11 October 2021
Advice Columns: Problems at Work 

I am worried that my employer is withholding my employment rights from me. What should I be looking out for?

 

Asking people to go self-employed to keep their jobs, telling agency staff they don’t get sick pay and suggesting pregnant staff cut their hours are among the things some employers say to try and find ways around workers’ rights.

 

All employees are entitled to basic rights such as the national minimum wage, sick pay, holiday pay and fair treatment during pregnancy. However, issues such as contract types and unclear employment status can leave workers unsure about what they’re entitled to, and allow unscrupulous employers to find ways of depriving them of pay and protections.

 

In the last year, we have helped people with 493 employment problems. We have identified 10 common things that some employers say to try and mislead people about their rights. If you hear any of these, get advice:

 

  1. “You work for us, but you’ll need to pay your own national insurance contributions.”
  2. “We can’t afford to pay you any more - you’ll have to go self-employed.”
  3. “Your disability means you don’t do as much work as others, so we’re not going to pay you the minimum wage.”
  4. “You were traveling between clients - so we didn’t pay you for those hours.”
  5.  “You’re pregnant? Great! But we’re worried you won’t cope so we’re cutting your hours.”
  6. “You’re having a baby next year? We’ll need to take you off that important project now.”
  7. “We don’t have to pay you redundancy pay because you’re on a zero hours contract.”
  8. “We need to close for the next two days for stock taking, so you’ll need to take holiday.”
  9. “You work through an agency, so you don’t get sick pay.”
  10. “We took you off the rota, so we don’t owe you sick pay.”

 

Follow our top tips for tackling problems at work

 

  1. Keep evidence - keep hold of letters, payslips, emails and texts, and note down a record of conversations you’ve had which could be used to support your case.
  2. Talk to your boss - problems may arise from honest mistakes or misunderstanding of the law. If you don’t feel confident having a conversation one to one, ask a colleague or Union representative to join you.
  3. Have a more formal discussion - if the issue isn’t resolved with an informal conversation, the next step is to raise a written grievance which should give you the chance to discuss your issue formally. ACAS has guidance on what to do at: www.acas.org.uk
  4. Get advice - if you’re still not getting anywhere, speak to your Trade Union, ACAS or Citizens Advice. Options might include using dispute resolution to liaise with your employer, or going to an employment tribunal.

 

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


27 September 2021
Advice Column: Universal Credit Changes 

I’m a single parent and lost my job during the pandemic. Citizens Advice helped me apply for Universal Credit which has been really helpful to cover some of the income I’ve lost. But I’m very worried about the £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit - I don't know how I'll be able to pay for the school uniforms and shoes, especially as they grow so fast! Is there any other support out there to help plug the gap?

 

If you're on a low income or employed, you might be able to get help with some of the costs of sending your child to school, including school meals, transport and uniform. It’s always worth talking to your local education authority to see what support is available as some of their resources and offerings can differ.

 

·        Free school meals Children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 automatically get free school meals. If you have older children you can apply for free school meals if you get certain benefits. In your case as you’re on Universal Credit and you applied after 1 April 2018 you would be eligible if you earn less than £7,400 a year without benefits. You can see the full list of eligibility requirements at www.citizensadvice.org.uk

 

To apply for free school meals you need to contact your local authority, you can check the details at www.gov.uk/apply-free-school-meals by typing in your postcode.

 

·        Transport If your children are aged between five to 16, your local education authority might 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.

 

·        Uniforms and other costs Your local education authority might also be able to help with some other costs, like uniforms, music lessons or trips and activities. There may also be local charitable schemes to help with these costs. It’s worth checking with the school to see if it knows of any. Schools can also sometimes help with finding second hand uniforms.

 

·        What’s next 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.


13 September 2021
Advice Column: Universal Credit Cuts 

Over the coming weeks, people claiming Universal Credit will receive notifications about a cut to their benefits this autumn. Our benefits expert sets out what this means for claimants.

 

The government should do the right thing and keep this vital lifeline. It’s the best way of making good on its ‘levelling up’ promise and supporting households to recover from this crisis.

