18 January 2021
Advice Column: Savvy Shopping 

With all the financial pressures last year, I agreed with family that we would only exchange token presents on Christmas Day and that we would look to buy additional gifts online in the January sales when we hope to get some bargains. What should shoppers look out for?


This is an excellent way to make your budget go further. However, it is important that you are aware of your online shopping rights and stick to your budget. 


We have seen the number of people coming to our consumer service about online shopping nearly double, when compared to the same period in 2019. Our Consumer expert shares her top tips to help consumers stay safe online:


1.If you change your mind about a purchase If you buy online, unless it’s bespoke, made to measure, or you’ve broken a digital or hygiene seal, by law you will get an automatic 14-day cooling off period. This starts the day after you receive your order, and there doesn’t need to be anything wrong with the item for you to get a refund.


If you buy something in person, shops aren’t legally required to accept returns for unwanted goods. Despite this, the shop may choose to have its own returns policy. If it does, they must honour it, so it’s worth checking your receipt. 


2.If you’re worried your purchase is faulty If something’s gone wrong with an item you’ve bought, you may be entitled to a refund. You’ll have legal rights if you unwittingly bought an item that is broken or damaged, unusable, not what was advertised or doesn’t match the seller’s description.


You’ll have to move quickly, as you only have 30 days to return something that's faulty with the guarantee of getting your money back. Your rights don’t end after 30 days, though after this period the retailer doesn’t necessarily have to refund you, instead they have the option of repairing or replacing the faulty product.


3.If you’re worried about scams - Be careful not to end up with a counterfeit item. Secure websites should start “https” and have a padlock symbol in the taskbar. Be wary of spelling or grammar mistakes, and companies that don’t provide an address.


Also seek out reviews of the seller from other buyers as these can help you decide whether or not you trust the seller. If there is a lot of negative feedback from other people, it’s often a sign that something’s not right.


If you’re worried that something you’ve seen online might be a scam, you can get help from the Citizens Advice Scams Action service.


4.If there’s a problem with your delivery With more people buying online, more people are experiencing delivery problems. Just under half (47%) of UK adults have had a parcel delivery problem since the first lockdown in March.


If you bought something to be delivered, it’s the seller’s responsibility to make sure the item is delivered to you. If the seller used a delivery company, they should chase the company to find out what’s happened to your order - it’s not your responsibility.


Check the delivery address you gave the seller. Then contact them and ask where your order is. Be careful in selecting safe places; if you nominate a safe place and the parcel is stolen you might have lost the right to a replacement.


5.Keeping within your budget: It’s important that anyone thinking about turning to credit or taking out a loan to help pay for purchases understands the full costs involved and if they can actually afford to pay it back.


If you are struggling with your finances, it is important to do something about it as soon as possible. You can get free debt and money advice from Citizens Advice to find a way forward and avoid spiralling debts.


Further information and advice is available at: www.citizensadvice.org.uk






13 January 2021

Citizens Advice Torbay response to extension of ban on bailiff enforced evictions 

Leading local advice charity, Citizens Advice Torbay, has responded to the government announcement of an extension of the ban bailiff enforced evictions.


Steve Barriball, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Torbay, said:


“The government has made the right decision to extend this protection. Renters who are struggling with arrears shouldn’t face the prospect of losing the roof over their head when everyone is being asked to stay at home. 


“However, there are still hundreds of thousands of people in arrears and this debt will continue to hang over them. The government should put in place targeted financial support for tenants in England who’ve fallen behind on their rent.”


Background


On Tuesday 5th January, national Citizens Advice published new research which estimated that half a million renters remained in arrears, with the average amount owed being £730, which would mean around £360 million is owed across the country.



Citizens Advice Torbay is calling for:


·      A legal ban on bailiff action and pause on all possession proceedings during the national lockdown in England and in tiers 2 and above beyond 11 January


·      targeted financial support for people in England who’ve built up rent arrears. The government should consider a system of grants and government-backed loans - comparable to schemes in Scotland and Wales - to help people pay back their rent arrears sustainably and stay in their homes.



