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This week’s roundup includes news that the Governor of the Bank of England has called for a crackdown on cryptocurrency ‘mania’, UK house prices fell in February and regulators have imposed a ban on catch-up energy bills.

Carney calls for crackdown on cryptocurrency ‘mania’

Crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin should be regulated to crack down on illegal activities and protect the financial system, Mark Carney has warned.

The Bank of England Governor said their inherent risks meant investments in digital currencies could lose money. "The time has come to hold the crypto-asset ecosystem to the same standards as the rest of the financial system," Mr Carney said in a speech on 2nd March.

Crypto-currencies do not yet pose risks to financial stability, he said, but he cautioned that could change if more people began investing in them. Although some countries have banned them, Mr Carney said regulation would be a better approach.

"A better path would be to regulate elements of the crypto-asset ecosystem to combat illicit activities, promote market integrity, and protect the safety and soundness of the financial system," he said.

UK house prices fall in February

UK house prices have recorded their first month-on-month fall since August, according to the Nationwide.

The building society said average UK property prices in February were 0.3% down on the previous month. This monthly change is generally regarded as a volatile measure of house prices, but the Nationwide said it reflected the wider picture.

The annual growth in house prices to February slowed to 2.2% from January's figure of 3.2%.

"Retail sales were relatively soft over the Christmas period and at the start of the new year, as were key measures of consumer confidence, as the squeeze on household incomes continued to take its toll," said Nationwide chief economist Robert Gardner.

"Similarly, mortgage approvals declined to their weakest level for three years in December, at just 61,000. Surveyors report that new buyer inquiries have remained soft in recent months.”

Ban imposed on catch-up energy bills

Energy firms will be banned from charging catch-up bills for gas and electricity used more than 12 months earlier.

Regulator Ofgem's new rule (to start in May for domestic customers and November for small businesses) should stop shock bills of thousands of pounds.

Customers who pay via direct debit often receive bills based on estimated meter readings. When an actual reading is taken, the supplier "back-bills" the customer for any shortfall. Other supposed arrears have occurred as a result of errors in suppliers' billing systems.

Ofgem said the typical back bill was £1,160 and in extreme cases they have exceeded £10,000. Most customers struggle to pay and some are driven into debt. The regulator said it was aware of 10,000 complaints in a year.

A voluntary agreement to stop back-billing of more than 12 months has been in place among the biggest suppliers since 2007. However, some have not fully complied and smaller firms were not signed up.

Inflation deals retail another blow in Feb, data shows

Inflation continued to eat into shoppers’ budgets in February, data from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) shows.

Although overall sales increased by 0.6% on a like-for-like basis last month, non-food sales, when measured across the same shops as the previous year, fell by 1.1% in the three months to February, which is well below the 12-month average.

“The headwinds to retail spending continued to blow strong in February,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC. “Inflation is still eating into shoppers’ budgets, pushing them to spend a greater share of their income on essentials and leaving less left over to buy discretionary, predominantly non-food, retail items.”

Last week, two of the UK’s best-known retailers – Toys R Us and Maplin – collapsed into administration, putting well over 5,000 jobs at risk.

Retailers specialising in all sectors have been battling tough market conditions as consumers have changed their shopping habits, increasingly spending money online at the expense of trips to bricks-and-mortar outlets.

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