 

Many people seeking our advice at the moment are unaware of an impending cut to their Universal Credit. Understandably, when they realise their benefits are set to drop by £20 a week it causes a lot of anxiety.

 

If you’re in this position, remember you are not alone and there is support available. As a first step, make sure you’re checking your online journal regularly so you know how much your benefits will reduce by and when. 

 

More than half a million people have come to Citizens Advice for support with Universal Credit since the pandemic. We know the extra £20 a week has often meant the difference between empty cupboards and food on the table.

 

Citizens Advice is on hand to help you understand what the cut means and what you can do if you’re worried about making ends meet. Our benefits expert sets out what this means for claimants:

 

When will the cut happen?

As it stands, the government is set to slash benefits by £20 a week - equivalent to £1,040 a year - from 6 October. The exact date people will see the cut kick in will depend on the day they get their Universal Credit payment. For many, this means September will be the last month they see their benefits paid at existing levels.

 

How many people will be affected?

If plans go ahead, the cut will hit nearly six million people on Universal Credit. More than a third (38%) of those who’ll see their income hit are already in employment, while one in six (16%) are under 25. Latest figures show roughly 1.9 million families with children will see their benefits cut.

 

How much could I lose?

While every Universal Credit claim will drop by around £85 a month, the proportion of income claimants will lose will vary depending on their circumstances. Single people under 25 are set to be hit by the biggest drop.

 

Monthly standard allowances will drop:

 

  • By a quarter for single claimants under 25, from £344 to £257.33
  • By a fifth for single claimants over 25, from £411.51 to £324.84 
  • By 17% for joint claimants under 25, from £490.60 to £403.93 
  • By 14% for joint claimants over 25, from £596.58 to £509.91

 

Previous analysis by Citizens Advice shows £20 a week is equivalent to six days of energy costs or three days of food costs for a low-income family. 

 

What support is available if I’m worried about my income?

 

You’re not alone and there is support available. Everyone’s situation is different so it’s important to seek independent help from somewhere like Citizens Advice. Depending on your circumstances, this could include:

 

  • A benefits check. This will help you verify you’re getting all the support you’re entitled to. You can use our online calculator at www.citizensadvice.org.uk
  • Support with essential costs. You can contact your local council to see if they can give you any extra help from a hardship fund, including food or essential things like clothes. You can check your local council on GOV.UK

·        Help with debt. Some bills can cause you more problems than others if you don’t pay them. Rent or mortgage arrears, energy bills and council tax are your priority debts as there can be serious consequences if you don’t pay them. www.citizensadvice.org.uk  provides guidance if you’re struggling with bills

  • Free school meals. If you have children and you get certain benefits, you might be able to get free school meals for your children. Check our website for more details. 
  • Food bank vouchers. If you can’t afford the food you can ask for a referral from Citizens Advice or an organisation that’s already supporting you - for example, a charity, school or children’s centre - for a food bank voucher.

 


06 September 2021

Thomas Godwin has been appointed Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Exeter and Citizens Advice Torbay.

A champion of diversity and inclusion Thomas takes up the role from October 2021 having previously been Director of External Affairs at Citizens Advice Plymouth. This will allow for a significant handover before Steve Barriball retires at the end of the year following 15 years of distinguished service as Chief Executive.

 

Thomas takes the reins at a crucial time for the work of Citizens Advice Exeter and Citizens Advice Torbay as they continue to support thousands of people affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Volunteers and Staff at both charities are hard at work continuing to adapt services to help those who live, work and study in the region.

 

Trustees of Citizens Advice Exeter and Citizens Advice Torbay are delighted to announce the appointment of Thomas Godwin as Chief Executive. It follows an extensive recruitment process which involved staff and volunteers from both charities.

 

Dennis Mardon, Chair of the Board of Trustees at Citizens Advice Exeter, said:

 

“When Steve told me of his intention to retire at the end of the year, I, along with my fellow Trustees staff and volunteers, immediately realised that we had a very difficult task in replacing him. The appointment of Thomas, with his experience both within the Citizens Advice service and in other areas of his career, has allayed our fears and we are all looking forward to working with him in the years to come. We can’t thank Steve enough for his excellent work over the last 15 years and look forward to this being built on in the future with Thomas at the helm.”

