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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 freephone 0800 144 88 48 (lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm), or you can email us
 
November 2021
It feels like everything is getting more and more expensive and with Christmas coming up, I'm really worried about how I'll manage. My partner and I would love to treat our kids but we’re keen to avoid huge debts. Do you have any advice?
 
Christmas can be costly for many of us and we know lots of people are struggling already this year. There can be a lot of pressure to spend more than you can afford, so here are a few key things to remember as we head into 2022.
 
Be realistic and budget accordingly
Work out how much you can afford to spend – and stick to it. There’s nothing wrong with managing expectations, and suggesting things such as spending limits, secret Santas or maybe even that you don’t need to swap gifts.
 
Don’t forget the everyday bills
Remember that the rent or mortgage, utility bills, food bills and other existing debts still have to be paid – the consequences can be severe if they’re not. Even though it’s Christmas, it’s not worth starting the New Year being behind on your bills.
 
Tempted by Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL)?
While it can be tempting to split payments, make sure you have a plan for how to pay the money back - particularly if your circumstances or income were to change. If you're using BNPL repeatedly or using multiple BNPL options, make sure you know how much you owe in total. Make sure you understand what you’re signing up for, how you’ll make the repayments and what will happen if you can’t pay on time.
 
Buy safe to be safe
Whatever the deal, whatever the temptation, don’t buy from unauthorised traders and don’t borrow from unauthorised lenders. These could put you at risk of unscrupulous collection methods  – including threats and harm, unsafe products and unexpectedly high interest rates. You may also not be protected by Financial Conduct Authority rules.
 
Shop around
Try as many different places as possible to find the best price. Buy what you want and not what other people say you need. Be wary of extended warranties; the cost of a repair could be less than the cost of the warranty.
 
Get help if you’re struggling
If you’re worried about paying the bills, get free, independent advice as soon as possible. There’s lots of information on the Citizens Advice website, or you can call us on freephone: 0800 144 8848 and an adviser will be able to help you understand your options and come up with a plan, or you can email us
 
Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit the Citizens Advice website. 
 

 
October 2021
My energy supplier recently went under and the new tariff I’ve been put on is far more than I used to pay. I’ve heard energy prices are set to rise further and I’m just not sure I can afford it. What help can I get or small changes can I make around my house to help save some money this winter?
 
The cost of energy is very high at the moment and it's causing many people to worry. Normally we would suggest switching to a better deal, but the situation is very difficult at the moment and there aren’t a lot of good deals out there. However, there are still other small ways you can keep your bills down.
 
Little everyday things can help, such as making sure televisions and other electronic devices are switched off and not left on standby; washing clothes on a lower temperature; and only filling the kettle with the water you need.
 
Turning down your main thermostat by 1 degree can save you around £60 on your energy bill. And by spending one minute less in the shower each day, a family of four could save £75 a year on energy and water bills. The Government’s Simple Energy Advice website has more tips like this.
 
You’re right in another way about bills going through the roof - and the walls. One way of cutting costs in the long-run is to invest in good insulation if you can afford to. If you’re renting, ask your landlord to do this.
 
You may be able to get financial support to help insulate your home under the Energy Company Obligation scheme. Contact your energy supplier for more information. If you’re in a household that’s not connected to the gas grid you may also be able to receive help under the Home Upgrade Grant scheme through your local authority.
 
There’s some financial support available for paying your energy bills, depending on your situation. For example, if you’re a pensioner with a low income or receive Universal Credit or other means-tested benefits, you may be entitled to the Warm Home Discount. This gives you £140 a year to go towards your bills. Check the Government website to find out if you can claim it.
 
The Government recently announced a £500m fund to support households this winter so keep a look out for announcements about how this could help you. In England, it will be distributed by Local Authorities. In Wales, it will be decided by the Government.
 
Remember you can always call our consumer helpline on 0808 2231133 for free advice about your energy costs and staying warm this winter.
 
Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit the Citizens Advice website. 

