Author Archives: Oliver Domleo

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CAB News 14 June 2019

Image result for fca regulations buy now pay later borrowing

Friday 14 June 2019

Our reaction to the Financial Conduct Authority’s changes to the regulations on Buy Now Pay Later borrowing, which includes catalogue credit, store cards and retailers that offer finance at the point of sale, has been reported by both the broadsheet and tabloid national newspapers.

National

Financial regulator to tighten ‘buy now pay later’ rules

Financial Times (subscription required), 12/06/2019, Sarah Provan

Citizens Advice featured prominently in the Financial Times’ reporting of the FCA’s decision to tighten the rules on “buy now pay later” policies, potentially saving consumers up to £60m a year.

Gillian Guy said: “The new rules won’t stop people being hit by these unexpected costs on unpaid amounts.

“To better protect people, the FCA should go further and only allow firms to charge interest once the promotional period ends.”

The story was also covered by The Times and The Sun. The Times reported that these debts are the second most common credit issue after overdrafts that Citizens Advice is asked to help people with. The Sun listed some of our advice on how to cut the cost of your debt.

You can read our full statement here.

Universal Credit

Help to Claim will make a difference to those who find it hard to claim

Today in Parliament, Radio 4,12/06/2019, Sean Curran (23.41pm – about 10′ into clip)

Our Help to Claim scheme was held up as a way of improving the experiences of people applying for Universal Credit on the Radio 4’s Today in Parliament.

The programme featured the evidence of Department of Work and Pensions Minister, Will Quince, to a parliamentary committee investigating the difficulties of people applying for the benefit.

The Work and Pensions Committee was focusing on women who have turned to sex work – so-called “survival sex” – because of delays in the system.

The minister said he desperately wanted to see improvements and Help to Claim was a relatively new partnership which would help people who found the application process difficult.

Advice

Can life insurance be cancelled? When’s the best time to act?

Daily Express, 11/06/2019, Jess Sheldon

The advice on our website on how to cancel a life insurance policy was used by the Daily Express.

“As Citizen’s Advice explains, the cooling-off period is 30 days for those who have bought life insurance,” as opposed to 14 days for other policies,” said the paper.

The story used a large amount of our advice, including the tip that if you want to cancel a policy because you’ve found a better deal “it may be easier and cheaper to wait until your policy is due for renewal.”

Fraud

‘It didn’t feel like a scam, but I lost £520’

BBC News, 10/06/2019, Simon Read

Our Scams Awareness campaign continued to receive national media coverage. On the BBC website Christine, who come to us for help after being scammed out of £520, explained why she decided to talk about her experience:

“People need to speak up about this sort of thing. Had I known the warning signs of scams – like being asked to pay up front in cash – alarm bells would’ve rung and I’d have thought twice about handing over my money.”

Gillian Guy told the BBC: “Even in this digital age where online scams are on the rise, scammers are continuing to use traditional routes to prey on people.

“Tactics like doorstep selling, sending unsolicited letters and cold calling give scammers the opportunity to build a relationship with their victim.”

Citizens Advice

“I urge you to go to Citizens Advice” – Judge Rinder

itv, 07/06/2019, Judge Rinder

“I urge you in the strongest possible terms to go an get assistance from Citizens Advice and take this matter further,” Judge Rinder told a couple on his show who had split up, and were now arguing about a joint debt to a utility provider which had escalated from £700 to more than £1,300.

After appearing before Judge Rinder, the couple were seen agreeing to go to seek help from Citizens Advice.

Get free advice if you’re worried about an overdraft

We were also mentioned on ITV’s Lunchtime News on Friday when Financial Expert Jasmine Birtles, talking about changes to bank overdraft fees, said people who were experiencing difficulties with budgeting should not “suffer on your own,” but contact “great charities” like Citizens Advice.

And Martin Lewis, on yesterday’s edition of This Morning, also on ITV, also urged anyone with money worries to contact Citizens Advice.

