There was a much-publicised drop in the Consumer Price Index, despite other domestic bills and costs continuing to increase this month.

The Government proudly announced that inflation fell from 2.6% to 2.5% in August, however September has seen calls by the AA to investigate the price of diesel fuel and many energy suppliers have also increased price tariffs in advance of capped rate offer from last year expiring at the end of September.

Under pressure from consumer groups, the OFT has agreed to launch an inquiry into fuel price rises, with diesel having risen 43% from June 2007 compare to petrol, which has increased by 38% in the same period. In addition to continued instability in the Middle East, the OFT is expected to look at the competition occurring between independent pump stations and the major supermarkets to see if competition is being stifled by the main suppliers (thus effectively limiting consumer choice).

There is also an annual outcry over the rates at which some energy companies increase prices. Granted, following the fall of confidence and investment in nuclear power following the Fukishima plant meltdown, it was likely that natural gas and oil prices would increase due to demand, but invariably energy suppliers continue to make large profits despite a few conciliatory fixed rate packages offered to consumers.

The sharp-eyed and eared out there may have already started experiencing the slew of energy company cold-calling and sales tactics to try and win over consumers to “cheaper” rates. Last year many of these rates suddenly escalated after an aggressive sales push by a well-known energy provider. Although you are well-advised to shop around for the best price, be careful of the small print and get a competitive price locked in for as long as you are able!

Ultimately, although much political mileage is made out of the Consumer Price Index, it doesn’t tend to reflect the daily experience of consumers. House repairs and mortgage rates become some complicated to calculate in the index they are left out, other issues emerge around price selection of products and the actual methodology used is frequently criticised and debated among statisticians: it becomes clear that you need to be very specific in the questions you wish the CPI to answer . . . as a generally indicator it is highly flawed.

 
 
It can't have escaped anyone's attention that RBS and its subsidiaries; NatWest and Ulster Bank have had difficulties with their payment processing systems for the last two weeks. Following a software update glitch, customers have been unable to access their account funds from ATMs, make payments to creditors via direct debits or even get their salaries cleared in some cases.

Whilst expressing sincere regret at the inconvenience caused, RBS CEO Stephen Hester has also promised customers that they will not end up out of pocket as a result of any problems caused by the disruption. In addition to increasing call centre staff, banking hours have been extended past the usual opening times to deal with customer problems, and branches are even opening on Sundays in order to clear the backlog of payments.

If you are affected, it would be advisable to ensure that you keep track of your payments, expected income and outgoings, as well as any payments you know you will have difficulties in making due to funds not being present from a salary, etc. Although RBS has pledged to resolve all issues caused, it will make life easier for everyone if you can supply documentation to support any claim you have for late payment charges or the like.

A good way of doing this is getting hold of a free copy of your credit repot. This will show any negative effects on your credit score that may have been caused by the processing disturbance - RBS should then be able to assist you in contacting your creditors and getting this successfuly challenged - and removed - from your record, restoring your rating.

It is also worth being proactive and letting any scheduled lenders know you might have difficulties as a result of the recent issues in paying on time. Again, this will help getting any adverse notes on your file challenged and removed once the software update issue is resolved.
 
 
The Independent recently published results from a survey of 2,000 motorists highlighting concern over rising fuel prices. Although price of petrol has been a regular concern since protests first occurred over the litre price exceeding £1, no further direct action has been seen since the Government intervened in the potential Easter haulier strike. However pump prices have continued to edge north and now the survey responses find that a further increase of 15p per litre - not an unthinkable amout given the volatility of the prices this year - could see as many as 85% of motorists abandoning their transport in favour of other options.

For some this would mean a shift to public transport, however rail prices are also at inflation-busting levels and wouljd ultimately pass across increase in fuel costs to their customers also . . . it's pointing at the need for a radical shift in taxing policy in order to cement any growth and assist those having financial diffculties to keep their monthly wages protected form commuting costs.

Forecourts have been reporting decreased fuel sales for several months now, with the average purchase dropping to a level where many are putting "minimum purchase" amounts on the pumps. Despite a brief flurry of panic-buying during the prospect of a strike by tanker drivers, in general the public is filling up with less, less often.

If you are struggling with debts or are trying to improve a bad credit situation, then paying attention to your fuel costs is very important:
 - Consider whether you need to use a car for shorter trips instead of walking
 - Frequent short trips burn more fuel - try and combine short hops into a longer route so your engine works more efficiently
 - Keep your car well-maintained. A tuned engine and properly inflated tyres wil reduce fuel consumption
 - Stick to the speed limit - travelling at less than 60 mph is more efficient for most engine's fule consumption
 - If you have an older car, consider whether a more modern fuel-effcient model may make more economic sense
 - If you travel a great deal, consider switching to a diesel engine

Although increased rises in fuel shouljd favour those with hybrid engines, sadly these types of vehicle are still prohibitively expensive. Huge demand is keeping the prices of even second-hand models extremely high, but if you see a good deal on a hybrid or "fuel sipper", subject to it passing the usual checks it may be a worthwile investment and help your credit card bill when it comes to keeping fuelled each month.

