January 25, 2006

Dud online deliveries

Ocado simply doesn't work for me. In theory, you order your Waitrose shopping online (which seems to take longer than doing it yourself anyway) and then it turns up a day or two later at an allotted time. Spend more than £75 and they deliver for free.Ocado060705_100x110

I first tried it a couple of months ago but most of the order was missing. I then had to call up and wait 10 days for a refund. It kind of defeats the object of reducing the stress of shopping.

Several hundred spam emails later I decided to give it a go. My wife tells me the shopping didn't arrive until 8.15am this morning rather than in the promised 7am-8am slot (although the driver called to warn us) - and the smoked salmon (it was an occasional treat!) was missing.

My £3.99 is apparently being recharged to my card. That doesn't help with the lonely ingredient in my cream cheese sandwiches. Thanks Ocado.

- Andrew Oxlade, This is Money

Useful links

Ocado delivers its breakthrough profit

Online grocers deliver the goods ...apparently

How to post a comment - tell all about your online shopping woes

January 24, 2006

The High Street is dead - good riddance

One of the dubious perks of working for an online publication and having constant access to the internet is, during those rare spare moments, being able to dip into the huge electronic library of the fascinating and the pointless that makes up much of the world wide web**.

Current favourites include the ongoing round-up of deadly toys and glass-filled pies on the Trading Standards' products recall page.

Also bookmarked is the Advertising Standards Authority ajudications page for the insight it provides into the British psyche, and Theatre Monkey with its guides of exactly where to sit and not to sit at each of London's theatres.

Everyone should set aside time in their lives to visit the fantastic Internet Movie Database - even if it is just to look up some of the worst films of all time and images of the infamous waxworks in Great Yarmouth are always worth a click - or two.

But nothing really captures that mix of hyperbole and disappointment that for many people sums up this interwebthingy than the plethora of lookalike agencies that feature click after click of astonishing comeonyou'rehavingmeonalikes. Heeere's Buddy.

I mention all this because I too am something of a lookalike, or so I'm led to believe. An unwilling one but it has nonetheless been noted over the years that I bear a passing resemblance to one-time Smiths frontman Morrisey, to Superman's alter ego Clarke Kent and any number of podgy dark-haired blokes with glasses.

(Judging by the competition I could even get a job as Buddy Holly lookalike if there really is work out there for people who died 47 years ago).

Looking like other people is an affliction that can throw up the odd amusing moment with foreign tourists and autograph books (I never sign), but there's a less appealing side - as I was reminded the other day.

Only this time the incident has probably changed my life forever.

I was happily queuing in a small High Street store I've frequented on and off for the best part of a decade when the piggy-eyed assistant somewhere in his 50s mistook me for someone else. Who? I've no idea and nor do I particularly want to, but the result was one of the most abject displays of public rudeness I've witnessed.

As he steamed and fumed and muttered and spluttered and splattered my change and goods on to the counter, while squealing obscenities to himself and other bemused shoppers in the queue, I realised that this would be the last time I would ever set foot in the shop.

Then the more I thought about it, the more I realised that for far too long I've been sticking up for little guys and their inappropriate opening hours, their lack of parking, the high prices, the rudeness, lack of choice, poor quality and the whole miserable second-rate experience.

Why put up with this? It is quite clear from 'worst gloom in 22 years' that fewer and fewer of us are.

If everyone is so worried about the onslaught of the supermarkets, which have an apparently almost Communist hold over our lives and our diets, why then are the alternatives so steadfastly useless? Low unemployment clearly has downside when our 'quaint' shops are forced to allow porcine degenerates deal face-to-face with the public - but that's no excuse.

I can sit at my computer and buy almost anything I want in minutes online. And as an extra privilege of paying less for the stuff - someone will bring it to my house more or less when I want.

That's service. That's the internet and that's the future.

The High Street is dead and unless the idiots who run it don't wake up to the threat and start treating their customers with a bit of respect and thought it will never be resurrected.

Richard Browning - This is Money

Useful links

MONEY SHOP: Save money with our deal finders

BLOG: Mind your manners

BLOG: Please chugg off

SPECIAL REPORT: Supermarket watch

** (To clear this up once and for all the internet is the whole global computer network that allows us to view websites, send emails and carry out other clever bits and pieces, the world wide web is the bit with the websites on it).

Money Etiquette - Part Two

Is it polite to let people know which charities you are supporting?

Strange question? Well, around the family dinner table last week it cropped up. And it was a split decision. Half of the people argued charity pins and ribbons, such as for AIDs and breast cancer awareness, and plastic bracelets such as for Lance Armstrong's Livestrong cancer charity, are a good thing.

