Review of 2013: what happened in the news in May

Updated: 

B4TM9Y Macro screenshot of the Amazon online shopping website (Editorial use only).. Image shot 2008. Exact date unknown.

Tax was the hot topic of the month, with profitable multi-national companies seemingly escaping high tax bills, individuals being hit with a new kind of fine, and the latest Tax Freedom Day in almost a decade.

However, it wasn't all bad news...


Tax row

Amazon joined the list of major corporations that admitted to paying a pittance in UK tax. The UK arm of Amazon paid corporation tax of just £2.4 million in the previous year, despite sales of £4.2 billion. It argued that it was based in Ireland - so most of its cash wasn't taxable in the UK.

Meanwhile MPs grilled Google executives on their tiny tax bill, and got the same excuses. Starbucks, Google and Amazon became the focus for an outpouring of anger against corporations failing to pull their weight.

Tax returns

May 1st saw a new kind of fine kick in for self-assessment taxpayers. Those who missed the January deadline already had to pay a £100 fine. However, if they hadn't submitted their return and paid the bill by May, they could see their fines rise by £10 a day. Those who hadn't paid by 1 August would see their fines reach £1,000.

Tax Freedom Day

Depressingly, this year Tax Freedom Day fell on 30 May. Tax campaigners calculate the percentage of the typical income that goes on tax, and divide it up over the year. Everything you earn until Tax Freedom Day goes to the government - the rest we keep ourselves. It was a day later than last year and the latest it has fallen in the calendar since 2006.

Tax credit scam

While tax continued to be a thorn in our sides, tax credits created their share of nightmares too. HMRC warned claimants that over the tax credit renewal period, they expected a surge of scams. These usually claim to offer a tax credit refund, but ask for your personal details on the pretext of needing to put money into your account. Once they have the details they then empty accounts.

Payday lenders

There weren't an enormous number of people in support of payday lenders before May, but the evidence against them continued to mount during the month. The Financial Ombudsman confirmed that there had been half a million new complaints about financial institutions over the year - a 92% increase on the year earlier. And while this had been primarily driven by the PPI scandal, complaints against payday lenders were up 83% too.

Meanwhile, one lender, Cash Lady, was ruled to have been advertising irresponsibly. The payday lender had used Kerry Katona in the adverts, focused on her financial problems, and encouraged people in similar situations to borrow money. The company agreed to change the advert, and shortly afterwards unveiled a new version. However, their relationship with Katona did not survive the year.

High street failings

There wasn't great news for the high street during the month. It emerged that the Express versions of supermarkets were 10% pricier than full-sized supermarkets, and that some goods were sold at a 40% mark-up.

Meanwhile a survey revealed the worst shops on the high street. WHSmith took the title after being branded 'messy' and 'expensive'. They were followed by EE, TK Maxx, Millets and independent department stores.

Crime

And the financial crime stories were enough to shake your faith in human nature. First there was the Royal Mail driver who stole £230,000 of parcels. Then came the gang who was jailed for the largest ever plot to make fake pound coins in the UK. The police confirmed that some of the coins may still be in circulation.

Good news on the phone

In amongst the bad news, were two more hopeful stores. First, Ofcom announced a clampdown on nuisance calls. It said that complaints figures indicated that large numbers of nuisance calls were being generated by some claims management companies. It confirmed that it was gathering further evidence and if its suspicions were confirmed it would launch full-blown formal investigations.

Meanwhile, one self-confessed 'call centre menu enthusiast' published a list of shortcuts to cut the endless wait for call centre menus - which had the potential to save UK callers £100 million.

Light relief

And there were some more unusual stories to cheer us up. There was the fact that McDonald's had launched a Mega Potato product in Japan. It was a portion of fries around twice the size of a large portion, and was meant for sharing. At an incredible 1,142 calories you can only hope no-one was buying it to eat alone.

Then there was a tiny wooden house that appeared overnight - crammed into a slim gap between two terraces in East London. Before the house appeared the space had been occupied by a falling-down shed, so the plywood home wasn't much less attractive. Sadly planners didn't let it stand for long.

And finally, Sean Lopes, on the US 'Most Wanted' list, was found working in Kent supermarket. Lopes was wanted for the kidnap and attempted murder of an ex-girlfriend in New York. The authorities had suspected he was hiding in Trinidad and Tobago.