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This month on Which? Conversation: January 2022

Happy New Year! Join in our monthly open thread of the latest news and updates from Which?, updated regularly throughout the month. 

Welcome to our monthly open thread, entirely based on what’s happening right now in the consumer world. We’ll be keeping you updated throughout the month, both here on Which? Conversation and elsewhere on which.co.uk.  

What’s happening for you? We’re keen to hear your experiences in the comments below – don’t be shy!

Jump ahead to:


21 January: Planes, trains, and automobiles

Updates to the Highway Code

The new Highway Code comes into effect on 29 January and brings a number of new changes out into the streets. Some of the key changes:

  • There’s a new hierarchy of road users, on which pedestrians are firmly at the top due to the high liklihood of injury in an accident;
  • Drivers are required to give priority to cyclists in certain situations, such as when approaching, passing, or moving away from a junction;
  • The parking rules now describe the ‘Dutch Reach’ for opening your door, ensuring you look over your shoulder to check for cyclists when opening your door.

Which? Cars’ Tom Morgan takes you through the key changes in the Highway Code.

How can I avoid catching COVID on a plane?

Spending hours in an enclosed space filled with strangers doesn’t feel the most COVID-safe of activities, and even pre-pandemic I’ve often been one to catch the beginnings of a cold during flight. If you’re thinking of travelling it’d be worth reading Katie Pasola’s guide on how to avoid catching Covid-19 or other illnesses while flying – and definately worth aiming for the window seat.

Do trains have too many announcements?

It’s been interesting to see in the news that rail chiefs have been asked to get rid of ‘tannoy spam’. If you have been out and about on the rails in recent times, how have you felt about the number of announcements you hear during your journey?

How do you feel about the number of announcements you hear during train journeys?

N/A - I don't tend to travel by train (33%, 31 Votes)

The number of announcements generally seems fine to me (29%, 28 Votes)

There's a lot, but I don't see it as an issue (20%, 19 Votes)

Far too many - they should be cut down (15%, 14 Votes)

I tend not to pay attention to them (3%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 95

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17 January: Tax season is in full swing

With the deadline for self-assessments fast approaching and as many as 100,000 taxpayers potentially filing for the first time this year, the Which? Money team has been busy getting their advice and guidance in order.  

Which? Members (depending on their membership package) can also get personalised assistance on tax and other money questions from Which? Money Helpline.  If you’re not sure whether you have access to this as part of your membership, or if you’d like to get access to Money Helpline, contact Which? Member Services.

Scams and fake reviews on Twitter and Facebook

On top of the Which? investigations into fake review factories and affiliates on Facebook and Twitter, Chiara has also been following a known scammer as they’ve taken out multiple adverts on Facebook.  They’ve since been taken down, but the ease in which they were able to evade detection is extremely worrying. 

A bit of a tight squeeze!

What has happened to the text of the comments and the posts here on Which? Conversation anyway?  Why’d everything suddenly get so narrow earlier this month?  

This relates to some work we’re doing behind the scenes to improve how the site displays on mobile devices, particularly in that this is now the way that the slight majority (55%) of people are regularly viewing Which? Conversation.  Some of the page elements (particularly the site feedback button in the left margin) tend to cut off or cover some of the text of the page, so we’re working to fix that and other elements, and test across devices.

Obviously still a work in process, so please do bear with us for the moment! Thanks to those who gave us feedback through the sidebar widget to report this. You can also give us general feedback on the site via the comments, or if something is definitely broken, report it through the Website Feedback form, as this gets flagged straight to our site development team.


6 January: turn off the bright lights

If the results of our latest poll over the winterval are anything to go by, most people’s Christmas decorations are now taken down and stored for another year.  

When do you take down your Christmas tree and/or decorations?

Between 2 - 6 January (69%, 985 Votes)

N/A - I do not put up a Christmas tree and/or decorations (12%, 167 Votes)

Between 27 - 31 December (7%, 102 Votes)

Later than 6 January (7%, 96 Votes)

New Years Day (5%, 67 Votes)

Boxing Day (1%, 9 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,426

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Speaking of bright lights, what are your feelings about car headlights? Off the back of Neena‘s roundup of Which? Campaign wins in 2021, we’ve heard a number of you call for an investigation into modern headlights being too bright.

…Modern car headlights are way too bright with little cut off when dipped. For a driver faced with these lights the effect is dangerously dazzling, preventing visibility of anything ahead, including possibly an innocent cyclist. The intensity and spread of light should urgently be investigated, please.

