Category Archives: Benefits

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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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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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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 17 May 2019

Image result for vulnerable energy customers fall behind on bills

Friday 17 May 2019

Our report into how energy companies treat vulnerable customers who have fallen behind on their bills has been picked up by national, local and trade media.

A copy of the national press release can be found here.

National

Energy

Ofgem ‘must set ambitious vision’ for vulnerable energy customers

ITV News, 17/05/2019

Our report into how energy companies deal with vulnerable customers who fall behind on their bills was covered by ITV News.

It reported that we helped 43,232 people with energy debt last year, a 12% increase compared with 2017. Some 48% of those given help had long-term health conditions or disabilities.

Gillian Guy said: “The regulator needs to set an ambitious vision for how suppliers should support and protect vulnerable people who fall behind on their bills.

“Both Ofgem and suppliers need to take action and help people get over the barriers that stop them from seeking help and getting the right advice and support.

“The package of support that’s on offer needs to be sensitive. Aggressive collection practices and demands for unaffordable payments only serve to make people’s lives more difficult.”

 

Labour’s vow to nationalise the National Grid wipes £1billion off value of its shares

The Sun Online, 17/05/2019, Steve Hawkes

We were approached by the Sun for a comment on Labour’s plans for nationalisation of the energy industry, which its website included in a story this morning.

We reinforced the point that our focus is on how to protect the customer, whichever economic model is in place.

Gillian said: “As the official consumer watchdog for energy, our focus is on how to protect customers, ensuring they pay the fairest price possible for a high-quality essential service – regardless of the economic model used to deliver that service.

“It’s also vital that the decarbonisation of energy happens as quickly as possible.”

Loyalty Penalty

Broadband, TV and phone firms must warn customers their contracts are ending and offer them better deals, under new rules

Daily Mail, 16/05/2019, Grace Gausden

The article mentions that the news rules, the latest in Ofcom’s Fairness for Customers programme, means up to 20 million customers could save up to a fifth on the cost of their bills.

Citizens Advice responded by saying the watchdog’s measures did not go far enough and more change was needed to ‘solve the problem’.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “We are encouraged that Ofcom will make companies send a reminder to their customers when their contract is about to end. But, given the scale of the loyalty penalty, this won’t be enough to solve the problem.

“Almost nine in 10 people think that charging loyal customers more is unfair, and we agree. We look forward to hearing about the concrete actions Ofcom will take to end this systematic scam.”

Our statement also appeared in Moneywise.

Phone and internet users to get end-of-contract alerts

BBC, 15/05/2019, Leo Kelion

Broadband, pay-TV, mobile phone and landline customers must be told when their contracts are about to end and be informed of their providers’ best alternative deals, under new Ofcom rules.

It’s hoped that these new rules will help customers avoid overpaying as an estimated 20 million people have stuck with subscriptions beyond their lock-in, often without realising.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s consumer group director says: “This will put power in the hands of millions of people who’re paying more than necessary when they’re no longer tied to a contract.”

Gillian Guy, Citizens Advice’s Chief Executive says: “Almost nine in 10 people think that charging loyal customers more is unfair, and we agree. We look forward to hearing about the concrete actions Ofcom will take to end this systematic scam.”

Our statement also appears in The Sun.

Consumer

Festival ticket scams are leaving revellers £179 out of pocket

i News, 12/05/2019, Laurie Havelock

Our advice about how to be buyer beware when getting tickets for the summer festivals was featured in i News.

“Citizens Advice also recommends using sites that bear a red, black and white kitemark provided by the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers, the industry’s regulatory body,” the advice reads.

Future of Advice

Gillian Guy: Citizens Advice looks ahead in its 80th year of service

Civil Society, 15/05/2019

Gillian Guy talks about the charity’s plans for the future in an op-ed for Civil Society.

Gillian says: “We’ve set a new vision for 2022, which remains true to our roots. When we say we are here for everyone, whoever they are and whatever their problem, we mean it. Not everyone is the same and we never judge anyone who comes to us.

“We are committed to reaching as many people who need our help as possible and understand that different people require different kinds of information and support. Equality, diversity and inclusion are at the very heart of this new framework.”

A separate news article in Civil Society also covers the launch of Future of Advice.

In other news

MPs have demanded details of the DWP’s Universal Credit PR campaign.

Free-to-use cash machines are disappearing from the poorest communities.

Thousands of drivers will be automatically hit by £100 fines and penalty points for ignoring warning signs on a new generation of smart motorways.