Geoff Buck, Chair of the Board of Trustees at Citizens Advice Torbay, said:

 

“Our Board of Trustees, staff and volunteers are looking forward to Tom building on Steve Barriball’s successful leadership of Exeter Citizens Advice and ourselves. The experience he has had in Plymouth, and his local knowledge will enable him to do that. “

 

Thomas Godwin, incoming Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Exeter and Citizens Advice Torbay, said:

 

“I am thrilled to be joining the teams at Citizens Advice Exeter and Citizens Advice Torbay and succeeding Steve Barriball who has led both charities so ably and with such distinction.

 

“I am looking forward to working with volunteers, staff, trustees, and our partners in leading these two organisations which bring life changing impact to the people we help.

 

“Our volunteers, staff and trustees have worked tirelessly through the pandemic, and I am excited to ensure we continue to play a leading role in supporting and advocating for those who live, work and study in our region for many years to come.”

 

Over the past year Citizens Advice Exeter helped over 15,000 people through a mix of online services, self help facilities, telephone appointments giving advice on nearly 30,000 individual problems. Volunteers and Staff helped access over £4 million in financial gains for those who were seeking advice. This money has a huge impact on those people’s quality of life and is largely spent in the local economy.

 

In addition, Citizens Advice Exeter has saved government and public services some £1.76m in the last year, and provided wider economic and social benefits (social value) of some £13.84m per annum.

 

Citizens Advice Torbay helped nearly 6,000 people in the same period with over 16,000 problems leading to £0.75 million of extra income gain.

Furthermore, Citizens Advice Torbay has saved government and public services some £0.77m in the last year, and provided wider economic and social benefits (social value) of some £5.36m per annum.

Both charities sit in the top quartile nationally in terms of their advice quality, governance, management, finance and operational performance with client and workforce satisfaction remaining high despite the challenges of the pandemic.

 

Citizens Advice impact research shows people are equally satisfied with services across phones, chat and face to face, and that even during the pandemic over 80% of people found our services accessible. In the year ahead, work is being undertaken to deepen our understanding and adapt our service for those we do not reach.

Thomas Godwin Biography

 

Thomas joined Citizens Advice Plymouth in 2018 having moved back to the region where he grew up and has previously worked. Thomas is an experienced professional with a history of working in the performing arts, education, music, and entertainment industry.

 

At Citizens Advice Plymouth Thomas had been a key part of the leadership team responsible for 190 staff and volunteers across two sites in the city. Thomas led a particular focus on Bids and Grant Funding, Stakeholder Engagement, Research and Campaigns, Learning and Development and Marketing & Communications. Thomas also deputised as Acting CEO when required

 

In addition to extensive Media, TV and Radio appearances discussing the work of Citizens Advice across Devon, Thomas is a member of the Devon County Council Devon Recovery VCSE Task and Finish Group. A focus of this group is how the voluntary sector and Citizens Advice Devon offices can work more closely with local authorities, councils, the NHS and other organisations to deliver life changing outcomes for those who need help and support

 

A keen advocate of volunteering, Thomas is chair of governors for a secondary school, a trustee of a domestic abuse and sexual violence charity and a guest lecturer at Plymouth Marjon University.

 

31 August 2021
Advice Column: Hotel Booking

After the stress and anxiety of the last lockdown, we treated ourselves to a luxury hotel room for our Summer holiday, but arrived to find it wasn’t available. We spent the week in a standard room instead. I reported this to my travel agent. Am I entitled to any compensation?

 

Your holiday was lower in value than what you booked. This means you should be able to get compensation for your inconvenience and any extra costs incurred.

 

Contact the customer services department of the company you booked your holiday with by email, letter or via the company website. Make sure to keep a copy of what you send.

 

Explain fully what went wrong and how much compensation you want. This should be the difference in cost between the luxury room and the standard room, any costs incurred from staying in the standard room, and what you feel is reasonable compensation for your inconvenience. Make sure you keep receipts for any extra expenses.

