Help yourself to financial security

Puzzled by the complexities of personal finance? How to get your problem resolved

Woman managing the debt

I receive hundreds of emails in my Radio Times inbox.

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Even though I always say I can’t answer readers’ questions individually, many do ask for personal advice.

Some tell me they have exhausted all the avenues they can think of to get the help they need, or the result they think is fair.

Others are from people who are puzzled by the complexities of personal finances: tax, benefits, consumer rights, investments, savings, care fees and trusts are just a few of the topics you have written to me about. One word missing from that list, you may have noticed, is Brexit. As I write, how and when the UK will leave the EU remains undecided.

By the time you read this, things may be clearer. I can assure you that as soon as the effect of Brexit on your personal finances and consumer rights becomes clear, I will be writing about it here.

BEFORE EMAILING ME, WHY NOT CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING?

1 Writing to the boss of a company can be a good way to get a problem fast-tracked — find her or his details at ceoemail.com.

The excellent resolver.co.uk takes the hard work out of complaining and is free.

2 There is an ombudsman or an alternative dispute resolution service for most consumer disputes; the firm you’re complaining to should let you know. Many can be found at ombudsman-services.org, while the Financial Ombudsman Service is at financial-ombudsman.org.uk.

3 For consumer rights, check out Helen Dewdney’s excellent website thecomplainingcow.co.uk. The UK European Consumer Centre (ukecc.net), meanwhile, can help with rights throughout the EU.

4 For official information about British government services, always go to gov.uk and search there.

5 When you do an online search for help, remember that the search results at the top of the list will often be commercial firms who are there to take money off you. The right website may be further down the page.

6 Never give any individual or firm personal details if they ask for them online, on the phone, by text, or on social media.

7 Only use trusted, well-known websites to make financial transactions. And never do so over public wifi — it’s not secure.

8 Never believe anyone who claims they can give you guaranteed returns above the best cash rates of 3% or offers returns above 5% or 6%.

Only ever invest with a firm that is protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (fscs.org.uk).

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9 Finally, if something seems too  good to be true, it probably is. Just say no. That one word can save you a fortune.