How we started out

Civil Society, 29/05/2019, Kirsty Weakley

An article in Civil Society outlined the history and development of some of the country’s best known charities, including Citizens Advice.

The magazine noted that we’ve been giving out eggs-cellent advice for decades: one early enquiry was whether you could still get an egg ration if your hens didn’t lay any.

In other news

Childcare crisis hitting poor families hardest.

Social housing residents ‘second-class citizens’ over home repairs.

Alcohol labelling ‘not up-to-date’.


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Buy Now Pay Later rules won’t stop people being hit by these unexpected costs, says Citizens Advice

Image result for buy now pay later catalogue

Friday 14 June 2019

The Financial Conduct Authority’s rules on Buy Now Pay Later borrowing won’t stop people being hit by unexpected costs, says Citizens Advice.

Buy Now Pay Later borrowing includes catalogue credit, store cards and retailers that offer finance at the point of sale (which can be in store or online).

The national charity helped over 25,000 people with problems due to catalogue and mail order products last year. These debts are the second most common high-cost credit issue, after overdrafts, Citizens Advice helps people with.

The charity supports more people with catalogue and mail order debts than those with other high-cost credit debt due to doorstep loans, payday loans or rent-to-own. These other forms of credit have been the subject of much greater investigation by the FCA.

The most common problem faced by people Citizens Advice helps with catalogue and mail order debts is dealing with debt repayments. This accounts for over 80% of the problems that are brought to the organisation.

The use of these deals is more prevalent among people who are vulnerable due to their health or financial situation. Citizens Advice figures show:

  • 54% live in social housing
  • One in three (33%) are single parents

The charity provided evidence to the regulator’s Buy Now Pay Later consultation in March 2019.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Buy Now Pay Later borrowing can be a useful way for people to spread the payment for an item. But many do not fully understand the repayment terms involved in these deals.

“One of the problems we see is how interest is backdated at the end of the “interest free” period. People can get into trouble as they don’t realise charges can be applied in this way

“The new rules won’t stop people being hit by these unexpected costs on unpaid amounts. To better protect people, the FCA should go further and only allow firms to charge interest once the promotional period ends.”


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“Tried-and-tested scams still pose huge threat” says Citizens Advice, as fraudsters on average pocket almost £3,000 per victim

Friday 14 June 2019

Over 11,000 complaints were made to Citizens Advice consumer service last year by people suspicious about possible offline scams.

These classic tactics from the scammers’ playbook include unsolicited doorstep selling, mail and cold calling, and saw people lose an average of almost £3,000. Scams sent through the post resulted in the highest average loss at £5,435.

Citizens Advice found that, despite an overall increase in online scams, more than half (58%) of scams reported to the charity in the last year were using these well-established methods. Fraudsters using these methods are known to overwhelmingly target older, more vulnerable people.

A total of 19,500 scams were reported to the charity’s consumer service in 2018, an 8% increase from the year before.

Additional polling commissioned by Citizens Advice showed six in 10 people (61%) reported being targeted by a scam in the past two years. Of those targeted, less than half (48%) said they told anyone about it.

Christine, 70, from West Sussex was scammed by two men who knocked on her front door:

“Since my husband passed away I’ve not kept up with work on the outside of the house – that was always his job. So when two men knocked on my door saying my gutters needed cleaning and roof tiles needed replacing urgently I agreed, and handed over £520 in cash.

“When they said they were finished I went to look at their work but one distracted me by saying he’d give me a certificate for a 10-year guarantee. But when he went to the van to get it, he just drove off. I looked at the gutters and I could still see the weeds, and nothing had changed with the roof. I was clearly scammed.

“The worst part was that it didn’t seem, or feel, like a scam. They looked professional and said they’d completed work on my neighbours’ houses. People need to speak up about this sort of thing. Had I known the warning signs of scams – like being asked to pay up front in cash – alarm bells would’ve rung and I’d have thought twice about handing over my money.”