05 January 2021
Advice Column: Financial Healthcheck 

I know that I overspent at Christmas and will struggle to pay my bills this New Year. What should I do to make sure I am in a better financial situation next year?


It is a good idea to start the New Year with a resolution to carry out a money overhaul and make sure that you are getting the best possible deals. We expect to see debt levels rise into 2021 as the financial impact of Coronavirus becomes more evident.


Ten top tips for 2021:


1.              Check that you are not missing out on money that you should be getting in benefits or tax credits, tax rebates or allowances.

2.              If you really need to consider taking out a loan, make sure you shop around and get the best deal. Look out for low interest rates.

3.              Be wary of consolidating your debts. Get advice and don’t put your home unnecessarily at risk. Defaulting on a loan secured against your home could mean that you lose your home.

4.              Plan to build up an emergency savings fund by saving a regular amount each week or each month.

5.              Shop around for the best savings rates and check regularly that it is still the best deal available.

6.              Check out tax efficient ways to save money like cash ISAs (Individual Savings Account)

7.              Be wary of low interest credit card transfers. Check the terms and conditions carefully.

8.              You may be losing money by sticking with your existing bank or energy supplier; shop around, it‘s simple to change.

9.              Don't automatically renew your car, holiday, or house insurance without comparing prices.

10.           Start planning ahead for next Christmas by setting a little aside each week and save it in an interest bearing account, such as a Credit Union or special Christmas savings account


All too often people come to us when they've already reached crisis point or can no longer cope with their problems. By carrying out a regular financial overhaul and taking some preventative measures many problems could be averted before they become crises. Traditionally people make New Year’s resolutions to change bad habits - we're urging people to do the same with their finances.

For more information and advice about debt and money, go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk



22 December 2020
Advice Column: Talk About Abuse 

I’ve heard about your Talk about Abuse campaign. What is it and how can I support the campaign?


Talk about Abuse is a campaign to encourage people to look for signs of domestic abuse among their friends and family, to talk about it, listen and support, and suggest further help.


One in fifteen women and one in every 33 men experience domestic abuse at the hands of their partner or former partner. A quarter of women and just over a tenth of men have experienced this kind of abuse at some point in their adult lives. Around a third of those who are victimised, experienced ‘severe force’, and for some this is an almost continuous feature of their lives: three per cent of victims experienced abuse in the previous year “more than 50 times or too many times to count”.


Specialists - in the form of refuges, legal professionals and police, and helplines or support services - play a critical role for many victims. However, many victims don’t engage with these groups; our Talk About Abuse campaign aims to address this.


Our Talk About Abuse campaign focuses on informal networks of friends, family, neighbours or colleagues. Friends and family may be able to support victims where others might not be able to. We want to enable friends and family to recognise abuse, to talk about it safely and enable victims to make the right decisions for themselves.


While it is a difficult and delicate, we know that proactively talking about whether somebody is experiencing abuse - rather than waiting for them to broach the subject - makes it easier for victims to disclose. The campaign is about communicating a clear message to encourage and guide friends and family to look for signs of domestic abuse, and to talk about it.



07 December 2020
Advice Column: Self-Employment 

I am self-employed and work has really fallen away because of the Coronavirus restrictions. I claimed for the first two Self-Employment Income Support Scheme payments and heard that there is some additional help now available from the Scheme. What’s the latest?


The Government has announced that the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme will be extended in the form of two further grants; each available for three month periods covering November 2020 to January 2021 and February 2021 to April 2021.


To be eligible for the grant extension self-employed individuals, including members of partnerships, must:


  • have been previously eligible for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme first and second grant (although they do not have to have claimed the previous grants)
  • declare that they intend to continue to trade and are either currently actively trading but are impacted by reduced demand due to coronavirus, or were previously trading but are temporarily unable to do so due to coronavirus


The grant covering the period from 1 November 2020 until 31 January 2021 will provide a taxable grant calculated at 80% of 3 months average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment and capped at £7,500 in total.