Bob J, 31 December 2021

Like many of you, I thought I was the only one who felt this way! We’ve raised it with the Which? Cars team and hope to have them join us in the conversation later on in January. In the meantime, we’d be keen to know how many people feel this way:

Does the brightness of other cars' headlamps make it difficult for you to drive at night?
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What’s new in January?

With the new year come new rules and regulations:

  • New Ecodesign rules are now in force for wood-burning stove emission levels and efficiency. If you’re considering buying a wood-burning stove this year, you may want to have a read of Paula Flores’ guide to the new ecodesign rules, as well as our advice on the environmental cost and pollution such an investment might create.
  • Taxes: if you file a self-assessment, you’ve got until midnight on 31 January to file your return. This year saw an increase in the number of people filing their self-assessments on Christmas day, with 2,828 people submitting their return (up from 2,700 the previous year). If you’re still to file yours, be sure to have a read through Danielle’s tips for making your taxes less…well, taxing.

    If you’d like some help with working out how much tax you might owe, Which? Money has you covered with their Tax Calculator.
  • Speaking of making payments, we’ve been hearing from Nationwide customers who have been hit with a string of outages over the past few weeks. Check out Grace’s recap of the story, including what you should do if you’ve experienced an issue.

Are you concerned about rising prices?

One of the biggest stories of the new year is that of everything getting more expensive; inflation is driving up prices, consumers reporting worries about the cost of the weekly food shop creeping up, potential supply chain issues, and more.

How do you feel about the year ahead?

Somewhat pessmistic (45%, 22 Votes)

Neutral (20%, 10 Votes)

Somwhat optimistic (14%, 7 Votes)

Very pessimistic (12%, 6 Votes)

Very optimistic (4%, 2 Votes)

Unsure (4%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 49

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Adam French has helpfully rounded up what price changes are coming up in 2022 and how you can save money. If you have a question for our experts on price rises, please do ask in the comments below and we’ll aim to get it answered.

Comments

Well, I’ll kick off then (before anyone else does).

The debate about headlight dazzle has been going on for decades and predates all of the technologies currently being complained about elsewhere. In fact Which? are being short-sighted by placing this topic under the heading “January 2022”. It has the potential to run and run until we no longer have cars for each other to moan about.

Older drivers are going to suffer from deteriorating night – and daytime – vision. It’s a fact of life, and there is perhaps too much tendency to reminisce about the “good ol’ days”, when in fact, what has changed most over time is peoples’ perception (literally). And if there is one thing people don’t like, it’s change, particularly when their own body is involved.

I well remember an uncle who liked his cars, investing in “anti-dazzle” glasses for night driving. They were basically expensive yellow-tinted sunglasses. They work by reducing the amount of light reaching the retina. The human perception is there is less dazzle (unwanted reflection), but in reality there is just less useful light to see by. You can achieve the same effect today by tinting your windscreen black, but stay within the rules and don’t reduce light transmission below the permitted minimum of 75%.

It is not actually a good idea (although legal) when you think about it, which is why police carry out checks and impound cars that are not strictly compliant with the regulations. One of the stupidest fashion statements I have ever seen is some clown who thought it was a good idea to apply black tint to their brake lights.

The French, you may remember, had yellow headlamps for many years until the EU finally required all cars sold to have common type approval. God help anyone who dared to drive in France with white headlamps due to the increased “glare” they caused. Of course, scientific studies of French headlights showed that the yellow tint just reduced the useful amount of light emitted, in much the same way that colour-switchable LEDs are more efficient (higher Lux value)) when running at certain colour temperatures – usually “daylight” rather than warm white.

As most of us were taught at school, there are two types of receptors in the human eye, rods and cones. Rods respond to light intensity and continue to operate at night. Cones can distinguish red, green and blue colours, but only operate in good light conditions. Which is why everything is seen in black and white at night. Since the cones are not operative at night, colour cannot have any bearing on how dazzling a light appears.

Speaking of vehicle harmonization, there were even proposals to force UK vehicles to be LHD. But the planned transition to driving on the right wasn’t too popular, as it would initially only apply to commericial vehicles over 3.5 tonnes.

Em has summarised this pretty well. Glare is dependent upon the illuminance at the eye from an oncoming headlight and the background brightness – nil on a country road but significant in a town. The ability to see adequately depends upon the illuminance provided by your own driving lights and impairment from glare. So wearing tinted glasses, or tinting your windscreen, reduces glare eye illuminance but also your own lights’ effect, so rather pointless in most cases.