Under the slogan “Stop, report, talk: Be #scamaware” Citizens Advice and Trading Standards have launched their annual Scams Awareness campaign to encourage people to talk about their experiences and look out for others.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Tried-and-tested scams still pose a huge threat. Even in this digital age where online scams are on the rise, scammers are continuing to use traditional routes to prey on people. Tactics like doorstep selling, sending unsolicited letters and cold calling give scammers the opportunity to build a relationship with their victim. Unfortunately, it’s usually more vulnerable and isolated people who are affected.

“The gap between the number of people recognising they’ve been targeted and those actually speaking up it about shows the importance of this Scams Awareness campaign. We must work together to combat fraudsters by being more open about scams and helping each other understand what to look for.“

Leon Livermore, Chief Executive of Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said:

“With newer, more sophisticated scam techniques often dominating headlines, it’s easy to forget that ‘tried-and-tested’ scams are still out there, and are just as dangerous as they have always been – especially for the most vulnerable within society.”

“Through campaigns like Scams Awareness, and initiatives like Friends Against Scams, we can inform and arm consumers with the power to spot potential threats, so they know where to turn if they need help.”

Lord Toby Harris, Chair, of National Trading Standards, said:   

“As more of our day-to-day activity takes place online, a lot of attention is rightly focused on online scams that can catch people out. However, the more traditional scams – from doorstep cold-callers to mail fraud – have not disappeared. Instead, we’re seeing these scams increasing as criminals adopt more sophisticated techniques to avoid detection, such as sending scam mail via third party countries and using of ‘blank’ envelopes.

“Importantly, these types of offline scams can cause significant harm emotionally as well as financially, particularly when people – often in vulnerable situations – are deceived and put under pressure in their own home. That’s why we’ve launched the Friends Against Scams initiative, which provides training and support to empower people to take a stand against scams: www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk.

“We believe that the number of complaints about these scams is the tip of the iceberg – only five per cent of scams are reported. That’s why we’re calling on communities to look out for anything suspicious and report suspected scams to the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06.”

If you’re worried that someone you know has become victim to a scam, look out for the following. Are they:

  • Receiving more mail than usual?

  • Receiving unsolicited calls or spending more time on the phone?

  • Struggling with money or have they withdrawn large amounts of cash recently?

If you think someone you know is being scammed, take the following steps:

  • If you’re worried about telephone scams look into installing a call blocker

  • Encourage them to tell their bank immediately if there is any suspicious activity or transactions from their account or credit cards

  • Report the scam to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service online or by phone on 03454 04 05 06. They will give you advice on what to do next and report the scam to Trading Standards

  • Report the scam to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040

  • If they’re struggling to pay bills or outstanding debts encourage them to visit their local Citizens Advice

You can also take the following steps to safeguard yourself and others:

  • Be suspicious if you’re contacted out of the blue, even if it’s from a name you recognise

  • If it sounds too good to be true it probably is

  • Never send money to someone you’ve never met

  • Never give out your bank details unless you are certain you can trust the person contacting you

  • Don’t be rushed – you never need to make a decision straight away and if you feel pressured say “no”

  • Suspect a scam? Hang up, wait five minutes to clear the line or use another phone to call

  • Don’t suffer in silence – speak out about scams

Citizens Advice is urging anyone who thinks they may have been targeted by a scam to report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06, or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers. Citizens Advice will give advice on what to do next and report the scam to Trading Standards.

Scams can also be reported to Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting centre.


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CAB News 07 June 2019

Friday 07 June 2019

Our comment on the Financial Conduct Authority’s announcement that banks will be banned for charging more for unarranged overdrafts has appeared in a number of outlets.

National

Debt

Regulator pushes ahead with overhaul of UK’s £2.4bn overdraft market

Financial Times, 07/06/2019, Caroline Binham

The Financial Conduct Authority has confirmed that from April 2020 banks will be banned from charging more for unarranged than planned overdrafts and will be required to advertise the products in clearer ways, including with annual percentage rates to help compare them against other products.

Gillian Guy said the FCA rules should “help thousands of people from getting trapped in a debt spiral”. Gillian enercontinued: “Many people who seek our help with overdraft problems have had trouble understanding the way the fees are calculated. The FCA’s changes will simplify charging structures and lower the cost of these products for consumers.”