September 2021 
 
Renting for the first time
 
I’m going back to university and moving into a shared house with friends for the first time. Although I’m excited, I’m also a bit nervous as I’ve never rented from a private landlord before. The house looked fine when we viewed it, but that was months ago now and I’ve heard horror stories about dodgy landlords for student houses. What should I look out for when I move in?
 
Renting a house with friends is usually an exciting time. Most landlords are reasonable people who look after their properties and tenants well, but it’s always a good idea to know your rights.
 
Here’s a checklist of things to do when you first move in:
  • Make sure you have your landlord’s contact details. Your landlord is responsible for keeping your home in good condition and arranging repairs when they’re needed. They should be your first point of contact if anything goes wrong.
  • Make sure your deposit is protected. Check that your landlord has given you information about the scheme used to protect your deposit.
  • Take photos on the day you move in. It’s also worth asking your landlord or letting agent for an inventory, to check everything is in order. Use this to note down any problems and the condition of the furniture, kitchen, carpets, bathroom etc.
  • Check if you’re in a ‘house in multiple occupation’. If you’re living with two or more people who aren’t part of your family, and share a toilet, bathroom or kitchen with you, this is considered an HMO. This means your landlord must make sure your home meets certain safety standards. This includes making sure smoke alarms are installed and there’s a safe fire exit. The landlord must also ensure shared areas such as staircases and corridors are clean and in good repair. Some HMOs need to be licensed by the council - if you’re unsure whether this applies to your home, check with your local council.
  • Make sure your landlord gives you: a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate, an Energy Performance Certificate and a How to Rent leaflet.
  • Understand your tenancy agreement. It’s important to know who’s responsible for paying bills and what to do if there are any changes, like if someone wants to move out. The Citizens Advice website explains the different ways shared accommodation can be organised.
If you encounter a problem with the property, contact your landlord. They might not already be aware as they shouldn’t come in without your permission. If it relates to disrepair, for example if your heating system fails or there’s damp in the property, it’s best to put this in writing so that you have evidence if you need it later.
 
If your landlord is unresponsive or refuses to help, contact your student services or local Citizens Advice service for support. In serious cases, for example if your health or safety is at risk, you may be advised to contact the council.
 
The advice above applies to England only. Please visit the Citizens Advice website for advice for renting in Wales. 
 
Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit the Citizens Advice website. 
 

August 2021
 
Worries about affording school uniforms
 
I’m a single parent and lost my job during the pandemic. My local Citizens Advice helped me apply for Universal Credit which has been really helpful to cover some of the income I’ve lost. But I’m very worried about the upcoming £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit - I don't know how I'll be able to pay for the school uniforms and shoes, especially as they grow so fast! Is there any other support out there to help plug the gap?
 
If you're on a low income, you might be able to get help with some of the costs of sending your child to school, including school meals, transport and uniform. It’s always worth talking to your local education authority to see what support is available as some of their resources and offerings can differ. 
 
The following information is for England, and the local authority information is for Wiltshire Council.
 
Free school meals
Children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 automatically get free school meals. If you have older children you can apply for free school meals if you get certain benefits. In your case as you’re on Universal Credit and you applied after 1 April 2018 you would be eligible if you earn less than £7,400 a year without benefits. You can see the full list of eligibility requirements on the Citizens Advice website.
 
To apply for free school meals you need to contact your local authority. Here's how to apply in Wiltshire UA: Free school meals - Wiltshire Council.
If you live in another local authority area you can check the details at Gov.uk by typing your postcode in. 
 
Transport
If your children are aged between five to 16, your local education authority might offer free or lower cost transport if you don't live near school or your child's unable to walk there. You need to apply to your local education authority for help. Here's all the information, including how to apply in Wiltshire UA: Transport eligibility - Wiltshire Council
 
Uniforms and other costs
Your local education authority might also be able to help with some other costs, like uniforms, music lessons or trips and activities. There may also be local charitable schemes to help with these costs, it’s worth checking with the school to see if it knows of any. Schools can also sometimes also advise on finding secondhand uniforms.
 