Why? Because they raised money and, crucially, awareness. By people seeing the pin or bracelet they become conscious of the charity and, hopefully, what it does.

However, the other half of the table argued that you should give your money and keep quiet..............that it was somehow impolite or distasteful to display your generosity.

Let me know what you think.

Post your comments below. No need to put in a URL.

- James Coney

BT openworld is shut...

Here's a problem that, unless solved, is going to leave me much poorer. We have dial up BT openworld internet at home (yes, I know broadband is faster, and we are planning to switch but can't do anything until the following problem is sorted out). Anyway, our home internet for which we pay something like £15 a month isn't working. So we need to call up the helpline. And the helpline costs 50p (!) a minute (!!!!!!!). And, of course, because we are on dial up, that means phoning up on my husband's pay as you go mobile, which the BT website informs me 'may cost more'.

I have no idea how to get round this problem. Either we have no internet at home or we end up paying BT £££££s to sort it out. Any ideas?

Charlotte Beugge

January 20, 2006

Postal horrors

Thanks to all blog readers who left their Royal Mail tales of woe (click on my archive, right, to read the thread) after I reported how much post comes through my door addressed elsewhere.

One reader, Frank, reckons everyone should complain just to get the free stamps that are apparently doled out to shut people up. Frank, is that such a clever idea? What happens if the postman gets told off and decides to take revenge on the complaining household? Huh?

These guys are delivering our passports, driving licences, birthday cards, the lot. I don't think I'd like to make enemies of them.

Anyhow I rang Royal Mail's press office to ask how many stamps are given away as compensation each year. No answer as yet... I'll stick it up here when it comes.

Meanwhile, there's some interesting stuff on the postal watchdog's site - see here.

Postwatch says 8.7 million letters are delivered to the wrong address every year. It says Royal Mail pays out £11m in compensation (much of which I guess is for these misdelivered items), so that's worth around 40 million first class stamps.

Postwatch also has complaints forms and a diary where you can log the postie's glitches - useful stuff if you're suffering persistent misdelivery.

Some angry folk have set up a site called Hell Mail, all decked out in Royal Mail livery: take a look here. There's an interesting tale about criminals masquerading as postmen in order to get their hands on people's post or other information - and the site mentions the fact that Royal Mail uniforms are available on eBay.

Sure enough, see here, there's a couple of pairs of trousers (around £4) caps, ties - yes, it's out there.... There was a fleece too when I looked yesterday, but someone seems to have bought it.

Damn - I would have looked so good in that.

- Richard Dyson

A taxing time

Being nearly seven months pregnant, I am being careful to allow for 1) my appalling memory 2) my inclination to burst into tears whenever confronted with anything vaguely vexatious or unpleasant. I think I've overcome the hormones this week because I've managed to remember to pay my tax bill - and I didn't even shed a tear when handing over a huge cheque to Her Maj's Revenue & Customs.

I think this is somewhat of an achievement - but of course, forgetting to pay would have been even more traumatic. Imagine, interest added at a rate of 6.5 per cent a year on unpaid tax after the January 31 deadline has passed and yikes, a surcharge if you still owe money by February. And it was definitely worth the hike down to the tax office to hand the cheque over rather than worry about it ever getting there by post.

- Charlotte Beugge

Tax advice and tips

An alternative guide to... wills

There are three certainties in life:

1. You will be born.
2. You will die.
3. Before you die you will read approximately 75,279 newspaper and magazine articles stressing the importance of making a will.

And if you have any sense of responsibility towards your family you will cut out these articles and keep them in a file as a reminder that you really must get round to making a will before, well, see 2. The file will be marked

‘Things To Do: Fairly Urgent’.

Unfortunately, if you’re the kind of person who keeps such a file, the chances are you will also have another one marked ‘Things To Do: Not Very Urgent’. And this is a problem.

For this is the file packed with all the fun stuff; the To Dos you don’t mind doing such as the competition entry forms, the money-off vouchers for tubs of margarine and those surveys that come with new toasters. You know: ‘Register your guarantee within the next two weeks and we’ll enter your name in our prize draw to win another  toaster.’

If there was a competition to win a will, then you would have sorted it out years ago. But there isn’t. For a start, what would the questions be?

If you die without a will you are:

- Intestine
- Intestate
- Council estate

Come to think of it ITV's daytime schedule has probably featured something very similar. But in general,  competitions with death at the core aren't popular.

But you must make a will. All those articles say so. So if you haven’t taken the plunge yet, here’s another article. (Ok so this time it's on the internet but there’s a print button on your browser menu for filing purposes). >>Read the full alternative guide here

Richard Browning - This is Money

Did you know...

