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Our advice column features common queries along with advice and information about what you can do to resolve them.
If you have an issue that you are trying to resolve and it is not covered below you can call us for advice on freephone 0800 144 88 48 (lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm), or you can email us
Our latest advice columns:
I do most of my shopping online. I am always on the lookout for a bargain, especially with the festive season coming up but I’m worried about scammers. What should I look for, to avoid getting caught out?
You’re not alone, lots of people do their shopping online these days, it’s convenient and can save you time. But as more and more of us move online, so are scammers, with their tactics becoming more sophisticated all the time.
While scams can be tricky to recognise there are always things you can look out for and steps you can take to protect yourself from falling foul to a scammer.
The golden rule to remember is that if it seems too good to be true then it probably is. This goes for products which are ‘must-haves’, are sold out at major retailers, or are heavily discounted.
If you’re buying from a site you haven’t used before, do some research before hitting buy. Find the company’s return and refund policies so you know your rights if something goes wrong with your purchase. You should also look up the company’s address, this can normally be found in the website’s ‘contact us’ section and should have a street name, not just a post office box.
Also take some time to see what other people have said about the website. Start with an internet search and look at different review websites, don’t rely on reviews the company has put on its own website.
Be very wary of people contacting you out of the blue on social media or via text and email offering an item for sale or deal on something. And scammers will often ask you to pay in unusual ways, or put you under pressure to buy very quickly. For example, they’ll ask you to send money through a transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union or pay via vouchers.
If you do fall victim to a scam, firstly don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed. Scammers are clever and regularly adapt their methods making them harder to spot. Anyone can get scammed.
Secondly, do report it, this alerts authorities to scammers’ techniques and prevents others from being taken advantage of. You can report a scam to Citizens Advice
or Action Fraud
If you’ve transferred money in the last 24 hours contact the police via the non-emergency number 101, however if you feel unsafe use 999. Also contact your bank to let them know you’ve transferred money, you should still do this if 24 hours have passed.
Halloween is coming up and my children are keen to dress up for trick-or-treat. I’ve read about accidents involving costumes catching fire and I’m worried about buying an outfit that could be highly flammable. I don’t want to spoil their fun but I do want to make sure everyone is safe. How can I check if the costumes would be safe for my children to wear?
It’s not easy being the ‘safety police’ when everyone just wants to have fun - especially when that fun includes extravagant costumes. Children should always be kept away from naked flames, but Halloween costumes come with their own set of risks for which extra safety precautions are needed.
They’re not always subject to the same fire safety checks as normal clothing as they can often be classed as toys. With Halloween being a time where lots of lit candles in pumpkins are on the same doorsteps that trick-or-treaters congregate on. As you rightly point out there have sadly been accidents associated with dressing-up outfits and so checking the garment complies with UK/EU safety standards should be a top priority.
No one wants an unexpected horror story at Halloween so it’s always best to know what you’re looking for when buying any costume to make sure the risks are limited as much as they can be:
- Always buy your Halloween costumes from reputable shops and online retailers. If you haven’t bought anything from the shop before make sure you check online reviews.
- Make sure the costume comes with safety instructions, a UKCA or CE marking and the manufacturer’s name. The UKCA marking is the post-Brexit British equivalent of the CE mark which is also still valid.
- Check for any product recalls online — searching for ‘product safety recalls’ will bring up the Office for Product Safety and Standards list.
And while you might like to let your creative streak run wild and attempt to make your own bespoke costume, it’s worth keeping in mind that homemade fancy dress costumes may also come with risks, especially if you use fabrics or decorations not designed to be worn.
If you’d like more advice, or to report something to Trading Standards, contact Citizens Advice consumer service by phone or online
I need a new car for work but I can’t afford to buy a new one so I’ve been looking at second-hand options. I’ve heard so many horror stories about people buying cars that turn out to be faulty. I’m worried that I won’t know what to check, especially as I know very little about cars. How can I make sure I don’t buy a dud car?
For many people, buying a car is a major purchase and whether it’s new or second-hand, the process can seem daunting and complicated. But don’t worry, there’s lots of information on the steps to take when buying a car and what you can do afterwards if something goes wrong on the Citizens Advice website
First of all, where are you going to buy the car? If you’re buying from a trader, choose a trustworthy one with an established name with a good reputation. Ideally, they will be part of a trade association or follow the industry’s code of practice.
