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CAB News 23 November 2018

Friday 23 November 2018

Today Citizens Advice features in national and regional news about rent-to-own products, smart meters and debt.

It’s also the media launch of National Consumer Week today as we warn consumers about the problems with online marketplaces. There is a template press release to share with local media – available in English and in Welsh.

National

Government will miss smart meter deadline, watchdog warns

The Guardian, CityAM, FT, The Times, 23/11/2018

The National Audit Office has said the government will miss its own deadline for installing smart meters. Our response has been carried.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “If the costs of the rollout continue to rise, as the NAO suggests, it is households who will end up footing the bill. These costs may be offset if people benefit from savings in the long-term, but with no cost-benefit analysis conducted since 2016, it’s not clear that this will happen.”

National Consumer Week

Black Friday danger warning – why you need to beware online marketplaces today

The Mirror, BBC Radio London, 23/11/2018

Our research into the pitfalls of online marketplaces ahead of National Consumer Week was covered in the Mirror and on broadcast.

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Far too many people are being ripped off on online marketplaces. This National Consumer Week, we want to make sure customers know what to look out for when making a purchase – and their rights if something goes wrong.

“With millions of people trying to find a bargain online on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, buyers need to beware when purchasing items through online marketplaces.

Joe Lane was on BBC Radio London at 7:20am this morning discussing this. Katie Martin and Matthew Upton have also been interviewed for BBC News and Sky News.

Rent to own products

Cap on rent-to-own products positive step 

BBC News, FT, The Times, The Guardian, Yahoo News, Daily Express, 23/11/2018

Yesterday the FCA announced a cap on rent-to-own products and we hailed it as a victory. Joe Lane featured on BBC News Channel and ITV. Matthew Upton was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive, said: “A cap gets to the heart of the problem by stopping costs from spiralling out of control and pushing people into further debt. Our evidence has repeatedly shown that well-designed caps can reduce the harm high-cost credit can cause, as they have done in the payday loan market.”

Debt

BrightHouse and PerfectHomes Black Friday deals cost THREE times more than high street prices

Sun Online, 21/11/2018, Tara Evans

Gillian Guy was quoted in a Sun Online story about the cost of household appliances being sold by rent-to-own companies on Black Friday.

The article also used our research that found a cap on rent-to-own agreements that meant nobody paid more than twice what they borrowed would save customers £62 million.

Gillian said: “People who buy household items using rent-to-own pay huge amounts of interest on products that already cost well over the regular retail price.

“Alongside extras, such as warranties and delivery charges, these agreements can lead to runaway costs that can cause people real financial harm.

“This is why the FCA must act soon and confirm its intention to cap rent-to-own agreements. No one should have to pay back more than double what they borrow.”

Regional

Concern over fuel poverty in Cumbria

BBC Radio Cumbria, 21/11/2018 (1hr 37 mins in)

Andy Auld, Chief Officer of Citizens Advice Carlisle and Eden, appeared on BBC radio to talk about the high levels of fuel poverty in the area.

He said: “Eden is the second worst in England and Wales for fuel poverty – nearly 17% of people in Eden are in fuel poverty.

“What we find it’s people on the lowest incomes who are more likely to have problems with meeting their fuel costs.”

He added: “In Cumbria it is much higher than average and it is of concern.”

Citizens Advice Rochdale campaigns for regulator to crack down on badly behaving bailiffs

Rochdale Online, 18/11/2018

Our campaign for an independent regulator to police the bailiff industry was covered in the north west.

Research last week showed that one in every three people visited by a bailiff witnessed the enforcement officer breaking the rules.

Citizens Advice in Rochdale said it dealt with 158 people in the last two years with bailiff issues, including one person who had a £44 debt, to which a £75 compliance charge was added and £235 for “enforcement action”.

Jonathan Yates, Chief Officer at Citizens Advice Rochdale, said: “The government must step in and regulate the industry to prevent people suffering at the hands of bailiffs who flout the rules.

“It beggars’ belief an industry that can cause so much damage is not properly policed by a regulator.”

This story was also covered in the Oldham Evening Chronicle and radio station Revolution 96.2.

In other news

Campaigners say new laws going through parliament will not go far enough to stamp out all hidden fees and charges for renters.

The homeless population in Britain has risen to 320,000.

A bank customer lost thousands in a scam, despite the fraudster getting one of her security questions wrong.

 


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Ofgem supplier licensing proposals “would significantly tighten the rules”, says Citizens Advice

Friday 23 November 2018

Citizens Advice, in its role as the official consumer champion for energy, has responded to Ofgem’s consultation proposing tighter licensing rules for firms wishing to enter the energy supply market.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Today’s proposals would significantly tighten the rules on firms that want to enter the energy supply market. For too long, firms that are unprepared, financially unsustainable or both have been able get a license and start operating as a supplier.