Key points in the light pattern specified for headlights are given in lux at a particular distance, which equates to intensity in candelas, and is a fixed value. So a higher – output (“brighter”) bulb must still keep the pattern within these absolute limits.

So as far as I am aware increasing the power of headlights does not, if they meet the ECE standard, cause them to exceed the key illuminance limits.

I suspect many problems are caused by incorrectly-adjusted headlights – I see these frequently. Possibly by illegal retrofits. Dirty winscreen inside, smeary outside. Degrading eyesight in the more elderly often includes the beginning of cataracts, loss of lens clarity, which scatters incoming light and creates a misty veil that impairs vision; many will have this without knowing until their eyesight significantly changes and it usually takes time to have appropriate surgery.

But if people dip lights in good time, in my experience (I don’t have cataracts), unless headlight aim is clearly incorrect, I don’t suffer disability, although maybe brief discomfort. As for road humps these are in lit areas, the flash is brief, and while it may irritate it doesn’t cause impairment.

However, that is my own experience and view. If there is evidence that standards are being breached in manufacture I’d be interested to see it. It would also be interesting to see contributions from MoT testers to see just what proportion of vehicles they find to have incorrectly-aimed headlights.

These two links might be of interest:
https://motodemic.com/dot-ece-explained/

https://www.led-car-light-manufacturer.com/good-headlight-beam-pattern-dot-ece/

I have no problem with high intensity (gas discharge and LED) headlights on main beam, assuming that drivers follow the Highway Code rules about their use. My concern is with high intensity dipped headlights when meeting oncoming cars crossing speed humps and undulations in road surfaces. This affects people of any age and has only become worse because of the increasing number of cars with high intensity lights. It’s a great help that most cyclists have benefitted from the availability of lights that are much more effective than the old incandescent lamps that used to be standard, at least among the cyclists that used lights.

I have always enjoyed driving at night and can cope with the bright headlights but would prefer not to have to.

Modern cars have automatic headlights, wipers, and can detect local speed limits. I do not know how many cars will warn their driver that their lights are on main beam when other cars are approaching, for example in a built-up area.

If this discussion proves popular, perhaps Jon can move the comments to a new Conversation on the topic.

Warning @wavechange? My Land Rover Discovery Sport had automatic main / dipped beams. This is operated by the same forward-facing camera that is also supposed to spot pedestians and other obstacles in order to automatically apply emergency braking. I recall it was once activated by a deer that emerged from a hedge and decided to take its chances crossing the road – which I avoided. I never had the chance to try it out on a pedestrian 🙂

The automatic main / dipped beam feature was useful, particularly where I had left the mains on by accident, went a car unexpectedly appeared in the distance, or if I didn’t have time to dip the lights as quickly as I could have due to some momentary distraction like the radio, heating or sat nav.

However, I only ever relied on it as a backup system, as the camera couldn’t detect a motorist waiting at a side road, when I would dip my lights manually to avoid dazzling them whilst waiting to emerge (doesn’t everyone?). Since I never totally trusted it, I usually tried to pre-empt its decisions and manually dip the headlights with the stalk control. Unfortunately, if the auto-dip beat me to it, the pull back on the stalk which normally switched to dipped beams, instead flashed the headlights at the poor oncoming motorist.

More work needed … .

It would not have been too difficult to design the automatic control to avoid the problem you have described, Em. I sometimes wonder if car designers are the brightest bulbs.

I dip my lights for the benefit of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists and many do the same round here.

“I sometimes wonder if car designers are the brightest bulbs.” I think they have done a pretty good job in making cars far safer and in giving driver assistance. I’m not so sure about stylists, but then we buy what they produce, don’t we?

Em’s given you one example of the need for more work in improving a feature and I could give others, albeit not relating to car headlights. Perhaps we should not be so blinded by achievements that we cannot see opportunities for improvement.

I think stylists have been well reined in since crash testing includes pedestrian safety. Not a bull bar or sharpened tail fin to be seen. Even Spirit of Ecstasy is as flexible as a Barbie doll and disappears into a hole in the radiator like a birdie in a cuckoo clock. Perhaps that’s why they now fiddle with flush ornamentation – like headlamps and rear light clusters.

Yes we do somehow Malcolm which is not all the time good really.
Some of the new cars they have got out now their headlights are really dim and mainbeam is even worse.
I’ve upgraded my headlights because they weren’t bright enough on the road .
I do sometimes have people flashing me but I’m willing to deal with that because as long as I can see the road that’s the main thing isn’t it ?