Our statement also appeared in the BBC.

Trade

Energy

Setting the bar for RIIO2: How low can networks go?

Utility Week, 06/06/2019, Tom Grimwood

After Ofgem’s announcement that baseline returns will fall to the “lowest ever” level during the RIIO2 price controls, Utility Week seeks the response from energy networks.

The article mentions that Citizens Advice has pushed for regulators to limit the excess profits that energy networks have been able to make.

Head of Energy Networks and Systems, Stew Horne says: “What we’ve been advocating for is regulators to stop forecasting and use the market evidence that’s available and that’s what Ofgem has done. What’s really important now is they hold their nerve in the face of what’s likely to be quite formidable industry lobbying and actually deliver on this for consumers in the next price control.”

Money

Are insurance proceeds taxable income

Express Online, 05/06/2019, Jess Sheldon

Our web advice on taxable income was used for a feature on the Daily Express’s website about whether an insurance payouts count.

“You only pay tax on your taxable income so you do not want to include any non-taxable income in your calculations,” it read.

Our advice says insurance benefits if you are sick, disabled, or unemployed, are non-taxable.

Legal help

In-house legal team plays key role in launch of free domestic violence legal advice service

Local Government Lawyer, 03/06/2019

The in-house legal team at Barking & Dagenham Council has provided a grant to set up a service providing free, independent and confidential advice to residents who are experiencing or are affected by domestic violence. The council will work jointly with Citizens Advice on the delivery of ‘DV FLAG East.’

Pip Salvador-Jones, Chief Officer Citizens Advice Barking & Dagenham said: “The importance of DV Flag East service is that it’s local – local family solicitors are advising local people on domestic abuse issues every day, they know our local community and how the local police and court systems work.”

Housing

Renters to save hundreds as letting fees banned

Sky News, 01/06/2019

The Tenant Fees Act means renters will no longer have to pay fees that add up to £13 million every month in England, meaning potential savings of hundreds of pounds for individuals and families.

Citizens Advice is hoping more laws will follow to further aid renters, including a reduction in the amount of cash required for a deposit from six weeks of rent to five weeks.

Gillian Guy said: “The end of these uncompetitive and unfair letting fees is a real win for renters.The new law means families and other renters don’t have to hand over hundreds of pounds every time they move home. We look forward to working with the government to further strengthen the hand of renters in a market where they have little bargaining power.”

The article also appeared in Independent (p.20), The Sun (p.22), i (p.16), Metro, Guardian, and City AM, as well as a range of broadcast.

Regional

Does my ex-employer have to give a reference?

Carlisle News & Star, 31/05/2019, p.25

Andy Auld from Citizens Advice Carlisle and Eden advises on whether employers have to give references. Andy advises your employer doesn’t have to give you a reference unless your contract says they will. Andy also warns that “if you’ve lost out on a job because your employer gave you an unfair reference, you might be able to take them to court.”

In other news

Domestic abuse survivors ‘more at risk of serious mental illness.’

A study has shown an “alarming rise” in self harm.

Rising rents mean young people are less likely to move to UK cities where average salaries are higher, a report indicates.

Sure Start centres, aimed at improving early years health and education in England, brought “big benefits for children’s health” but face large cuts.


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Momentous week for England’s renters as Tenant Fees Act comes into force

Friday 07 June 2019

Private renters will no longer have to pay letting agent fees as the Tenant Fees Act comes into force.

Citizens Advice has called for a ban on fees for a decade, and worked with Parliamentarians across the political spectrum to make sure the Bill was as watertight as possible.

This included closing a “default fees” loophole that could have led to landlords and agents charging fees through the backdoor by adding unfair terms to tenancy agreements.

Citizens Advice also urged legislators to reduce the amount of money required for a deposit from six weeks’ rent to four weeks. The final Bill compromised on a deposit worth five weeks’ rent.