The Government has already announced that there will be a further grant covering the period from February 2021 to April 2021. The Government will set out further details, including the level, of the grant in due course.

The grants are taxable income and also subject to National Insurance contributions.


The online service for the next grant will be available from 30 November 2020. HMRC will provide full details about claiming and applications in guidance on GOV.UK in due course.


Further more information and advice is available at: www.citizensadvice.org.uk



23 November 2020
Advice Column - Eviction Worries

I have fallen behind with my rent payments as my income has been severely reduced over the last 6 months and I am really worried about being evicted. What is the process?


The ban on evictions came to an end in September and there is evidence to suggest that concern is building amongst renters about the possibility of losing their home, with previous research suggesting that over a million people have fallen behind on their rent due to Covid-19. We are calling on the Government to urgently consider direct financial support to help renters clear their debts and stay in their homes, and so make good its promise that no renter will be evicted because of coronavirus


It is important that you consider the following the top five ‘need-to-knows’ for renters in England worried about staying in their home. Please note that this does not apply to lodgers.


  1. Find out where you are in the process


If your landlord wants to evict you from your privately rented home there are three stages they’ll have to go through. First, they’ll need to serve you with a notice. When this expires, they need to go to court to get a possession order, and finally apply for a bailiff visit to evict you. It’s really important to know where you are in that process.


If your landlord has not yet given you a formal notice then you won’t be evicted for many months. If your landlord has already got a possession order and applied for a bailiff date, you might be evicted with 14 days notice.


If you haven’t received notice yet but are worried about eviction


If you haven’t yet been given notice, but are worried about the possibility, talk to your landlord. Explain the effect that coronavirus has had on your household and income. Ask if they’ll accept reduced payments, or let you pay back arrears at a rate you can afford. 


Both the Government and the landlords’ body the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) have asked landlords to be sympathetic to tenants affected by the pandemic.

You should also make sure you’re receiving all the benefits you might be entitled to.


If you’ve received a notice


The rules on the notice your landlord must give have changed — it may now be up to six months depending on when the notice was served. 


The notice must also be in a specific form, so make sure you have a copy and get it checked. If the landlord hasn’t followed other rules during your tenancy this might also mean that the notice is invalid. 


Your landlord can only make a claim to court after the notice ends. You don’t need to leave by this date, but going to court might mean costs are added to your debt if the notice is valid.


If your notice is expiring and you’re due to go to court


After 20 September, courts started hearings again. If your landlord started the claim after 3 August, you’ll be given a court date automatically, otherwise the landlord will need to serve a ‘reactivation notice’ to restart proceedings.


Return your defence form if you want the court to consider your evidence or allow you extra time in the property. Supply any evidence or information which you gave your landlord about the effect of Covid-19 on your household and of any payments you’ve made.


The court will look at the information provided by you and the landlord and decide whether to make an order for possession. In some cases you might be able to stay if you can agree to affordable repayments, but the court has no discretion to allow you to stay if you’ve had a valid Section 21 notice - so-called ‘no fault eviction’.


If the possession order is granted, it will usually ask you to leave within 2 to 6 weeks.

If you’ve had a possession order and are facing eviction


If the court had already decided your case before the eviction ban started (27 March 2020), you may be given 14 days notice that bailiffs will carry out an eviction. 


You should seek urgent advice - from Citizens Advice or another housing charity - about whether there’s any way to prevent or delay the eviction, or about finding alternative accommodation.


For more information and advice visit: www.citizensadvice.org.uk  


09 November 2020
Advice Column: Job Retention Scheme Extension 

I have previously been furloughed by my employer because of Coronavirus. With the announcement of a further lockdown, what is being done to support employees?


