Category Archives: Benefits

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CAB News 20 September 2019

Friday 20 September 2019

New research from Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Trussell Trust highlights the financial difficulties faced by people during the 5-week wait for Universal Credit.

Universal Credit

Food bank demand surges in areas where people have received universal credit for longest, figures show

The Independent, 19/09/2019, May Bulman

Demand for food banks has surged in areas where families have been relying on universal credit the longest, figures show.

Regions that were first to switch to the new benefit two years ago have seen a rise in demand for emergency food packages of nearly 50 per cent, according to the Trussell Trust, the largest UK food bank provider.

Gillian Guy, said Citizens Advice data showed some people on universal credit were losing sleep and unable to afford essential things like food, heating and housing, and called on the government to reduce the five-week wait and end the freeze on benefit rates.

Universal credit wait fuels poverty and food bank use, says research

Guardian.com, 19/09/2019, Patrick Butler

Ministers have come under renewed pressure to overhaul universal credit after fresh research finds that the system’s five week wait for payment has fuelled poverty and increased food bank use.

The Trussell Trust said the minimum 35-day wait could have “a rapid, devastating and long-lasting impact on their finances, housing security and mental health.”

Gillian Guy said the data echoed Citizens Advice’s own findings: “It’s clear, from the findings across the charity sector helping universal credit claimants, that the system is not providing everyone with the financial safety net people need,” she said.

Debt

Hundreds jailed for unpaid council tax

Financial Times, 18/09/2019, Emma Agyemang

Nearly 700 people have been jailed for failing to pay their council tax since 2010, with a further 7,000 handed a suspended “committal order”, the latest figures from the HM Courts and Tribunals Service reveal.

Non-payment of council tax is not a criminal offence. But under a law, dating back to the scrapping of the poll tax, councils can apply for a “committal order”, where a debtor can be imprisoned for up to three months. England is the only nation in the UK where local authorities still use this power.

Gillian Guy said: “Outdated regulations push local authorities to collect council tax arrears aggressively. Threatening imprisonment, or sending people to prison in England, undermines efforts to make debt collection less punitive. The same regulations also mean that after one missed monthly payment people can become liable for their full year’s bill, pushing people into further debt.”

Energy

Smart meter deadline delay

Talk Radio 17/09/2019 Eamonn Holmes (5.20pm)

Eamonn Holmes has covered the extension of the smart meter rollout on his Talk Radio programme. Eamonn pointed out that Citizens Advice had been calling for the deadline to be extended. He interviewed our Head of Future Energy Services Dhara Vyas.

Dhara said the new deadline would be good news for customers because it gives suppliers “a bit of time” to sort out technical difficulties and make the rollout a better experience for customers.” She added overall smart meters were “a good thing”, that will help people assess how much they’re using, and help modernise the energy infrastructure.

BBC Radio WM, 17/09/2019 Paul Franks (5.19pm)

Our policy manager for smart meters Colin Griffiths was interviewed on BBC Radio West Midlands.

Colin said the problem with the original deadline “it was incentivising suppliers to go quickly, rather than doing things well, carefully and with good value for consumers.”

Smart Meter Roll Out Delay

Talk Radio, 17/09/2019, 09:55:23

Dhara Vyas, Head of Future Energy Services at Citizens Advice, spoke to Julia Hartley Brewer on Talk Radio yesterday morning.

Dhara said it’s been clear for some time the original 2020 deadline wasn’t going to be met and the extension: “recognises the reality of it.”

Dhara added that Citizens Advice had seen cases of people feeling pressured into getting a smart meter: “it moves the pressure away from customers and in terms of suppliers not just focusing on speed and giving a quality installation experience.”

In addition, Sean Alexander, Chief Executive at Citizens Advice Newcastle, spoke to BBC Newcastle about the common gripes people have with smart meters, including poor technology and displays going “dumb.”

Smart-meter plan faces 4-year delay and £2 billion increase

FT.com, 16/09/2019, Nathalie Thomas

The government has pushed back the deadline for its £13 billion smart energy meter rollout by four years to 2024.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Extending the smart meter rollout deadline is a common-sense move that is good news for consumers. It’s been clear for a long time that the 2020 deadline wouldn’t be met and today’s announcement finally recognises that reality.”

Our comment was also included in coverage by Guardian, Mail Online, Independent, Telegraph (p.11), and Times (p.41).

Why do energy firms keep going bust?

The Independent, 16/09/2019, Felicity Hannah

The collapse of Eversmart last week brings the number of energy firms to have gone bust in 2019 to five. While 13 have now gone under since November 2016.

This isn’t without cost. Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, says we are all paying for these failures: “When a supplier goes bust, customer credit balances are protected. But all of us will eventually pay for honouring them through increased bills. Ofgem needs to act to reduce the cost of supplier failures and protect customers.”