If you’re buying via an auction, this is much riskier as you’ll have fewer legal protections like the right to returns or refunds so carefully read the terms and conditions before you bid.
If you buy from a private seller, there’s a few extra steps to take. For instance, try to inspect the car at their home address so if something goes wrong later, you have a record of that.
Make sure the car’s details are correct by using the DVLA’s free online vehicle information checker
. You’ll need the registration number, MOT test number, mileage and make/model of the car to do this check. Also, check the car’s MOT history for free on gov.uk
Keep a copy of both these results (take a screenshot or download the information) as well as the original advert or description of the car. You might also consider getting a private history check to see if the car’s been reported stolen, still has money owing on it, or has been in a serious crash. This will cost about £20.
Before buying a car, it’s good to check if it meets emissions standards as it could mean paying extra charges when driving through London’s ULEZ
or clean air zones
across the UK.
Inspecting the car is crucial before buying. Ideally, do this during the day when it’s not raining (scratches are harder to see on a wet car) and take it for a test drive for at least 15 minutes and on different types of road, if possible. Check you have the appropriate insurance for a test drive (either your own or the seller’s policy might cover you).
Once you’ve decided on a car, don’t be afraid to negotiate on the price. If you take out a loan or finance to buy it, make sure you can afford the repayments over the lifetime of the contract. If you pay with cash, you will have fewer protections than other options like debit.
Often, despite doing all these checks, you might find something wrong with the car after you’ve bought it. You may have a legal right to a repair, the cost of a repair or some money back but it’s on a case-by-case basis and some examples might be the car’s mileage is wrong or the car keeps breaking down.
For more information, check out the Citizens Advice website
or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.
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My children are starting new schools in September, one is in primary school and the other secondary. Between uniforms, PE kit and knowing they’ll need to catch the bus each day the costs are adding up. I’m already pretty stretched, so I’m not sure how to cover these extra outgoings. Is there any help I can get?
A new school year can put pressure on lots of people’s budgets, so you’re not alone in your worries. But there is help available.
A good place to start is the Citizens Advice website
where you’ll find lots of information on the support you might be entitled to for school-related costs.
The help you can get to cover school lunches will vary depending on how old your children are and if you claim benefits. Children in Reception, Year 1 and 2 automatically get free school meals. You can apply for free school meals for older children if you claim certain types of benefits, including Universal Credit, Child Tax Credit and Income Support. The full list is available on the Citizens Advice website
You mentioned concerns about travel costs. If your child can't walk to school because of special educational needs or disabilities they should get free school transport. You may be able to get help with transport costs from your Local Education Authority if your children can’t walk because it's dangerous or too far. Your Local Education Authority is part of your local council that deals with education in your area, you can find yours on GOV.UK. Contact it directly to find out exactly what support it offers.
If you’re on a low income, your Local Education Authority may also be able to help you with activity and school uniform costs. You’re likely to be considered to be on a low income if you get means-tested benefits like Universal Credit or Housing Benefit. In some places there are also local charitable schemes that can help. A good place to find out about these is the school itself or Parent Teacher Association (PTA) both will usually know if these kinds of schemes exist.
A lot of people are feeling the squeeze at the moment, but it’s important to remember that help is available with starting school costs and you’re not alone. For more information visit the Citizens Advice website
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I bought a pram for £400 online, but it never arrived. At checkout it said delivery would take 3-5 working days, but I never received any tracking information. I chased the seller and they said they’d speak to the delivery company, but now when I try to phone them my call goes straight to voicemail. I’ve had no response to emails either. The website I bought it through looked legitimate but now I’ve seen people posting on review sites about products that never arrived and some are saying this is a bogus seller. Have I been scammed and if so, what can I do?
This sounds like a very frustrating situation, and unfortunately scammers are always finding more sophisticated ways to trick shoppers, including having very legitimate-looking websites.
From what you've said, there are signs it could be a scam. We’ve detailed information on our website
about how to spot the signs of a scam that you might find useful to check.
As you’ve already parted with your money, the first step is to contact your bank immediately to let them know you think you’ve been scammed.
In terms of getting your money back, a lot depends on how you paid. We have full details on our website on the routes you can take
. For example, if you paid by debit card, your card provider can ask the seller’s bank to refund the money. This is known as the ‘chargeback scheme’. If you paid by credit card and the item cost more than £100 but less than £30,000 you might be able to claim under the Consumer Credit Act. This is known as a ‘Section 75 claim’. Under £100 on credit card you can’t use Section 75, but you can use chargeback.
It’s always a good idea to report a scam, even if you haven’t got your money back yet. You can do this by contacting Action Fraud.
It’s also worth knowing your rights as a consumer in case the seller does get back in contact and turns out not to be a scammer. If something you ordered hasn’t arrived, it’s the seller’s responsibility to get the item to you. So if they say they don’t know where the pram is, you can ask for a redelivery or, depending on how long you’ve waited for a delivery, you may be able to get a refund from the seller. We have advice on our website about how to do this.
It’s also worth knowing that if a trader, having taken your money, refuses to deliver an item, Trading Standards may be able to investigate them.
For more advice on dealing with suspected scams or problems with traders, call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline 0808 223 1133 or talk to an adviser online through the Citizens Advice website. Many people may need emotional support after falling victim to a scam, and we have advice on our website
about how to get this too.
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We’ve booked a package holiday to Spain. It’s our first time booking this sort of getaway, and a friend recently had a terrible experience when things went wrong on a similar trip. What sort of help is available if something does go wrong?
Hopefully you’ll have a lovely time but if something does go wrong with your package holiday, the Citizens Advice website has lots of information
about what to do if something goes wrong with your holiday and what compensation you may be eligible for.
Firstly, tell the company or travel agent you booked with as soon as possible. This way you’re more likely to be able to get it sorted quicker. If you don’t say anything until you get home, you might get less or no compensation at all.
If the holiday you went on turned out to be lower in value than the one you originally booked you can make a claim for ‘loss of value’. For example you paid for a deluxe room but only got a standard one, if it wasn't sorted out at the time you can claim back the difference in value.
You can also claim compensation for any extra money you have to spend while away, for example the hotel was a bus ride away from the beach rather than across the road as advertised. This is called claiming for ‘out-of-pocket expenses’. If this does happen make sure you keep all your receipts for things like bus journeys.
If big parts of the trip you booked didn’t happen or services weren’t provided, for example a planned two-day excursion was cancelled and no alternative was organised, you can make a claim for ‘loss of enjoyment’. You can also make this claim if something happens that causes you distress or disappointment, such as the pool was closed for the whole trip.
It’s worth noting that there’s no there’s no strict guidance on how much you can claim for loss of enjoyment but any claim you make must be reasonable. You can’t get compensation if you simply didn’t enjoy the holiday or if the problem was out of the holiday company’s control - like bad weather.
Check the information you received when you made the booking to see what you’re supposed to get. If you don’t get the service you’ve been promised, you may be entitled to compensation for breach of contract. You might also be able to claim from your travel insurance – check if your policy covers this.
If you’re still not sure what to do, call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline 0808 223 1133 or talk to an adviser online through the Citizens Advice website.
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I’ve just had my bathroom retiled, but I’m not happy with the work.
At first, things seemed to be going well, but then the tradesperson left to do another job and I had to chase them for updates. They did eventually come back and finish the job, but the work was pretty rough around the edges. They also left all the old tiles and plaster for me to dispose of, which I wasn’t expecting. I’ve now got the invoice, but I don’t think the price reflects the work done or the service I got. Can I challenge this?
It’s always frustrating when you run into problems with home improvements.
You mention that the job looked “rough round the edges”, if this is to a degree you could consider the job unfinished or unsafe, you should be able to get the tiler to come back to fix it. You could also suggest removing the old tiles might be considered as part of finishing the job.
If the tiler considers the work complete, it’s worth knowing you’re protected by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which says the tiler should have completed the work with ‘reasonable care and skill’. If they haven’t done this, they’ve broken the law. The Act means you’re legally entitled to ask the tiler to fix the problem (if they provided the tiles as well as the service) or get money refunded (if they just provided the service and you bought the tiles). They should fix the problem or refund you in a reasonable amount of time, without causing too much inconvenience. As you’ve received the invoice for the work but not paid yet, now would be a good time to ask them to fix the issue or you can negotiate a lower price for the work.
Let the tiler know you understand what you’re entitled to. Speak to them in person, or contact them in writing/over email, there are template letters
on the Citizens Advice website, either way make sure you have a written copy of anything agreed. Before you contact them, it’s a good idea to take photographs to use as evidence of the problem. Make notes about what happened, including dates and times. You should also gather any paperwork and receipts - was there any prior written agreement about who would dispose of the old tiles? Was the final cost was in line with estimates or quotes given to you at the outset of the work? If not, there is advice on the Citizens Advice website
about steps you can take.
If you’re struggling to come to an agreement with the tiler, there are other steps you can take to solve your problem these include using ‘alternative dispute resolution’, which is a way of solving disagreements without going to court. There are full details
about how to do this on the Citizens Advice website.
Contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133
if you need more help - a trained adviser can give you advice over the phone. You can also use an online form
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I recently started a new job where my boss has told me I’ll have to work on bank holidays. This was never the case in my old job. Can my employer really make me work on a public holiday, and should I get paid extra if I do?
Congratulations on the new job and wonderful to hear you’re enjoying the work.
Unfortunately, when it comes to bank holidays, whether or not staff have to work is up to their employer, and you don’t have to be paid more if you do. The situation will vary from job to job and may depend on a number of factors such as whether your place of work is open on bank holidays, your hours of work and crucially, what your contract says.
Take a look at your contract, if you have one, to find out what your personal situation is. Your contract might say you will always get bank holidays off but it might say you may sometimes be required to work them or will always be required to work. If your place of work is normally open on a bank holiday you’ll probably be asked to work at least some. But if your contract says you get bank holidays off you shouldn’t be asked to work.
Your contract might say something like: “In addition to bank and public holidays, your annual entitlement to holidays is X days”. This means you get public holidays off in addition to your annual leave entitlement but it might not mean you’re entitled to take the specific days off. You may be required to work a bank holiday, in which case you should get another day off instead.
Alternatively, it might say something like: “Your annual holiday entitlement (inclusive of bank and public holidays) is X days” - this means you have to take bank holidays off as part of your annual leave entitlement. Bank holidays will either be deducted from your annual leave allowance (so you’ll have to book all bank holidays as paid time off) or counted as additional holiday days.
A common misunderstanding around bank holidays is that employers have to pay you extra for working them. This is not the case. Unless your contract says you’ll be paid extra you will just be paid your normal amount. If your contract says you are entitled to bank holidays but you’re asked to work, you should be able to take a different day off in lieu. Your employer has to follow what’s set out in your contract, if they don’t, you should raise this with them.
If you don’t have a contract, the legal default position is that your employer can tell you when you can or can’t take time off. If you’d like to request a bank holiday off, use the normal method for requesting time off.
If you find you need to resolve an issue with your employer, first ask for an informal chat, where you can raise your concerns. If this doesn’t get you anywhere, you may need to raise a formal grievance. If you need advice on this contact your local Citizens Advice
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I ordered a watch online with personalised engraving for my partner’s upcoming 40th birthday. The company has since gone out of business. I keep phoning and emailing them but can’t get through to anyone. I’m assuming they can’t fulfil my order, but I’d paid for the watch upfront and can’t afford to buy another gift until I get my money back, please help?
We understand the frustration you must be feeling - especially as you’ve already parted with your money and presumably spent time searching for a suitable gift for your partner’s special birthday. I assume you haven’t had a dispatch note yet, which suggests the order isn’t on its way.
If the company’s gone into administration, it may still be able to fulfil outstanding orders, but if the company is already in liquidation, you’ll need to try to get your money back. If you’re unsure about what state the company is in, the Citizens Advice website has information on how to find out.
As the company hasn’t responded to your calls or emails, is there a shop or office you can visit or write to, to get an update on your order, or request a refund? If that isn’t possible, the next steps depend on whether it’s a limited company (it will have ltd or plc after its title) or if it’s a sole trader (someone who runs their own business) or partnership.
If it’s a limited company, you’ll need to get details of the administrator or receiver - the person dealing with settling the trader’s debts. The names of those administrators will usually be on the website of the company that’s gone bust. You should register your claim as a creditor on the GOV.UK website. Fill out the form with details of what you’re owed and send it to the administrator dealing with the trader’s debts.
Unfortunately, there’s only a small chance you’ll receive any money back because you’ll be last in a long list of creditors who need to be paid.