Inequalities in pay and opportunities in the UK are becoming so extreme they are threatening democracy, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says.

Four million Britons are in poverty despite having jobs.

Councils will have the legal duty to provide secure homes for victims of domestic abuse in new plans announced by Theresa May.

 

 


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CAB News 10 May 2019

Friday 10 May 2019

Our comment on gaps in protection for people using high-cost credit and loyal customers was featured in the Independent.

National

Payday loan scandals

Without financial regulation, payday loan scandals continue to hit the poorest the hardest

Independent/Yahoo News, 09/05/2019, James Moore

An investigation into gaps in protections for consumers using high-cost credit by the Independent featured a comment from our Principal Policy Manager Joe Lane.

“The [payday loan] caps are good where they’re used, but some types of loans aren’t covered, such as doorstep lending. It’s one of the most common forms of high-cost credit problem we see and leads to debt spirals because people often repeat borrow to keep up with repayments,” he said.

“There is also the loyalty penalty, which is where customers are penalised for simply being loyal to their provider. We’ve found this occurs in the mobile phone, broadband, home insurance, mortgage and savings markets and our research shows it’s vulnerable people who are more likely to pay this penalty.”

Consumer

Complaints by households about gardeners and homebuilders have gone up 20%

Western Morning News, 08/05/2019, Elise Faulkner

Our research that showed consumer complaints about homebuilders and gardeners are on the rise was covered in the Morning News.

The story reported that many of the 60,000 issues we hear are about unfinished or poor quality work.

It features our advice on shopping around, being strict on quotes, and keeping copies of receipts and other communications.

Being smart with your phone can save money

Grazia, 08/05/2019, p.95, Laura Whateley

Fashion magazine Grazia has featured our advice on how to choose a phone contract.

Debt

Government tackles bailiff bad practice

Your Money, 08/05/2019, Cherry Reynard

Our response to the official public statement on improving fairness in debt collection practices across central and local government by the Cabinet Office Fairness Group was featured on several consumer websites including Your Money and Credit Strategy. Our full reactive statement can be seen here.

Energy customers miss out on £5.1 million compensation they’re owed

The Mirror, 03/05/2019, Josie Clarke

Our research that revealed energy customers have missed out on an estimated £5.1 million in compensation over the last three years was covered by the Mirror.

Energy network operators are required to meet 39 guaranteed standards of service set by regulator Ofgem, including how they respond to emergencies, their complaints procedures, and the speed of reconnection after bad weather.

Gillian Guy said: “This money should be in customers’ pockets. We want Ofgem to get tougher with the energy network companies so that customers automatically receive all the compensation they’re entitled to.

“Guaranteed standards should mean guaranteed compensation. At the very least there should be a system of financial penalties for those energy firms who still don’t proactively pay people what they’re due.”

This story also featured on BBC Radio 4’s news bulletins and was reported by trade mag Utility Week.

Citizens Advice

3 things we are saying

1. Rule-breaking bailiffs push people into more debt.

Our Principal Policy Manager Joe Lane told the Justice Committee that 1 in 3 people contacted by bailiffs see them break the rules, such as bailiffs taking goods that someone needs to do their job. This can force people to fall behind on bills and get into a “debt spiral”. We want government to introduce an independent regulator to stop bailiffs breaking the rules.

 2. We’ll continue to work with government to end unfair tenant fees.

The Tenant Fees Bill passed through the House of Lords last week. During its journey through parliament, we raised concerns around a paragraph on damages. We welcome the government’s strong assurances on this, and will continue to work to make sure guidance on this is as clear as possible.

3.  Switching energy suppliers can take just a few minutes.

This week is Big Energy Saving Week, we are encouraging people to check, switch and save on their energy bills. Our price comparison tool can help.

Regional

Universal Credit

Help with Universal Credit benefit applications available from Citizens Advice Isle of Wight

Isle of Wight County Press, 09/05/2019

The launch of Help to Claim at Citizens Advice Isle of Wight has been covered by the County Press.

The story said the team at Citizens Advice Isle of Wight offers face-to-face support and advice at Ryde and Newport Job Centres, and at other outreach locations throughout the Island.

In other news

The government said it will foot the £200m bill to replace Grenfell-type cladding on more than 150 privately owned tower blocks.

Benefit cuts have made private renting unaffordable.

More than 5,000 people were victim to holiday booking fraud last year.

A local authority has criticised the slow response to Universal Credit errors.