“Ultimately it’s consumers who suffer when unprepared energy companies are able to enter the market. Many customers suffer with poor customer service, long waits on the phone and inaccurate bills. And everyone pays the price, through their bills, when weak suppliers fail.  The collapse of GB Energy cost consumers £14m in total.

“While the proposed new rules will protect consumers from unfit firms getting a license in the future, there are still poorly performing suppliers operating now. Ofgem must take appropriate steps to remove these firms from the market.”


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Mobile and broadband providers found overcharging customers “yet again”, Citizens Advice says

Friday 23 November 2018

Citizens Advice has responded to Ofcom’s announcement today that EE and Virgin Media will be fined for overcharging their customers who have ended their contracts early.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Yet again mobile and broadband companies have been caught overcharging their customers. Anyone who has been affected by this deserves a refund.

“Our own research exposed mobile providers for knowingly overcharging customers for phones they already own by £500 million.

“This is another in a long line of failings in the mobile and broadband industry – we need an independent consumer champion to stick up for customers and stop this from happening.”


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CAB News 16 November 2018

Friday 16 November 2018

EE and Virgin Media have been fined £13.3m by the Telecoms regulator for overcharging customers wanting to leave broadband and phone contracts early. We are issuing a response to this.

In other top news, our post research continues to receive media coverage and, a study commissioned by Gateshead Council shows universal credit is bad for health and wellbeing.

National

Post

Can the Post Office really plug the gap as bank branches are shut down?

Which? (Web), 16/11/2018, Unattributed

The UK has lost two-thirds of its bank branches in the past 30 years, sparking warnings that communities are losing access to mainstream financial services.

Gillian Guy said: ‘Research from Which? echoes our own – we also found relatively few people know post offices provide basic banking services. And of those who did know, only about one in two said they’re using them. We want the government, the Post Office and banks to raise awareness, and help improve the banking services post offices offer, to ensure they meet consumer needs.

The issue has also been covered by the Yorkshire Post.

Debt

Promise to curb rogue bailiffs after MP tells of disabled woman’s ordeal

The Guardian, 14/11/2018, p18, Peter Walker

Wolverhampton MP Emma Reynolds highlighted our research in yesterday’s Justice questions and referenced the experiences of a disabled constituent who had a shocking bailiff encounter.

Reynolds also cited a study by Citizens Advice that said a third of people visited by bailiffs said the debt collectors had broken rules of conduct.

Reynolds asked: “When is the government urgently going to review the rules, and introduce an independent body to police the rules?”

850,000 people have had a bad experience with a bailiff – with forced entries top of the list

Mirror Online, 13/11/2018, Emma Munbodh

The article says since 2016, more than 2.2 million people have come into contact with a bailiff in Britain. Citizens Advice said 850,000 of this number have reported experiences such as forced entry or having their tools for work removed.

Gillian Guy said: “The 2014 reforms were well-intentioned but sadly have had little effect on improving the behaviour of some bailiffs.”

‘Bailiffs contributed to my son’s death, we must protect others’

ITV News, 13/11/2018

Senior Policy Researcher Joe Lane was interviewed on ITV lunchtime news alongside Tracey Rogers, who is campaigning for bailiff reform after her son Jerome killed himself following bailiff harassment.

Joe said: “Citizens Advice helps about 40,000 people with bailiff problems each year. Today’s research shows that experience is far more common. There are a set of rules bailiffs are supposed to follow but far too often, those are being broken.”

Head of External Affairs Katie Martin was also interviewed on LBC with Nick Ferrari yesterday morning. The research was also covered by the Independent and Money Saving Expert.

Regional

Benefits

Disabled people can be £300 a month worse off under Universal Credit

Rochdale Online, 12/11/2018

Our research that revealed disabled people could be £300 a month worse off under Universal Credit when compared to legacy benefits was covered by Rochdale Online.

The article revealed Citizens Advice Penine West – which overseas Rochdale, Oldham and Trafford – had helped more than 2,600 people with Universal Credit since it was rolled out in the area.

Jonathan Yates, Chief Officer of Citizens Advice Pennine West, said: “We see the toll that Universal Credit can have on disabled people in Rochdale, Oldham and Trafford.

“They can be hundreds of pounds worse off than under the previous system – even when they do get the support meant for them.

“This money is desperately needed to cover key costs including essential bills and stop people falling into serious financial difficulty.”