This is Money has a new section dedicated to everything you need to know about wills, probate

And please welcome our new commercial will writing partner, Sovereign Will & Probate

Ask an expert about tax and wills

Search our archive for information on inheritance tax and how to avoid paying it

January 18, 2006

Please chugg off

I think I am a reasonably tolerant person. But surely I can't be the only one who really hates chuggers? If you're lucky enough not to know what I'm talking about, let me fill you in. These are the usually young people who approach you whenever you're walking down a shopping street. You can identify them because they've got a clipboard and are wearing a usually bright coloured vest with a name of a famous charity on them. The aim of the chugger (a charity mugger) is to make you hand over your bank details so you can give said charity a monthly payment.

Obviously giving to charity is a good thing - especially if you give it through Gift Aid so the good cause gets the tax back on your contribution - but really, these chuggers aren't encouraging me to think well of their cause by jumping out at me waiving a clipboard and being super friendly. They just remind me of those weirdos who used to hang round the dodgier parts of the West End trying to get you involved in whatever cult was offering lentils, love and personality tests that week.

Anyway, the message is if you want to give to charity, you can do it without succumbing to the chuggers. Payroll giving, Gift Aid and indeed writing your favourites charity into your will are good ideas and are tax efficient. Chuggers surely are as much a scar on the nation's high streets as boring chain stores and coffee shops pushing out the proper shopkeepers.

- Charlotte Beugge

Don't miss This is Money's giving section.

January 17, 2006

A plea to Natwest

Another example of banks not quite telling you the whole story.

I was in the local branch of Natwest this morning.

As I was finishing up at the counter the assistant asked: 'Did you know you are entitled to an upgrade on your account?'

'Upgrade?'

'Yes, upgrade. To our Advantage Gold account.'

'Your packaged account?'

'Yes.'

'No thanks'.

The question remains. Upgrade! What upgrade? Sure a packaged account could leave me better off. But it could also leave me worse off because for the extra services you pay more than £100 a year.

It is certainly a different type of bank account to the one I have now, but an upgrade......?

I wish banks would just tell you the whole story. Thousands of Natwest customers will be being offered this 'upgrade', many will take it thinking that it is somehow an improvement on what they have now. But unless they actually know how to use the services on offer and need them they will be worse off. What kind of an improvement is that?

So please, Natwest, stop calling it an 'upgrade' and just tell customers what you are really trying to sell them.

- James Coney

January 14, 2006

Is it mad to trust the post?

Does anyone out there get other people's mail? Each week I get several items marked for other people at other addresses. Usually nearby. Mostly I deliver it on myself by hand, if it's very near; but sometimes I just shove it in the post box and give it another shot at finding the right home....

If I'm getting someone else's mail, someone else is getting mine, surely....

Not very confidence-inspiring, is it? Makes me worried, every time I send off a cheque.

- Richard Dyson

December 15, 2005

The Sky's the limit

Where exactly is pay TV heading? It is all becoming very confusing.

The last few years have been relatively simple. There was Sky and there was cable. You chose one and you chose a package of programmes. But then we started getting the extras, channels such as FilmFour and niche channels like MUTV which fall outside these packages.

Suddenly there are an increasing number of these. Then comes along Freeview which brought us Top-up TV. Suddenly, by the day, the number of channels which are classed as extras seems to have multiplied.

I'm worried because when I lived in Italy I saw the mess that their pay-per-view TV networks were in. Just on something as simple as football, if you wanted to watch Juventus home games then you had to have one channel, Milan home games a separate channel, to see them play away you needed another channel..and so on. But that did not include cup games, which were all on another channel. It sounds like madness, but basically if you wanted to follow the national sport you would have had to sign up to three or four individual pay channels. It would have cost a fortune.

But is this where we are heading in the UK? Sky is already around £40 a month, cable can be around £30.

It is just another financial decision that can drain your household budget if you don't get it exactly right.

Have you got any views on pay-per-view TV. Post them below (No URL necessary).

- James Coney

December 08, 2005

Don't cheque this out

Credit card cheques are evil.

That is my opinion anyway. if your credit card provider sends you any through the post this Christmas my advice is to do to them what you do to all junk mail: Rip it up and recycle it.

Most people out there simply do not understand what interest rate you will pay when you use them. It is bad enough that credit card rates are already around 16 pc, but credit card cheques are around 20 pc.

On top of this there is a handling fee or a minimum charge of £2 (though it has to be said that some providers, such as Halifax, do not charge this).

