Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Mortgage Prisoners - Let Battle Commence!

The banks were saying "You can't afford to pay less"!!!
So, after dragging their heels for years, with the FCA (the cornerstone of 'Fairness' purportedly) having proved themselves utterly toothless, the banks are finally going to be writing to mortgage borrowers stuck on high interest rates (typically SVR) before the end of the year to offer them a better deal ... still in no hurry, then ...
I've previously blogged here (with links to earlier posts) about their appalling exploitation of borrowers who were already struggling and more recently I've contributed to the Facebook group 'Mortgage Prisoners UK' - people trapped in unfair deals for any number of reasons.

There are all sorts of excuses the banks have used to try to justify applying higher rates but, given that FCA was usually way behind the ball or at best woolly in its guidance, they got away with it by hiding behind the biggest smokescreen of all - that they couldn't disclose the reasons for their lending decisions because they were "commercially sensitive" - which gave borrowers seeking to complain to the Ombudsman (FOS) no grounds to contest. In the meantime they continued to conveniently misinterpret, ignore or straight out disregard the spirit of the guidance provided and the plight of those they knew they had over a barrel.

Well at last, and largely due to Money Saving Expert's relentless efforts to raise the profile of this issue, we have some sort of tenet admission by the industry that things need to change, but the battle's not even half won. Many of those in the Facebook group - possibly the majority - had their Northern Rock loans taken over by the likes of Landmark, who are likely to slip through the net again because they were companies formed specifically to take over NRAM's loan book and are hence unable to offer new products.  Can you imagine having been a Northern Rock borrower and having the decision about who your new provider would be taken away from you, therefore leaving you exposed to being held to ransom?

And that's still not where it ends - people were put on SVR for many other reasons, including arrears resulting from a change in income.  Suddenly they were a higher risk, so they were put on a higher rate at the next anniversary of their loan - despite the guidance saying that affordability checks shouldn't be applied to existing loans.  And, when they were back in the black, banks like Santander KEPT them on the higher rate for an additional year, to prove they could afford to go back to a lower one!

This is in my view the biggest scandal since PPI mis-selling ... and it's gonna run and run a while yet because nothing has been done to address retrospective complaints made to FOS, who are refusing to re-open those cases because they were ruled on at the time.  Well, if PPI claims could be backdated, and we're receiving clear signals from this most recent announcement that the banks are trying to address their impropriety, affected borrowers should be reimbursed for the difference between what they were asked to pay and any cheaper options that should have been made available to them at the time.

I urge any mortgage prisoners to make as much noise as you can to be compensated for the financial and emotional stress you've been subjected to as a result of this issue.

Thanks also to news organisations who have picked up on this - several of whom who have representatives posting on the Facebook page seeking personal stories to feature in articles. Get yours heard!

Please feel free to comment below - comments are moderated prior to being posted.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

The War on Diesel

We own a diesel car - we were encouraged to do so by Government-sponsored incentives like road tax concessions and cheaper fuel at the time, along with being rewarded by the warm fuzzy glow we felt for doing our bit to achieve the lower carbon emission levels Gordon Brown was so keen to meet at the time.

I'm sure a few politicians might also have benefited from being given the nod in their gentleman's club to invest in this sector of the motoring industry before these measures came into force.

Then we started hearing about 'particulates' and 'nitrogen oxides' and now we're being treated like the lepers of the road, with Sadiq Khan (London's Mayor) seeking to penalise us further by extending the Congestion Charge Zone to the North and South Circular roads - in my view, a completely unworkable scheme that would see me paying over £10 just to drive from my home in Putney to Putney High Street, which is just the other side of the A205 but in the same borough.

So now we have a perfectly functional, low mileage and fuel-efficient vehicle (we still burn way less fossil fuel than petrol*) that is being rendered worthless - with no apology or compensation from the Government for their reckless misguidance.
 * maybe that's the problem for the Government - declining tax revenue from volume vs petrol

So, where do we head from here? Back to petrol, and the original issues with emissions, or maybe line a few more pockets of the Old Boy Network now promoting electric? Which brings me to these:

A visual pollutant hitting our streets in droves, I hate them. They have "Folly" written all over them. However, as they profess to deliver 100% renewable energy, I don't loathe them quite as much as the concept of charging your car from your home electricity supply - I simply don't understand how it makes it OK to increase our reliance on fossil fuels - which apparently were dwindling long before this fiasco - simply by burning them before delivering the resultant power to your car by way of a cable in place of the liquid form you used to store in your tank.

And, lastly, I despair at the environmental damage of seeing our car consigned to the scrap heap before its anticipated lifespan. I see enough still useful but outdated consumer products being chucked into skips and municipal dumps, with no thought of who they might be useful to (the poor? charities?), without seeing whole vehicles taking up landfill.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Why do Press Reviewers seem to ignore Indie Writers?

