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

 


12 April 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 three 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 February 2021 to April 2021.

 

  • HMRC will work out your eligibility by firstly looking 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 Self Assessment 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 also have traded in both tax years; 2019 to 2020 and submitted your tax return by 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

 

  • You must also declare that you intend to continue to trade and that 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

 

The grant will provide a taxable grant calculated at 80% of 3 months’ average trading profits, and will be paid out in a single instalment and capped at £7,500 in total. The online claims service for the fourth grant will be available from late April 2021 until 31 May 2021. If you are eligible, HMRC will contact you in mid-April to give you your personal claim date. This will be the date that you can make your claim from.

 

The Government has also announced that there will be a further grant covering the period from May to September 2021. You will be able to claim from late July if you are eligible for the fifth grant. 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. The fifth grant will be worth:

 

  • 80% of 3 months’ average trading profits, capped at £7,500, for those with a turnover reduction of 30% or more

 

  • 30% of 3 months’ average trading profits, capped at £2,850, for those with a turnover reduction of less than 30%

 

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

 

 


29 March 2021
Advice Column: Council Tax Arrears 

I have received my new Council Tax bill. I think I am going to really struggle to pay it in full this year as my hours at work have been reduced. What help is available?

 

If you are having problems paying your council tax it’s important to keep in contact with your local authority and to let them know of any change of circumstances and to discuss potential repayment options. You need to deal with some debts more urgently than others because the consequences of not paying them can be more serious than for other debts. These are known as priority debts and include council tax debts.

 

Local authorities in England are responsible for running their own local schemes for help with council tax. These are called Council Tax Reduction schemes. You can no longer make a claim for Council Tax Benefit. Council Tax Reduction – also known as Council Tax Support – is a reduction you may be able to get on your council tax if you're on a low income

 

Everyone of working age has to pay something towards their council tax bill, with few exceptions. When deciding on its scheme, a local authority should take into account the needs of vulnerable people and support work incentives.

 

If you receive Council Tax Support, you are of working age and you are in a vulnerable financial situation you may be able to receive short-term assistance from the local authority.  Check the local authority website for more details of the Council Tax Support scheme and how to apply for additional help.

 

If you're a pensioner, you should still be able to get the same level of Council Tax Reduction as you would have done if you were getting Council Tax Benefit. This means that if your income is less than an amount the government says you need to live on you will be entitled to maximum Council Tax Reduction.

 

If you get the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit, your income and capital are ignored and you will get full Council Tax Reduction. When working out your entitlement to Council Tax Reduction, the way some things are dealt with will be the same for all pensioners, regardless of where you live. This includes:

 

·        the way your income and capital are worked out

·        the way your applicable amount is worked out. This is the amount the government says you need to live on

·        the way non-dependant deductions are worked out

·        the way temporary absences from home are dealt with.

 

All pensioners must also be allowed to apply for a second adult rebate under the Council Tax Reduction scheme.

 

All council tax payers can ask for a longer period over which to pay their council tax, normally moving from 10 months to 12 months.

 

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

 

 


15 March 2021
Advice Column: Postal Services

We’ve had a lot of issues receiving our post recently and haven’t seen our usual postie around in a little while. I know that a couple of Christmas cards I sent in December still haven’t been received. And some of my neighbours who are shielding, and completely reliant on shopping online, have had some of their deliveries delayed too. Is there anything I can do?

 

You’re not alone, we know posties are currently working very hard, but we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of people coming to us for advice about post and parcel issues.

 

Letters

 

If you haven’t received any letters in your post, think about if there’s anything you were expecting like bills that might be due soon. If you’re missing a bill you could check your account online to see how else you could pay. Lots of businesses offer online chat, email and phone as a way to contact them.

 

If you’re worried about missing letters about any benefits you receive you can contact the Department for Work and Pensions on the number given on any previous letters you’ve had. If you have questions about Universal Credit and don’t have a digital account, you can call the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644

 

You can check Royal Mail’s website for updates on areas which may be experiencing delays.

 

Parcels

If you bought something from a business to be delivered, it’s the seller’s responsibility to make sure the item is delivered to you.

 

If the seller used a courier, they should chase the courier 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.