The Government had announced that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), also known as the ‘furlough scheme, would end on the 31st October 2020, with a new Job Support Scheme (JSS) replacing it. However, the Government has now announced an extension until December to the CJRS following the announcement of a further period of lockdown.


The extended Job Retention Scheme will see the Government paying 80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500 and employers paying employer National Insurance Contributions and pension contributions for the hours the employee does not work. Employers are still able to choose to top up employee wages at their own expense if they wish. Flexible furloughing will be allowed in addition to full-time furloughing.


In addition, the Government has announced an extension to the mortgage payment holiday arrangements. Borrowers who have been impacted by Coronavirus and have not yet had a mortgage payment holiday will be entitled to a six month holiday, and those that have already started a mortgage payment holiday will be able to top up to six months without this being recorded on their credit file.


The Government has also announced that the Job Support Scheme will be introduced following the end of the CJRS. The JSS provides different types of support to businesses according to their situation. Businesses that are operating but facing decreased demand can get support for wages through the JSS ‘Open’ scheme. Those businesses that are legally required to close their premises as a direct result of coronavirus restrictions can get support through the JSS ‘Closed’ scheme.


·        Where the rules of the ‘Open’ scheme apply, the employee will need to work a minimum of 20% of their usual hours and the employer will continue to pay them as normal for the hours worked. Alongside this, the employee will receive 66.67% of their normal pay for the hours not worked - this will be made up of contributions from the employer and from the Government. The Government says that this will ensure employees continue to receive at least 73% of their normal wages, where they earn £3,125 a month or less.

·        Where the rules of the ‘Closed’ scheme apply, each employee who cannot work due to restrictions will receive two thirds of their normal pay, paid by their employer and fully funded by the Government, to a maximum of £2,083.33 per month. The employer has discretion to pay more than this if they wish. Employees may also be entitled to additional financial support, including Universal Credit.


For the most up to date information and advice visit: GOV.UK    


16 October 2020
Advice Column: School Costs

My children have gone back to school, but I am struggling financially as we have been living off a reduced furlough income and now my hours at work have been reduced. Is there any support available to help with school costs?


We know the costs of schooling can be a stretch for people’s budgets, particularly if you’re on a low income. If you’ve claimed benefits for the first time during this pandemic, or have seen your circumstances change, it’s worth checking whether you can apply for extra help with costs such as school lunches, transport or uniforms. 


Here is our checklist for help with ongoing school costs: 


1.Free school meals. Children in Reception and Years 1 or 2 automatically get free school meals. If you have older children you can apply for free school meals if you get certain benefits:


- Universal Credit - if you started your claim for Universal Credit before 1 April 2018 or generally earn less than £7,400 a year after tax, not including benefits.

- Child Tax Credit - but you can't apply for free meals if your yearly income is £16,190 or more before tax or you're also entitled to Working Tax Credit.

- Working Tax Credit run-on - you might get this for four weeks if you're no longer eligible for Working Tax Credit.

- Income Support.

- Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance

- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance

- Guarantee Credit (part of Pension Credit)

- Asylum Support - if you've asked for asylum and you're waiting for a decision.


2.Help with transport to and from school. If your child is aged five to 16, the local education authority may offer free or lower cost transport if you don't live near school or your child's unable to walk there. You need to apply to your local education authority for help.


3.Help with activity costs and school uniforms. If you're on a low income, your local education authority might help you with some other costs, such as uniforms or musical instrument lessons. You're probably on a low income if you get means-tested benefits such Universal Credit, tax credit or Income Support, Housing Benefit, Employment Support Allowance or JobSeeker’s Allowance. If you're not sure, you can ask staff at your local education authority. There may also be local charitable schemes to help with school uniforms - it’s worth checking with the school to see if it knows of any. Schools can sometimes also advise on finding second-hand uniforms.


4.Disability living allowance. This is extra money to help with everyday costs if your child is under 16 and disabled or has a health condition. You can get between £23.60 and £151.40 a week, and it isn't means tested, so how much you earn doesn't impact how much you can get.


