I'm cold. Very cold. It's 6.30 in the morning and I'm standing outside a house in Fulham, trying to get an interview with one of the directors of Farepak. The lights are out, and the curtains are tightly drawn. The company he ran — offering hard-up families the chance to pay in advance for Christmas hampers — has just collapsed, leaving more than 100,000 with nothing for Christmas. Vilified in the papers for being the "Scrooge of Christmas", perhaps not surprisingly, he seems to have gone to ground. I put a letter requesting an interview through the door anyway. It's also interest rates decision day. My cameraman and I crawl through traffic to get back to the office in time to edit a package on inflation. I then race down to the City to do a live outside the Bank of England. And then something goes wrong. We lose satellite communications and — with minutes to go — have to rush to another location. The engineer and cameraman are frantically plugging in wires and cables, and miraculously connect me to the studio with seconds to go. The live goes out smoothly, but I'm consumed by nervy giggles the second it is over. On the way back I get a call from the director's representative — with a vague promise that he might do an interview with us next week.
There's no obvious money story today. I've only been in this post for a couple of months and still feel as if I'm getting my head around the stories. Being on air at noon puts us under a lot of pressure — my day starts at 7am, but phone calls start getting answered at nine, which only leaves us three hours to get our story. On a day like today it's a case of following up on past stories or looking for new angles on stories already out there. These are the stressful days. By Friday lunchtimes, I am without exception, very tired indeed.
As a general reporter at Channel 4 News, I spent lots of my time out of the office, getting interviews, filming, or in court, covering cases.
This new role is much more studio based — doing live studio spots across the desk from the presenter. I still haven't quite got used to people talking in my ear as I'm trying to explain complicated financial stories. And I'm always nervous that Krish — the presenter — will ask me a question I don't know the answer to. Fortunately, this hasn't happened yet. But this afternoon I do get a chance to go out filming.
I've been invited to see how an IVA company works. They are essentially debt management companies that offer people in chronic debt a chance to pay back some of what they owe, without going bankrupt. They set up what are known as Individual Voluntary Arrangements. The companies have been accused by debt charities of mis-selling IVAs as a way of getting management fees for themselves, when it's not in the best interests of the customer. But now the IVA companies are fighting back. I spend the afternoon filming with one company. It seems a very slick operation — and they're adamant that it's in their interests only to arrange IVAs for people who really qualify for them. When I leave, I can't help but notice the Jaguars and BMWs in the car park.
A good story today that could really affect all our viewers. First Direct announces that it is going to introduce charges on its current accounts — £10 a month, unless you pay in £1,500 a month. Is this the beginning of the end of free banking? The bank says it's targeting customers who don't use their accounts and cost them money. But they're being criticised for only wanting to hold on to rich customers. You need to earn £24,000 a year to meet the minimum monthly deposit. Another theory is that First Direct's parent bank, HSBC, is using this to test the water for more widespread bank charges in the future. First Direct refuses all our requests for interviews. It's very frustrating, as we have a dedicated money slot that provides really useful information for our viewers. Today is also the day my producer, Scott, returns from his three-week honeymoon. Probably not a day to celebrate for him, but I am delighted. He's brilliant. This afternoon I go for drinks at a debt management conference.
My editor, Julie, has been very keen on the IVA story and it's something we have covered extensively. Debt charities have told us they have much anecdotal evidence that they are being mis-sold to people who end up taking one out, but then have to declare themselves bankrupt anyway. The companies themselves advertise quite aggressively, but they aren't regulated at all. Only the insolvency practitioners, who work for them, are.
The banks don't like them either, because they only get back a proportion of what they're owed. The minister in charge of this area, Jim Fitzpatrick, has until now categorically ruled out any regulation of the business. We've been pestering him for an interview for weeks. And finally his press office agrees. We run my piece about how IVA companies work, and raise concerns of those in the industry. And he admits on our programme that the Government will consider regulation if it finds evidence of wrongdoing.