 

If the seller claims they've delivered it or don't know where it is, you can ask for a redelivery. You might be able to get a refund in some circumstances where the delivery time was essential and you let the trader know ahead of time. 

 

Under the Consumer Rights Act, you can ask the seller to deliver the item again if the item wasn’t delivered either:

 

  • by an agreed date
  • within a reasonable time - usually within 30 days.

 

If the new delivery fails to come within a reasonable time you can ask the trader for a refund.

 

If you ordered something from a private seller or if you think a seller had broken the law by refusing to deliver an item, you can contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133 for help.

 



01 March 2021
Chancellor must act to tackle rent debt crisis

Joint statement by Torbay Health & Well-being Voluntary Sector Network


At least half a million private renters are in arrears due to the economic impact of Covid-19. The UK Government’s own research shows that ‘private renters report being hardest hit by the pandemic’.


Renters and landlords whose finances have been affected since lockdown cannot keep tenancies going without additional financial support.

We welcome many of the measures taken to date, which have helped to sustain tenancies in the short term. But they do not go far enough to adequately protect renters going forward.


The longer the Chancellor waits to take action, the more rent debts will increase, and the greater the risk of homelessness will become. Without additional support, more renters will lose their homes in the coming months, with the risk of an increase in homelessness.


As organisations with the aim of sustaining tenancies wherever possible we consider that this requires two things in the forthcoming Budget.


First, a targeted financial package to help renters pay off arrears built since lockdown measures started in March last year. This will help to sustain existing tenancies and keep renters in their homes – whilst also ensuring rental debt does not risk them finding homes in the future.


Secondly, we need a welfare system that provides renters with the security of knowing that they can afford their homes. The pandemic has shown how vital this is to providing security at a time of crisis. The Government increased Universal Credit and Housing Benefit because it recognised that the system was not doing enough to support people in the first place, yet it has chosen to freeze Housing Benefit rates again from April and is considering cutting Universal Credit at the same time. It cannot be right that these measures could be pulled away from renters during continued economic uncertainty.


We urge the Chancellor to act now to avoid renters being scarred by debts they have no hope of clearing and a wave of people having to leave their homes in the weeks and months to come.



Signed on behalf of Torbay Health & Well-being Voluntary Sector Network; Age UK Torbay, Brixham Does Care, Citizens Advice Torbay, Engaging Communities South West (Healthwatch Torbay), Shekinah Mission (Plymouth) Ltd, Torbay Community Development Trust, and YES Brixham

01 March 2021
Advice Column: Census

I’ve heard that the Census is happening later this month. What date is it taking place and what is it for?

 

The census is a survey that happens every 10 years and gives a picture of all the people and households in England and Wales. Below are some answers to the questions people may have about the Census:

 

  • When should I fill in my census questionnaire? Census Day is Sunday 21 March – but you can fill yours in as soon as you get your access code in the post. Your answers should be about the people who usually live in your household on this date – even if you’re filling it in before then. If you need help, visit www.census.gov.uk  
  • Do I have to take part? If you live in England and Wales, you must take part in the census - it’s a legal requirement. Census information helps inform how billions of pounds of public funding is spent. By taking around 10 minutes per person to fill in the census questionnaire, you will help make sure your community gets the services needed now and in the future.  
  • Will the government use the information I provide to identify me?No. The Office for National Statistics (ONS), which is an independent public body, carries out the census in England and Wales. It only ever publishes anonymous information from the census. In fact, it’s a crime to share personal census information and everything you say is protected.  
  • How will the census make a difference to me? The census makes a difference to everyone. It’s a once-in-a-decade chance to have your voice heard and help inform the future of your local area.  
  • What if I do not identify with the census options? The census asks you about your ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, religion and national identity. It’s up to you to decide how you would like to answer each question. Some questions allow for a free text response rather than having to use predefined categories. Do it in the way that you feel best represents you.  
  • Could information I share affect my benefits or immigration status?No. The information you share in the census cannot be used to influence benefit claims, a residency application, immigration status or your taxes. Officials dealing with payments or services you receive cannot see your census information.  
  • What if I cannot fill in my census questionnaire online? The ONS can help with a wide range of support services to make it as easy as possible for you, whatever your needs. Services include:  

•        guidance and support in many languages and formats

•        help over the phone, in a web chat or on social media

•        a paper version of the questionnaire, if you prefer

•        accessible census guidance, for example in braille

Everyone will receive a postcard followed by a letter with their digital access code which will contain both the website address and phone number for census support.  