 

If the company refuses to pay compensation, or you don’t think its offer is good enough, check whether the company is a member of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). ABTA should be able to mediate between you and the company.

 

If the company is not a member of ABTA, look for an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). This is an independent third party who can help you reach a resolution without going to court. Alternatively, if you paid by credit or debit card, contact the Financial Ombudsman (www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk) who can mediate.

 

If you need any more information, or are unsure of your next steps, contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133, or visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk

 


18 August 2021
Advice Column: Back to the Workplace 

I have been working from home since the start of the pandemic, and my employer has informed us that they are planning a phased return to office based working now that restrictions have been lifted. What are my rights?

 

With restrictions ending and workplaces reopening, people will understandably have questions about their rights. While you can ask to continue working from home, your employer doesn’t have to agree. If you have any concerns, it’s important to talk with your employer as soon as possible so that you can reach a solution that works for both of you.

 

Our employment specialist sets out your need to knows if you’re asked to return to your normal workplace.

 

1.     I’ve been working from home, can my employer ask me to return to my normal workplace?

 

·        The short answer is yes. When you enter into a contract to work for an employer you have to comply with ‘reasonable management requests’. That means your employer can ask you to return to your normal workplace if your original contract specified that you would be office-based or based elsewhere. 

 

·        In practice, many employers are looking into or actively encouraging a blended working model - some time at home - sometime in the office/workplace.

 

·        You can ask to keep working from home, but that doesn't mean your employer has to agree. Start by having an open conversation with your employer about your wishes, and consider making a flexible working request, which is a legal right all employees have. You can include your reasons why working from home is better for you and will also help the business.

 

2.     What can I do if I’m worried about safety measures at work?

 

·        Your employer has a legal duty under the law, and under your contract, to ensure that your workplace does not pose a risk to your health and safety. Current guidance says employers should complete a Covid risk assessment and take steps to prevent transmission, including frequent cleaning and social distancing. This is due to be updated.

 

·        While wearing a mask in an enclosed space will no longer be mandatory, employers will still be free to set their own policies or put rules in place to require workers or customers to wear masks. 

 

·        If you are unhappy with safety measures at your workplace, you could report your employer to the Health and Safety Executive, but ideally you and your employer can solve the issues together.

 

3.     I’m uncomfortable about taking public transport, what are my options?

 

·        Your employer’s duty is limited to things that are under its control, and so there is no clear legal position about whether it has to take into account the risks you face when travelling to and from work, as part of its health and safety assessment.

 

·        That said, your employer should listen to your concerns if you’re worried about having to use public transport after being called back into work. You could reach an arrangement that you’re comfortable with, for example, asking to travel at quieter times of the day.

 

4.     What happens if I need to self-isolate?

 

·        You shouldn’t go into work if you're self-isolating because you have coronavirus symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. 

 

·        You must tell your employer that you have to self-isolate. It’s worth telling them in writing so you have a record for later use. 

 

·        If you’re unable to work from home, you may be entitled to benefits, sick pay or a self-isolation payment of £500 from your local council. If you’ve been furloughed before by your employer, you might also be able to furlough you for the period you need to self-isolate. See the Citizens Advice website for more information.

 

·        Remember that the rules on self-isolating are changing. From 16 August, if you've had your second vaccination, you won't need to self-isolate if you have been in contact with someone who's tested positive for coronavirus. If you have symptoms you'll need to self-isolate until you get tested.

 

For more information visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk


02 August 2021
Advice Column: End of Eviction Ban 

In England, the ban on most bailiff-enforced evictions came to an end on the 31 May, with the notice period landlords need to give their tenants reducing from six to four months. Our Senior Housing Expert answers the most common questions from private tenants in England about the end of the ban on eviction proceedings

 

Can tenants be evicted immediately?

 

  • No - for most private tenants, only those at the end of a long legal process will face imminent eviction. Then there is still 14 days’ notice before the final stage, which is the bailiffs attending.
  • A landlord who carries out or threatens an eviction without following this process is likely to commit a criminal offence.

