolvency Act 1986 to include information technology services, computer software and accounting software to reflect the prominence of that technology in business operations.
  • At the moment suppliers vital to the everyday operation of a business such as IT services are able to demand extortionate ransom payments for continued supply or withdraw their services.

If this type of behaviour were outlawed, research by R3 and research agency ComRes suggest that likely impacts would include: 

  •         In excess of 2,000 business rescues a year
  •         Over 14% fewer liquidations
  •         A 22% decline in the number of pre-packs
  •         Greater returns to creditors.

If you are a involved in a business facing any of these problems, or have experience of this in thepast, please join the Holding to Rescue to Ransom campaign and add to the discussion by commenting below.


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Tuesday, 3 May 2011

When will it end?

Every month we receive at least one personal plea for debt help. Zero-credit is not licensed to provide debt advice because we trade in information and publications about how consumers behave with money. However, our site is full of links through to the main debt charities and professional associations, as well as regular consumer updates from the OFT.

We pride ourselves on breaking down the barriers to accessing advice, because this prevents minor money worries from becoming real concerns. The better prepared we are for an income shock, the more able we are to deal with it, if it happens.

Because we are committed to championing a borrower's right never to feel helpless, we always reply with an outline of our key posts and links, together with some ideas for feeling more in control. Some people feel comforted by faith based support, others a sense of justice that their creditors are paying for help. Its not just about getting out of debt, you see, it's about staying out of debt too, so a sustainable solution needs to make sense to the individuals concerned.

Our starting point is always to point out that borrowers in difficulty have the right to 30 days breathing space when they are trying to sort out repayments. We posted the most recent Office for Fair Trading Guidance for Consumers about this a couple of months ago. There is also a longer version for lenders, for anyone who feels empowered by quoting government advice.

It is important to feel safe and confident in the support you choose. For privacy, an online or phone service may suit, others prefer to see someone face to face, at home or in an office. The most common free charity / community funded advice alternatives include:

Government funded, phone based: http://www.nationaldebtline.co.uk/

Creditor funded, online and helpline: http://www.cccs.co.uk/

Government funded, phone or face to face: http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/getadvice.htm

Christian funded, at home, face to face: http://www.capuk.org/home/index.php

Christian funded, centres, face to face: http://www.communitymoneyadvice.com/

Creditor funded, free debt management plans: http://www.payplan.com/

As some of the government funding for debt advice comes under threat, we are starting to see low cost paid alternatives in the form of digital applications and social enterprises, such as:

former Birmingham City Council advisers, now social enterprise with a face to face centre: http://moneymattersaction.co.uk


DIY online debt settlement tool: http://imoneymanager.co.uk

Fees for these compare relatively well with the costs of taking time off work or for transport in a rural area, especially where there are queues for free advice and more than one appointment may be necessary.

There are also traditional debt management companies, which charge for services from office-based or home visit professionals. Not all of these companies are reliable, so if a paid service looks like an option, it is essential to check membership of either http://www.demsa.co.uk/ or http://www.debtresolutionforum.org.uk/, as these associations at least work with the OFT to raise industry standards. 

Amongst Zero-credit Members there are people who have received support from most of the above. We even have members who have negotiated repayments themselves. There will always be differences of opinion about the best debt advice, because each of us prefers the solution that worked in our own circumstances. However, one thing we all agree on is Annie Shaw's advice about getting a basic bank account. It is one of the best securities you can have for controlling your money, whatever your circumstances, and most likely to help you ensure that the vicious cycle of unmanageable debt does end. 


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