In other news

The number of children leaving school without basic qualifications by the age of 18 has risen by nearly a quarter in the past three years.

Large investment banks have so far relocated out of Britain fewer than 1,000 jobs with six weeks to go before the country is due to leave the European Union.

Graduates of 24 top UK universities are more likely to find work soon after graduating than those from other universities.

About one in 20 workers does not get paid holidays according to a report by the Resolution Foundation think tank.


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CAB News 13 September 2019

Friday 13 September 2019

Citizens Advice Scams Action has been featured in an ITV documentary about fraud.

National

Consumer

Citizens Advice Scams Action ready to help

Fraud: The Public Threat, Tonight, ITV1, 12/09/2019, 7.30pm (about 20′ into clip). Helen Skelton

Our new service Citizens Advice Scams Action was featured on ITV’s Tonight programme yesterday.

The programme showed our website in detail and interviewed Martin Lewis, whose payout from Facebook, after his image was used in a series of online scams, has funded the service.

Martin said it would provide “one on one help” for people worried they had been victims of a scam. He also outlined what to look out for to avoid being scammed.

Martin said “urgency and secrecy” were the two biggest red flags a scammer might be at work.

Advice

Struggling to make ends meet? Go to your local Citizens Advice

The Asian Network (registration required), 12/09/2019, 10pm (about 1’20” into clip), Mobeen Azhar

People seeking advice on Universal Credit and other financial problems were urged to seek our help by the presenters of a programme on the BBC’s Asian Network entitled ‘Struggling to Make Ends Meet.’

Raji Osahn said of one man, who’d had numerous issues trying to claim Universal Credit: “He absolutely needs to go to a local Citizens Advice.”

Debt

Surge in councils using bailiffs to chase debts, including parking fines

The Independent, 11/09/2019, Vicky Shaw

Councils across England and Wales sent 2.6 million debts to bailiffs in 2018-19, a 7 per cent rise on the year before.

Despite this, the Money Advice Trust, who carried out the research, said it has found evidence that more councils are adopting best practice on affordability and vulnerability. It found 64 councils have now signed up to the Citizens Advice and Local Government Association’s council tax protocol, which is an increase from two years before.

Cut bailiff use for non-payment of council tax, say charities

The Guardian, 11/09/2019, Ben Quinn

Our council tax ‘good practice protocol’ is helping to improve the way local authorities collect arrears.

There were still 1.4 million referrals to bailiffs for the collection of council tax last year, according to new figures from the Money Advice Trust. But the report shows 51% of local authorities had reduced their bailiff use during the last two years.

The Local Government Association said the findings showed that there had been a positive impact from the work it had been doing with Citizens Advice on a council tax arrears good practice protocol.

Sixty-four councils have signed up to the Citizens Advice/LGA council tax protocol – up from 50 two years ago. A further 23 councils are considering signing up the protocol which, for example, obliges local authorities to give careful consideration before passing debts to enforcement agencies where potentially vulnerable household are involved.

Universal Credit

DWP extends the claims period by a month

i News, 09/09/2019, Serina Sandhu

Image result for dwp

The government’s announcement that parents on Universal Credit will now have an extra month to claim back childcare costs was covered by i News.

Gillian Guy told the paper “It’s good to see Government help parents on Universal Credit… This kind of flexibility needs to be applied to more of the new benefits system.

“Our evidence shows some people are having difficulty meeting the upfront costs of childcare, which can run to hundreds of pounds on already tight budgets.

“To really make sure parents can get the support they need on Universal Credit, the Government should look at paying childcare costs in advance or direct to providers.”

Energy

Eversmart Energy collapse hits 29,000 customers

The Times, 07/09/2019, p.49, Emily Gosden

Image result for eversmart

A small energy supplier that courted controversy by encouraging households to pay for a year’s gas and electricity usage up front ceased trading on Friday. Our response, in our capacity as the official consumer watchdog for energy, was widely featured in the national press.

Gillian Guy told The Times: “Eversmart is the 13th domestic energy company to collapse in the past two years. Our research shows this unlucky baker’s dozen of failed companies has left behind at least £172 million in unpaid costs. These will be picked up by other consumers through higher bills.”

She called for Ofgem to “act to reduce the cost of supplier failures and protect customers”.

The story was also covered by The Independent which noted: “Last year, Citizens Advice sounded the alarm about the company after it began offering a tariff where advanced payments of about £1,000 were paid by households.”

In other news

Domestic violence murders surge to five-year high.

In-game spending should be regulated by gambling laws, MPs say.

Ministers have been forced to publish documents predicting public disorder, rising prices and disruptions to food and medicines in Operation Yellowhammer papers.

TUC and Amnesty come out in support of student climate strikes.