 

If a tenant is issued with a notice seeking possession by their landlord, what should they do?

 

  • The first thing is to get some advice about whether the notice is valid, or any help that might be available. 
  • A landlord notice is step one - it doesn’t mean an eviction can go ahead. If the landlord doesn’t follow the process to the letter of the law tenants may be able to successfully fight an eviction. 
  • If that’s not possible, a court may make an order for possession. Only when the date set for possession by the court has passed, can the landlord apply for bailiffs to carry out an eviction.
  • This stage is also an opportunity for both sides to sort out their differences.

 

What should tenants do if they’ve already received a notice that an eviction will be carried out by bailiffs?

 

  • There were some circumstances in which evictions were allowed to take place while the ban was in place - including more than six months of rent arrears. But if you are being evicted due to one of these reasons, you will still get 14 days’ notice. 
  • Once again, seek advice. In some cases the local council will have a duty to provide alternative accommodation.

 

For further help and advice please visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk

 

 


19 July 2021
Advice Column: Self-Employed Support Scheme

I am self-employed and work has really fallen away because of the Coronavirus restrictions. I claimed for the first four 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 a further grant under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme for the period May 2021 to September 2021 will be open to claims from late July 2021. The grant is taxable and will be paid out in a single instalment.

 

To be eligible for the grant you must be a self-employed individual or a member of a partnership, and you must have traded in the tax years 2019 to 2020 and submitted your tax return on or before 2 March 2021, and 2020 to 2021

 

You must either be currently trading but are impacted by reduced demand due to coronavirus, or have been trading but are temporarily unable to do so due to coronavirus

 

To work out your eligibility for the fifth grant,

 

  • HMRC will firstly look at your 2019 to 2020 Self Assessment tax return. Your trading profits must be no more than £50,000 and at least equal to your non-trading income.

 

  • If you’re not eligible based on your 2019 to 2020 tax return, HMRC will then look at the tax years 2016 to 2017, 2017 to 2018, 2018 to 2019 and 2019 to 2020.

 

You must declare that:

 

  • you intend to continue to trade
  • you reasonably believe there will be a significant reduction in your trading profits due to reduced business activity, capacity, demand or inability to trade due to coronavirus from May 2021 to September 2021

 

You must keep evidence that shows how your business has been impacted by coronavirus resulting in less business activity than otherwise expected.

 

HMRC expects you to make an honest assessment about whether you reasonably believe your business will have a significant reduction in profits.

 

The amount of the fifth grant will be determined by how much your turnover has been reduced in the year April 2020 to April 2021, as follows:

 

 

If you’re eligible based on your tax returns, HMRC will contact you in mid-July 2021 to give you a date that you can make your claim from. The online claims service for the fifth grant will be available from late July 2021.

 

Further more information and advice is available at: GOV.UK

 

 


06 July 2021

The No Recourse to Public Funds survey is now live! Participants receive £10 for taking part

As you may know, ending the NRPF condition is one of the priority campaigns for national Citizens Advice. To find out more about people’s experiences, we launched a survey with Savanta ComRes this week - which will be live for 6 weeks. We would really appreciate your help to encourage people who have NRPF attached to their visas to participate. 


The survey can be completed either online via this link, by post or by telephone. Participants can choose between a £10 bank or PayPal transfer, or a £10 voucher as a thank you for taking part. Find out more information here


28 June 2021
Advice Column: Scams 

I’ve had a letter offering me the opportunity to invest in fine wine. The returns look really good and I’m tempted, but my friend says not to trust a letter in case it’s a scam. How can I tell if it’s genuine?

 

The national Scams Awareness campaign, which runs during June, is highlighting the need to be scam aware. While there are lots of legitimate investments out there, your friend is right to warn you. Letters and cold-calls from unknown companies can be a scam. Investment opportunities can ask for large sums and you need to be completely confident before you put your money in.

 

First, do your research on the company. Investigate their website thoroughly and pay attention to where the company is registered. If it’s outside the UK, be on your guard - if it is a con, it will be difficult to get your money back. You could also look for industry bodies that oversee the sector to assist you with investment advice.