5.Carrying on learning after year 11? If your child is staying in education after year 11, you must tell HMRC’s Child Benefit Office if you want to continue receiving child benefit and any extra support for children within means-tested benefits. When your child turns 16, HMRC will send you a letter asking whether your child will stay in education or training. You must reply to this letter to keep getting Child Benefit.


To apply for free school meals you need to contact your local education authority.

Further information and advice is available at: www.citizensadvice.org.uk




25 September 2020
Advice Column: Redundancy Checklist 

I am worried that my employer is going to start looking to make staff redundant. What things should I look out for and what are my rights to ensure that my employer treats me fairly


If you’re at risk of redundancy, it’s important to know you do have rights to help protect you from unfair dismissal and to ensure you’re paid what you’re owed.

These are things anyone at risk of redundancy should check:


  1. Check if your redundancy is fair. There are rules to protect you from being discriminated against, and from being picked for redundancy due to an unfair reason. For example, although you can be made redundant while pregnant or on maternity leave, you cannot be made redundant because you’re pregnant or on maternity leave. If you are this counts as “automatic unfair dismissal” and discrimination. Examples of unfair reasons for redundancy can include being picked because you work part-time or you made a complaint about health and safety.
  2. Check how much redundancy pay you get. You’re entitled to statutory redundancy pay, which is the minimum the law says you’re entitled to, if you’ve been an employee for two years. The amount you will get depends on your age and how long you have worked for the company. You won’t get statutory redundancy pay if you’ve worked for the company for less than two years, are self-employed or are in certain professions such as the armed forces or police. You may also lose out on statutory redundancy pay if you turn down a suitable alternative job from your employer without a good reason. Your employer may also pay extra money on top of the statutory amount you’re entitled to - this is called contractual redundancy pay. Some employees may be entitled to contractual redundancy pay even though they are not entitled to statutory redundancy pay.
  3. Furloughed? Make sure you get 100% redundancy pay. If you were furloughed and then made redundant, your redundancy pay should be based on your normal wage. If you were paid 80% of your wages while on furlough, your redundancy pay should be based on your full wage.
  4. Check your notice period. If you’ve worked for your employer for at least a month you’re entitled to a paid statutory notice period. If you’ve worked there for more than a month but less than two years, you have to be given a week’s notice. For two years or more, it’s a week for each full year you have worked, up to a maximum of 12 weeks. You may be entitled to a longer notice period as part of your employment contract. Your notice period only starts when your employer says you'll be made redundant and gives you a finishing date - not when your employer says you’re at risk of redundancy. Your employer might decide to give you notice pay instead of your notice period - this is called ‘pay in lieu of notice’.
  5. Check your holiday pay. You’ll be paid for any holiday you have left over when you leave. This should be at your normal rate’s pay, even if you’re currently furloughed on 80% of your pay. You can ask to take holiday during your notice period, but it’s up to your employer to decide if you can take it then. Your employer can also tell you to use up any holiday you have left over, but they must give you notice. The notice must be at least twice as long as the holiday they want you to take.
  6. You might be entitled to paid time off to look for work. If you’ve worked for your employer for two years at the end of your notice period, you’re likely to be entitled to ‘reasonable’ time off to apply for jobs or go on training. You can take the time off at any time in normal working hours and your employer can’t ask you to rearrange your work hours to make up the time off. When taking time off to look for work, you’ll be paid at your normal hourly rate, but only for up to 40% of a week’s work - for instance for up to two days if you work a five-day week.
  7. Check if you’ve got legal help via your home insurance. Often people get 'legal expenses cover' as part of their home insurance package, but many don't realise they can get free legal help to challenge their redundancy if they think it’s discriminatory or unfair. It’s worth checking the terms and conditions and speaking to your insurer if you are unsure. If you have a trade union at work, you could also contact them. Your union can help you work out if you’ve got a claim, and support you through the process, for example by going to meetings with you or negotiating on your behalf.