While it is good that cyclists now have access to reasonably bright lights, on the other hand I occasionally encounter cyclists at night with such dazzling pulsing flashing lights that it is almost impossible to pinpoint their actual path – not a big safety improvement.

Pamela elsmere says:
11 February 2022

Mnmuk

One interesting technical solution to the problem of headlight glare was a proposal to use a polarizing light filter on the headlights and another integrated into the windscreen.

The filter would be offset at roughly 45 degrees to the right (or left). Your own headlights and windscreen filters would be in alignment, so you could see the light from your own vehicle, but someone approaching would be almost completely out of alignment. That is why I said “roughly” 45 degrees. You would want some light to pass, so you could see the other car’s headlights clearly enough.

The main problems with this were three-fold. Firstly, every car would need to be equipped with polarizing headlights or there would be little benefit for those that opted for the more expensive windscreen. Secondly, a polarizing filter reduces transmission by 50%, so the brighness of your own headlights is halved. Thirdly (but less of a problem with LEDs), that 50% light absorption is dispersed as heat, which tends to melt cheaper Polaroid-type plastics.

Maybe self-driving cars is the ultimate answer, which can rely on radar, radio and other invisible forms of electro-magnetic radiation to avoid obstacles. No headlights required.

According to an article published by the RAC:

““All headlights have to meet specific international standards, which motorists might be surprised to discover haven’t been updated since the 1960s and so do not take specific account of newer technologies like xenon and LED. And an overwhelmingly proportion of drivers – 84% – now want the UK Government to act to ensure the regulations are updated to remove the possibility of glare being a result of modern technology.” – Rod Dennis, RAC spokesman.” https://www.rac.co.uk/drive/news/motoring-news/are-car-headlights-too-bright-dazzled-drivers-say-its-getting-worse/

Perhaps an independent examination is justified.

It would certainly be worth review but, if the original standard was based on visual performance requirements, as I believe it was, then it should still be valid. Basic visual response has not changed. Just as street lighting light distribution glare requirements have been essentially the same for years.

Many modern headlights (HID and LED) are much brighter than incandescent lamps, so there a clear need for review. Concern has been expressed since these headlights were introduced. I had a car with ‘dim-dip’ headlights for use in areas with street lighting. These made cars easier to see than those driven on sidelights but did not cause nuisance.

I am not suggesting that high intensity dipped lights are a hazard but they can make driving in built-up areas at night a less pleasant experience.

This has reminded me of the headlights discussion we had way back in 2016:

https://conversation.which.co.uk/motoring/car-headlights-bulbs-mot/

I still frequently see people driving around with one broken – it’s so dangerous. We are raising these comments with the cars team again.

I have seen a significant improvement in the past ten years and the ongoing move towards LED lights on new cars will help.

My car turns on the headlights/sidelights/tail lights briefly when it is unlocked in the dark which makes it very easy to check the bulbs. It’s worth replacing any blackened bulbs before they fail.

Referring to George Martin’s broken headlamp, I don’t see why modern cars should not be immobilised when a bulb failure occurs after dark. Obviously, only after the ignition is next switched off, so you can continue to drive to a place of safety.

I was surprised when my new EV car became stuck in the middle of a Waitrose car park. I had stopped in a space, but then went to move to a slightly better space. The automatic parking brake refused to disengage and I couldn’t move. After 30 seconds of mild panic that I would miss an important appointment waiting for breakdown services, I worked out why it had frozen up, either because I had not reconnected my seatbelt, or the door was not properly closed, as notified on the display.

If my own safety is grounds to immobilize a a vehicle, then the safety of others certainly is.

I used to let people know if they had a light not working, for example neighbours and the drivers of cars that followed me into a supermarket car park. In one case both tail lights were not working leaving only the number plate lights and the response from the driver was that he already knew. Thankfully some drivers are grateful for being informed.

Perhaps daytime running lights are sufficiently effective to allow a driver to get home if a headlight fails, but I can see merit in immobilisation of a vehicle within say 24 hours.

With some makes and models of vehicle, replacing a headlamp bulb is not a simple job that can be done at the side of the road, for example if the front bumper has to be removed. It’s another example of rotten design.

I was grateful to be informed when I was driving to work in my very first car. I stopped at traffic lights and someone tapped on the window to tell me I had no back lights.

In the night, someone had stolen both sets of back lights, so I was driving with no indicators or brake lights. Luckily, hand signals then kept me out of trouble.