What’s next
If your child is staying in education after year 11, you must tell HMRC’s Child Benefit Office if you want to continue receiving child benefit and any extra support for children within means-tested benefits. When your child turns 16, HMRC will send you a letter asking whether your child will stay in education or training. You must reply to this letter to keep getting Child Benefit.
 
We've more information about the impending cut to Universal Credit cut, including what other help and support there is available in our Universal Credit cut: Everything you need to know section.
 
Need advice?
Everyone’s circumstances are different, so if you'd like advice based on your situation, or you have any questions please do get in touch:
 
person with headset heritageblueTo speak to an adviser over the phone call us on freephone 0800 144 88 48 
Lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm
 
mail open heritageblueOr contact us directly for advice by email
 
Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit the Citizens Advice website. 
 

July 2021
 
Worries about paying your bills 
 
I’ve heard that Universal Credit is going to be cut from September. I struggle to get by as it is and I’m really worried that if I lose £20 a week, I’ll get into serious debt. I’m already behind on some of my bills. What can I do to avoid things getting worse? 
 
You’re not alone in this - there is support available.
 
Firstly, depending on your situation, you might be able to ask to have your Universal Credit paid differently - these are called ‘alternative payment arrangements’. This might be an option if you’re in debt or rent arrears, among other reasons. To apply for an alternative payment arrangement, call the Universal Credit helpline on: 0800 328 5644
 
If you’re behind on some of your bills, the first step is to make a list of how much you owe and add up how much you need to pay each month. 
 
You now need to prioritise your debts. We have advice on our website to help you do this. Some bills can cause you more problems than others if you don’t pay them. Rent or mortgage arrears, energy bills and council tax are your priority debts as there can be serious consequences if you don’t pay them.
 
Be sure to get in touch with the organisations you owe money to. Not everyone feels confident to do this, but they might be able to help by letting you pay smaller amounts or taking a break from payments. Many organisations have put in place protections for people who’ve struggled to pay their bills during the pandemic.
 
The government-backed Breathing Space scheme could also give you extra time. If you’re eligible, you could get 60 days where your creditors can’t contact you, take action to make you pay, or add interest and charges to your debt. You'll need to get advice from a debt adviser first - they’ll check all your debts to see if they’re covered by the scheme.
 
Finally, it’s always a good idea to have a budget - take a look at the budgeting tool on our website and make sure you’re getting all the income you’re entitled to.
 
Everyone’s circumstances are different, particularly when it comes to managing personal finances. If you need more specific support or don’t feel able to manage your situation alone, call our debt helpline: 0800 240 4420 or you can email us
 
Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit the Citizens Advice website. 

June 2021
 
Ticket refunds
 
I’ve got tickets to an event at the end of June, but given the recent government announcements on delays to the rules relaxing I don’t think it can go ahead. The organiser hasn’t reached out yet to explain next steps. What can I do?

Ticket holders who change their mind about going to see an event, like a concert that is still going ahead, have no legal right to a refund.

If, however, the event is cancelled, your refund rights will depend on how you bought the ticket. Email the organiser or check their website or social media profiles to see if there’s an update about the event.

If you bought your ticket from an official seller and the organiser cancels, moves, reschedules, or makes the event behind closed doors, you should get a refund. This is the case even if it is cancelled due to a government ban on large events. The official seller is the best person to ask about how to get a refund.

If you’re having no luck getting a refund check to see if the seller is a member of the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR). If they are, you can use STAR’s complaints procedure. STAR members should receive a refund at face value if the event is cancelled and the organiser has agreed to refunds.

If you bought your ticket from a ticket-reselling website, refunds will depend on the site's terms and conditions.

If you bought from a private seller and the event is cancelled or rescheduled then it is unlikely you will be able to recover your money. We still recommend you contact the seller.

If you're due to go to an event, keep checking the information from the official seller or organiser to ensure you're up to date.

Unfortunately, we’ve found that in these situations scammers prey on those who are affected.

If your event is cancelled and people or companies offer their services to try to recover money on your behalf, make sure that you're looking out for the signs of signs of a potential scam.
 
