New top 1.5% cash ISA

New top 1.5% cash ISA, new cheap 1 year fixed British Gas tariff, Halfords 20% off hack and Spark energy debt collectors rights. These are our Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis’ Deals of the Week.

Remember, deals can change quickly, even while I’m on the programme. So always double-check the terms and conditions before spending. Plus, while I hope these deals will save you cash, don’t spend if you can’t afford it, don’t need it, or won’t use it.

I’m doing a U-turn. All savers - grab the NEW 1.5% cash ISA now

Until April 2016, my constant refrain was "your money is nisa in a cash ISA" - as a cash ISA is just a savings account you can (now) put £20,000 a year in, and the interest is tax-free. But then the personal savings allowance (PSA) launched, which means basic 20% rate taxpayers can earn £1,000 in interest a year without paying tax on it (equivalent to interest on £67,000 in the top easy access rate) and higher 40% rate taxpayers can earn £500/year tax-free (roughly £33,500 saved). So 95% of people no longer pay tax on savings interest anyway, and as the top cash ISAs started paying significantly less than the equivalent normal savings, that meant most people shouldn't bother with them.

But now, Coventry BS has just launched a cash ISA paying 1.5% - the same rate as the top comparable normal savings from Marcus Bank also paying 1.5% (Family BS pays a slightly higher 1.51% but there’s min £15k and a limited pay-in period). Plus as it's easy access you can withdraw when you want, and it's flexible, so if you do withdraw, you can return the money in the same tax year with no impact on your £20,000 ISA allowance. So even if you don't pay savings interest tax now, in case something changes in future, you may as well grab it if you want easy access, as the rate is the same as an equivalent non-ISA. Yet don't with fixed cash ISAs, as their rates are still lower.

Yet unless you pay tax on savings, don't stick with Coventry BS if the rate drops. Like all easy-access accounts, it's a variable rate, so the rate may drop in future. If it does or normal savings get significantly better, you can just take your money and move it elsewhere. Though if you're close to maxing out your PSA, you may want to keep some in a cash ISA, in case interest rates rise generally when you'll then gain from protection from taxes.

If you’re a potential first-time buyer though it’s far better to get either a Lifetime ISA or Help to Buy ISA as you get a 25% boost to your savings. There are free guides online to help you decide which is best for you.

Cheap 1yr fix British Gas tariff (for existing customers too) plus ‘free’ boiler cover for most – save £230/yr For years I’ve gone on about how easy it is to compare and switch to the markets cheapest energy tariffs using a whole of market comparison site such as Martin’s Cheap Energy Club(which also gives cashback including for the British Gas tariff below) or any Ofgem-approved site. Yet there’s still staggeringly over 50% of you on your energy providers standard tariff, paying way more than you need to for your energy, and you’ll see price rises for standard tariffs next month too.

Yet if one of the reasons why you haven’t switched is because you’re nervous of switching away from a big six provider, then that’s no longer an excuse. British Gas has just relaunched a new dual fuel, direct debit tariff that’s fixed for a year (i.e. where you get both gas and electricity from it) called ‘Energy Plus Boiler Cover March 2020’ and this is available for both new and existing British Gas customers. Plus it’s the cheapest deals from a big six company (not factoring in the boiler cover).

On average it is £1,020/year (though it depends on your region), £230 cheaper than its standard variable tariff. It also includes British Gas Boiler Insurance for no extra cost, which would cost around £60ish alone. If you don’t already have a British Gas Smart meter, it will install one as part of this. All that means is you won't need to give meter readings in future.

So if you’re currently a British Gas customer (or with a big 6 firm) and want to stick with it, this is a no-brainer saving – there are no exit fees for switching to it, but you can’t get it direct (not even if you call it), you can only get it via a comparison site.

Martin’s Quickies:

Halfords hack: Trade in any old helmet for up to £700 off a new bicycle. Until Wednesday 3 April take any old, unwanted bike, scooter or helmet to a Halfords store and you’ll be able to get 20% off any new bike, scooter or helmet. For example, swap an old £5 (or cheaper) cycle helmet bought anywhere, and you can get as much as £700 off on a new bike (the most expensive bike at Halfords costs £3,500). Of course, I’m only suggesting you do it if you already planned to buy something, and when my team checked 10 popular bikes they were all cheapest at Halfords with the discount but as always, you should do your own price comparison to make sure it's a good deal. Alternatively enter the code TRADEIN20 online and you then have 14 days to complete your trade-in at a store.

Spark energy customer and been contacted by a debt collection agency? Your rights explained. Last November, small supplier Spark Energy went into administration and was taken over by Ovo Energy. Yet while customers were told to continue paying their direct debits or prepayment top-ups, rather than the payments crediting their existing Spark Energy account, payments made after 28 November were paid into a new account instead. So any balances on their old accounts remained unpaid and KPMG (the administrator) outrageously appointed third-party debt collection agencies to collect it. KPMG hasn't named these agencies, but customers have mostly said they've been contacted by Opos Limited.

Importantly, if you've been sent a letter, email or text from a debt collector out of the blue, don't panic, but don't ignore it either. It’s not a scam and you do need to act on it. If you agree with the amount owed – most likely from before 28 November – then you’ll need to pay it, otherwise it could leave a mark on your credit file. If you don’t agree then contact Spark Energy on 0345 034 7474 or via online chat.

Remember if you’re unhappy and want to complain, first go to Spark Energy (though it may not be able to help with debt collector issues), and if you’re still unhappy you can escalate your case to the free Energy Ombudsman. I have been lobbying the regulator Ofgem to intervene on this especially as receiving emails from debt collectors out of the blue is intimidating, fearsome and at worst can risk impacting some people's mental health and stress levels.