These days our cars tell us if a light is not working. Both are really difficult to get at, but my small hand can change them.

It’s usually the bulb that ‘goes’, Alfa, not the whole light. 🙁

I carry a set of spare bulbs and it was easy to replace a tail light but I have not yet had to replace a headlight bulb in my present car. It used to be mandatory to carry spare bulbs when visiting France but the requirement was dropped, presumably because there is not much point in carrying bulbs if they cannot easily be replaced.

Having been an engineer in the motor industry for nearly forty years, I can say that it can be dangerous for occupants to immobilise a car for any reason. What if the driver is a woman on her own at night, and the car is immobile, no mobile signal? Women in the USA have been attacked in such circumstances. And occasionally, men too. It could happen here.

Inflation? Prices are certainly higher. My top up shops for food are about ten pounds more than they were a few months ago, though it is difficult to quantify this accurately. Fortunately fuel is less, because I am using much less, but, again it costs more to put less in. The biggest increase for me is the £60+ increase in my energy payments, especially when this increase will probably not be enough to cover the winter months. I am lucky enough to be able accept this cut in my disposable income without too many economies, but I am sure many will find this a real problem, especially if the bank rate rises further. The cost of goods, fuel and services tends to increase more rapidly when expenses increase, and much less so when they should decrease.

I would imagine there are very few households that will not have to make substantial changes in their standard of living over the next few months and for many it could take them into a different condition where further economies are virtually impossible. For many families their unavoidable expenditures are such a high percentage of their incomes that there is little scope to make meaningful adjustments along the lines of the simplistic “heat or eat” slogan; for many it is not a binary question but an imperative on both fronts with severe risks to their health and well-being.

It is certain that there will be a severe recession as discretionary spending has to be reined in and this is as worrying to the whole economy as the inflation of prices itself and the two trends will compound on each other. Spreading the impact of these forces across the economy equitably will be a major challenge for the government but it is their duty to provide relief where it is most needed and if necessary to curb or remove indiscriminate subsidies where they are not justified. Pain might have to be inflicted but it should only be applied where it will do the least harm. I personally believe there is scope to resolve this dilemma and it will be a true test of the concept of levelling up.

At present there are many people dependent on food banks. They are unlikely to be able to benefit from buying packs of 24 toilet rolls or other multi-buys to save money.

It’s well known that the poor are easy targets for exploitation and lack of education contributes to poverty. I one lived in a rented flat when house hunting and discovered that the landlord was charging me approximately four times the maximum price for reselling electricity, for a flat with electric heating. Those in adjoining flats were not aware that they were being fleeced.

Some of those who live in poverty have brought this on themselves by profligate spending but there are many children born into poverty, and they cannot be held responsible for their actions.

We can all help by donating items to food banks, including discounted toilet rolls. https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/emergency-food/non-food-items/

Help for those genuinely in need should be targeted. This must come from the taxpayer. One place that extra money could be taken from is by abolishing the pension contribution extra tax relief given to higher-rate earners.

I personally feel ashamed that a society that my generation has helped to create has so many reliant on foodbanks and that there is so little I can do about it.

Some people I know generalise negatively [and probably ignorantly] about the behaviours and lifestyles of the people driven to feed their families from the random stocks of a community fridge or foodbank, and seem to suggest that these resources are not necessary, or should operate under strict rules and procedures to prevent unwarranted relief.

My goodness, these are the attitudes of the Victorian era where people were punished for their poverty. Sadly, I also hear critical comments about the motives of the good people that give their time and energy to helping those on the bottom rung of a very long ladder.

I am perplexed that a society that has enjoyed unimaginable good fortune over the last fifty years and had the benefit of an unprecedented extent of higher education is acting in this way. I confess to not being able to understand it.

I feel ashamed too, but thankfully I don’t know anyone who criticises the efforts of others.

If I could change one thing it would be to stop encouraging people to get into debt.

Perish the thought that we should return to Victorian values. Apart from donating food and money, there is a lot we can still do to help those unfortunate people to help themselves.

”The awakening of human consciousness is no longer a luxury – it is a necessity for the survival of our species. It is up to each of us as individuals to embody the state of aware presence, and thus rise above the egoic mind and it’s dysfunction.

When a sufficient number of humans undergo this transformation, this will bring healing and sanity to our planet.”

Eckhart Tolle

malcolm r says: One place that extra money could be taken from is by abolishing the pension contribution extra tax relief given to higher-rate earners.