If you need further information or advice about what to do, call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline 0808 223 1133.
 
Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit the Citizens Advice website. 

May 2021
 
Rental repairs
 
I’ve been living in my privately rented flat for years. I generally have a good relationship with my landlord but I just can’t get them to carry out various repairs that have built up. How can I get them to act - and what exactly do they have to do?
 
This must be a very frustrating situation. The law states that your landlord must provide accommodation that is safe, healthy and free from things that could cause serious harm. (This is for England - housing is devolved in Wales.)
 
You don’t say exactly what repairs are needed. If you have problems such as electrical wiring that you think might be faulty, or there’s damp, or an infestation by pests, the landlord has a legal obligation to put things right.
 
Landlords are also responsible for the maintenance of the general structure, and fittings such as boilers and radiators; basins, baths and toilets; and the drains. 
 
The first step is to contact your landlord again, in writing. Include photographs of the problems. Keep a record of all communications and evidence relating to the disrepair. 
 
If that doesn’t prompt any action, advisors at Citizens Advice Wiltshire can help with next steps. These could include contacting your local council (who will have dedicated officers for dealing with disrepair in private rented properties) or asking for a visit by the environmental health team.
 
Tenants can take their landlords to court to force them to carry out repairs. However, it’s worth getting some advice and thinking carefully before embarking on this route.
 
If you would like free, confidential advice or support to resolve a housing issue, please get in touch
 
You can call us for free on 0800 144 88 48 (lines are open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, excluding bank holidays); or you can email us
 
Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit the Citizens Advice website. 

April 2021
 
Building complaints problems
 
I’ve been saving up to have my kitchen redone, but I’m a bit worried about it. Last time I had any work done on the house, it took more than double the time I thought it would and ended up costing me a fortune. I’m looking for a different builder this time, but how will I know I can trust them?
 
Many of us will take advantage of the warmer weather and bank holiday weekends coming up to improve our homes, and it’s important to make sure the job goes well. Here are some steps you should take when choosing a trader:
  • Find a Trading Standards ‘approved trader’ - use the internet to search for one in your area or the Government’s approved trader scheme TrustMark.
  • Get references or recommendations - ask people you know or ask the person you hire for examples of work they’ve carried out in the past. Try to avoid contractors who won’t give references - it’s a sign they could be dishonest.
  • Find out if they are a current member of a trade body - trade bodies have codes of practice and can help resolve problems if things go wrong, so check your trader is a member. Ask who they’re registered with and then check the trade body’s website.
  • Only use certified traders for gas and electrics - it’s dangerous to use someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Check the Gas Safe Register for a list of traders and use a registered electrician who can certify their own work. When you’re having a kitchen fitted, it’s worth checking whether the person you’ve hired will be doing the electrical or gas work themselves. If not, check who they will be using and whether they’re registered.
  • Get a written quote - this is different to an estimate. A quote is legally binding and the builder can’t change it without a good reason - for example, if you ask for extra work to be done. Try to compare quotes from a number of contractors to make sure you’re getting a fair price.
  • Get a written contract - this should cover exactly what you’re paying for and everything you’ve agreed on, like timings, payments, who will pay for materials and subcontractors.
  • Think carefully about payment - opt to pay in stages rather than upfront. Where possible, try to pay by card as this can afford you extra safeguards if something goes wrong.
  • Keep copies of receipts - also keep your written contract as evidence, as well as photos of any problems if they arise.

If you have a problem with a contractor, and you’re not sure what to do or where to go, call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline 0808 223 1133.

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


Spring 2021

Energy bill problems

My energy bill really shot up last month. I don’t feel like I’ve been using any more heating or electricity than usual, so I’m worried I’m being overcharged. I’ve tried to contact my energy supplier for support, but no one ever seems to answer the phone or respond to my emails. I’ve waited on hold for nearly an hour several times before giving up. What should I do?

It’s normal for your energy bills to change depending on the time of year and how much gas and electricity you’re using. But if your bills seem strangely high, then it’s important to investigate why.