Thankfully, the Office of Fair Trading seems to want to act. It has launched an investigation into how consumers understand the terms and conditions on the cheques and is threatening to force companies to stamp the interest rate on the front.

Even so, I'm with the Consumers Association, which wants them scrapped outright.

Have you got any thoughts? Post your comments below. No URL necessary.

December 06, 2005

If only the service were high speed

What is wrong with internet providers?

I haven't seen a single one that has good customer service. Every week my email inbox brims with readers that have had shoddy service from their broadband provider. Normally they have come to the end of their tether having emailed, written and then waited on the end of a phone line that rings and rings until they are blue in the face.

The problem is that there is very little the average consumer can do about it. If your internet connection packs up then most of us have to beg and plead with our provider until we are reconnected successfully.

So what price customer service? These days broadband will cost you from about £14.99 a month, up to about £23 depending on what speed of service you get. If you have been with your provider for more than 12 months then it is probably time to change.

But while technology has improved massively, and prices have dropped by almost half, customer service for something, that for many households is a part of everyday life, is staggeringly poor.

Any comments? Sick of your broadband provider? Post your comments below. No URL necessary.

- James Coney

P.S. Don't forget to check out This is Money's campaign for justice at OneTel.

December 03, 2005

Making This is Money even better

Myself and the team at This is Money have always strived to make the site the best there is for money news and advice. Now we're trying even harder.

This week, a group of our users were kind enough to come in and give their opinions on the site. It was fascinating to hear where we're getting it right and where we're getting it wrong. We're going to do lots more of these sessions. (It pays at least £30, if you're interested) and then make some changes.

Some of the comments from the first one included how much they loved our savings stuff - especially Sascha's investigation of ICICI bank's top interest rate - and Tony Hetherington's scam investigations.

It was also quite startling the number of people who didn't realise the range of money-saving tools This is Money has to offer. Check them out in our Money Shop.

What I want to hear now is if there's anything else you love or hate about the website. Post your comments below (ignoring the URL box as usual) and we promise not to ever use or pass on your email address.

- Andrew Oxlade

December 01, 2005

Reindeer sushi, anyone?

Having just had my first mince pie of the year I am now officially in the Christmas spirit. Hence I've been buying Christmas cards. I admit I am very superficial and look for pretty pictures first. But then I don't want to be thought of as mean spirited, so I have to pick charity cards too. I opted for some very posh Japanesy-ish pics (do they have Christmas in Japan? I bet they don't eat mince pies) which give money to a very right-on and worthy sounding charity. However, as just 40p of the £3.50 I've paid for the cards goes to said charity, I wonder if I would have been better off buying cheapo ones off a market stall and just giving money to the cause instead. It may not make my friends and relatives think much of me (or my taste) but it might have been a more Christmas-sprited thing to do.

- Charlotte Beugge

November 28, 2005

The cost of true love...

We're going to a wedding reception on Friday night. Rather than the usual South London bun fight (wedding list at Argos, reception at the tenants' association hall, sausage rolls, bridesmaids crying in the loo and the ever-present prospect of a fight) this is a Posh Do up north (of the river) in Mayfair.

The bride and groom haven't made it easy for guests and have asked for contributions towards their exotic honeymoon. Hereby lies the problem. How much do we give? Do we work it based on how many canapes/glasses of fizz we're going to neck? Or how much we like them? Do we put a few fivers in a brown envelope? Or do we ignore the whole thing and buy them a teasmade? Surely it would be easier on everyone if they just eloped.

- Charlotte Beugge

P.S. Also see - Wedding guests outspend hosts

November 23, 2005

Heathrow Express

I've been away two weeks, hence blogging absence.

But on my return to the UK I discovered something which may be of use to Heathrow travellers: Heathrow Express, the shuttle link between the airport and Paddington Station in West London, is now sharing its airport platforms with commuter trains that also go to Paddington. And they're a lot cheaper.

A single journey to town on Heathrow Express costs £14 if you buy your ticket at a machine. The journey takes 15 minutes non-stop. The commuter trains which have apparently been running on the same platforms through Heathrow since late summer take around five minutes longer, because they stop several times. But the journey costs £9.50.

Given that air tickets are available for less than the cost of the 15-mile journey on the Express, it's a saving worth making. Also, platform information at the airport should mke it clear that there are cheaper alternatives to the Express.

Any thoughts? Post your comments below...

- Richard Dyson

November 21, 2005

not so painful extraction of £70

One of my collegues, so young he has only just lost his milk teeth, has been having a horrible time in trying to get signed up to an NHS dentist; a species as rare as a blade of grass on a Faisalabad cricket pitch. Even when he thought he'd found a dentist willing to look at his pearly whites, he waited an hour before being told the dentist didn't really want to see him (or some such excuse).

