Review of 2013: what happened in the news in July


Twitter reveals hot topics of 2013

July is always the height of the silly season. With the movers and shakers taking a break from the headlines, we were occupied with every-day irritations like terrible customer service, unwelcome charges, and parking.

It's a good job we had a Royal baby to bring some joy.

Phone rage

There was shock as it emerged that higher rate government phone lines cost callers £56 million last year and nearly half the bill was run up before customers even got through to speak to an adviser

The energy companies didn't fare much better, after Which? revealed that people were left waiting on hold for "anything up to half an hour" when they rang customer service departments at energy companies. It said that on average people were left waiting on hold for anything between 21 seconds (Ebico) and 17 minutes and 5 seconds (Npower) before they spoke to someone.

Meanwhile, a customer service expert named and shamed the most frustrating customer hotlines as:

2. Ford motor company
3. Lloyds TSB
4. Halifax
5. Co-operative Insurance Society
6. Transport for London
7. Direct Line Insurance
8. Churchill Insurance Company
9. Ticketmaster
10. Student Loans Company

Driving frustrations

Drivers in the London Borough of Barnet finally got fed up with being cash cows. After the council hiked the cost of residents' parking permits and visitor vouchers in controlled parking zones, they went to court to argue that the purpose of the charges was to control parking, not raise revenue. The court agreed and the increase was cancelled.

Meanwhile, Sutton Council in south London admitted it could not enforce a huge number of parking fines because another department of the council had hung flower baskets over all the parking restriction signs in Belmont village. It said it was an honest mistake, and blamed contractors.

Not even Bruce Springsteen escaped the clutches of the councils. A parking attendant stuck parking tickets on Springsteen's tour trucks as he prepared to play the first-ever gig at the brand new, £60 million Leeds Arena.

Potty property stories

There were two particularly strange property stories this month. First was the beautiful four-bedroom house in Devon which sold for £33,500. Similar properties in the area sell for around £400,000, but this one was slightly hampered by the fact it was about to fall off a cliff.

Meanwhile, a beach hut in Dorset went up for sale with £200,000 price tag – despite being just slightly larger than a garage and having no running water or electricity.

Companies break bad news

Ryanair may be wondering how it gained a reputation for being so unfriendly, but we only have to look back to July to get a few clues. This month Michael O'Leary said he would increase baggage charges until no-one takes its flights with luggage that needs to go in the hold. He added that "at some point" airlines would start charging even for hand luggage.

Amazon piled on more bad news, by increasing the amount a customer needs to spend to qualify for free delivery. Products in certain categories - DVDs, music, video games and software still qualified for free Supersaver Delivery. However, customers are now slapped with a £3.99 charge when they buy an electronics item under £10, with many others incurring a charge of over £6.00.

And Royal Mail had some bad news for the residents of Liskey Hill Crescent in Perranporth, Cornwall. They had to collect their letters from the nearest Post Office, because Royal Mail employees refused to deliver post to the street. Apparently postal workers were being subjected to dangerous attacks from seagulls - who were particularly attracted to the colour red.

The good news

Fortunately, it wasn't all doom and gloom. The OFT announced that 15 out of 50 payday lenders had thrown in the towel after being given a deadline to prove their business practices were up to scratch. Naturally it wasn't the end of payday loans scandals, but finally there was some positive news.

Meanwhile campaigners celebrated as The Bank of England responded to a public outcry over a lack of women on paper money. They said that Pride And Prejudice author Jane Austen would appear on £10 notes from 2017.

James Bond broke box office records after Skyfall took in £103 million to become the biggest earner in UK cinema history.

And, of course, on 22 July there was the birth of Prince George. The end of the month saw a frenzy of commemorative mug production and sales. At Emma Bridgewater in Staffordshire, company bosses described demand as "ballistic" - taking 7,000 orders for a run of special commemorative mugs in 24 hours.