The world of book publishing has been changing for some time. The recession saw the big name houses less willing to take a punt on new authors and instead choosing to stick mainly with established names or prostituting themselves with an onslaught of celebrity bios.

No wonder so many writers went down the indie route. With the advent of Amazon Kindle and 'Print on Demand' tools, they've been able to access a vast audience without having to relinquish a substantial slice of their income to either the publishers themselves or the increasingly irrelevant agents the industry still insists on using as go-betweens.

But the downside of DIY publishing is that the market has become flooded with mediocrity, making it more difficult for real talent to rise to the surface. Quality is being stifled by the sheer weight of titles a potential buyer has to trawl through, often leading to disappointment in the choices they make.

A case in point: British chicklit author Amanda Egan's books all carry 4.5 - 5*star ratings/reviews in Amazon's bookstore - and have often featured in Top 50 filters and even #1 in certain categories - but can sometimes also languish in mid-division amidst a tide of free or have-a-go wannabe titles. This is primarily due to Amazon's woefully inadequate classification system, where amateur erotica sits incongruously next to legitimate romance novels. Amazon don't even have anything as straightforward as a 'chicklit' category when writers upload their books - surely one of the biggest markets out there with heavily promoted women's writers like Jill Mansell, Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella.

So to some extent it's understandable that many romance/romcom indies slip under the radar of newspaper and magazine book reviewers - for a while eBooks appeared in their automatically generated Top 20 lists, but these were dropped when they became distorted by freebie downloads and other manipulated promotions.

But I can't help but sense a certain snobbery against writers who don't rise up through the conventional publishing channels - perhaps because only the author and the outlet benefit financially - and readers ares therefore having their choices largely dictated to by media reviewers who perhaps ignore or are not even aware of a wealth of indie talent out there.

Dare I speculate that they, or their employers, are in the publishers' pockets? - or that they perhaps find it easier just to read the books that land on their desks because the publishers have the distribution means and resources to get them there?

I hope that's not the case - and I concede that E L James may be a rare exception - but it's become my mission to raise the indie profile. It begins here.


Monday, 30 January 2017

Discuss, Debate - but Please don’t Hate

They say there is more that unites us than divides us.

Let’s start with the fact that we’re all human.  That alone should be enough of a leveller.  We start life with no pre-conceptions of others, and are shaped by our environment, influences and experiences.  All of us are flawed in some way or another and we should therefore be more tolerant of anyone else’s personal shortcomings.

But when it comes to opinions it’s evident we’re becoming increasingly marginalised.

What’s wrong with someone having a different point of view?  It allows us to consider both sides of an argument in our quest to reach a balanced understanding of important issues.  But many of us are too quick to accept anything presented as fact without verifying its validity through reliable and unbiased sources - making us vulnerable to fake news sites or groups with a narrow, militant agenda.

About the only thing that prevented the 2017 Women’s March descending into total farce - because the individual agendas were so jumbled there were actually areas of moral contradiction - was that they were united by a common cause, albeit that the banner of oppression they were rallying under was incongruous with the freedom of speech and right to demonstrate they were clearly being allowed to exercise.

Debate is healthy but it’s getting personal now and we need to be hyper careful when we find ourselves disagreeing with family, friends or anyone else whose views we usually value on other matters.  We should listen with open minds and in a spirit of love and respect or we’ll be playing into the hands of those who are out to divide, corrupt or even destroy us at the core level of human interaction.  No cause is worth alienating those with whom we share blood or a mutual bond.  By all means try to bring them around to understanding your point of view, but don’t reject them for not adopting it.  We will never agree with anyone about everything, so accept that they are as entitled to their opinion on some matters as you are yours.

We often discover that some of the convictions we held in our youth weren’t fully formed and we’ve gone on to take a completely different stance on issues we used to be ignorant or blinkered about.  So recognise our own susceptibility to misguidance before allowing ourselves to become consumed by the arrogance of certainty that everyone should think as we do at any time - time can make a fool of you.   Instead, turn that negativity around and enjoy the warm fuzzies that come with tolerance, compassion and understanding.

None of us know it all.  We need each other because we all have different knowledge, skills and strengths.  We can create a better society by drawing on diversity to find some middle ground in the interests of serving the greater good.  Our leaders should be guardians and effective administrators, working together, not career politicians.  Giving way a little, whether at a government or personal level, needn’t be seen as compromise because everyone pays the same price to move forward instead of fracturing into ever more specific belief systems.  It doesn’t need to get political.  We are stronger united than divided.

Accept it.

Embrace it.

Be it.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Fake News - "Gimme Some Truth"

Recently I've become increasingly concerned that so many of my normally rational and intelligent social media contacts can be sucked in by websites and Facebook pages that post pictures or videos taken out of context to serve some other dodgy agenda.  I encourage them to always check the facts with credible news sources before promulgating false information - but what happens when even those agencies succumb to corruption?

Just "Gimme Some Truth", as Lennon (not to be confused with the Russian Communist leader with a similar sounding name) sang: