Category Archives: Consumer Issues

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CAB News 19 July 2019

Image result for youtility home finacies website

Friday 19 July 2019

Research into energy pricing discrepancies across the country has been published by home finances website Youtility.

National

Energy

Utility prices vary across Britain as regional pricing reveals discrimination

Mirror.co.uk, 18/07/2019, Graham Hiscott

Families in Liverpool typically pay £81 a year more than those in Leeds for energy, home finances website Youtility has found.

It explains the different pricing depends on how much suppliers are charged by Britain’s 14 distribution networks operators.

The article refers to Citizens Advice’s finding that network firms are making £7.5 billion in excessive profits. While it recognised that there were different costs to build the infrastructure and transport energy in some parts of the country to others, it said the “excessive profits we’ve identified are not reflective of the underlying network costs.

More than half of UK public “don’t trust energy suppliers”

Energy Live News, 18/07/2019, Jonny Bairstow

According to the latest Public Attitude Tracker from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy “more than half of the UK public say they do not trust energy suppliers very much or at all.”

The results of the survey do show however that levels of trust were highest for Citizens Advice and Trading Standards.

Experts call for heat networks to be regulated

This Is Money, 16/07/2019, Fiona Parker

Households reliant on heat networks – hot water to heat multiple households through insulated pipes, removing the need for boilers – for their hot water and central heating must be given greater protection.

Citizens Advice has called on Ofgem to commit to regulating the sector by July 2022 amid rising complaints, often involving billing errors and high standing charges.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy says it will consult on how to better regulate the sector.

Consumer

‘We’ve been charged £7-a-month for a Sim card my autistic son never received’: O2 customer left unable to cancel a contract due to GDPR

This Is Money, 18/07/2019, Grace Gausden

An O2 customer claims the telephone provider has been taking money from her son’s bank account for the last seven months – even though he had never received the Sim card promised.

The article refers to information on Citizens Advice website on what to do if you’re paying for something you haven’t received. The advice states that 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.

You can also report the seller to trading standards if you think they have broken the law, for example, if they took your money and refused to deliver the item.

Scams

Facebook launches tool to shutdown online scams

FT.com [paywall], 16/07/2019, Madison Darbyshire

Facebook has launched a new tool aimed at shutting down online scams following a lawsuit filed by Martin Lewis.

The tool will allow users of Facebook UK to flag advertisements on the social media site that link to scams. Facebook has also dedicated £3 million to anti-scam initiatives run Citizens Advice.

Martin Lewis said: “Millions of people know a scam when they see it, and millions of others don’t. So now, I’d ask all who recognise them to use the new Facebook reporting tool to help protect those who don’t — which includes many who are vulnerable.”

Gillian Guy said: “This project means we cannot only support people who have been targeted, but also raise awareness of what to look out for to help prevent online scams happening in the first place.”

News of the new service has also appeared in the the Sun (page 28), Metro (page 8), Daily Mail (page 20), Guardian, BBC, Sky.

Katie Martin, Director of External Affairs spoke with BBC Radio 5 Live about the new service saying: “We want to help people identify what a scams is, ideally we want people to not fall victim to them in the first place.”

My quest to track down the tricksters who targeted my mum in cruel lottery scam

Mail Online, 14/07/2019, Jeff Prestridge

Jeff Prestridge – whose 83-year-old mother was targeted by a lottery scam – goes in search of the people allegedly behind the scam. Prestridge has little luck going to the addresses listed on the scam letters, one being a building site and another not existing at all.

Citizens Advice said 38 per cent of all mail scams it received details of last year involved fake lotteries. Gillian Guy said: ‘Lottery scams are worryingly common and usually target people who are isolated or in vulnerable situations. Remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.’

Housing

Renting: How landlords can refuse to let to tenants with children

BBC Online, 12/07/2019, Kevin Peachey

Tom Dedynski who has two children, aged nine and five, found a two-bedroom home to rent in Peterborough with enough room for his children but was unfortunately turned down by the landlord.

“I was honest with the letting agent that the kids would visit,” the 33-year-old says. “I was told the landlord did not want children – and that was that. I was disappointed. It felt a bit harsh. This was a small family home.”

There is nothing in law across the UK that compels a landlord to have to rent to tenants with children despite 1.7 million families raising children in rental properties across England. The article points to Citizens Advice toolkits prospective tenants can use if they think they’re being discriminated against.

In other news

Water bills in England and Wales are set to fall by an average of £50 between 2020 and 2025, under plans published by the industry regulator.

More than 600,000 members of so-called ‘Generation Rent’ are facing an “inevitable catastrophe” of homelessness when they retire.


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Protection for customers must keep pace with rapidly evolving energy supply market says Citizens Advice

Friday 19 July 2019

Citizens Advice says radical reform of the energy supply market is needed to protect customers as new technologies are introduced in a fast-changing industry.

The charity, official consumer watchdog for energy, warns customers in vulnerable circumstances are particularly at risk as the need for decarbonisation accelerates the rate of change.

In a new report looking at how we access gas and electricity, Citizens Advice says new ways of buying energy will be increasingly available to householders and small businesses.

These could include consumers being able to trade power locally, agreeing to a fixed price for a set level of comfort, or getting a better deal by only using appliances at certain times.

Citizens Advice argues that with its local offices already helping 80,000 people with energy supply problems every year, it’s vital consumer protection keeps pace with changing technology.

The charity says its research shows three main barriers for people trying to access the energy technologies of the future:

  • Upfront costs: some future energy services will involve installing new equipment like battery storage, an investment too expensive for many people

  • Digital exclusion: 5.3 million British adults are not online. Many more don’t feel confident in using apps and websites

  • Lack of trust: people are wary of appliances like smart meters accessing their energy data.

Citizens Advice says a forthcoming consultation document from the energy regulator Ofgem and the government, is an ideal opportunity to lay the groundwork for reforms.

The charity’s new report, Future for all, says the future energy retail market should be set up to reflect four important principles, and has suggested ways these can be implemented:

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“The government’s recent adoption of a net zero carbon emissions target means big changes in how we access energy are on the way.

 “New innovations in the way we heat and light our homes will bring benefits for many. The danger is that some of the most vulnerable in society end up excluded from these exciting developments.

“How much you earn, or whether you’re confident with a smartphone, shouldn’t prevent anyone from getting the best out of this rapidly evolving market.”


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CAB News 12 July 2019

Image result for decarbonisation of homes

Friday 12 July 2019

Our report, Keeping Warm: The Future of Heat, was published this morning, looking at the decarbonisation of heating homes and businesses.

Coverage has been picked up by a number of national broadcast and online media.

National

Energy

Government must protect consumers during decarbonisation – Citizens Advice

Mail Online, 12/07/2019

Our warning that a lack of credible plan to decarbonise the way homes and business are heated risks failing consumers was picked up by the Mail Online.

We are calling on the Government to establish an independent commission to determine the fairest way to pay for the energy transition, including the shift to low-carbon heat.

Gillian Guy said: “The way we heat our homes needs to undergo a major transformation. How we manage that process, and fairly distribute the costs, needs the urgent attention of government.

“An independent commission is the only way to make sure the pathway to net zero is assessed in a rigorous, transparent and timely way.

“Consumers must be at the heart of the process, with the right protections built in for them now.”

The story was also picked up in the Daily Mirror.

It revealed there are currently 14,000 heat networks in the UK, which serve 500,000 customers.

The story included our concern that handling complaints such as high or incorrect back bills from the 2% of households who already use the unregulated networks.

Gillian said: “We need to get these decisions right now to prevent the bad practice of today becoming the standard practice of tomorrow.”

Consumer

The loyalty penalty

FT Adviser, 10/07/2019, Jeff Prestridge

An opinion piece in the FT Adviser about the loyalty penalty praised Citizens Advice and featured comments from our Chief Executive Gillian Guy.

It mentioned little had been done about the loyalty penalty for years “before the good people at Citizens Advice decided to intervene”, firing off a super-complaint to the CMA with research that showed consumers were overpaying by £4.1 billion.

The author then referred to Gillian’s opinion article in the Mail on Sunday in which she expressed her disappointment in the lack of progress in tackling the issue.

“Time is ticking. The FCA and Ofcom need to step up and show us how they are going to stop companies exploiting their loyal customers and put an end to this systematic scam.”

Mortgages

FCA ‘not brave enough’ to tackle mortgage prisoners

FT Adviser, 10/07/2019, Imogen Tew

Our Principal Policy Manager Morgan Wild was quoted in an FT Adviser story about mortgage prisoners.

Speaking at the Westminster Business Forum on Wednesday, Morgan said the Financial Conduct Authority had not done enough to tackle the issue, but the threat of legal action was a constraint.

Morgan said: “There is a massive fear of regulators being taken to court, and that has a chilling effect on pro-consumer enforcement and action that could take to address some problems.”

Citizens Advice: FCA should make providers responsible for expensive SVRs

Mortgage Introducer, 10/07/2019, Ryan Bembridge

Morgan’s appearance at the Westminster reception was also covered by mortgage trade press, which focused on our call to make service providers responsible for ensuring customers are not switched to high-cost tariffs.

“Too often all the onus is put on the consumer,” Morgan said.

“These are firms who have a responsibility to treat customers fairly and we have been so far disappointed by the lack of regulatory action to point that point across, to really examine what they are doing to improve outcomes for loyal customers.”

Scams

How to avoid marketplace rip-offs

Women’s Own, 15/07/2019, p38, Rebecca Gamble

Our advice on how to protect yourself when shopping online was featured in Women’s Own magazine.

The article also featured our statistics that revealed 12,000 problems were brought to us in 2017, an increase of 35 per cent in four years.

Our advice says: “Check the product details, including photos, the description, cost of the item, delivery charges, contact details for the seller, and any cancellation rights.

“Also, is it being sold by a trader or private seller. You’ll have fewer rights buying from the latter.”

Our advice on tax relief on pensions was included in an article in the Express Online.

“You can get tax relief on pension payments you make into a company (occupational) pension, personal pension or stakeholder pension, as long as HMRC has approved the pension scheme,” our advice states.

Government scheme to recover unpaid council tax launches

Credit Connect, 08/07/2019

A story on a new pilot scheme by local councils to deduct people’s council tax debt from their income has included a comment from our Chief Executive, Gillian Guy.

“Our research shows harsh collection methods added half a billion pounds in fees to people’s council tax debts in 2016/17 alone,” Gillian said.

“It’s encouraging to see local authorities trying to reduce bailiff use but any collections must be affordable and should not leave people on low incomes with too little to live on.

“The government needs to fundamentally reform the regulations governing how local authorities collect debts and give them more flexibility.

“People should not be charged a full year’s bill after a single monthly payment is missed or threatened with imprisonment.”

In other news

Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd has said the benefits system for terminally ill people will be reviewed.

Danger fridges “should be removed from stores”.

The NHS has teamed up with Amazon to provide health advice via the company’s Alexa voice assistant.

Waiting lists for routine surgery have risen by up to 50% in England because senior doctors say they cannot afford to work extra shifts.


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Government action urgently needed to protect consumers during the decarbonisation of heating, says Citizens Advice

Image result for decarbonisation of heating

Friday 12 July 2019

The lack of a credible plan to decarbonise the way homes and businesses are heated risks failing consumers and undermining public confidence, according to Citizens Advice.

The charity is calling on the government to close gaps in the regulation of decarbonisation innovations such as heat networks.

Heat networks are a significant part of the government’s efforts to reduce carbon. They are distribution systems of insulated pipes that takes heat from a central source and delivers it to a number of buildings.

While just 2% of households currently get their heating and hot water through a heat network, this will rise to an estimated 1 in 20 homes by 2030. By 2050, more than five million homes could be heated in this way.

In a report published today, Citizens Advice sets out the need to regulate heat networks and create a consumer advocate for heat network users.  Some of the common problems it helps people with include:

  • Billing errors – consumers don’t receive regular bills, which can lead to high ‘back-bills’ or incorrect bills

  • Standing charges – consumers are confused about standing charges and can feel unable to reduce heating costs because of high, and increasing, standing charges.

  • Lack of information – many people don’t understand how their heat network operates, how their bills are calculated, or where to turn to complain

The charity is warning that, because heat networks are not regulated, many more people risk being exposed to the same issues unless reforms are put in place.

Citizens Advice believes that problems experienced by heat network customers demonstrate the importance of managing the decarbonisation process properly.

Despite the immensity of the challenge, there is no credible UK-wide strategy to achieve the government’s decarbonisation targets – including how consumers will be protected as new innovations are introduced, and where the costs will fall.

With most of the costs to decarbonise the energy system currently paid for through energy bills, Citizens Advice is warning that those on low incomes could end up paying a disproportionate share of that cost.

To address this, the charity is calling on the government to:

  • Establish an independent commission to determine the fairest way to pay for the energy transition, including the shift to low-carbon heat

  • Legislate to extend Ofgem’s powers to regulate heat networks and establish an independent consumer advocate for heat networks in the forthcoming Energy White Paper

  • Consult on a strategy to decarbonise heat, which includes plans to improve energy efficiency of existing and new housing stock.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“The way we heat our homes needs to undergo a major transformation. How we manage that process, and fairly distribute the costs, needs the urgent attention of government.

“An independent commission is the only way to make sure the pathway to net zero is assessed in a rigorous, transparent and timely way.

“Consumers must be at the heart of the process, with the right protections built in for them now. The Energy White Paper is the perfect opportunity to fill the regulation gap for heat networks, and set the standard for future innovations.

“We need to get these decisions right now to prevent the bad practice of today becoming the standard practice of tomorrow.”


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CAB News 05 July 2019

Friday 05 July 2019

Our research on debt and the energy supply market featured in the national media today.

National

Debt

Councils look to take unpaid tax from debtors’ wages

FT.com (subscription required), 04/07/2019, Naomi Rovnick

Our research showing the average person who approaches Citizen Advice over problems with council tax payments has just £14 of monthly disposable income, has been quoted by the Financial Times.

The government is considering allowing local authorities to deduct unpaid council tax debts directly from people’s wages, in a move that could shore up councils’ finances and reduce their reliance on bailiffs, says the FT.

Energy

Britain’s energy regulator rolls out tougher rules for new suppliers

Reuters, 04/07/2019, Susanna Twidale

Picking up the Pieces – our recent report that estimated the unpaid costs relating to the collapse of 10 energy firms since January 2018 at £172 million pounds – has been used by Reuters.

The news agency used the figures in its story about new regulations governing companies preparing to enter the energy market.

The heat is on: Swap your energy supplier this summer before the best deals disappear

Mail Online, 30/06/2019, Laura Shannon

Image result for the heat is on energy

Our energy star rating is quoted in the Financial Mail on Sunday, and on its partner website This is Money, as part of a report on how to get the best fuel deal.

“Customers need to take care about which supplier they stick with or switch to,” said the article.

“The latest rankings from charity Citizens Advice show that a quarter of energy companies fail to achieve half marks for customer service.

Its star ratings are based on complaints, call waiting times and ease of switching.”

Energy consumers switched to costly deals after firms go bust

The Times, 01/07/2019, p.2, Emily Gosden (subscription charge may apply)

Our report, Picking up the Pieces, into the costs to consumers from the collapse of 10 energy suppliers since January 2018, was quoted by The Times.

Energy correspondent Emily Gosden was reporting on how customers of failed energy suppliers often find themselves transferred to an expensive default tariff when they are switched to a replacement energy supply company.

The article then moved on to discuss the wider issue of dealing with energy suppliers who go bust:

“Citizens Advice said last month that customers faced a potential bill of £172 million for covering credit balances and other unpaid industry debts for defunct suppliers.”

National Grid completes sale of gas network to CIC-backed group

FT.com, 30/06/2019, Donato Paolo Mancini (subscription charge may apply)

The Financial Times drew on our earlier research into energy networks, in a story about the sale of the gas company Cadent to a Chinese backed consortium.

“Consumer group Citizens Advice has complained of what it calls “eye-watering” and “unjustified” profits, with network distribution costs making up a large part of the average household energy bill,” said the FT.

Universal Credit

Thousands of dying people missing out on benefits because illnesses not deemed critical enough

The Sun, 03/07/2019, Katie Binns

Citizens Advice gave the example of a terminally-ill single mother who was forced to stop working due to her illness to illustrate the problem of the “six-month rule.”

The mum fell into nearly £3,000 of rent arrears while waiting for a Universal Credit payment and had to rely on the help of friends and family.

The Sun says tens of thousands of terminally ill people and their families are ending up in debt because of the “outdated” rule that you must only have six months or less to live to get fast access to benefits.

A “damning” new report by MPs is calling on the government to ditch the stipulation, which they say was invented by politicians, and has no clinical evidence to support its use.

The Huffington Post also used our case study in its coverage of the story.

Consumer Advice

Can you get a refund if a gig has bad sound?

The Guardian, 29/06/2019, p.34, Miles Brignall and Rupert Jones

Why do so many stadium and arena gigs seem to be plagued by terrible sound? And what are your rights when it comes to getting a refund, asked The Guardian.

The paper quoted the advice on our website which makes it clear: “you should complain if there’s a problem with the quality of the sound”. It says you should first contact the ticket seller or venue for a refund.

In other news

A quarter of UK betting shops could close, with 12,000 jobs at risk.

One in five councils face drastic spending cuts within months.

Mobile users can now switch providers with one simple text.

Crown estate faces tenants’ anger over rent hikes, evictions and repair delays.


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Cancelled flights and lost luggage drove almost 700,000 views of Citizens Advice guidance in last year

Friday 05 July 2019

In the last twelve months, problematic flights were the number one issue bringing people to the consumer pages of the Citizens Advice website.

Online advice about flight delays and cancellations was viewed almost 600,000 times in the last year, while advice on delayed or lost luggage had over 110,000 views.

With airline staff strikes plaguing would-be holiday-makers last summer, and thunderstorms grounding flights in July, over a third of these views were made between June and August 2018.

With many now packing up to go on their summer holidays, Citizens Advice is offering travellers top tips to help their holidays run more smoothly.

Delays

One person who came to Citizens Advice consumer service was stranded in Spain after being delayed over 18 hours due to their plane having a punctured tyre. When their plane finally managed to take off, it ended up landing over 60 miles away from its intended destination of Manchester.

If you’re travelling either to or from an EU airport or with an EU airline, under EU rules you might be entitled to compensation if you’re delayed. You can check to see if your flight is covered by EU rules on the Civil Aviation Authority’s website.

Citizens Advice top tips:

  • Airlines should provide you with assistance depending on how long your flight is delayed, where you were flying to, and how long the journey is.

  • It’s best to contact the airline or the Civil Aviation Authority right away to see what you’re entitled to.

  • Unless the delay was due to exceptional circumstances, you could be entitled to up to €600 in compensation depending on the length of the flight and delay.

Cancellations

One woman came to the Citizens Advice consumer service after her flight to Amsterdam was cancelled due to technical issues with the plane. The airline wasn’t able to put her on a flight for another two days – the day she was supposed to be returning home from her holiday.

Fortunately, if your flight gets cancelled you have the legal right to either a full refund paid within seven days, a replacement flight to get you to your destination, from another airline if necessary, or an alternative flight at a convenient time.

Citizens Advice top tips:

  • Depending on the length of the delay and the distance of the flight, the airline may have to help you with food and drink and access to phone calls and emails. It may also have to provide accommodation if you’re delayed overnight. You can check what your eligibility is on the Citizens Advice website.

  • If you choose to get an alternate flight, you may be entitled to compensation in the event of a cancellation if either the replacement flight delays your arrival by more than two hours, or your flight was cancelled less than two weeks beforehand.

Strikes

Industrial action can wreak havoc on your holiday plans, so it’s important to know what your rights are. In the event that staff from the airline you’re travelling with are on strike and you’re either delayed or your flight has been cancelled as a result, your rights are the same as with other cancellations or delays.

Airline employee strikes are not deemed to be extraordinary circumstances, which means that depending on the length of your wait you may be entitled to compensation. The Citizens Advice website can help you calculate how much, if any, you’re likely to be owed.

Luggage

Advice on delayed or lost luggage has had over 110,000 page views on the Citizens Advice website in the last year.

One woman turned to the charity for help after her suitcase was damaged beyond repair on a short haul flight, while another was told her luggage was lost only for it to turn up with items missing.

If your luggage is delayed, lost or damaged and the airline is at fault, you have the legal right to claim compensation from the airline.

Citizens Advice top tips:

  • Act quickly and check deadlines. You may have to claim within seven days of your flight.

  • You can claim money from the airline that would cover the bare essentials you need while you’re away, like toiletries, or for part of the cost of replacing or repairing your goods.

  • If you have travel insurance or home contents insurance that covers luggage, you might be better off making an insurance claim instead. You may get more money and find it easier to claim this way, depending on your excess.

Airline goes under

Two different clients came to Citizens Advice last April when they were stranded in India and unable to return home after their airline went under.

In the unfortunate case that your airline goes out of business you may be able to get some money back. But the method you booked by – direct or third party, credit card or debit card, or booking as part of a package holiday – can all affect your compensation, and your travel insurance.

Citizens Advice top tips:

  • If your flight is ATOL protected it means that you are guaranteed a refund if a company collapses. If you’ve booked flights through a travel agent the ATOL scheme should apply.

  • If your flights aren’t ATOL protected you could try claiming against your credit card company under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. To be eligible, you need to have paid more than £100 for the flight, and to have paid some of this amount with your credit card. For more information see the Citizens Advice website.

  • Airline insolvency can sometimes be included on travel insurance policies, so it’s worth contacting your provider to check to see if your policy covers ‘scheduled airline failure’.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Last year, there were almost 700,000 views of our flight advice online. From delayed or cancelled flights to lost luggage, these situations are frustrating and sometimes costly for consumers.

“By making sure you book ATOL-protected flights, have comprehensive travel insurance, and know your rights ahead of time, you can help make your holiday as relaxing as it should be.”

You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.


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CAB News 28 June 2019

Image result for unsafe private rented homes

Friday 28 June 2019

Our report into the state of the private rented sector has continued to pick up coverage in the national media, with a comment article from the Guardian.

National

Britain’s private rented sector isn’t fit for purpose. It’s unfair and unsafe

The Guardian, 27/06/2019, Vicky Spratt

An opinion piece based on our housing report released this week was published in the Guardian.

Our report, Getting the House in Order, revealed that private renters are living in hazardous homes because because landlords often don’t understand their obligations, or tenants their rights.

“Two-thirds of tenants said that their landlord has not addressed disrepair in their home, 15% said they believed that disrepair was a major threat to their health and safety, and 32% said that their home did not have a carbon monoxide alarm despite requiring one,” the article read.

“This, Citizens Advice says, leaves hundreds of thousands of renters living in mouldy, potentially dangerous homes with some missing smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.”

The article also quoted our research that found 46% of people who had made a formal complaint about disrepair in their home have been issued with a section 21 eviction notice within six months.

Housing

Hundreds of thousands of tenants in unsafe homes, survey finds

The Guardian, 26/06/2019, Miles Brignall

Image result for private rental health hazards electrical hazards

Our research was covered in the Guardian, which revealed that three in four of the landlords that we surveyed agreed that a national housing body would make their job easier.

It reported that we would like a this body to create a housing MOT, standardised contracts, and a fit and proper person test for landlords.

Gillian Guy said: “Too many private renters live in hazardous homes – often with dangerous flaws.

“The government must establish a national housing body to ensure landlords let property that meet legal standards, and gives renters the support they need when they don’t.”

How to get your landlord to fix damp or mould as thousands of renters live in unsafe homes

Sun Online, 26/06/2019, Kelsey Etheridge

The Sun also reported our research, writing that three in five tenants identified disrepair in the past two years for which they were not responsible, and one in six of these said it posed a threat to health.

The article reported a third of landlords find it hard to keep up with changing rules and regulations, which means they don’t know their legal obligations.

Gillian said: “Weak and confusing regulation means landlords can struggle to understand their legal obligations, while tenants find it hard to get problems in their homes resolved.”

Private renters living in hazardous homes thanks to ‘weak regulations’, says Citizens Advice

The Independent, 26/06/2019, Ben Chapman

Image result for private rental hazards

Hundreds of thousands of tenants in England are living in hazardous homes with problems such mould or faulty fire alarms due to “weak and confusing” regulation, according to Citizens Advice.

The Independent reported that our research found that almost one in three tenants surveyed said their house did not have a carbon monoxide alarm despite requiring one.

Three-fifths of tenants identified disrepair in their home during the last two years that was not caused by them and that their landlord was responsible for fixing. One in six of those said the disrepair was a major threat to their health and safety.

Citizens Advice also polled landlords, finding widespread gaps in knowledge of their legal responsibilities to tenants.

Gillian Guy said: Too many private renters live in hazardous homes – often with potentially fatal flaws.

“Weak and confusing regulation means landlords can struggle to understand their legal obligations, while tenants find it hard to get problems in their homes resolved.