Citizens Advice – Universal Credit means local disabled people are hundreds of pounds worse off

Oldham Evening Chronicle (Web), 09/11/2018, Unattributed

Citizens Advice Pennine West is calling on the government to make changes to the design and the amount of financial support in Universal Credit to make sure disabled people aren’t penalised when they claim the new benefit.

Jonathan Yates, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Pennine West, said: “We see the toll that Universal Credit can have on disabled people in Trafford, Oldham and Rochdale. They can be hundreds of pounds worse off than under the previous system – even when they do get the support meant for them.”

In other news

Universal credit has become a serious threat to public health.

NHS ‘could be short of 350,000 staff by 2030’.

A survey has revealed the UK’s “worst” online retailer.


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Time for action on bailiff regulation as charities reveal rules are broken every minute

Friday 16 November 2018

Rule-breaking bailiffs are causing people increased stress, anxiety and financial hardship, according to new research published today by Citizens Advice and StepChange.

The charities are calling for the government to step in and regulate the industry to prevent more people suffering at the hands of debt collectors who flout the rules.

New figures reveal that one third (850,000) of the 2.2 million people contacted by a bailiff in the last two years experienced them pushing the limits of the law – such as by forcing entry into a home or removing goods needed for work.

This works out as one person every minute being forced to deal with a rule-breaking bailiff.

Citizens Advice broke down the impact this has on people’s mental health and financial position. It found of those who had a negative experience with a bailiff:

  • 7 in 10 reported increased stress and anxiety
  • 1 in 2 experienced knock-on effects on their finances, including further debt due to enforcement fees

The findings suggest the government reforms introduced in 2014 to protect people from unfair practices are not working. Since then, Citizens Advice has reported a 24% rise in bailiff problems, and it remains one of the most common debt issues it helps people with.

The rules bailiffs are breaking

The national polling carried out by YouGov reveals when people were affected by – or witnessed – a bailiff breaking the rules:

  • 1 in 5 (18%) witnessed unsympathetic treatment towards people with an illness/disability
  • 1 in 6 (17%) had a break-in threatened (when bailiffs don’t have legal powers to do this)
  • 1 in 10 (11%) had goods needed for their work removed, for example tools or a vehicle
  • 1 in 16 (6%) had entry forced into their home.

Citizens Advice analysed these figures and is also concerned bailiffs demonstrate poor practice by refusing to accept reasonable offers of payment when the debt is unable to be paid in full. It helped people with nearly 17,000 issues associated with a refusal to accept payment offers last year.

In one example, Citizens Advice helped a person with depression who fell behind on their council tax two years in a row. This debt amounted to about £1,000. After food and other essential expenses, they have £40 available income each month with half (£20) being used to meet the cost of the first year’s council tax debt. Recently, they made an offer to repay the other debt with the remaining £20 of available income. But the offer was refused and the bailiff insisted on asking for repayment in full.

The charity’s data shows that this situation is not unusual. The average person it helped with council tax last year had just £15 a week disposable income.

It’s time to solve this problem

Bailiff issues are part of a wider problem of households falling behind on essential bills. Citizens Advice estimates households have a total of £19 billion of arrears on bills such as council tax and utilities. Since 2011, these debt issues have overtaken the number of consumer credit issues (e.g. loans and credit cards) that people are seeking the charity’s help with.

The impact of bailiff use has also been highlighted this year by MPs on the Treasury Select Committee, who labelled government and local authorities “worst in class” for debt collection. In September, the National Audit Office said there was evidence that aggressive enforcement action is ineffective, and can be harmful in situations where the debtor is struggling to pay.

Citizens Advice, StepChange and the other 9 organisations that make up the ‘Taking Control’ group are calling for an independent body to be introduced to enforce high standards in the bailiff industry.

Through the Ministry of Justice’s upcoming consultation on the enforcement industry, the group wants to see an independent bailiff regulator established.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Too often bailiffs, and the firms they work for, are a law unto themselves. This is inflicting widespread harm on people and their families and it has to stop.

“The 2014 reforms were well intentioned but sadly have had little effect on improving the behaviour of some bailiffs.

“Faced with the evidence we’ve put in front of them, the Ministry of Justice has no other option but to establish an independent bailiff regulator.”

Phil Andrew, StepChange Debt Charity Chief Executive, added:

“The fact is that all the main debt advice charities are continuing to see too many cases where bailiffs are breaking the rules. This is completely unacceptable, especially as the people on the receiving end are often distressed, vulnerable and unempowered.

“Across the debt advice sector, we are united in the view that it’s now time for regulation to be more robust, and for the rules to be properly enforced. Even some bailiff firms seem to be realising that the days of informal regulation need to end.”


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