The ban means renters cannot be charged fees for looking around a property, setting up a tenancy – such as for referencing or credit checks, or for check-out.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“The end of these uncompetitive and unfair letting fees is a real win for renters.

“The new law means families and other renters don’t have to hand over hundreds of pounds every time they move home.

“We look forward to working with the government to further strengthen the hand of renters in a market where they have little bargaining power.”

Background

Holding deposits are capped at one week’s rent and security deposits are capped at five weeks’ rent, or six weeks if the annual rent is above £50k. Changing the tenancy will normally be capped at £50 or “the reasonable costs”.

In England, more than one in three (37%) households in the private rented sector – or 1.7 million – are families with dependent children.

Private renters in England have been paying £13 million a month in letting fees, which is a total of £234 million, since the government committed to banning them in November 2017.

Citizens Advice helped more than 190,000 people with housing problems in the past 12 months.

More than 57,000 of these were people living in the private rented sector.


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Citizens Advice responds to new Universal Credit figures

Friday 07 June 2019

The government has published new figures that show the number of people with outstanding Tax Credit overpayments who have moved onto Universal Credit.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“These new figures show the staggering number of people who get money deducted from their payments when moving from Tax Credits onto Universal Credit.

“Deductions can be made to repay previous overpayment debts, but these can be from years ago and often come as a surprise. They can also come on top of other deductions leaving some people unable to cover their essential costs.

“Our evidence shows that many people on Universal Credit are already struggling. Half of the people we help while waiting for their initial payment are unable to keep up with bills or rent – so any deductions can push people over the edge.

“More than a million people claiming Tax Credits are expected to move onto Universal Credit in the next stage of the rollout. The government must ensure that people have enough to live on and make sure that any debt collection is affordable.”

The new government figures show:

Some 570,000 of the 2 million people claiming Universal Credit are repaying Tax Credit overpayments through deductions from their Universal Credit.

In the latest month, 1 in 5 (410,000) people claiming Universal Credit had money deducted directly from their payment.

New data shows that median average overpayment debt is £610. Some people have considerably higher debt, resulting in a mean average of £1,560.

In practice, rules allow Tax Credit overpayment deductions of £47.67 a month for a single person over 25, or higher for people who are in work, meaning that it could take more than a year to repay average Tax Credit overpayment debts.

Background:

  • Citizens Advice helped people with nearly 10,000 Universal Credit deductions issues in the year to March 2019.

  • Tax Credits overpayments will usually be deducted at 15% (25% if you are working) of the Universal Credit standard allowance – £47.67 a month for a single person over 25.

  • A quarter of Universal Credit claimants had a deduction of more than 20% of their standard allowance in October 2018. This can result from money being deducted for multiple reasons at the same time.

  • After advances, benefit overpayments were the second most common driver of deductions in October 2018.

  • 10% of all the money awarded in Universal Credit in October 2018 was taken in deductions.

A recently released DWP report found:

  • Three quarters (75%) of those with Tax Credits overpayments said they only discovered they had been overpaid after their UC claim had started.

  • Over a third (38%) were ‘having financial difficulties’ – classified as those falling behind with some, or many, bills and commitments. Among this group, around 6 in ten (62%) said their difficulties started in the same month or after they began claiming Universal Credit.


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CAB News 31 May 2019

Friday 31 May 2019

Our comments on smart meters and vulnerable energy customers has appeared in a number of national news outlets.

National

Energy

Smart meters miss targets

The Times, 31/05/2019, p.45, Emily Gosden

Only 1.03 million gas and electricity smart meters were installed by large energy suppliers in the three months to March, down by 22 per cent from the peak of 1.32 million in the fourth quarter of 2017, official figures show.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said it showed “yet again the target for everyone to have a smart meter by the end of 2020 is unfeasible” and called for it to be extended to 2023.

This story also appeared in the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, with the latter claiming the price of the roll out has “gone up by an average of £17 [to £391] and could rise again to £400” per person.

