personal finance

Weekend catchup — this week’s personal finance headlines

Centrica warns British Gas bills may have to rise again

Centrica, the owner of British Gas, raised the prospect of a further rise in household energy tariffs this year after it reported a drop in operating profits in the first six months amid higher wholesale prices and cold weather, writes Sylvia Pfeifer.

Shares in the FTSE 100 energy group fell more than 5 per cent to 144p even as it reassured investors it would maintain its full-year dividend this year. 

Centrica said adjusted operating profit in its consumer business fell 20 per cent to £430m in the year to the end of June 2018. The group’s UK household gas and electricity supply arm was hit by last year’s cap on tariffs for vulnerable households, the loss of customers and rising wholesale energy prices.

British Gas raised its standard variable tariff (SVT) in April but Centrica said on Tuesday that wholesale costs had continued to rise and it was keeping “wholesale energy prices and their impact on our cost of supply under review”. 


Welfare reform risks exacerbating domestic abuse, MPs warn

© Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The UK government’s flagship social security reform, universal credit, is reversing decades of hard-won equality for women, according to Frank Field, who chairs the Commons work and pensions committee, writes Robert Wright.

The committee published a report on Wednesday warning that the way universal credit is paid out to most recipients — in a single payment made to one member of the family — risked exacerbating domestic abuse. The committee said the system could give an abusive partner control over a large monthly sum that was some families’ only source of income.

Universal credit, which merges six previous benefits, was intended to improve the incentives for welfare recipients to work. But the rollout of the benefit has been bedevilled by long delays and sharp criticisms. In June, the National Audit Office said the system was costing more to deliver than the benefits it replaced, concluding it was uncertain whether the system would ever represent value for money.


UK mortgage approvals tick up to 5-month high


Mortgage approvals for house purchases hit a five-month high in June, while growth in credit-card borrowing reached the second-highest level since the financial crisis, according to figures published by the Bank of England on Monday, writes Gavin Jackson.

A total of 65,519 mortgages were approved for house purchases during the month, the highest level since January and up from 64,684 in May.

The housing market in London has slowed over the past two years, as demand from buy-to-let investors has fallen after tax changes. Transactions in the capital were 20 per cent lower in 2017 compared with the previous year, according to official figures.

Howard Archer, chief economic adviser to the EY Item club, a forecasting group, said: “While housing market activity has climbed off its 2018-lows, the impression remains that it is still struggling to really pick up a gear amid challenging conditions.”


EU national challenges HMRC over new data sharing rules

HM Revenue & Customs: ‘HMRC shares some personal data with overseas tax authorities to ensure that the right tax is being paid’ © Louisa Svensson/Alamy

An EU national is challenging HM Revenue & Customs over new rules that require tax authorities around the world to exchange information automatically on millions of their citizens who live abroad, writes Barney Thompson.

In a complaint to the UK’s data protection regulator, the EU citizen said the common reporting standard — a key measure against tax evasion developed by international experts that is now being gradually introduced by more than 100 countries — made her personal information vulnerable to cyber hacking or an accidental leak.

However, campaigners have defended the measure, saying it was an important tool in the fight against tax avoidance and evasion, notably through offshore financial centres.


Foxtons swings into loss as London market weakens

What really led investors to buy into Foxtons?

A slowdown in London’s once red-hot housing market has placed further pressure on real estate agency Foxtons, which on Monday reported a half-year loss for the first time since listing in 2013, write Aime Williams and Adam Samson.

The group lost £2.5m over the first six months of 2018 as fewer people looked to buy and sell homes in the UK capital. Over the same period last year, Foxtons made £3.8m pre-tax profit.

It is not the only estate agency to struggle this year. Countrywide, a larger listed rival with sales and lettings operations across the country, has also seen profits collapse.


UK gender pay reporting should be extended say MPs

Thousands of people celebrate International Women’s Day in London in March © Wiktor Szymanowicz/Alamy

Small businesses should be required to publish gender pay gap figures alongside big companies — and all submissions should include plans for how to tackle gender pay disparities, say MPs, writes Gavin Jackson.

The business, energy and industrial strategy committee on Thursday called for reporting on the difference in hourly earnings between male and female workers to be widened to include all companies with more than 50 employees.

Under government rules introduced last year, companies and public sector organisations with more than 250 employees must publish mean and median gender pay gaps, the proportion of men and women in each quartile pay band and the differences in average bonuses between genders.



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