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This week’s roundup includes bids by retailers to tempt UK shoppers with Black Friday discounts, fears that a Budget tax move could penalise savers, a spike in empty homes on London’s commuter belt and a dramatic dip in mortgage approvals.

Black Friday deals seek to tempt British shoppers

Retailers across Britain chased consumers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday in what proved to be a major test of consumer demand, as they looked to outdo last year’s sales.

With last month’s sales volumes falling to a four-and-a-half year low, retail businesses across the UK were looking to get shoppers spending again, despite being squeezed by inflation and subdued wage growth.

At 3pm on Friday 24th November, Barclaycard - which processes almost half of UK debit and credit card transactions - reported an 8% increase in spending compared to Black Friday 2016, as well as a 32% rise in the number of transactions.

The data hinted at the possibility that consumers may be opting to purchase more goods at a lower price, rather than investing in fewer high-value items.

Black Friday has predominantly played out online since 2014, after in-store sales were affected by scuffles.

Budget tax move ‘will penalise savers’

Millions of savers across the UK may be affected by a little-noticed change in the Budget that affects long-term policies sold by insurance companies, one insurer has suggested.

Chancellor Philip Hammond announced plans to abolish the Corporate Indexation Allowance and HM Treasury said it wouldn’t affect individuals, but Royal London Insurance said savers could lose out. According to the insurer, the total cost of abolishing the tax could amount to hundreds of millions of pounds.

Steve Webb, Director of Policy at Royal London, said: “From the early numbers that we've looked at we think that millions of people have these policies and they'll be losing relatively modest amounts of money, perhaps £25 or £50, some of them a lot more.”

Royal London warned that the tax change announced in the Budget would affect a group of investment policies or endowments, sometimes lasting decades and designed to provide a lump sum to pass on to the family. They are often bought from door-to-door sales reps through collecting a few pounds a week.

Spike in empty homes on London commuter belt

London’s commuter belt has seen a spike in the number of homes left empty on a long-term basis, despite reports of a downward trend across the UK since 2010.

According to official data from the Department for Communities and Local Government, analysed by the BBC’s Shared Data Unit, 14 of the 20 local authorities that saw the largest percentage rises in vacant homes between 2015 and 2016 are in the South East.

From 2010 to 2016, the number of long-term empty homes, which are defined as unfurnished and unoccupied for more than six months, declined from around 300,000 to 200,000. However, the latest analysis has pointed to wide regional variations.

It comes after the government gave councils new powers to charge a 100% council tax premium on empty homes in last week’s Budget announcement.

UK mortgage approvals ‘hit 13-month low’

British lenders approved the lowest number of mortgages in 13 months in October, pointing to a downbeat outlook for the UK economy. According to data from the UK Finance trade association, banks approved 40,488 mortgages for house purchase last month, down from 41,576 in September and 3% less than in October 2016.

The figures come just days after Philip Hammond looked to offer voters some relief with spending plans that focused on housing, including scrapping stamp duty for most first-time home-buyers.

Last week, British budget forecasters sharply cut growth predictions for the next five years as a result of a pessimistic view of the chances of an improvement in activity.

In further bleak news for the economic outlook, a survey from YouGov and economics consultancy Cebr showed consumer sentiment had fallen to its lowest level since just after the Brexit vote. 

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