Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Dear @MartinSLewis

I was fascinated to watch your evidence to the Treasury Committee about the Money Advice Service, not least because you were as unfettered in your critique as some have found Zero-credit at times. #duecredit. Most compelling in your evidence was its departure from your more public appearances, with more detail and substance than a ten minute slot can provide. So often I have wished to understand more about some of the recommendations you make, yet felt unable to communicate without “shouting”.

Correspondence with Stella Creasy earlier this year made it apparent that there is some perception of Zero-credit as an organisation that is more significantly resourced than is the case. In some respects, it’s a great compliment to a digital presence with which I have persisted from a council house kitchen table for the last three years, in others hugely frustrating that our lack of funds to attend a meeting should marginalise our contribution to relevant debate. It was all the more pertinent that you should question the spending of the Money Advice Service, when our entire budget last year was just over £5k.

This is not a begging letter by the way.

A victim of funding cuts since our formation as a co-operative (a start-up grant that was signed for and never paid), last May, our Members voted in favour of earning every penny of income that we receive. I am pleased to say that commissions for original research and development are beginning to pay our way, yet our desire to work with the Money Advice Service, expressed quite clearly last summer, remains summarily ignored. I do find this incomprehensible, given their accountability to consumers, the participatory nature of our work and indeed our business model.

Around 80 individuals own a share in Zero-credit and it costs £1 to be a member so that ownership of the influence we achieve is as close to universally accessible as possible. A further 40 businesses and organisations subscribe to the information services our Coop provides - not a lot, until you consider who some of these are: Experian, Which?, Payplan, Bristol Debt Advice Centre, DEMSA, Moneysupermarket, to name a few. Our digital influence has challenged even you and ThisisMoney at times and our site traffic is now some 6000 visits per month.

Our vision is one of consumers and professionals making informed choices together because each and everyone one of us “consumes” personal finance. Currently there is no provision for anyone with experience of unmanageable debt to contribute to the regulation or delivery of financial services, meaning that the opportunity to learn from mistakes is lost. As an advocate of financial education, I am sure you will agree that mistakes are integral to learning.

Martin, I am too frequently angered, saddened or tired at the injustices we encounter to engage politely at times. Generalisations that we should all avoid commercial debt help, PPI firms and payday lenders undermine any informed choice that has led to such a decision. In so doing they diminish our capacity for critical thinking, making us more vulnerable to scams. Of course, these are problematic markets, but within them are suppliers who are no less commercial than you have been. It is perhaps pertinent that my trust in your absolute integrity comes from the personal recommendation of a commercial debt solution provider with whom you went to university.

Now, I should very much like to ask you to join us.

Best wishes


Friday, 15 June 2012

A LOT of money?

On the same day that the BBC reported Child Poverty down as household income drops, not one panellist on last night’s BBC Question Time challenged an assumption of wealth from an income less than two grand a year above that defining poverty.

Responding to a question about the new immigration income threshold, Greg Dyke, who had earned some £300,000 a year as Director General of the BBC (he stated his income at paragraph 12 of this article) said:

£18,600 seems like quite a lot of money to me. It’s not a lot of money in some parts of the country. It’s an awful lot in others. If what we’re saying is we’re going to keep husband and wife, genuine married couples, apart until they can earn that sort of money, then I find it offensive.

Perhaps more offensively, this panel of higher rate income tax payers had already discussed “problem families” (at 19 minutes), apparently without any sense of realism to place “a lot of money” in context.The new requirement to sponsor a spouse is an annual income of £18,600 before tax.

That’s £37 a week more than “poverty”.

         £419   average Household income
         £289   immigration threshold
         £251   poverty threshold

That’s £204 a month more than the average rent for a one bedroom property in June 2012.

       £1,251   immigration threshold
       £1,047   average rent

After tax, it’s more than £5000 less than the average debt of a CCCS client.

     £20,023   average debt
     £15,010   immigration threshold

And before tax, it’s 11.6% of the average house price in England and Wales in April 2012.

     £18,600   immigration threshold
   £160,417   average house price

Whatever your take on immigration, believing that wealth is a few quid above state dependence is dangerous. How close to becoming a scrounger are you?

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Saturday, 2 June 2012

MoneySavingExpert, ??87 million - Zero-credit, priceless!

Peerindex 18.05.12

#duecredit to @MartinSLewis - his work has been original and compelling and for that alone, it deserves respect. Recession dictates that there will be those who find his £87 million money saving deal unpalatable, but when his individuality has been as inspired as that of any Wayne Rooney or Leona Lewis, the question is less whether he should profit from his talent than whether our notions of reward are at fault. He has simply applied sound business acumen to building a brand, then selling it.

With money saving on trend, Martin’s deal speaks volumes about the capacity to turn a profit when so many people are struggling. For my part, I founded Zero-credit because there was nowhere to find savings that improved my insolvent state - unable to bogof without the one I could not afford, #creditfree was born. Thus, beyond the similarity of my £150 investment in a website in 2009, compared to Martin’s £100 nine years ago, our businesses have never run the same course.

Earlier this year, our Coop was quite vocal about Martin’s proximity to MoneySupermarket. How could someone so critical of debt management firms and payday lenders receive an income from a company that refers consumers to both? #duecredit to Martin, he effected an introduction and MoneySupermarket could not have been more earnest about their desire to connect people safely to products and services that so many were already using. In the fight against scammers you cannot fault either.

That both believe they are acting in the consumer’s interest is not in question, it is rather the impartiality of financial advice, funded by referral fees, which is the issue. This is why Zero-credit has never taken a penny in advertising, sponsorship or backlinks. To be truthful, we dallied briefly with promoting savings accounts from mutuals this time last year, but our Members hated it and no one used it, so the page came down within a month. It confirmed our starting point that the market is crying out for recommendations with absolutely no possibility of strings attached.

Later this month, we celebrate our third digital birthday and our annual site revamp will feature much more of our work informing financial services in the UK. So, if you’re one of the 39 million MSE users feeling a little irked that your digital footprint was sold for £2.23, why not pay a pound to own a share in our co-operative?  It’s unlikely that anyone at Zero-credit will ever make £87million, but there is no doubt that we are the shape of things to come.


Lifetime Membership (individual) £1.00 Lifetime Membership (couple) £2.00