 

Next, check if the offer is realistic. Do some comparisons among similar companies for what the usual return is. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

 

Finally, look out for high-pressure sales tactics. The literature may ask you to contact them by phone. If a salesperson puts pressure on you to complete the deal straight away, or tells you not to tell anyone about it, it could be a scam.

 

This Scams Awareness month we are asking consumers to consider our checklist:

 

  1. You don’t’ recognise the individual or organisation If you do recognise them, have they contacted you in the normal way?
  2. You can’t confirm their identity If they say they’re calling from a trusted source such as a bank, contact your bank directly to confirm their identity
  3. You’ve been asked to hand over money or personal information Don’t give out PINs, passwords or seemingly random information. Never send money to someone you don’t know
  4. It seems too good to be true ‘Get rich quick’ often means ‘lose money fast’
  5. You’ve been asked to pay in an unusual way Such as crypto currency or online vouchers

 

For advice or to report a potential scam, get in touch with the Citizens Advice Scams Action helpline by calling 0808 250 5050.

 

 


21 June 2021
Advice Column: SCAMS 

I’ve had a letter offering me the opportunity to invest in fine wine. The returns look really good and I’m tempted, but my friend says not to trust a letter in case it’s a scam. How can I tell if it’s genuine?

 

The national Scams Awareness campaign, which runs during June, is highlighting the need to be scam aware. While there are lots of legitimate investments out there, your friend is right to warn you. Letters and cold-calls from unknown companies can be a scam. Investment opportunities can ask for large sums and you need to be completely confident before you put your money in.

 

First, do your research on the company. Investigate their website thoroughly and pay attention to where the company is registered. If it’s outside the UK, be on your guard - if it is a con, it will be difficult to get your money back. You could also look for industry bodies that oversee the sector to assist you with investment advice.

 

Next, check if the offer is realistic. Do some comparisons among similar companies for what the usual return is. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

 

Finally, look out for high-pressure sales tactics. The literature may ask you to contact them by phone. If a salesperson puts pressure on you to complete the deal straight away, or tells you not to tell anyone about it, it could be a scam.

 

This Scams Awareness month we are asking consumers to consider our checklist:

 

  1. You don’t’ recognise the individual or organisation If you do recognise them, have they contacted you in the normal way?
  2. You can’t confirm their identity If they say they’re calling from a trusted source such as a bank, contact your bank directly to confirm their identity
  3. You’ve been asked to hand over money or personal information Don’t give out PINs, passwords or seemingly random information. Never send money to someone you don’t know
  4. It seems too good to be true ‘Get rich quick’ often means ‘lose money fast’
  5. You’ve been asked to pay in an unusual way Such as crypto currency or online vouchers

 

For advice or to report a potential scam, get in touch with the Citizens Advice Scams Action helpline by calling 0808 250 5050.

 

 


07 June 2021
Advice Column: DWP Trust and Protect

I have been contacted by the DWP asking for information to support a claim I made for Universal Credit last year during the pandemic. I am worried that this might mean I can longer receive these payments. What should I do to avoid having my payments stopped?

 

Those who applied for Universal Credit in the early stages of the pandemic may be contacted by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) for some additional information to support claims. To ensure you don’t lose out on money you’re entitled to, make sure the contact information in your online journal is up to date. It's also important to respond to any calls or emails from the DWP as soon as possible. If you don't, there's a risk your benefit payments could be stopped or changed.

 

Last month, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced it would be investigating more than 1 million claims for Universal Credit from the last year to check for incorrect applications. With millions of people claiming the benefit during the pandemic, some ‘business as usual’ expectations under the DWP ‘trust and protect’ initiative relating to proof of identity, housing costs and household circumstances had been eased to process new claims quickly.

 

We are advising all claimants to check their online journals weekly and make sure to answer any requests from the DWP quickly. People who applied for Universal Credit as Covid hit could be subject to a benefits check by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

 

Here are our key ‘need-to-knows’ on the DWP’s ‘Trust and Protect’ scheme, and the steps you should take to ensure you don’t lose out on benefits you’re entitled to.

