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 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.