As the order was online (and I’m therefore assuming you paid by debit or credit card) you could also try getting your money back with a Section 75 claim or a chargeback claim to your card provider or bank. Full details about both these types of claims can be found on the Citizens Advice website.
If the seller was a sole trader or partnership and not a limited company, pursuing a Section 75 or chargeback claim is your best option.
I’ve been offered, and accepted a new job. The new company wants me to start as soon as possible but we’re really short-staffed where I am now and I don’t know how soon I’ll be allowed to leave. How should I bring all this up with my boss
Congratulations on your new role! It can feel awkward telling your employer you’re moving on but there are set processes in place. The time between telling your employer you’ve found a new position and you actually leaving is known as your notice period.
If you’ve been in your current job for less than one month, you won’t have to give any notice period (unless your contract says otherwise). If it’s more than a month though, you have to give at least one week’s notice. Check what your contract says to find out how much notice you’ll be expected to give.
If you don’t have a contract, and your employer has no written record of you agreeing to a notice period but you have been employed for more than a month you have to give at least one week’s notice.
Although it may be tempting to hand in your resignation as soon as possible, it’s worth waiting until your new employer has confirmed your new employment, for example by signing your contract or by giving you a start date.
It’s then best to give your resignation in writing (email is fine), so that you have a record of the date you told your employer. You can find guidance on how to do this on the Citizens Advice website, where we have a page on handing in your notice
Fixed-term contracts are a bit different, as you won’t need to give notice if you intend to leave on the last day of your contract. Leaving before the end of a fixed-term contract usually means giving at least one week’s notice, but again check your contract to see if this is different.
Don’t forget about your holiday days during your notice period. If you have any unused annual leave, speak to your employer about either taking these during the notice period or being paid back for them in your final paycheque.
Finally, sometimes people can change their mind about moving jobs or find their circumstances alter. If this happens to you, you should speak to your current employer to see what your options are and if you can stay in your current role.
Everyone’s situation is different, but if you face any challenges with an existing or potential employer, contact us, your Local Citizens Advice, for advice on: 0800 144 8848
Lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm (closed on bank holidays); or you can email us,
or visit our website pages about what to do when you’re leaving a job
As the weather has turned colder, I’ve noticed mould and damp in our flat. It’s mainly in our bedroom, including some black mould on the carpet. I’ve been chasing our letting agency, who say they’ll speak to our landlord. I’m really worried about how this might affect our health. Our tenancy agreement isn’t up for eight months, what can I do?
It’s good that you’ve already raised the issue with your letting agency. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to work out the cause of mould or damp. This can make it difficult to work out if your landlord is responsible, unless there’s an obvious cause, like a leaking roof.
There are many causes of damp that properties can get. The most common are rising, penetrating, construction and condensation damp. On our website there is information that may help you work out what type of damp you have, who is responsible and what you can do. Check your tenancy agreement too for mentions of repairs and damp, and reach out to Citizens Advice on anything you’re unsure about.
A landlord will have to act in relation to damp if it makes the property unsafe for someone to live in. This could be for example, if it is making the tenant or a member of their family ill. The landlord will also be responsible if the damp is related to repairs they should have carried out, like if heaters are broken. If the damp has damaged items that the landlord is responsible for, such as carpets and window frames, they’ll likely have to cover the cost of repairs.
One of the most common causes of damp is condensation. To prevent this, it’s important to keep homes well-heated and well-ventilated, but for a lot of people this will be trickier to do given the colder weather and higher heating costs. You may be eligible for help to insulate and heat your home, and should visit our website to find out more.
On our website we also have advice on things that can make damp worse and may impact the landlord taking responsibility for repairs. These include drying clothes on heaters or blocking air vents.
If your landlord is responsible for the damp in your property but doesn’t act, there are steps you can take, such as reporting them to the local authority. If you’re in social housing you might also be able to use the landlord’s formal complaints procedure. There is more information about this on our website. If it reaches the point where you want to get out of a fixed term tenancy agreement early, do speak to an adviser first, as there might be better ways to approach the issue.
Contact us, your local Citizens Advice on 0800 144 8848 for personalised support. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm (closed on bank holidays); or you can email us
You may also find helpful information on: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/housing/renting-privately/during-your-tenancy/dealing-with-repairs/
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