 
 
UK feline charity Cats Protection published a press release recently comprising figures which indicate that an increasing number of people are putting their pet kitties up for adoption in the wake of the country's recessive economy status. Concurrently, the number of people volunteering to look after a homeless moggie is dropping. 

Let's take a closer look at the figures contained within the press release:
  • The number of people wanting to adopt a cat fell by 31 per cent (5,016 in 2010 o 3,471 in 2011);
  • The number of people wanting to give up a cat increased by 14 per cent (8,308 in 2010 to 9,459 in 2011) and
  • The number of people reporting stray cats increased by 7 per cent (6,924 in 2010 to 7,426 in 2011)
Whilst these figures are sad, I can't say that I find them particularly surprising - it's not only the food and medical bills of humans that are becoming increasingly costly! When one finds it hard to meet the costs of their utility bills each month, arguably they are in no position to provide the necessary care for a cat.

But do you agree with this sentiment? Are you a pet owner despite your financial difficulties? Be sure to share your thoughts with me below.
 
 
The UK officially entered recession once more, prompting the dreaded “double-dip” that the government had hoped (and assured us) wouldn’t happen.

Aside from raising the spectre of getting a credit rating downgrade, this grim statistic also marks the longest period of recession that the country has experienced in the last century (excepting the two World Wars, which even so saw dramatic recovery afterwards).

Despite welcome investment in the UK from the Japanese car industry, the poor consumer is being shuffled into the cross-hairs, with the Chancellor saying that higher consumer spending was needed in order to boost the economy.

It’s disappointing that after admonishing the UK public for the 1.4 trillion pounds of personal debt, politicians are now encouraging people to spend more just as (a) they can least afford it and (b) by the evidence of some independent surveys, are doing the right thing and cutting back on their debt.

It seems disingenuous (at best) to suggest that people take on more personal debt just to help the country get out of its own. Right now people are largely being sensible, trying to live within their means and also seeking to put aside savings. Apart from some tactical use of credit cards to improve credit rating (and gain access to cheaper forms of credit), people simply don’t feel wealthy enough to be lavishing money in the economy.

After calling for national austerity measures, cutting back on benefits and writing off large tax bills for wealthy corporations, is it really the responsibility of the public to ignore the hard work they have put into being financially secure?

 
 
Despite the recent announcement that inflation had hit an all-time low, many consumers are finding that low wages or less-than-expected wage increases are seeing their overall income eroded through the higher price of living. With expected protests over fuel prices happening later next month and the army on standby to deliver tanker consignments to petrol stations, other workers have found that in real terms, they are getting less out of their wage packets each month and having less to save or cover bills.

 - Transportation costs are rising. In addition to the increase on fuel, rail companies have posted recession-busting increases on ticket prices, despite posting regular multi-million company profits and receiving taxpayer cash through Government subsidies. With an annual season ticket from the coast to the capital (including the Underground) costing in excess of £4,000 a year, many are finding any wage increases swallowed up by travel and have faced an effective pay freeze for several years. With rail transport in the UK amongst the most expensive in Europe and customer satisfaction with the overall service at a record low, many are now seriously considering lower-paid jobs out of the capital to reduce their commuter bill.

 - Fuel costs as mentioned are also on the increase. In addition to those driving on a regular basis, the costs to heat and power homes are also flying in the face of inflation and supposed regulation of the industry prices. With increased turmoil in the Middle east affecting output, and investment in nuclear energy taking a serious setback after the shortcomings of current reactor design were exposed in the recent Japanese Tsunami disaster, reliance has once again been shifted onto fossil fuels for energy and the increased competition for resources has helped drive prices up.

 - Household groceries are also topping the weekly or monthly bill. Despite every major supermarket retailer jumping on the consumer-centric "we're all in this together" bandwagon, several tactics at inflating prices have been exposed by consumer watchdogs, and it's difficult to assess what genuine costs are being inevitably passed on to consumers from increased delivery and transportation expenses, and what's simply being gouged from loss-leaders and "roll-backs" from prices that have only featured in shops for a number of days. The trick is to keep a copy of a previous receipt and keep track of what average price commonly-bought products are. This way, suddent jumps in prices (as much as 30-40% on some products) can be avoided.