  Given that, the £70 I've just paid for a quarter of an hour check up by my private dentist seems cheap. As the comfortable waiting room contains up to date copies of every glossy magazine (rather than flea-blown editions of Women's Realm from the 70s) I was as ever rather disappointed not to be kept waiting for even a second before I was seen. So, not a money saving tip - but surely a time and stress-saving one?

November 18, 2005

Where's my Christmas bonus?

I worked at a fresh pasta factory as one of my first jobs. The mind-sucking boredom of dropping pasta into a plastic box was eased only by the exceptional festive generosity of my Italian bosses.

With reassuring predictability, each Christmas Eve we lined up and received a bottle of nothing but the finest Asti Spumante. It was a nice drop.

So come on UK plc - what's happened to the Christian ethos of giving and sharing:

Our Christmas bonus poll shows only two out of ten of us can expect the boss to slip something extra into our stocking this year.

- Andrew Oxlade

P.S. Here's my Christmas money Tip: buy a frozen turkey rather than a fresh one. See a whole load of other tips in our fab new Christmas section - www.thisismoney.co.uk/xmas

P.P.S. If you were miffed about your xmas bonus then here's some more bad news - you've missed the best day to ask for a pay rise - unless you read This is Money every day and then you would have seen it ;)

(How to post a comment)

November 17, 2005

I don't like to complain but...

I hate complaining about anything. I've eaten countless dreadful meals but when asked if everything is alright, I've not said anything. I've even put up with those gorgons on so-called helplines, reasoning that it's not their fault they are so rubbish, they're just working to a script and how would I feel working in a human version of a battery chicken farm?

But I know the theory about how to complain efficiently - and this applies to all kind of services, be they financial or whatever. You find out the name of the chief executive of whatever company/corporation has got your goat. You send him a recorded delivery letter.

My theory is that his secretary will be so annoyed that she's had to troop down to the postroom to sign for the blessed thing that you will go to the top of the intray. However, I've no bright ideas on how to complain face to face: I usually just bluster and hope I sound impressive. Has anybody got any tips on how to get your complaint heard without losing your cool?

- Charlotte Beugge

P.S. I did lose my rag slightly today with the good old NHS when a consultant 'forgot' my appointment. I thought I was really scary until I got to work and realised I had my skirt on inside out. Who could be scared by someone who can't even dress themselves? So, make sure you can dress yourself properly before you go out in the morning if you might face battles with authority...

November 14, 2005

Food for Thought

Would you pay extra to go to a food-free cinema?

I think I would. Yesterday I went to my local Odeon and after paying £16 for the two of us, then sat in a smelly, cold room and for the first half an hour of the film could hear nothing but the people munching popcorn and crisps less than a yard from me. Yuk!

It was an unpleasant experience and detracted from what otherwise was a very good film (The Constant Gardener, since you asked. Go see it!)

Cinemas make a fortune from the food and drink they sell. Surely they can have showings, or at least seating, for those of us that do not want to fill our faces while we watch a film?

October 28, 2005

Hotlines to hell

Liberal Democrat MP David Laws has found out that one in three calls to the Child Support Agency go unanswered or are cut off. An appalling statistic, doubtless, but at least now that the problem is aired something can be done to fix it.

What about the phone nightmares that we're all put through when we try to contact the multitudes of private-sector companies that we deal with? For starters, someone should conduct some research into how long customers are kept on hold when they try to contact - of all firms - BT.

Or how about Barclays, or Lloyds TSB, or Intelligent Finance...? It's not the call centre staff that customers have a problem with. In fact many of us feel rather sorry for these folk, see here. The real problem is with the menu-spouting computerised creature from hell that greets you in the first instance.

And why do these organisations all have trillions of phone numbers covering every service under the sun? It seems that whatever number you call when you want some simple thing, like a new chequebook, you're told you've rung the wrong department.

- Richard Dyson

October 17, 2005

Welcome

Let me take this opportunity to welcome you to the new Money Blog. As you'll see from the posts below, the aim is to give us, the financial writers and experts, a chance to give you greater insight into how we hold the world of business and finance to account. But it is also a way of us giving even more hints and tips on how you can save yourself money and how you can make more money.

Try using some of the links on this page to get an idea of what the archive and the categories have to offer. You might also like to join in with the blog by writing your own comments, which take just a few seconds to post.

I'd be delighted to read your thoughts on what we have done here so far and how we can make it better.

- Andrew Oxlade

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Andrew Oxlade Richard Dyson James Coney Charlotte Beugge This is Money team