Thanks for being my friend in 2023… keep those comments coming! JEFF PRESTRIDGE

Thank You For Being A Friend is the title of a song by Andrew Gold. It reminds me of my quiet days in college in the late 1970s, when I didn't have a penny left to scrape together but was as happy as a sand boy.

Today, the song title sums up how I feel toward those brilliant readers who took the time to contact me this year about issues important to their personal finances. Without you, there would be no Jeff Prestridge column. Thank you for being my friend.

So, what's the big money issue that has annoyed you the most this year? Failing smart meters? Bad customer service? Rising energy bills? Shrinkflation?

Golden boy: Andrew God, who sang Thank You For Being A Friend

No, it's about the rising costs of home and car insurance.

From the first day of the year you have bombarded me (in a nice way) with correspondence raising eyebrows about the renewal of insurance costs.

Sometimes these price increases were expressed in three figures as a percentage. More often than not they are NOT the result of a recent claim. In most cases, they defy logic – both irrational and unaffordable.

Unfortunately, readers continue to send me their stories of insurance problems. Among them is 77-year-old Jonathan Harker, a retired salesman from Thames Ditton in Surrey.

Jonathan has been a loyal customer of over-50s specialist Saga for more years than he can remember. He is even a shareholder in the company, part of the FTSE All-Share Index.

Yet that loyalty is now fraying at the edges. A recent row with Saga over its refusal to offer his wife Celia a motorbike bonus extension left Jonathan in a bad mood. Celia eventually moved the cover to Axa.

Flagship HSBC store in Sheffield

New: HSBC's new flagship store in Sheffield

New: HSBC's new flagship store in Sheffield

Given the overdose of criticism I give the banks when they close branches, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge HSBC's opening of a new flagship store in Sheffield. This follows the abolition of 114 branches this year.

The new location is state-of-the-art and offers easy access for wheelchair users, a safe space for those who need one, intelligent lighting and ATMs that accept cash and checks and allow access to cash.

I'll check it out the next time I see the mighty Blades play at Bramall Lane (home of Sheffield United FC).

Shame the nearby HSBC branch on Fargate, a ten minute walk away, has closed to make way for this new supersonic banking experience.

Nine days ago, Saga sent him details of the renewal premium for the insurance of his Audi A3 from January 7 next year. It took his breath away. Saga wanted £849.70, compared to £405.68 this year.

In percentage terms, this means an increase of 109 percent. In layman's terms, it's a doubling of the premium.

“I drive less than 6,000 kilometers a year,” Jonathan protests. “We live in a low-crime neighborhood and the car is always parked in the driveway. In all my time at Saga I have only made one claim and that was at least fifteen years ago.”

Jonathan was so disgusted by the walk that he complained. Saga responded by saying it was a “challenge” to offer the most competitive insurance to every customer. It added that the renewal premium was in line with its pricing rules.

What was hard for Jonathan to fathom is how expensive Saga's renewal quote was compared to the prices rival companies quoted him when he started shopping around – ranging from between £500 and £600.

His bewilderment is understandable. New rules introduced by the city's regulator last year were aimed at protecting loyal customers from being misled by their existing insurer. Yet to date there is little evidence to support the view that loyal customers are better off as a result.

Although companies say they are complying with the new rules by ensuring that existing policyholders now receive the same premiums as new customers, this does not stop loyal people like Jonathan from being (potentially) exploited. Scandalously, most of them are elderly.

As Jonathan has realized, shopping around is the only way for drivers and homeowners to protect themselves from sky-high renewal premiums. He now takes out motorcycle insurance with his wife's insurer Axa – and will find an alternative provider for his home insurance when his cover with Saga expires.

Let me know if you get a surprise renewal premium offer in the coming weeks, especially if it's higher than the 109 percent increase Saga wanted to impose on Jonathan. Email

PS Thanks for being a friend.

And finally…

It has been a difficult year for many readers due to high interest rates, persistent inflation and higher taxes.

Yet better days appear to be around the corner. Inflation has now fallen to 3.9 percent, the lowest level in two years. Energy bills could fall next spring, although energy supply disruptions due to conflict in the Middle East could offset this.

And despite a group of hawks still in charge of financial affairs at the Bank of England, interest rates are likely to fall sometime next year.

In fact, the Treasury Secretary (with one eye on the election) could decide that his tax attack on our household finances has gone on far too long – and approve welcome tax cuts. I really hope so.

With that good mood in mind, I wish you a super festive time.

Roger, your Apple scam sucks

Scammers never give up, even at Christmas. A few days ago I received an email from Roger Forbes asking for “a little help” when I wasn't busy.

Thinking the request might be genuine (help is what I give), I responded by saying I was out of the office (which I was), but I was happy to help if he sent some details.

Rogier indeed did that. He said he desperately needed an Apple gift card for a friend who had been diagnosed with breast cancer – and who had lost both parents to Covid.

“I can't do this right now,” said Roger (get a gift card). “The stores around here are out of stock and all my efforts to buy it online (have) failed.”

He then asked if I would step in and get a gift card that he could then send to his friend. “I will definitely pay you back,” he added. Roger finished, “Please let me know if you can handle this so I can tell you the amount and how to get it to me.”

Of course, 'Roger' is a scammer and one of many currently using similarly emotional emails to convince recipients to part with money by purchasing an Apple gift card on their behalf.

If I had fallen for Roger's trick and bought the gift card, he would have asked for the numbers on the back. This would have given him (not his fictional friend) access to the money on the card.

Apple is aware of this email fraud and has warned about it on its website.

So if Roger sends you an email, give him the cold shoulder.