Consumer

The Loyal Mint: banks must upgrade staunch customers’ accounts

The Sun, 26/06/2019, p.8, Daniel Jones

Our super-complaint to the CMA about the extra money loyal customers pay for goods and services has been mentioned by several papers, including The Telegraph and The Sun, this morning. It was in relation to a story that the Financial Services Consumer Panel (FSCP) has recommended that long-term customers purchasing financial services should be automatically upgraded to the best deal.

Debt

Can’t Pay? We’ll Take it Away! bailiff entered house unlawfully

BBC News, 25/06/2019

Our figures on the number of people who come to us with bailiff issues were featured in a BBC Online story about a TV enforcement agent who entered a home unlawfully.

The story reported: “According to Citizens Advice, complaints have gone up by 24% and last year they dealt with 41,000 people with what the charity calls ‘bailiff issues’.”

Regional

Council failing to identify vulnerable people before calling on bailiffs

St Helens Star, 23/06/2019, Kenny Lomas

Data provided by Citizens Advice St Helens was used in a story in the Star about how the local authority in the area is failing to protect vulnerable people from bailiff action.

The charity helped almost 18,000 people in 2017-18 with more than 46,000 issued. In that year it helped with £113,000 worth of council tax debt, but in the past year it helped with £229,000 worth of local authority arrears.

In other news

Two-child benefit limit pushes families further into poverty says study.

Customers of one water company are set to get a rebate after it was fined £126 million by Ofwat.

The NHS is to open its first service to help young gambling addicts.

The areas with the most homeless deaths were hit disproportionately by cuts.


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Hazardous homes – hundreds of thousands of private renters living in unsafe properties

Friday 28 June 2019

Weak regulation of private renting is leaving hundreds of thousands of tenants living in hazardous homes in England, research by Citizens Advice has revealed.

A survey of landlords and tenants conducted by ComRes on behalf of Citizens Advice revealed many landlords don’t know or understand their legal obligations, while renters aren’t aware of their rights or don’t feel able to enforce them.

It means many tenants live in homes with health-affecting hazards such as mould or dangerous problems such as not working or missing smoke or carbon monoxide alarms.

The charity wants a national housing body for private renting to set standards, which could include creating a home “MOT”, setting a “fit-and-proper-person” test for landlords and standardising rental contracts.

Some three quarters (75%) of landlords agree a single national housing body responsible for setting standards would make their job easier.

The report, Getting the house in order, found that landlords aren’t meeting obligations on repair that they are responsible for.

Three in five tenants (60%) identified disrepair in their home in the last 2 years that was not caused by them and that their landlord was responsible for fixing.

One in six (15%) said the disrepair was a major threat to their health and safety.

Almost one in three tenants (32%) said their house did not have a carbon monoxide alarm despite requiring one. This affects around 900,000 homes.

In its survey of landlords, research found about a quarter of landlords failed to make sure there’s a smoke alarm on each floor of all of their properties (25%).

The same number failed to carry out an annual gas safety check or make sure that smoke and carbon monoxide alarms were working (26%).

At the same time, almost one in three landlords (31%) said they find it difficult to keep up with rules and regulations. Just half (49%) did not know the potential penalty (a fine of up to £5,000) for not checking smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are in working order on the first day of the tenancy. The same proportion didn’t know the penalty for not carrying out a gas safety check.

One renter came to Citizens Advice for help because a leaky roof in her building meant rain was dripping into her young child’s bedroom, causing mould. She said her child’s health was being affected by the hazard but that after two years of going around in circles her landlord had still not fixed the problem.

The government has made reforms in the private rented sector in recent years, such as laws to ensure all rented homes are fit to be lived in, banning most tenant fees, and proposed the abolition of “no-fault” section 21 evictions.

However, renters lack the power they need to ensure standards are consistent, and landlords and tenants lack the knowledge they need for standards to be upheld.

Citizens Advice helped almost 60,000 people with issues related to private renting last year. One in four (24%) had issues getting repairs completed and more than 2,500 were being harassed by their landlord.


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Citizens Advice issues warning over future of community post offices

Friday 28 June 2019

Citizens Advice is warning about the future of 3,000 community branches as they face losing financial support. These important post offices are often the last shop in the village and provide essential services. Government funding is due to end in 2021.

The charity is calling for continued funding of community post offices as they play a vital role in serving rural communities. Post offices also ensure people have face-to-face access to key post, government and financial services such as receiving their pension or renewing a driving licence.

Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for postal services. As part of its role, the charity reviewed the Network Transformation Programme, part of a £2 billion government funding package, which aimed to restructure the post office network and ensure its financial sustainability.

The charity’s review concluded that the programme has achieved its objective as the number of post offices has remained stable and every part of the country is covered. Many branches have been refurbished and some offer improved disabled access and longer opening times. However it also reports an increasing proportion of branches are operating as part-time outreach offices.

Without ongoing financial support, Citizens Advice warns post offices are at risk of closure and reduced services.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Community post offices are often the last shop in the village and provide services not found elsewhere.

“While the government’s transformation programme of the post office network has kept the number of post offices stable for now, we’re concerned fewer government services are being provided.

“Government funding is due to end in 2021 – we’re calling for the continued financial support of these branches so the post office network is fit for the future.”


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Too many energy firms struggling to deliver good customer service, says Citizens Advice

Friday 28 June 2019

Ten energy companies are failing to achieve even half marks (two out of five stars) in the latest customer service league table from Citizens Advice.

That’s a quarter of the firms included in the table.

The energy star rating assesses a wide range of customer service indicators, including numbers of complaints, call waiting times, and how easy it is to switch.

The latest figures come on the eve of new regulations for firms who want to set up as energy suppliers coming into force at the start of next month (July 5th.)

Citizens Advice, the official consumer watchdog for energy, says these tighter rules should protect customers in the future. However, too many existing companies are still struggling to provide a decent level of customer service.

The charity says lax licensing regulations led to a wave of new companies entering the market.

Some of these new suppliers offer great service, and they make up four of the top five on our rating. But others were unprepared for the demands of the market and shifts in the costs of wholesale energy.

Ten domestic suppliers have gone bust in the last 18 months. Three of these were in the first three months of this year alone – affecting nearly 300,000 people.

Star rating data:

The results (for the period January to March 2019) includes 39 suppliers with 99% market coverage.

Citizens Advice dealt with nearly 1,000 calls about problems with the five suppliers at the bottom of the table from January to March this year. There were a number of recurring issues:

  • Sudden increases in direct debits – including money being taken after customers had closed their accounts

  • Problems with prepayment meters – including some people being switched to this system without warning

  • Inaccurate bills – including problems with broken meters and smart meters

  • Failure to return credit refunds

  • Difficulty in contacting the supplier to resolve issues.

At the top of the table:

  • SSE – one of the ‘Big Six’ – tops the table

  • Two newer suppliers, Affect Energy and Breeze Energy, are second and third

  • Nine firms score at least four stars

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Today’s rankings continue to show a number of firms struggling to deliver acceptable standards of customer service.

“The new rules which come into force next month will oversee new firms setting up as energy suppliers to make sure they’re fully prepared.

“But there also need to be stricter ongoing requirements and monitoring to tackle existing companies who are not serving their customers well.

“The energy supply market is not the free-for-all it once was. But there is still a big gap between those firms who provide excellent customer service, and a significant proportion who are letting consumers down.”

Citizens Advice price comparison site

The energy star rating is available online here. To support customers to save money on their energy bills, Citizens Advice, the official consumer champion for energy, also provides an independent price comparison site.

Supplier

Rating for January to March 2019

Stars

SSE

4.6

Affect Energy

4.5

Breeze Energy

4.45

So Energy

4.3

Igloo Energy

4.3

Engie

4.25

EDF Energy

4.15

Yorkshire Energy

4.15

Octopus Energy

4.05

British Gas

3.9

Bulb Energy

3.85

Green Network Energy

3.85

Bristol Energy

3.5

npower

3.5

ScottishPower

3.45

Shell Energy (formerly First Utility)

3.4

Pure Planet

3.25

E.ON

3.2

Utility Warehouse

3.05

Utility Point

3

Good Energy

3

Flow Energy

3

E (Gas and Electricity)

2.88

Ovo Energy

2.8

Together Energy

2.7

Robin Hood Energy

2.65

Tonik Energy

2.65

Co-Operative Energy

2.55

PFP Energy

2.55

Avro Energy

2.35

Green Star Energy

2.3

Solarplicity

2.3

Ecotricity

2.2

iSupply

2.15

Outfox The Market

2.1

TOTO Energy

2.1

Utilita

1.8

Eversmart Energy

1.8

Nabuh Energy

1.65