The maximum annual benefit of higher rate tax relief on pension contributions, is 20% of the annual allowance of £40,000 = £8,000. And you would need to be earning at least £90,270 to benefit from this higher rate relief in full, always assuming you could afford to put that much money away every year, after normal living expenses. Most high earners expect to enjoy a comparable take home pay packet for their efforts, so apart from the super-rich few could afford it.

And whilst it is currently tax free as a pension contibution, it is certainly not going to be tax fee as pension in payment. The best possible scenario would be to take the 25% tax free pension commencement lump sum out of the £40,000 contribution, and then hope you are a basic rate tax payer at 20% for the remainder. But if you are putting that much pension contribution away every year, that that’s not going to happen either. In fact, you will probably end up paying a punitive 55% tax rate on some of you contributions, by exceeding the LTA (Life Time Allowance).

So through careful pension planning, you save up to £8,000 higher rate tax on the way in, but pay at least £6,000 tax on the way out. The net tax benefit is worth no more than £2,000.

I must declare an interest, as I am fortunate enough to still be earning and can benefit from up to 40% tax relief on my pension contributions. I don’t earn as much as £90,270 per year, so I will never see the maximum benefit or be able to put away that much money every year. However, as a 40% tax payer, I am also donating £1,800 per year of my salary to charities I consider to be worthwhile, to keep it out of the grubby mitts of HMRC. Most has gone to local NHS hospital charitable trusts during the current pandemic.

A question for you. Who do you trust to spend the money more wisely for the public good? Me? Or HM Government?

I suspect you are an exception, in donating a significant amount to charity.

We need targeted support from the state for those in genuine need. It may be difficult to identify those people but the effort needs to be made to use scarce money wisely.

“Scarce” money? But we’re the fifth wealthiest country in the world. Not sure money is very scarce.

I think everybody, of whatever personal wealth status, believes the disposable money they have is “scarce”. The distribution of wealth in the UK remains very inequitable and that is what gives rise to the need for basic welfare and income support. It has been suggested that there is a role for the ancient form of tithing whereby those of higher means give a percentage of their income [10% is usually indicated] to welfare purposes, but the modern taxation system addresses that.

According to CGAP [the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy], people and companies in the UK give about £13 billion a year to charities. That sounds like a huge amount of money but, first, it is a drop in the ocean relative to the needs for relieving poverty and providing basic welfare; second, it is scattered among a vast range of charitable organisations so is not targeted to where it might be perceived to do most good.

The split of giving between the various charitable sectors is not easy to discover but, according to CAF [the Charities Aid Foundation], the most popular cause for charitable giving was animal welfare with 27% of donors giving to such charities. CAF also found that the overall number of people giving to charity has dropped but those who are giving are giving more.

Some recipients of charitable and philanthropic gifts, while being worthy causes and fulfilling the requirements for charitable status, do nothing whatsoever to promote human well-being or relieve hardship but absorb a considerable proportion of charitable giving [and state tax relief] which might not actually relieve the state of any direct expenditure or provide complementary services in support of state intervention in personal welfare. Perhaps this should be reviewed.

It is a fundamental principle that people can decide for themselves where to dispose their excess wealth and obtain whatever tax advantages are available for that or ensure that their chosen beneficiary can recover their tax contribution through the Gift Aid process. In this respect all charities are equal, whatever their purposes, even though we might feel that some do better, or more meaningful, things than others. Some charities, such as some private schools for example, are required to provide certain levels of public good in return for their charitable status [e.g. provide specialist facilities for state education pupils or scholarships for children from deprived backgrounds] but this is all a bit hit and miss.

The upshot of all this is that there is a continuing need for practical and financial relief so that every citizen can live decently and safely, be satisfactorily fed and clothed, and have the essential necessities of civilised living according to their needs. Relief should retain people’s privacy and dignity. Within government policy there is still an overhang of the Poor Law principle of deterrence – providing a basic regime that is so unpleasant that people will not wish to enter or remain within its scope.

The political quandary which every government has had to wrestle with is how to provide sufficient sustenance without encouraging dependency as another community aim is to encourage people to become self-sufficient through employment or by support from their own family resources.

I believe there is a role for welfare provision that is independent of the state because it can be delivered better and is likely to be more responsive to needs. It also taps into voluntary funding and practical support which would otherwise be unaffordable if state-provided. Moreover, in theory, it reflects society’s evaluation of the comparative priority of needs. But whether finer tuning of the charitable structure and the prioritisation of certain needs should be undertaken is a controversial point.

