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advice column
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 03444 111 444 (lines are open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm); or for advice in person, visit your local Citizens Advice or you can email us
 

February 2020

Small business money worries

I run a small business. It’s been a very difficult six months for us, we lost a contract with one of our major clients and I just haven’t been able to replace it with new business. Now I’ve just received a huge energy bill. It feels like the last straw and I'm really stressed.  

I’m sorry to hear about your problems. The first thing to do is to call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133. They can often help to resolve problems with energy suppliers.

It’s particularly important to do this quickly if you’re on a business contract and you’ve been told you’re going to be disconnected. If this happens an extra fee can be added to your bill, and then there’ll be another charge for being reconnected.

If you think the bill is wrong, get in touch with your energy company. If you are a microbusiness you can only be charged for gas or electricity you’ve used in the last 12 months - they can’t send you a new bill dating back longer than a year.

If the bill is correct, but you just can’t afford it, your energy supplier might agree to a payment plan. Work out a realistic budget so you know you’ll be able to afford the payments. Here at Citizens Advice we can help sole traders and individuals, but for other businesses there’s the Business Debtline on 0800 197 6026.

Moving forward, if your bills are being estimated you might be paying more than you need to. Set up a reminder on your phone to send monthly meter readings to your supplier or see if you can get a smart meter installed.

You may also find switching energy companies will save you money. You could also try energy efficiency measures such as switching off computers and other equipment overnight, using energy efficient light bulbs or making sure your premises are insulated.

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit the Citizens Advice website. 


January 2020

Applying for Settled Status

I’m from Poland and I know I need to apply for Settled Status as the UK leaves the European Union. But I’m really confused about what documents I need in order to apply for me and my children. We’ve lived in England for six years and I’m worried that if we don’t apply before the end of the month, we might have to leave.

You don’t need to apply by the end of the month - your rights won’t change until 31 December 2020. However, you should apply as soon as you can in case of any delays. After the transition period ends on 31 December you might be asked to prove your right to do things like get a job or use a service like the NHS. Having your status sorted will make this more straightforward.

To get settled status, you need evidence that you’ve lived in the UK for 6 months out of every 12 months for 5 years in a row. As you say you and your children have lived in the UK for six years, you should be eligible for this.

In order to apply, you’ll need to have a few things. These include a passport or national ID card, a digital photo, your National Insurance number or proof of how long you've lived in the UK, a mobile number and an email address.

If you’ve been working, you can find your National Insurance number on your pay slip. If not you can contact HM Revenue and Customs National Insurance Helpline on 0300 200 3500 to help find it.

It may be easier to make your children’s application after you’ve made your own. This way you’ll be able to ‘link’ your child’s application to yours, using the application number you got when you applied for yourself.

You can do this at any time after you’ve applied - you do not need to wait for a decision. And if your own application is successful, your child will get the same status as you.

In order to apply on behalf of your children, you will need to have proof of your relationship - for example a birth certificate.

If you need any extra help with your application, your local Citizens Advice is on hand to help.

You can also find more information about what Brexit means for you on the Citizens Advice website

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit the Citizens Advice website


December 2019

Parcel delivery problems

I bought my mum a Christmas present from an online store. I paid extra for next day delivery but it hasn't arrived. I tried to contact the delivery company but wasn't able to speak with anyone. The online store has said my parcel is with the delivery company and should arrive soon.  If it doesn't arrive soon, I won't be able to give it to my mum for Christmas. What can I do?

You paid for next day delivery so your goods should be delivered on the agreed date.

Because you bought something from a business to be delivered to you, it’s the seller’s responsibility to make sure the item is delivered.

As the seller used a courier, they should chase the courier to find out what’s happened to your order - it’s not your responsibility.

If you want the item:

Under the Consumer Rights Act, you can ask the seller to deliver the item again if the item wasn’t delivered by the agreed date.

Other steps to take if you want the item could be:

●     Cancel your original order and reorder it again from the same or a new online store

●     Check if a local store stocks the item(s)

●     Keep trying to contact the delivery company via tracking tools/phone/email

If you want to cancel your order:

You can cancel and ask for your money back because you haven't received your goods on the agreed date. Tell the seller that what has happened to your order is "a breach of contract under the Consumer Rights Act 2015" - as the delivery date was essential and they didn’t meet it.

You can find useful template letters and your rights on the Citizens Advice website.

Alternatively you can call our consumer service on 0808 223 1133. It’s open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and provides advice on consumer issues.

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit the Citizens Advice website. 


November 2019

Keeping the cost of your bills energy down

I live with my two children and partner in a small semi-detached house. During the winter we use more heating and electricity as we’re home more. Do you have any tips on how I can keep the cost of my energy down during the winter?

There are a few things you can do to save some money during the winter period. Check when your energy contract is due to expire. If you're at the end of your contract use energy compare by Citizens Advice to see if you could save money by switching supplier or tariff.

If you're on a prepayment meter you could save money by replacing your meter with one that lets you pay after using energy rather than in advance. Most suppliers won’t charge you for removing a prepayment meter, though many will run a credit check or ask you for a deposit.