Firstly, check your meter is working properly and your usage has definitely not gone up, even accidently. Also check what heaters you have and whether you’re using them correctly. Night storage radiators and immersion heaters in particular can cause very high bills if used incorrectly.

There are a few things worth looking into. It could be that your bill is an estimate, in which case you need to give your supplier a new meter reading. If it’s not an estimate, check your last meter reading to see if it matches the one on your bill. If you still don’t have an answer, your supplier might have raised their prices. In any case, you’re doing the right thing to contact them.

Customer service varies between suppliers and unfortunately we hear of many bad experiences similar to yours. We also know the problem has worsened during the pandemic. If you’re struggling to get through to them, you could make a formal complaint. We offer advice on how to do this and things to consider first.

We publish a comparison table every three months which rates suppliers’ customer service, based on things like telephone wait time, email response time and the accuracy of their bills. Have a look for yours to see how they fare against others. If they’re low on the list, consider switching to a different one.

If you’d like to talk it through with someone, get in touch with your nearest Citizens Advice for support or contact the consumer helpline.

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


February 2021
 
Post and delivery problems

We’ve had a lot of issues receiving our post recently and haven’t seen our usual postie around in a little while. I know that a couple of Christmas cards I sent in December still haven’t been received. And some of my neighbours who are shielding, and completely reliant on shopping online, have had some of their deliveries delayed too. Is there anything I can do?

You’re not alone, we know posties are currently working very hard, but we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of people coming to us for advice about post and parcel issues.

Letters

If you haven’t received any letters in your post, think about if there’s anything you were expecting like bills that might be due soon.  If you’re missing a bill you could check your account online to see how else you could pay. Lots of businesses offer online chat, email and phone as a way to contact them.

If you’re worried about missing letters about any benefits you receive you can contact the Department for Work and Pensions on the number given on any previous letters you’ve had. If you have questions about Universal Credit and don’t have a digital account, you can call the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644

You can check Royal Mail’s website for updates on areas which may be experiencing delays.

Parcels

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

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

Check the delivery address you gave the seller. Then contact them and ask where your order is.

If the seller claims they've delivered it or don't know where it is, you can ask for a redelivery. You might be able to get a refund in some circumstances where the delivery time was essential and you let the trader know ahead of time. 

Under the Consumer Rights Act, you can ask the seller to deliver the item again if the item wasn’t delivered either:

  • by an agreed date
  • within a reasonable time - usually within 30 days.

If the new delivery fails to come within a reasonable time you can ask the trader for a refund.

If you ordered something from a private seller or if you think a seller had broken the law by refusing to deliver an item, you can contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline for help.

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


January 2021
 
Coronavirus Scams
 
“I’m really worried about my elderly relatives being targeted by coronavirus scams - are there any warning signs that I can tell them to look out for? What should they do if they think that something is a scam?”
 
Unfortunately, we’ve seen an increase in scams since the beginning of the pandemic, so it’s good to be thinking about the steps you can take to help protect friends and family.
 
Common scams we’re seeing are about bogus testing kits, coronavirus vaccinations and government refunds or fines. You should watch out for messages about coronavirus from unusual email addresses or phone numbers, and shouldn’t click on any links. Be aware that you won’t be asked to pay for coronavirus vaccinations - they are provided for free by the NHS.
 
Here are some general warning signs to look out for:
  • You suspect you’re not dealing with a real company – for example, if there’s no postal address
  • You’ve been asked to transfer money quickly or to pay in an unusual way – for example, by iTunes vouchers or through a transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union
  • You’ve been asked to give away personal information like passwords or PINs
  • You haven't had written confirmation of what's been agreed
If you think something is a scam you should hang up the phone, close the website, or shut the front door. Never feel pressured to make a decision straight away, and don’t give out personal details or money unless you’re certain that they can trust the person. If you feel threatened or unsafe you can ring 999.
 
For help with online scams, contact a Citizens Advice Scams Action adviser by calling 0808 250 5050. For more information about other types of scams, visit the Citizens Advice website.
 
Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit the Citizens Advice website. 

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