When I spoke to Which?’s executive director, Richard Lloyd, on Radio 5 Live this week, he told me people switch partners more often than they switch bank account. Why are we so bad at taking control of our finances?
For some people personal finance is a real hobby. They would happily while away the hours with a spreadsheet and a glowing sense of pride that not a penny of their money is going astray. For everyone else, dealing with money matters is something they want to get done with a minimum of fuss and drama.
The end goal is to make sure that nothing is forgotten, that they aren’t ripped off, and that they don’t have to spend too long worrying about it. The first problem is that a large number of companies seemed determined to make this impossible.
Companies want to hold us back
You might think you have done your duty by considering your needs carefully, staying abreast of the potential pitfalls, shopping around, and then reading the small print, but that’s not nearly enough.
Some providers seem poised to take several direct debits, charge you for things you don’t want, fail to provide an adequate service, or increase the prices the second you have signed up with them.
The second problem is that when you try to deal with whatever the provider has thrown at you, there’s every chance the first response will be to fob you off. The broadband company may check the speed and tell you everything looks fine from their end; the electricity company may tell you that they read the meter and you did spend £400 on electricity in a week; the insurance company may swear blind that they only took your money once.
Step up to the plate
The art, therefore, is to face up to these headaches in the full and certain knowledge that you are going to have to pay proper attention. For a while this is going to be a real hobby, an obsession almost.
You will need to read up on the complaints procedure, follow it enthusiastically and to the letter, keep thorough records of every dealing with the company – their promises and their failures – and be prepared to spend an inordinate amount of time writing emails and making phone calls until this is sorted. If they won’t solve your problem, you need to know how to escalate it, and be prepared to do so until your demands are met.
It’s easy to think you’re too busy or not interested, but this will undoubtedly leave you seriously out of pocket.
Just look at it this way: if you make it your obsession in the short-term, you can get it sorted for the long-term and then get on with those things in life that are far more fun.