You may also be eligible for certain grants and benefits, these could include Warm Home discount or help with energy debt. Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you need help with the application.

Here's a few practical tips to help keep costs down:

  1. Using a timer for your heating, lowering your thermostat and using radiator valve controls could save you over £100 per year
  2. Changing light bulbs to an energy-efficient one could save £50 over the lifetime of the bulb
  3. Turn appliances off standby mode to save around £30 a year
  4. Seal cracks in floors, skirting boards and add draft excluders to letterboxes, doors and windows.

Some energy suppliers also offer grants to allow improvements to your home, like insulation or a new boiler. What help you can get depends on your circumstances and what would help your home. You don’t need to be a customer of one of these suppliers to apply but you’ll need to check your eligibility.

More information about scams and what you can do can be found on the Citizens Advice website.

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit the Citizens Advice website. 

October 2019

Blue Badge scheme 

My mum has a non-visible disability, which causes her walking difficulties. I heard something on the news about how she may now be eligible for a blue badge. How can I find out about this and help her apply? 

On 30 August, the Blue Badge scheme was extended to people who live in England and have non-visible disabilities or conditions which affect their ability to walk. As a result, your mother may now qualify for a badge.

Your mother will be automatically eligible if she gets certain types of benefits. These include some categories of Personal Independence Payment and the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance.

If she’s not automatically eligible she can still apply for a badge. Her local authority will use evidence from doctors and other healthcare professionals to determine whether she qualifies or not.

Your mother can check her eligibility and apply for a local authority-issued Blue Badge at gov.uk/apply-blue-badge. If she can’t do this herself, you can apply on her behalf.

You’ll need a recent digital passport-style photo, proof of her identity, address, details of any benefits she receives, her National Insurance number, and evidence of how her non-visible disability or condition affects her mobility.

More information about whether you're eligible for a blue badge to help you park more easily, how to apply for and use a blue badge, and what to do if you're refused one can be found on the Citizens Advice website.

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit the Citizens Advice website. 

June 2019

Scams

About five years ago my father-in-law was the victim of a scam artist who fleeced him out of £5,000. Once he realised, he was devastated and we were able to work with his bank to get some of the money back. We thought it was all in the past but in the last six months he’s received numerous calls, letters and texts from what look like other scammers. We want to try and keep him safe as his memory isn’t the best, what can we do?

Unfortunately, falling victim to a scam once can increase exposure to further scams. Citizens Advice has found that, once someone has responded to a scam, their personal details can sometimes be sold onto other criminals. This then opens the door to more scam mail, emails, phone calls or home visits.

If you recognise a pattern of unsolicited calls, talk to your father-in-law’s telephone provider and see if you can get these numbers blocked or if you can get something called a ‘standalone call blocker.’ If not, register your father-in-law’s number with the Telephone Preference Service who can help you to handle unwanted marketing calls.

If your father-in-law is receiving texts it’s important that he never replies, as sometimes there can be costly hidden charges. He can report the texts to his mobile phone provider who will be able to block the number. If he’s already been stung and call cost information wasn’t given, he should report it to Phone-pay Plus.

Mail scammers can often impersonate banks, the local council, or other established and legitimate organisations. You should advise your father-in-law against responding unless he’s sure it’s legitimate and was expecting a letter. If in doubt he should contact the organisation directly to check the letter’s legitimacy. He should be careful to not just ring up the number on the letter as it could be a bogus call centre.

In addition, to safeguard your father-on-law from unwanted marketing material or junk mail, register his name and address for free with the Mailing Preference Service which will take his name off some mailing lists.

Doorstep scammers can often be intimidating, and unfortunately they commonly target older and more vulnerable people. Your father shouldn’t be embarrassed turning people away and shouldn’t let them in unless he’s expecting them. If someone comes to the door saying they are from one of his utility companies for example, he should ask to check their credentials. If in doubt, he should phone the company they represent or check online, but once again make sure to not just use the contact details they provide.

More information about scams and what you can do can be found on the Citizens Advice website.

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit the Citizens Advice website. 

April 2019

Council tax arrears

My first council tax bill of the year has come through and I know I’m not going to be able to afford it with so many other important bills to pay, let alone food. What should I do?

Council tax arrears is a “priority debt”, which means you need to address it before paying off other non-priority loans like credit cards.

Once you’ve missed a council tax payment, you’re in “arrears” and so owe money to your council. You should receive a letter from your council - it’s important not to ignore this as after 14 days your council can take you to court and request you pay your entire year’s bill at once.

It’s important you speak to the council straight away if you don’t think you can pay. Ask to speak to someone in the council tax office and tell them about your situation.

You’ll probably be asked to commit to paying a regular amount each month. If you're not sure how much you can afford, use the Citizen Advice budgeting tool or talk to one of our advisers.

If you're on a low income, you might be able to get a reduction on your council tax bill. You might also be able to qualify for your council’s Hardship Scheme. You can read more about getting help with your council tax on the Citizens Advice website.

If you fail to pay your council tax arrears you’ll have to pay court costs and possibly bailiff fees as well as your debt, which can add hundreds of pounds to your bill.

If you’re struggling with multiple debts you can contact your local Citizens Advice

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk

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