It’s completely understandable that you may find the rules and procedures overwhelming, but you don’t have to face redundancy alone. Further information and advice is available at: www.citizensadvice.org.uk


14 September 2020
Advice Column: National Living Wage

I am over 25 and entitled to the National Living Wage, but I suspect I am being underpaid. How can I find out if I’m being paid the right amount, and claim what I am owed from my employer?


If you think you’ve been underpaid, you should act quickly. Check your payslip to see if there’s been some mistake. You will be able to see the number of hours you’ve worked, the rate you’ve been paid at and if there have been any deductions.


Ask your employer to explain anything you don’t understand on your payslip, and tell them why you think you have been underpaid. If there was a genuine mistake, ask your employer to pay you straight away. You shouldn’t have to wait until the next payday.


If your employer refuses to pay back your wages you can formally raise a grievance, either by writing a letter to your employer or following your company’s grievance procedure. Explain that you haven’t been paid enough and you want them to pay the difference.


If this still doesn’t work, you can take your employer to a tribunal. Contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) on 0300 123 1100, or visit www.acas.org.uk, who will see if your employer will agree to a conciliation process, rather than go to court. Otherwise you can take your employer to a tribunal. Think carefully before starting a tribunal claim as it can be expensive and stressful.


Further advice and information is available from www.citizensadvice.org.uk


28 August 2020
Advice Column: Self-Employed

I am self-employed and work has dried up because of the Coronavirus lockdown. I claimed for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme and heard that there is some additional help now available from the Scheme. What’s the latest?


The Government has now announced that the second and final grant Scheme is now open for applications for businesses that have been adversely affected on or after 14 July 2020. You must make your claim for the second grant on or before the 19th October 2020.


The second grant is worth 70% of your average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment covering 3 months’ worth of profits, and capped at £6,570 in total. The online service will tell you how your grant has been worked out.


You can claim for the second grant even if you did not make a claim for the first grant. You should not claim the grant if you’re a limited company or operating a trade through a trust.


You must make the claim yourself. You must not ask a tax agent or adviser to claim on your behalf as this will trigger a fraud alert, which will delay your payment.


More details about the Scheme, and how to make a claim, can be found at www.GOV.UK


Further more information and advice is available at: www.citizensadvice.org.uk




17 August 2020
Advice Column: Redundancy 

I am worried that my employer may make me redundant. I have not been in this position before and have no idea what my rights are. What should I be aware of?


Our Employment Expert has answered six of the most frequently asked employment questions: 


  • Can I be made redundant if I’m pregnant or on maternity leave? 


You can be made redundant while pregnant or on maternity leave, but there are strict rules that must be followed before this can happen. You can’t be made redundant because you’re pregnant or on maternity leave. If you are this counts as “automatic unfair dismissal” and discrimination.

This could be where, for example, the employer has no genuine reason to make you redundant, or there is a real reason to make people redundant but the employer picks you because of a reason relating to pregnancy or maternity leave.


There is additional protection for women who are on maternity leave, or those on shared parental leave. If you are on maternity or parental leave, and there is a genuine reason to make your role redundant, your employer must offer you suitable alternative work if they have it. They should give you this as a priority over other employees.


  • Can I be made redundant if I’m on sick leave? 


You can be made redundant while on sick leave, but there are rules to protect against discrimination. When deciding whom to make redundant, an employer can take sickness records into account unless the sickness relates to an underlying disability. They should treat any absence related to a disability differently.

If the sick leave is related to a disability, the employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to its redundancy processes and decisions. For example, it might disregard some or all of any disability-related absences. But, a disabled person may still be lawfully chosen for redundancy if the employer can show that this was justified because it was proportionate when considering the needs of the business. There's no absolute protection against dismissal or redundancy for disabled people.


  • Can I be made redundant while on furlough? 


You can be made redundant while you’re furloughed, but there are still rules your employer must follow. In a genuine and fair redundancy, employees who are made redundant are entitled to statutory and contractual redundancy payments, notice of their redundancy dismissal and any wages and holiday pay.