Urgent action needed to support vulnerable energy customers, says report

Mail Online UK, 31/05/2019

Energy companies, regulators, the Government and price comparison sites must better identify vulnerable consumers and improve the support given to them, the Commission for Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances recommends.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said: “It’s critical that energy customers in vulnerable circumstances get the right support at the right time, and this report rightly highlights a lack of consistency across the sector.”

This story was also picked up by BBC Online and the Mirror.

Nationalisation threat shocks power networks

Financial Times (subscription required), 28/05/2019, p.17, Nathalie Thomas

The article discusses the Labour Party’s proposed plans to renationalise the pipes and power cables that transport gas and electricity around the country.

According to the Party, since privatisation began in 1986, network companies have made “huge profit margins”, overcharged customers “to the order of billions of pounds” and failed to “invest properly.”

In 2017, Citizens Advice published a report revealing that networks make “eye-watering” profit margins in the region of 19 per cent at the expense of British households.

Those against the plans argue that nationalisation will jeopardise the country’s decarbonisation targets. Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, which is neutral on renationalisation, said there was “no evidence introducing fairer prices for customers will risk lower levels of investment in decarbonisation and electric vehicles”.

Monopoly Money

Utilities customers ‘should be compensated after being overcharged by £24.1bn’

Today, BBC Radio 4, 30/05/2019, ( 6.23am about 23″ into clip)

Our Executive Director of Advice and Advocacy James Plunkett appeared on BBC Radio 4’s flagship breakfast programme. He told Today the report was the result of over a year of very detailed research.

He said: “We think consumers should get the money back. And regulators should be much tougher in the future.”

Director of Policy, Matt Upton, appeared on Sky News and BBC Breakfast this morning (7.23am, about 1’23” into clip) to talk about the report.
He told the BBC regulators had made a series of mistakes in their projections on how much the utilities would need to spend on infrastructure.

He added: “We looked at how much regulators thought these costs would be, against how much they actually have been in reality over a period of 15 years. We think there’s a gap of in excess of £24 billion… we’ve all overpaid for our essential services.”

The story was also covered by The Times, ITV News Online, the Independent, The Sun, The Mirror, The Daily Express, City AM, the Mail On Sunday online and the i.

Regional

Universal Credit

More help available for Universal Credit claimants

Sunderland Echo, 29/05/2019, Gavin Ledwith

Image result for citizens advice help to claim service

Several offices have appeared in local newspapers to publicise the new Help to Claim service.

The Sunderland Echo reported that four staff at Citizens Advice Sunderland now devote their time to helping people apply for Universal Credit.

The office has helped 293 people with queries about the online-only applications in less than two months.

Chief Officer Denise Irving said: “One of the reasons behind the new service is to help people to understand the digital requirements of Universal Credit and we can help them up to their first claim.

“Clearly there is still a certain number of people who are not comfortable digitally so it can be good to have someone sitting alongside you to help you.”

Citizens Advice Hartlepool Chief Officer Joe Michna told his local paper the Hartlepool Mail: “We have had a steady trickle of new claimants coming in since the start of April and expect that to increase as word gets out.

“Whereas in the past it might take one or two weeks for us to see someone about Universal Credit, now it takes one or two days.”

Citizens Advice Plymouth’s Help to Claim service was featured on local website Plymouth Live. The article said the service will be individually tailored. It’s available, face-to-face, over the phone and online through webchat. Advice content may include assistance with the online application form or help with providing evidence like childcare costs.

In other news

More than five million renters in England get new rights from Saturday as the Tenant Fees Ban finally kicks in.

Council spending on local services down 21% over past decade, says Institute for Fiscal Studies.

BBC reports 11 English councils in danger of ‘running out’ of reserve cash.

surge in “keyless” car thefts has driven motor insurance claims to their highest level in seven years.


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CAB News 24 May 2019

Friday 24 May 2019

Our campaign against the loyalty penalty and the Competition and Markets Authority investigation into our ‘super-complaint’ continues to get national media coverage.

