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EQ Weekly Roundup

This week’s roundup includes news of a 360% rise in fraudsters making fake HMRC calls, council tax bills rising by an average of 4.5% and estate agent group Countrywide being hit with a £215,000 fine.  

Rise in fraudsters making fake HMRC calls 

An increasing number of scammers are using landline phone calls to con people out of money, after a crackdown on bogus emails and mobile phone texts. 

HM Revenue and Customs said it received 60,000 reports of phone scams in the six months to January 2019 - up 360% compared with the previous six months. 

It said conmen pose as tax officials, threatening legal action or jail. 

HMRC will only ever call and ask for a payment for a debt that the person was already aware of - for example by previously having received a letter - or if the person had told it they owed some tax or submitted a self-assessment return. 

Treasury minister Mel Stride said anyone who was suspicious about a call should hang up and report it. ‘If you receive a suspicious call to your landline from someone purporting to be from HMRC which threatens legal action, to put you in jail, or payment using vouchers: hang-up and report it to HMRC who can work to take them off the network, he said. 

Council tax bills in England to rise an average of 4.5% 

Council tax bills in England will increase by an average of 4.5% from April, reaching more than £1,800 in some regions, research suggests. 

It is the second highest rise in a decade, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (Cipfa) said. 

The Local Government Association said cuts had left councils little choice. 

The government said they were responsible for managing their own resources. 

A survey of 312 councils by Cipfa found eight out of 10 will impose the maximum increase permitted. 

Local authorities in England are allowed to raise their council tax by 2.99%, plus a further 2% if they provide social care. Any that want to exceed this must hold a referendum. 

Countrywide fined £215,000 over money-launderings failings 

Estate agent group Countrywide has been hit with a £215,000 fine for money-laundering failures by HMRC. 

The fine was for failure to ensure that its money-laundering procedures and record-keeping were in line with regulations. 

HMRC also made surprise visits to 50 estate agents in a week to crack down on money-laundering in the industry. 

Economic Secretary John Glen said: I have zero tolerance for firms prepared to turn a blind eye to the law. 

Countrywide told the BBC it had conducted a full review of its anti-money laundering controls and has taken thorough measures to strengthen the processes that support and monitor compliance throughout the business. 

The changes include hiring and training more staff to monitor deals, it said in a statement. 

Cash system at risk, warns report 

The system allowing people to use cash in the UK is at risk of falling apart and needs a new guarantee to ensure notes and coins can still be used. 

A hard-hitting review by finance experts has concluded that market forces will not save cash for as long as people need it. 

Cash use has been falling dramatically in recent years. In 2017, debit card use - driven by contactless payments - overtook the number of payments made in cash in the UK for the first time. The report said that the current rate of decline would mean cash use would end in 2026. 

The report calls on the government and regulators to step in to ensure cash remains viable. 

Suggestions include ensuring rural shops offer cash-back. 

The report also said that essential services, such as utility and council bills, should still allow customers to pay in cash. 

The research - called the Access to Cash Review - is authored by former financial ombudsman Natalie Ceeney and was paid for by cash machine network operator Link but was independent from it.