  • What are my rights if the business I work for is closing? 


You can be made redundant if the business where you work is closing down.


Hopefully your employer will have enough cash to pay all of its workers all of the termination payments they are owed, such as notice pay, redundancy payments, and wages and holiday pay owed. If not, the government’s Redundancy Payment Service may cover some of what you’re owed under statutory rules, which is the minimum you’re entitled to under the law. 


  • Am I entitled to redundancy pay? 


You’re entitled to statutory redundancy pay, which is the minimum the law says you’re entitled to, if you’ve been an employee for two years. The amount you will get depends on your age and how long you have worked for the company. You won’t get statutory redundancy pay if you’ve worked for the company for less than two years, are self-employed or are in certain professions such as the armed forces or police.

You may also lose out on statutory redundancy pay if you turn down a suitable alternative job from your employer without a good reason. Your employer may also pay extra money on top of the statutory amount you’re entitled to - this is called contractual redundancy pay. Some employees may be entitled to contractual redundancy pay even though they are not entitled to statutory redundancy pay.  


  • How much notice will I be given if I’m being made redundant?


If you’ve worked for your employer for at least a month you’re entitled to a paid statutory notice period. If you’ve worked there for more than a month but less than two years, you have to be given a week’s notice. For two years or more, it’s a week for each full year you have worked, up to a maximum of 12 weeks. You may be entitled to a longer notice period as part of your employment contract.

Your notice period only starts when your employer says you'll be made redundant and gives you a finishing date - not when your employer says you’re at risk of redundancy.


If your employer is making 20 or more people redundant, you’re part of a ‘collective redundancy’, which means your employer has to hold a group consultation. This must start at least 30 days before anyone’s job ends. If 100 or more people are being made redundant, group meetings must start at least 45 days before anyone’s job ends.


Further advice and information is available from www.citizensadvice.org.uk






04 August 2020
Advice Column: UC Job hunting rules restart

I have read that the rules for job-hunters in receipt of Universal Credit have been reintroduced after they were paused for Covid-19. What are the changes, and what do I need to know?


From 1 July people claiming Universal Credit will begin to see a return of job-seeking requirements, which have been paused since 30 March due to Covid-19. 


The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has said work coaches will be calling all claimants to help them prepare for work, although what people will need to do will depend on their Claimant Commitment. This is a document people need to agree to as part of getting Universal Credit.


The types of job-seeking activities people will be asked to do will vary depending on factors such as their health, current circumstances and which “conditionality” group they have been placed in. There are four groups, which set out the tasks they’re expected to complete in order to receive their full benefit payment. 


People who are in the All Work-Related Requirements Group usually have to, in the government’s words, do “all they can” to find a job or earn more. It promised they would not be penalised if they could not look for a job up until 30 June. From 1 July, the government has said it will take a “common-sense” approach to the job-hunting rules. 

Given many people have claimed Universal Credit for the first time during lockdown, we have prepared answers to some common questions our advisers are seeing: 