National

Loyalty Penalty

Citizens Advice “driving force” behind CMA investigation into ‘loyalty penalty’

You and Yours, BBC Radio Four, 23/05/2019 (1232, about 11’30” into clip)

Consumer programme You and Yours marked five months since the CMA responded to the ‘super-complaint’ into how loyal customers pay more for staying with service providers including those for home insurance, mobile phones and mortgages.

Our Consumer Principal Policy Manager Morgan Wild told the programme customers were losing £11 million a day, just for being loyal. “It’s going to require the regulators to act, and act urgently,” he said.

Energy

Gas supplier Cadent hit with record £44m Ofgem penalty

The Guardian, 22/05/2019, p.39, Angela Monaghan

The Guardian said Cadent customers were left without gas for an average of 19 days, but in the worst case they were cut off for five months. The company also failed to keep proper records relating to nearly 800 blocks of flats, which were then excluded from maintenance schemes.

Gillian Guy told the paper: “Today’s announcement will be welcome news for those who were left without supply because of Cadent’s failures. When energy network companies fail to deliver good levels of service, customers should be compensated.”.

The Financial Times and FT.com (subscription required) said failure to adequately compensate households for customer service failures was a common problem with network companies, which are in effect monopolies.

On the FT.com website Gillian said: “Our research shows that in the last three years, households have missed out on £5.1m of compensation for customer service failures by network companies.

“We believe that when these companies don’t deliver the right levels of service, compensation should be automatic.”

In its coverage of the story The Independent quoted our 2017 research which found gas and electricity network companies were on target to make an average 19 per cent profit margin over eight years, handing an average 10 per cent return back to shareholders, despite the “fundamentally low risk” nature of the business.

Trade

Citizens Advice calls for electric vehicle sector to put customers first

Utility Week, 22/05/2019, Jamie Hailstone

Our research into electric vehicle charging schemes, featured in the trade magazine Utility Week.

Gillian Guy said:“The electric vehicle market is small, but rapidly expanding. It’s also a vital part of the decarbonisation of the whole transport system,”

“If the evolution of new charging systems is to be a success, drivers need to be involved and listened to from the start,” she added.

“The potential risks and benefits can be hard for people to assess – particularly if, like most of us, they don’t own or have access to an electric vehicle.

“It’s also really important that the needs of people with limited budgets or mobility issues are considered and these groups are not left behind.”

Is this the death of the phone upgrade?

Daily Mail, 22/05/2019, p.46, Samantha Partington; Amelia Murray

Our research, showing millions of customers are continuing to pay for their mobile phone handset after their minimum contract period has expired, was quoted in an article in the Daily Mail. This ‘loyalty penalty is paid by 34 per cent of users, costing them an average of £264 a year.

The report also featured our advice that people should check their phone bills to see if they can save money with a Sim-only deal.

Advice

Financial advice gap has widened since 2015, says report

FT.com, 22/05/2019, Kate Beioley

The gap between those with and without access to affordable financial advice has widened since our study into the issue by Citizens Advice in 2015, reports FT.com. It says a new follow up study to our “landmark” report, by investment service OpenMoney and pollsters YouGov, found three of the four types of advice gap identified by Citizens Advice had widened.

Save our local post offices!

Daily Mail, 21/05//2019, p.6, Tom Witherow and Sam Greenhill

In our role as the statutory consumer advocate for postal services we were featured in the Daily Mail’s new campaign to save local post offices.

Gillian Guy said: “As the high street struggles, the post office continues to play an important role.”

Debt

The government can save lives by changing the law on debt letters

The Times, 21/05/2019 (subscription charge may apply)

Our work with people in debt was highlighted in an article in The Times by MP Norman Lamb calling for a change in the law on debt letters.

In other news

Personal care should be free for over-65s, says think tank.

Plastic straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers to be banned in England.

UK’s ‘cruel and harmful policies’ lack regard for child hunger, says charity Human Rights Watch.

NHS: staff shortages ‘abusing good will of nurses’.


