WITH our evenings set to get darker and fears over the pandemic worsening, it would be easy to feel down in the dumps.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. There is plenty of good news around in the form of free cash, freebies, discounts and state handouts to make us — and our wallets — feel better.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been doing his bit this week by upping support measures for workers who have lost income.
But there’s way more cheer on offer from businesses.
Here’s how you can get bonuses worth £13,500.
1. FREE CASH FROM BANKS:
Banks stopped offering switching bribes during the pandemic — but now four are doing it again.
Get £125 for switching to the HSBC Advance or NatWest Reward accounts or £100 for Club Lloyds and RBS Reward ones. You have to qualify by paying in a certain amount of cash each month — in HSBC’s case £1,750, and use the official switching service.
2. FREE VOUCHERS FOR SPENDING: Get a free £100 Amazon voucher just for spending on your credit card.
The Amex Preferred Rewards Gold credit card is currently offering a bonus of 20,000 reward points if you spend £3,000 in the first three months (up from 10,000 points previously).
Use it for stuff you would be spending on anyway at this time of year — groceries, clothes and Christmas gifts.
This is on top of the usual one point per £1 spent.
Every 5,000 points you get can be swapped into a £25 voucher for stores such as M&S, Amazon or Currys.
The card is fee-free in the first year but cancel after that to avoid having a £140 charge.
3. FREE HOME IMPROVEMENTS: Up to £10,000 is up for grabs to add to your home’s efficiency — which can cut energy bills by as much as £600 a year.
You can either choose better insulation or a new heating system, and then on top of that you can add new doors or smart heating controls like Nest. If you have old single- glazed windows you can get new ones. If you’re on benefits, the Government will cover the entire cost up to £10,000, otherwise it’s two-thirds of your work up to £5,000.
So for cavity wall and floor insulation costing £4,000, you would pay £1,320, with the Government vouchers covering the remaining £2,680.
For details go to gov.uk/guidance/apply-for-the-green-homes-grant-scheme.
4. FREE PUMPKINS: There might not be much trick or treating this Halloween, but at least you can get a free pumpkin.
You just need to buy one at any UK store or supermarket and then upload the receipt to Topcashback to get a refund of up to £2.
Pumpkin prices at the big four supermarkets start at 85p.
5. GETTING PAID TO WORK FROM HOME: Working from home not only means more time in bed and no commuting costs — you can also get cash to cover your expenses.
Either ask your employer to pay you £6 a week tax-free or, if they won’t pay it, claim tax relief of either £1.20 a week (basic rate taxpayers) or £2.40 (higher rate taxpayers).
The even better news is you don’t need to apply through self assessment as HMRC has now set up a special service where you can automatically apply for tax relief on the whole 2020/2021 tax year — even if you’ve only worked at home for one day.
Apply at gov.uk/tax-relief-for-employees/working-at-home.
BONUS: £125 this tax year
6. FREE COURSES: If you are fed up of being locked down at home, take the time to pick up new hobbies — and even a new career — using thousands of free online courses.
Futurelearn, for example, offers courses for aspiring film-makers, video-game and computer coders, pianists and fashion designers.
Open University’s free courses are also worth checking out, as is Google Analytics Academy, Codeacademy and General Assembly for those interested in computers.
Course provider Open Study College has just launched a scholarship programme to help those hit by the pandemic. At least 50 fully and part-funded scholarships are available and the max award is £6,000 for an accountancy qualification.
7. FREE TOYS: Worried about paying for Christmas this year? A handy new app is helping parents to give away unwanted toys and baby equipment for free.
Listed on YoungPlanet this week was a VTech walker, Ikea high chair, pregnancy pillow and Cow & Gate baby milk. A new VTech walker costs around £30 in the shops.
If you are interested, you message the person on the app and they decide who it goes to.
8. PAYMENT HOLIDAYS: If you’re struggling to repay a debt — be it mortgage, overdraft, credit card, loan or car finance — due to Covid, apply for a three-month payment holiday by October 31.
With the average monthly mortgage payment being around £700, that’s around £2,100 you won’t have to worry about finding before Christmas.
Note you’ll still have to repay that money long-term and there’ll be more interest to pay, but taking a holiday is better than missing a payment.
SHORT-TERM BONUS: £2,100
Hackers will try to expose you
CROOKS will pretend they’ve caught you watching porn to try to fleece you.
I’ve had an email chat with a chap called Victor this week. He messaged to say he’d hacked my computer and caught me viewing something inappropriate online.
He said he’d captured a video and was going to send it to my family and boss.
As proof, he cited a password of mine in the email. But in exchange for some Bitcoin, he would delete the video.
As I didn’t have any Bitcoin he instead suggested I pay him US$1,200 – and shared some bank details.
Which I used to help the bank in question freeze the account and investigate. Funny, he hasn’t responded since then.
I’m not worried about my browsing history, but that my password was in the email.
It means there has been a data breach at a website I visited, and my password is being traded on the dark web. It often happens like this – your password is used as a tool to convince you the crook knows all about you.
But it can also be used to access your accounts.
If you are sent your password, or fear it has been leaked, change it. Enable two-factor authentication if you can. And don’t engage, that’s my job.
Instead, forward the email to [email protected] and then delete it.
HOMEBUYERS hoping to benefit from the stamp duty holiday may need to get the ball rolling by the start of November.
The threshold on home purchases in England and Northern Ireland was temporarily raised to £500,000 in July and it will remain in place until March 31, 2021.
But research from Legal & General Mortgage Club found those who need to sell their home and find a new property may need to allow nearly four months to complete their transaction due to high levels of demand.
GOT a story? RING HOAR on 0207 782 4104 or WHATSAPP on 07423720250 or EMAIL [email protected]