  1. What do I need to do to receive my Universal Credit? After applying for Universal Credit you should have been put in one of the four “conditionality” groups. You can check which group you’re in by logging into your Universal Credit account online and checking your Claimant Commitment. This will tell you which group you’re in and what tasks you'll have to do regularly to get Universal Credit. These tasks could include writing your CV, signing up for job alerts or applying for vacancies. Some claimants who have not had a Jobcentre interview may not have a Claimant Commitment yet. The Department for Work and Pensions has said it will be calling all claimants to help them prepare for work, so people should expect to be contacted to set up the Claimant Commitment. The tasks you need to complete will depend on your Claimant Commitment.
  2. Does everyone claiming Universal Credit have to look for work? Most people will probably be put in the All Work-Related Requirements Group if they’re able to work. Depending on your circumstances, however, you might be put in a different “conditionality” group, say if you have children under the age of three, or are pregnant or disabled. In some cases you won't have to take any steps to prepare for work or improve your skills, in other cases you may have to have interviews with your work coach. You can check which group you’re in, and what you must do to receive your full Universal Credit payment, by logging into your Universal Credit account online. 
  3. What happens if I don’t meet the requirements? Failing to carry out the tasks set out in your Claimant Commitment could mean your Universal Credit payment is temporarily reduced, which is known as a sanction. The amount your Universal Credit will be reduced depends on factors such as how long the sanction lasts, and how quickly you complete the outstanding tasks. See GOV.UK for more information.
  4. What if there are no jobs available? It’s very tricky for many who are job hunting at the moment, and it’s clear that finding jobs to apply for will be harder than usual. In order to show how you have completed the to-do list set out in your Claimant Commitment, try and keep a diary of the tasks you’ve done and how long they took, e.g. signing up to a recruitment agency. 
  5. Do I have to go to the Jobcentre to carry on claiming Universal Credit? Usually you would need to go to the Jobcentre to have regular meetings with your work coach. You should agree with your work coach which tasks need to be done as part of the claimant commitment. The government cancelled all face-to-face appointments in March but has said that it will start to reopen Jobcentres from July. The DWP says people can make an appointment with their work coach if they can’t get the help they want online or over the phone. 
  6. How do I challenge a Universal Credit decision? You need to tell your work coach as soon as possible if you’re in the wrong “conditionality” group. Explain which exceptions apply and show them any evidence you can - for example a letter from your doctor if you’re sick, or the birth certificate for a child you care for. If your work coach won’t change your work-related activity group, you can complain to the Department for Work and Pensions. If you get a sanction even though you’ve explained your situation to your work coach, you can challenge the decision by asking for what is called a mandatory reconsideration.


Further advice and information is available from www.citizensadvice.org.uk

06 July 2020
Advice Column: Racism 

Racism is an urgent issue in the UK. We all have a role to play in challenging it at a structural and individual level. We stand in solidarity with the black community and fully support the Black Lives Matter movement.


Here is some information about the advice available and ways to get support for those who have been targets of racism and discrimination.


·       Stop Hate UK have a range of resources and information on their website for organisations who can support https://stophateuk.org/help-in-the-uk-national-organisations/


·       The Runnymede Trust challenges race inequality in the UK and support those affected by deaths in police, prison, immigration and psychiatric custody. See: https://www.runnymedetrust.org/


·       ChildLine have information and support for young people who’ve been the targets of racism and racist bullying https://childline.org.uk/info-advice/bullying-abuse-safety/crime-law/racism-racial-bullying/


·       Report it have a list of organisations who are able to support targets of hate crimes https://report-it.org.uk/organisations_that_can_help


In addition, the Citizens Advice website – www.citizensadvice.org.uk – has the following advice and support available:


·       Advice on discrimination because of race, your rights and actions you can take


·       Advice on taking action about discrimination including legal action


·       Advice on hate crime and how to report it


·       The Equality Advisory Support Service is available to help if you’ve been discriminated against.




22 June 2020
Covid-19 Advice Column: Part Time Working 

I am currently furloughed from my full-time job, but my employer has asked me to return to work on part-time hours rather than full time. Can they do this?


The Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced that the Job Retention Scheme will allow furloughed workers to return part time. Further details about how this will work are expected within the coming weeks. It is worth keeping an eye on GOV.UK for further announcements.


Until then it’s not clear what the rules are if you are asked to go back to work on reduced hours.


You could try to negotiate a satisfactory solution with your employer, such as fewer employees returning to ensure they can have full-time hours, or you could ask to remain on furlough until the details are clearer. If you are a member of a trade union they will be able to help you to raise this with your employer.


You may also need to ask to remain on furlough in order to follow public health advice, for example if you’re shielding, or if you need to stay at home to look after children. 


For further help and support visit: www.citizensadvice.org.uk