  • Why is the census asking me about my gender and sexual orientation? This census asks voluntary questions about sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time. This is to give more accurate information on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations. This will help organisations combat any inequalities these groups face and show where services are needed. The census will only ask people aged 16 years and over these questions. If you do not feel comfortable identifying on the same form as the rest of your household, you can request an individual census questionnaire and answer separately.  
  • Can I help friends and family fill in the census? Yes. If a friend or family member needs support, help them if you can. Always fill in your own census first. You can also ask for help for yourself, or for someone else.  
  • Is it safe for the census to go ahead at present? Yes. The ONS has planned and built a flexible operation which can adapt to the changing circumstances of the pandemic. It will continue to review and adapt these plans to ensure census staff and the public can be kept safe and everyone can be safely counted. It is important to note that the ONS hopes that about 75% of the population will complete the census online without the need for any additional support.

 



15 February 2021
Advice Column: Debt Top Tips

With the new financial year starting in April, I thought that now would be a good time to try and get on top of my financial situation. I have some debts too. Where should I start?

 

It is an excellent idea to review your finances at the start of the new financial year, particularly when people’s financial situations change due to things such as annual council tax bills, or pay rates.

 

Follow our top tips to help get your finances in order:

 

  1. Work out how much you owe - Make a list of who you owe money to and add up how much you need to pay each month. If you don’t have your most recent statements, contact your creditors to find out what you owe.  
  2. Prioritise your debts - Your rent or mortgage, energy and council tax are called priority debts as there can be serious consequences if you don’t pay them. These should always be paid first. Separate these and work out how much you owe. 
  3. Work out how much you can pay - Create a budget by adding up your essential living costs, such as food and housing, and taking away these from your income. Any money you have spare can be put towards paying your debts. There is a budgeting tool on the Citizens Advice website which can help with this. 
  4. Paying urgent debts - You may have several priority debts and can’t pay them all. Contact all your creditors to find out if you can negotiate on how much you pay, or when you pay them. Always firstly pay any priority creditors who are taking action against you. 
  5. Paying non-urgent debts - If you have any money left after paying priority debts, consider getting a free debt-management plan. You’ll make one monthly payment to the plan provider, who will handle paying your creditors. Or contact your creditors and offer them what you can afford to pay. 
  6. If you can’t pay your debts - If you’ve got little or no money spare to pay your priority debts seek advice straight away.

 

Our website - ww.citizensadvice.org.uk - has lots of help and advice on how to review your financial situation to improve your financial security.

 


01 February 2021
Advice Column: Coronavirus Scams 

I’m really worried about my elderly relatives being targeted by coronavirus scams - are there any warning signs that I can tell them to look out for? What should they do if they think that something is a scam?

 

Unfortunately, we’ve seen an increase in scams since the beginning of the pandemic, so it’s good to be thinking about the steps you can take to help protect friends and family.

 

Common scams we’re seeing are about bogus testing kits, coronavirus vaccinations and government refunds or fines. You should watch out for messages about coronavirus from unusual email addresses or phone numbers, and shouldn’t click on any links. Be aware that you won’t be asked to pay for coronavirus vaccinations - they are provided for free by the NHS.

 

Here are some general warning signs to look out for:

 

  • You suspect you’re not dealing with a real company – for example, if there’s no postal address
  • You’ve been asked to transfer money quickly or to pay in an unusual way – for example, by iTunes vouchers or through a transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union
  • You’ve been asked to give away personal information like passwords or PINs
  • You haven't had written confirmation of what's been agreed

 

If you think something is a scam you should hang up the phone, close the website, or shut the front door. Never feel pressured to make a decision straight away, and don’t give out personal details or money unless you’re certain that they can trust the person. If you feel threatened or unsafe you can ring 999.

 

For help with online scams, contact a Citizens Advice Scams Action adviser by calling 0808 250 5050.

 

For more information about other types of scams, visit the Citizens Advice website - to www.citizensadvice.org.uk