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£24 million Cadent fine “welcome news” for affected customers, says Citizens Advice

Friday 24 May 2019

Citizens Advice, in its role as the official consumer champion for energy, has responded to Ofgem’s announcement of a £24 million fine for gas distribution network company Cadent.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Today’s announcement will be welcome news for those who were left without supply because of Cadent’s failures. When energy network companies fail to deliver good levels of service, customers should be compensated.

“Our research shows that in the last three years, households have missed out on £5.1 million of compensation for customer service failures by network companies. We believe that when these companies don’t deliver the right levels of service, compensation should be automatic.

“The setting up of a community fund to support consumers in vulnerable circumstances is another positive step. It’s critical that both Ofgem and energy networks make sure that support for these groups is central to to what they do.”


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Keeping customers in the driving seat vital to success of electric vehicle charging schemes says Citizens Advice

Friday 24 May 2019

Citizens Advice, in its role as the official consumer champion for energy, is calling for the electric vehicle and energy sector to put consumers at the heart of the design process as new methods for charging electric cars are developed.

The charity has developed a set of recommendations, based on its research examining drivers’ attitudes towards new ‘smart’ charging schemes.

Sales of electric vehicles are increasing – which is good news for the environment and the decarbonisation of our transport system – but a big challenge for the electricity grid, says the charity.

The mass use of electric cars and vans is around the corner. The government is under pressure to bring forward its 2040 deadline for a ban on the sales of new petrol and diesel cars to 2032.

The problem:

Electric car owners tend to charge their cars in the evening – just as there is already a spike in demand from people coming home, turning on lights and heating, and cooking dinner.

As electric vehicle usage increases, there is a risk electricity grids might need to be upgraded with thicker wires to cope with increased demand – putting up everyone’s bills.

Citizens Advice believes the next few years present an important opportunity to develop so-called ‘smart’ charging schemes for electric vehicles which are convenient and fair for drivers, but don’t put pressure on the electricity grid.

These can offer drivers lower tariffs in return for moving their charging to times of the day when there is less demand on the grid and electricity is cheaper.

Other ideas could see electric cars plugged in and ‘selling’ electricity back to the grid while their owners visit a shopping centre for instance.

Many of these proposed schemes are in their infancy and a long way from being implemented on a wide scale. Citizens Advice warns that, if they are to work, consumers’ different travel needs and lifestyles should be taken into account from the beginning. And consumer concerns should remain a top priority for firms as they develop these new technologies.

Recommendations:

The recommendations from Citizens Advice are based on the suggestions of the drivers it interviewed both individually and in focus groups.

The study included private car owners with a range of different needs, including those with mobility problems and parents of small children. Small businesses who rely on vehicles, such as taxi firms, were also represented.

Citizens Advice says electric vehicle charging schemes should:

  • Protect customers

    • Companies should offer financial guarantees which seek to limit the money that users put at risk, and/or guarantee a minimum level of savings or income.

    • There should also be guarantees on aspects such as battery health.

    • Customers should be able to switch schemes, complain, and keep track of their data easily.

  • Be easy to use

    • Schemes should be easy to understand, quick to set up, and intuitive to use.

    • They should be accessible for people who are not digitally savvy.

    • Available for those who live in areas with weak mobile or internet signals

  • Be tailored to fit in with different customer needs, in particular

    • People with mobility issues, parents of young children, and those living in remote areas with restricted access to public transport or public charging.

    • Small businesses who may not have the time and resources to actively engage in smart charging compared to large companies

  • Allow customers to retain control and set preferences

    • Enable users to set and change preferences and requirements.

    • Give users sufficient information before they sign up, and keep them informed about how the scheme they agreed to is working for them.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“The electric vehicle market is small, but rapidly expanding. It’s also a vital part of the decarbonisation of the whole transport system.

“If the evolution of new charging systems is to be a success, drivers need to be involved and listened to from the start.

“The potential risks and benefits can be hard for people to assess – particularly if, like most of us, they don’t own or have access to an electric vehicle.

“It’s also really important that the needs of people with limited budgets or mobility issues are considered and these groups are not left behind.”