I don’t disagree that the 40% higher rate is bit of an anolmaly, but I am really sick of successive governments tampering with the rules on personal pensions. During my working life, there have been no less than three different taxation regimes for personal pensions. That’s S226, then PPS, then SIPP and all its other offspring including Workplace, Stakeholder, etc.

I have always played for Team GB by the rules, what ever they might be, even though I had no hand in making them. And like any moderately successful player, I play to the extent that the rules and my own capabilities and resources allow me to. In tabloid speak, that’s tax avoidance, not tax evasion.

But when the referee changes the pension rules part way through the game, again in the second half, and then fiddles with the points already awarded, that is simply not fair. There is no opportunity in life for a return match. And it’s especially unfair for those that don’t have a highly-paid financial advisor standing on the sidelines and whispering in the ref’s ear.

Meanwhile, the crowd stands by and jeers at the rules of a game they are not participating in, because they have either chosen not to play, they have left it too late (over 75), or more sadly, life has served them a curve ball. Knobbling the current team doesn’t help that last category of spectator very much.

The Governement are also supposed to regulate these very same personal pension schemes, but have the cheek to stand back, whilst companies like Equitable Life (heavily recommended by Which? in their heyday, but who remained surprisingly silent throughout the whole affair) couldn’t afford to pay out on their contractual GAR promises, when ordered to do so by the House of Lords ruling – another wing of Government. That liability was about £1.5 billion in 2001. A drop in the ocean compared to the £100 billion spent on furloughing empoyees, including those in essential industries like bars and betting shops, out of the remaining taxpayers’ incomes who were still working.

The higher rate tax relief on pension contributions has just about repaired the £20K damage I suffered being a post-GARS ELAS member, and no thanks go to Which? for that one.

Don’t even get me started on the State-run pension schemes that workers have all paid into thorough employer and employee National Insurance deductions. The fiasco with SERPS contracting out, where people are now materially worse off through the Governmnet initially incentivising them to leave the State-run scheme. Women born in the mid-1950s have seen the State Retirement Age increase as fast as their next birthday comes around for the past 6 years. And all public service employees who thought they were paying into RPI-linked schemes having their pensions rebased to the lower CPI rate.

So pensioners, and especially those trying to make independent provision for their retirement, have had not been well served by successive Governments.

I am all in favour of paying more tax to support social services, provided everyone pays a proportionate share. That means taxes on ALL sources of revenue; companies, goods and services (VAT) and certain commodities like oil, gas and alcohol, taxed at source through duties.

Higher rate tax payers are already contributing a higher proportion of tax on a higher income. At least leave the pension benefit alone, since it is in everyone’s interests for people to make adequate provision for their old age, when the default safety net is state benefits the rest of you will pay for.

Finally, suggesting that others should pay more for improvements in our society means you personally are doing nothing to improve anything, whilst the neediest members stand by and watch. If everyone contributed according to their absolute ability to pay, rather than pointing fingers at others, the world would be a much better place.

Michael Jackson was not referring to the Man in the Mirror [Newspaper], when he sang:

# If you want to make the world a better place
# Take a look at yourself and then make that change

Inadvertently, John, you have made an interesting point.

The split of giving between the various charitable sectors is not easy to discover but, according to CAF [the Charities Aid Foundation], the most popular cause for charitable giving was animal welfare with 27% of donors giving to such charities.

There are approximately 169.000 registered charities in England and Wales as of 2021 which, between them, reap around £49bn annually. I’m involved with some but the major concern I have is that of duplication.

Many serve almost identical causes, but what is even more interesting is the number of employees they have. The Islamic Centre Edgware had approximately 47.4 thousand employees working in England and Wales as of March 2021, making it the charity with the highest number of employees. Sheffield African Caribbean Mental Health Association Limited and Save the Children International had the second and third-highest number of employees at 36.5 and 17.06 thousand employees respectively.

Of perhaps even greater concern is the percentage of income spent on their charitable aims. A Derbyshire charity – the National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline – was warned after it emerged that the organisation spent just 3 per cent (around £27,000) of its total expenditure on charitable activities in 2014-15. Over £800,000 – went on “fundraising and other expenses”.

Curiously, it appears that the larger the charity the less it spends on its charitable aims. 91% of charities are run entirely by volunteers. And many charities duplicate entirely the work done by other charities or, in the case of some like the NSPCC, do very little other than pass on cases to Social Services.