 

What is the 'Trust and Protect’ scheme?

 

·        In the early stages of the pandemic last year, the DWP introduced new measures to make sure people could apply for benefits quickly, without the need to visit a Jobcentre. This meant that some of the requirements relating to proof of identity, housing costs and household circumstances were eased.

·        The DWP is now looking at all claims made in the early stages of the pandemic and asking people for this evidence to support their application. People who claimed New Style JSA and New Style ESA last spring may also be contacted.

 

How will the DWP contact me?

 

·        You’ll be contacted via your online journal or a call from your Jobcentre. This may show up as a withheld number. Make sure your contact details are up to date and try to check your online journal at least once a week for new notifications.

·        If you’re struggling to manage your online claim for any reason - including lack of access to a computer - you should be able to change to a non-digital claim.

 

What happens if I can't provide the right evidence?

 

·        If you can’t provide the right evidence, or you cannot be contacted by officials seeking to verify your claim, your payments could be stopped or changed. 


 


24 May 2021
Advice Column: Buy Now, Pay Later 

I have been looking online to buy a new TV, and see the option to ‘buy now pay later’. I am attracted to this option as it will help me to spread the costs, but don’t really know much about such schemes. What do I need to look out for?

 

While it might be tempting to delay payment – and the adverts can often be very enticing and sometimes misleading - it often can be a slippery slope to being tangled in debt.

 

Buy now pay later agreements are also known as store finance. They’re a way for you to purchase goods on credit and pay for them usually after a set interest-free period, or in instalments. While you can use this payment method at some high-street shops, it’s more commonly used by catalogues and online retailers. Some agreements will let you pay after a set period of time (hence the name), while others will let you pay for your purchases in instalments (sometimes called ‘slices’).

 

Overall, 27% of UK adults have used these firms in the last 12 months, rising to 37% of disabled people and 45% of people with a mental health problem. Four in 10 of those who’ve used Buy Now Pay Later in the last 12 months are struggling to repay. A quarter of consumers regretted paying using these platforms, with the most common reasons being spending more than they can afford, and paying more than they expected.

 

This type of finance has existed for years, but recently, some companies have popularised it with younger consumers. These adverts will often not highlight the risks of paying in this way. Risks can include:

 

  • damage to your credit rating if you are late or missed a payment
  • charging high interest and fees if you can’t afford to pay what you owe on time.

 

The adverts sometimes target people on social media who might be less able to afford the items and encourage them to buy now and pay later. It’s not just the buy now pay later providers that do this, some online retailers, especially clothing retailers, do too.

 

Buy now pay later is very easy to use, with efficient technology and with low minimum spends of just £10. So it’s no surprise that lots of people are tempted to use it to pay for shopping. But it’s easy to not realise the massive negative impact it could have on your debt and credit rating if you don’t keep your repayments on track.

 

Exact charges vary by provider, but as a rule how much you could pay depends on the payment type you choose.

 

·        Pay in instalments This is where the total amount of your purchase is split into a few segments – typically three or four. You usually have to make one payment upfront and give the provider permission to take payment for the rest of the instalments later. If you miss these later payments you’ll be stung with pricey ‘late payment fees’. These fees will build up if you continue to miss payments.


·        Pay later This is where you delay payment for the total amount of your purchase for a set number of days – typically 14 or 30. You won’t have to give payment details upfront, but you will have to pass a ‘soft credit check’ before your purchase is accepted. When it comes to make payment you’ll usually get a reminder. But don’t miss a payment as it can be passed onto debt collection agencies if you don’t pay in time. This can be scary, especially if you’re vulnerable, and it can easily get very expensive.


·        Pay on finance This is the most traditional form of buy now pay later. You’ll have to agree to a formal payment plan upfront, you may be charged interest and you will be credit checked when you apply. Lenders should tell you the interest rate you’ll be charged before you take out the finance. If you miss payments you will be charged fees and there will be a negative impact on your credit report.

 

If you have made buy now pay later purchases it’s important you keep a record of how much you’ve paid, and when your payments are due. You should also draw up a budget to make sure you have enough money to make each payment; otherwise you could get caught out by expensive late payment fees.

