What would you tweak about the UK? Your first instinct may be 'a flat rate of income tax', 'independence for Cornwall', or 'free university education for all'. Yet I'm not talking about big contentious change – this is about quick fixes for life glitches.
In Westminster the tendency is towards building a legacy – after all, while fixing a broken button is often just as effective as buying a new shirt, fewer people notice. So 'make do and mend' policies are missed.
To combat this, every year we launch a user-suggested Moneyfesto looking for simple solutions and consumer protection – whether it's allowing military personnel posted overseas to suspend utility contracts or auto-refunding airport taxes for cancelled flights.
The 2015 Moneyfesto suggestions book is now open for you to add yours. All party leaders, many regulators and government departments usually agree to review it. Past successes include speeding up ISA transfers, helping push tighter controls on door-to-door sales, and lobbying for end dates to be put on utility contracts.
So to start it off, here are my personal top 10 tweaks, you may not agree with all of them, but I hope it'll whet your appetite to come up with your own.
1. Online statements should be accepted as ID
We're all encouraged to go for paperless billing to help the environment and reduce cost. Yet open a new bank account or similar, and ID rules usually require officially printed statements or utility bills. This needs to be changed in the web age. Better still would be if we could have standardised requirements across the industry to make the whole process smoother.
2. Private parking firms should be banned from making tickets look like fines
Private parking ticketing firms, whether for supermarkets, hospitals, or housing estates, often have tickets that do a better impression than Rory Bremner. Their phrasing and design is carefully contrived to resemble police or council ticketing. They use black and yellow chequered lines, or name them PCNs, mimicking the Penalty Charge Notice acronym of official council tickets.
We need to clamp(er) down on this unregulated world of cowboys. The most important thing to note – and the industry has tried to sue me to stop me saying it – is that these aren't fines or even tickets; they're invoices. And like any invoice, if you think it isn't fair, write back and explain why and that you won't pay. Full help at Fight Unfair Private Parking Tickets.
3. Water rates should be challengeable
People in England and Wales are gradually being shifted towards having water meters. This can lead to huge savings – many have told me they save over £400 a year. My rule of thumb is, if there are more or the same number of bedrooms in your house than people, it's worth checking out. Full help and calculators in Cut Your Water Bills.
However, this leaves those for whom it doesn't add up still paying water bills based on the old rates system of local taxation that ended in 1989. Yet, unlike its successor's successor the council tax (the poll tax was in between), where you can, and many do, successfully challenge your band (see Free check and challenge your council tax tools), you have no right to challenge your water rates – even if things have changed massively in the intervening 26 years. That seems unjust.
4. If you sign up online, you should be able to cancel online
Many firms offer deals or subscriptions where you can sign up online or on the phone. Yet if you then want to cancel, it requires a phone call, or some even have the chutzpah to make you write by snail mail – often to make it more difficult, or to give them a chance to up-sell.
Examples where you need to call to cancel include free trials at credit rating agencies Experian and Equifax. Quite simply, we need to regulate that you should always be able to cancel via the same mechanism you used to sign up.
5. All savings, cash ISAs and bank statements should list current interest rates
I've been ranting about this for years, and it has improved a touch, especially for ISAs. Yet every online and printed statement should state your current interest rate and any imminent change. Often, the only way to find your rate is by going to a confusing online page with scores of similarly named accounts.
Even some household names like NatWest don't do this. Surely if it can give us a bespoke calculation of how much interest we've earned, the least it can do is prominently tell us the rate it used to calculate it?
6. Draconian affordability checks for remortgaging should be stopped
Ensuring people can afford their mortgage is crucial. Last year affordability checks were introduced, designed not just to see if you can afford a mortgage at your current rate, but if rates were 6-7%. A good thing for first-time buyers.
Yet the regulator, the FCA, also applies the same rules to remortgaging, ie, those switching mortgage deal to get a better rate, even if they're staying in the same house and not borrowing more. This farcically means some are told "you can't afford a cheaper deal" – like @Gemma1978, who tweeted me: "Stuck on a deal that I can’t change as I’m being told it is not affordable, but it is over £100 a month cheaper."
Currently, lenders have a temporary right to waive affordability criteria in these cases, but the new EU mortgage directive will soon stop even this (the only exception is for those remortgaging to the same lender).
Of course those with poor credit scores, or a lack of income or equity, have always been rejected. However, this is different. I'm hearing lenders would like to give the mortgages but won't because of inflexible affordability criteria.
To disqualify people from cheaper deals only increases the likelihood of fragile finances, meaning arrears and repossession later. And with mortgage standard variable rates currently averaging 4.4% above base rates – making them hugely expensive – we're risking a ticking time bomb of unaffordability ready to explode if UK rates rise. For more on this, see my Affordability check paradox blog.
7. Nightclub and restaurant toilets should have at least one unattended sink
Admittedly, these days I watch Peppa Pig far more frequently than I go to nightclubs, but I'm treating myself by including this past rankle of a peccadillo. Nightclub toilet attendants may appear to be offering a perfume or aftershave spritz (barked at some as, 'no spray, no lay'), or a Chupa Chup lolly, but it's a nifty way to charge people for washing their hands.
I still remember seeing reams of blokes, especially those who'd already had more than their fair share of drink, just not wash their hands rather than pay. Not good hygiene, not good for them or others. Clubs should be required to have at least one sink where the attendant doesn't ask you to pay for using the taps.
8. Shopping around for cheaper loans should not hit your credit worthiness
These days, most personal loans, credit card APRs and even credit card 0% periods are 'rate for risk'. That means the only way to know if you'll get accepted is to apply. Worse still, they are also 'representative rates', meaning only 51% of accepted customers need get the rate advertised and the rest can pay more – without limit.
Yet applying usually leaves a footprint on your credit file, and too many of those, especially in a short space of time, can hurt future applications. This is a catch-22, as if you get rejected, or the rate you're offered is pants, you'll need to apply again, but your chances are worse. The system is anti-shopping around.
Lenders could use soft searches, but only a few do. This should be enforced. I must admit I've been ranting about this for years, including giving evidence at parliamentary select committees, but having seen so little change, we built the Eligibility Calculators, which use a soft search to tell you your odds of acceptance for each credit card or loan.
9. Car insurance should put no-claims info on auto-renewal notices
It used to be you had to be insured to drive a car, but since 2011 you also have to be insured to own a car – unless you've a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN). While these continuous insurance rules cut down the risk of uninsured drivers, insurers have taken advantage by locking people into auto-renewing by usually hiking prices each year, without justification. In fact, many drivers find if they apply to their own insurer as a new customer, the quote is substantially cheaper.
A host of changes to the process are needed to stop insurers using procedure to disincentivise switching. This includes ensuring the previous year's premium is on auto-renewal notices so people can see the real change, and banning outrageous 'auto-renewal fees' which a few insurers charge.
10. Students living loans/grants should be boosted
I'm perhaps stretching my definition of 'uncontentious' here. Yet if we accept the current system of student finance, this change is much needed. While much of the spittle about student loans is that they're too big due to the £9,000 tuition fees, my view is they are too small, as the maximum living loan is £5,740 (£8,010 in London), and after paying rent in some university halls of residence, that doesn't leave enough to live on.
While cutting tuition fees to £6,000 would only benefit very affluent graduates on starting salaries of £35,000+ with above-inflation pay rises (see my tuition fees analysis). In reality the practical difficulty many from lower-income families have is surviving while a student. If we truly value equality of opportunity, we need to boost the grant or loan given for living.
Note: This article first appeared as Martin’s column in the Telegraph a fortnight ago.