Ian – I share your concerns. I dislike the wasteful duplication of charitable effort but there is no control over that and it is left to people to judge which good causes deserve their charitable giving. I am also annoyed by the competitive nature of numerous charities. Every charity believes it has an entitlement to eternal existence and most spend far too much — in my opinion — on self-preservation.

Many well-known charities have enormous funds that generate vast income streams much of which is not required for the level of activity undertaken so it just keeps accumulating, but they don’t stop appealing for more money from the public in donations and legacies.

Over the recent pre-Christmas period we received something like three kilos of mailshots and magazine inserts from charities; that was in addition to advertisements included in the contents of publications and the amount of airtime on various TV channels.

I presume the £49 billion received every year by charities includes legacies, bequests endowments, grants, Gift Aid payments, interest on investments, and other miscellaneous income from trading and rents. There seems to be rough agreement between CAF and CGAP that donations annually account for something of the order of £12-13 billion.

I cannot comment on the activities of individual charities because I do not know enough about most of them. I support a select handful of human welfare charities and have satisfied myself that they are carrying out worthwhile work, usually in areas or with cases that are difficult for the statutory agencies to deal with or with problems that other charities choose not to engage with. I only support charities which benefit citizens in the UK. I am a member of various organisations which happen to have charitable status but I don’t consider my membership subscriptions as charitable giving even though I make a Gift Aid declaration.

I regret that some charities make what I regard as misleading statements or suggestions in their appeal literature. There is one for which we occasionally get an appeal that provides support for injured members of the fire and rescue services in the form of comforts in the event that they have to be hospitalised following an injury during their work or during convalescence. It claims that workers need these benefits because they are not adequately assisted following an accident. I was under the impression that these emergency services had excellent support services in place, both officially and through the trade unions, for when any members suffered as a result of their employment so I question why a special charity needs to exist for this group of employees. It is impossible to detach sentimental and emotional appeals from charity fundraising and it is invidious to question the necessity for many charities as it smacks of a lack of compassion.

Perhaps it is right for the government to refrain from providing additional financial resources and direct welfare and poverty relief when there is clearly an abundance of charity wealth available within the UK; it could however promote a more equitable and prioritised distribution of that funding.

John Ward says: Today 02:30

I dislike the wasteful duplication of charitable effort but there is no control over that and it is left to people to judge which good causes deserve their charitable giving. I am also annoyed by the competitive nature of numerous charities. Every charity believes it has an entitlement to eternal existence and most spend far too much — in my opinion — on self-preservation.

I agree with every word, John. I’ve long felt local charities are often those that work most conscientiously in pursuit of their aims while the very large ones seem far too concerned with feathering their own nests , as it were.

Nice to see, however, that the RSPCA had an effective council of trustees, at least, even if, by the Mail’s rather dubious standards, they don’t exactly share the best priorities.

I also donate to charitable causes on a regular basis. What surprises me is that some folk are full of rhetoric about the inequalities of life. However, when it comes to parting with money- for a good cause- prefer to keep their hands in their pockets! Its all well and good having a social conscience but practical help is needed and a little generosity can go a long way.

Agreed Marian and well done to you.

The biggest problem I have is how to find the best way of putting money back into society. I certainly don’t trust the Government to do it, which is why I prefer to keep the untaxed money in a CAF account and pay it out to those I hope I can trust to use it wisely – perferably on schemes I can personally see in action.

Hence local branches of Riding for the Disabled, Chernobyl Children (my “foreign aid”) and Cheshire Homes India Bangalore Unit (more “foreign aid” for young disabled girls, even their families don’t want, as they can’t be married off for a dowry) have all received substantial donations over the past 10 years. This is because I can observe the benefits being used for people I can see and meet, or I happen to know the organisers in person and they are doing it for love, not an executive salary.

I hate to see my donations being used to pay for “chuggers” (that is a contraction of charity-muggers, fond of shoving a bucket in the face of people as they leave M&S), junk mail, or “free gift” incentives to contribute that just end up in landfill, not to mention the low life that actively steal donations, or make a living creaming off an employee’s salary to allegedly spend on local girls for prostitution.

Since lockdown, I have been donating to the local NHS Hospital Trusts, since opportunities for other community charities to function have been curtailed.

Any suggestions for the cynically-minded?

I prefer the modern brighter headlights but a lot of my driving is on rural roads with no street lights. My concern is in bright misty/foggy weather when people with automatic lights fail to turn them. Many automatic lights do not come on in bright fog so people drive without lights which can be dangerous