Stuck for ideas for what to buy the person who has everything? Many of us resort to a charitable gift to avoid wasting money on unwanted gadgets. But if you are thinking about giving a mosquito net or goat this Christmas, make sure you understand what your money will go towards.
Some charities may not buy the item you've selected Macmillan uses your donation for whatever is needed, not necessarily what you chose. But if you buy a water-related gift from Oxfam, it will put your money towards one of its water or sanitation projects. People are helped, but it's worth being aware if you're committed to giving a particular gift.
If you want your money to buy exactly what is advertised, then consider Good Gifts, which guarantees that all your money goes towards buying the item, whether that is buying a toilet block for an African school or a jumper for a penguin. Unicef also uses your money for exactly what you have chosen, and your donation is used to cover the gift, the card sent to you, and admin costs.
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Another thing to think about is how much of your money is going to help good causes, as some charities pass on more money than others. Macmillan makes sure 100% of your donation goes to help the cause, as does Good Gifts. Oxfam and Save the Children put 82p of your donation towards projects, with 10p going towards running costs and 8p spent on fundraising.
Alternatively, you could give a micro-loan to help someone build their business. At Lendwithcare, part of CARE International UK, you buy a voucher, and the gift's recipient can then choose who gets the loan. They can then follow the person's progress, and eventually get the money back. At the moment, people in places such as Cambodia and Vietnam are requesting money to buy more livestock or to repair machinery.
What to do if your local bank branch is closing
Lloyds Banking Group, RBS and Yorkshire Building Society have all announced plans to close hundreds of branches across the country next year. In total, more than 250 banks will disappear during 2018; closures are blamed on changing customer habits, with more internet banking apparently meaning local bank branches aren't being used.
The Lloyds Group has said that despite closing 49 Halifax, Bank of Scotland and Lloyds branches, at least 90% of its customers will still have a bank within five miles of their home (though this might not be much comfort for some). But if your local branch is closing, you do have some options.
You could bank online as much as possible and simply accept the longer journey if you need to visit a branch. But another option is to start banking via your local Post Office if you still have one of those. Thanks to a deal between the major banks, most current account and business account holders can carry out key elements of their banking at the Post Office. You can pay in money, make withdrawals and check your bank balance.
Obviously you could also switch your accounts to a bank that still has a branch on your local high street, but the problem is you might just switch and then find that branch shuts too. One way to hedge your bets is to move to a challenger bank. Although the big names are closing branches, brands such as Metro Bank and Handelsbanken are growing their networks. Metro Bank has opened 50 branches since it launched in the UK in 2010 and plans to have 110 by 2020, while Swedish bank Handelsbanken has opened 200 branches since 2006 and says it is committed to providing local banking.
In the news this week
Spouses and civil partners inheriting their other half's individual savings account (Isa) in the event of their death will no longer lose out because of a "costly quirk" to the rules, says Kate Beioley in the Financial Times.
Since 2015, none of the growth in the Isa built up between the partner's death, and the point at which the estate was wound up, could be inherited free of tax. Since this process can take years, on a £1m investment portfolio, that gain could be as much as £160,000, leaving the spouse with a hefty tax liability. But from April 2018, Isas can be passed on tax-free in their entirety. The partner can also reinvest the entire sum in their own Isa.
A plan to axe the automatic £100 fine for missing the self-assessment deadline, which affected 7% of taxpayers, is extremely welcome, but its replacement, a new driving-licence-style points system, could have "unintended consequences", says Vanessa Houlder in the FT. Although the current penalty regime, introduced in 2012, left many late filers facing big bills, even if they owed no tax, the points system "risks throwing up some anomalies" and could end up punishing the more compliant, according to the Association of Taxation Technicians.
While HMRC is taking a more lenient approach to accidental errors, it also seems to be "taking a harder line on errors that it believes are deliberate" and these incur much higher fines. New figures reveal a 19% increase in penalties imposed for deliberate errors in the year to April 2017, up to 34,100.
Thousands of people "pestered" by nuisance texts could actually be paying to get them, reports the Financial Mail on Sunday. Despite a regulatory crackdown, customers are still being "opted-in to receive premium-rate texts about lotteries, competitions or even X-rated adult content", typically costing around £1.50 each.
The market for convenient, phone-paid services has risen by nearly £31m in the past year to £708m, but "rogue" companies sometimes "trap customers without gaining their consent or deliberately conceal prices and contract terms". It might be worth checking your bill for any premium-rate texts and asking your provider to block premium-rate numbers. If you think you've been targeted unfairly, go to PSAuthority.org.uk for more details.
Ruth Jackson-Kirby is a freelance personal finance journalist with 17 years’ experience, writing about everything from savings and credit cards to pensions, property and pet insurance.
Ruth started her career at MoneyWeek after graduating with an MA from the University of St Andrews, and she continues to contribute regular articles to our personal finance section. After leaving MoneyWeek she went on to become deputy editor of Moneywise before becoming a freelance journalist.
Ruth writes regularly for national publications including The Sunday Times, The Times, The Mail on Sunday and Good Housekeeping among many other titles both online and offline.
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