 

If you have missed a payment contact your lender to explain your situation. You should avoid taking out more credit unless you know you can afford to pay it back.

 

For more information and advice go to www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk

 

 


10 May 2021
Advice Column: EU Settlement Scheme 

I’m an EU national living in the UK and have heard that there is a deadline to apply to remain in the UK. I am a bit confused by the rules and what this means for me. What are the main things I need to know and where can I get more information about applying?

 

If you’re an EU, European Economic Area (EEA) or Swiss citizen, you and your family can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021. You can also apply if you’re the family member of an eligible person of Northern Ireland. If your application is successful, you’ll get either settled or pre-settled status. The EEA includes the EU countries and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. You may be able to stay in the UK without applying - for example, if you’re an Irish citizen or already have indefinite leave to remain.

 

If you apply to the EU Settlement Scheme successfully, you’ll be able to continue living and working in the UK after 30 June 2021.

 

You’ll be given either:

 

  • settled status
  • pre-settled status

 

You will not be asked to choose which you’re applying for. Which status you get depends on how long you’ve been living in the UK when you apply. Your rights will be different depending on which status you get and when you started living in the UK.

 

You’ll usually get settled status if you’ve lived in the UK for a continuous 5-year period (known as ‘continuous residence’). Five years’ continuous residence means that for 5 years in a row you’ve been in the UK, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for at least 6 months in any 12 month period. The exceptions are:

 

  • one period of up to 12 months for an important reason (for example, childbirth, serious illness, study, vocational training or an overseas work posting)
  • compulsory military service of any length
  • time you spent abroad as a Crown servant, or as the family member of a Crown servant
  • time you spent abroad in the armed forces, or as the family member of someone in the armed forces

 

You can stay in the UK as long as you like if you get settled status. You’ll also be able to apply for British citizenship if you’re eligible.

 

If you have not lived in the UK for 5 years in a row (known as ‘continuous residence’), you’ll usually get pre-settled status. You must have started living in the UK by 31 December 2020 unless you are applying as the existing close family member of an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen who started living here by then. You can stay in the UK for a further 5 years from the date you get pre-settled status.

 

You can apply to switch to settled status as soon as you’ve had 5 years’ continuous residence. The 5 years is counted from the day you first arrived in the UK. You do not need to have held pre-settled status for 5 years to apply. You must apply for settled status before your pre-settled status expires to stay in the UK.

 

If you’ll reach 5 years’ continuous residence at some point by 30 June 2021, you can choose to wait to apply until you reach 5 years’ continuous residence. This means that if your application is successful, you’ll get settled status without having to apply for pre-settled status first.

 

You may be able to get pre-settled status if you were living in the UK before 31 December but you were not here on that date. You must not have left the UK Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for more than 6 months in any 12 month period.

 

You may also be eligible if you were living in the UK by 31 December 2020, but you left the UK for one period of no more than 12 months for an important reason (for example childbirth, serious illness, study, vocational training or an overseas work posting). Your previous residence in the UK will count towards your eligibility for pre-settled status.

 

If you are granted settled or pre-settled status, you’ll be able to:


  • work in the UK
  • use the NHS for free, if you can at the moment
  • enrol in education or study in the UK
  • access public funds such as benefits and pensions, if you’re eligible for them
  • travel in and out of the UK

 

You’ll have different rights if you get settled or pre-settled status because you’ve applied to join your EU, EEA or Swiss family member and you arrived in the UK after 31 December 2020. For example, you will not be able to bring your own family members under the EU Settlement Scheme.

 

For further information and details of how to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme please visit GOV.UK

 

 


26 April 2021
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.

 

From 1st April 2021, the Government has announced that the national living wage will apply if you are aged 23 and over, and will rise to £8.91 per hour. Otherwise, the following national minimum wage rates apply:

 

·        Aged 21 – 22             £8.36 per hour

·        Aged 18 – 20             £6.56 per hour

·        Aged under 18          £4.62 per hour

·        Apprentice                 £4.30 per hour

 

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