15 May 2019
Advice Column: Employment References 

I am in dispute with my employer and have decided to look for a new job. I am worried that my current employer will provide a bad reference to any potential new employer. Can they do this and what are my rights?

You'll usually need to ask your old employer for a reference when you're looking for a new job. Any reference they give you has to be accurate. They can’t say anything that’s not true.


They also have to be fair when they decide what to put in the reference. For example, they can’t say you were investigated for stealing if the investigation decided you hadn’t done it.


Your employer can make the reference as short as they like. A lot of references only say what your job title was and when you worked there.


If you get a bad reference you might be able to ask your employer to change it. You could also see if you can get a reference from someone else instead.

You can ask your new employer for a copy of the reference. You can check what your old employer has said about you and ask them to change it if it’s not true.

The new employer has to give you a copy of the reference if they’ve kept it on file or in an email - even if it’s marked ‘confidential’. You’ll only be able to get a copy if the new employer has kept it. Your old employer doesn’t have to show it to you.

If the new employer won’t give you a copy, you can make a formal request. This is called a ‘subject access request’ or 'SAR', and the law says the company has to reply within one month. You shouldn’t have to pay for the copy.

You can find out how to make a subject access request on the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) website – www.ico.org.uk The ICO is the organisation that makes sure people can see the information they’re entitled to.

If you disagree with the reference provided by your old employer contact them if you can. You might be able to speak to someone else if you don’t want to contact your manager directly - for example the HR Department or another manager.

Explain what the problem is and how you’d like them to help in future. Be as specific as you can and focus on the facts rather than how you feel. For example, if you’ve lost a job offer because your old employer gave a bad reference, you could contact them and:

  • tell them you were offered a job but it was withdrawn because of the reference
  • ask them to review the reference to make sure it was fair and accurate
  • ask them to confirm they’ll give a fair reference in future

If you’ve lost out on a job because your employer gave you an unfair reference, you might be able to take them to court. Going to court can be expensive and stressful. You might have to pay a fee and might not win your case. It is best to get advice before making a decision to go to court. For many people, it’s quicker to look for another job or ask someone else to give a reference instead.

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

29 April 2019
Advice Column: Pension Credit 

I have read that there are some changes coming to the eligibility to receive Pension Credit for mixed-aged couples. What are the changes and when do they happen?

You can currently get Pension Credit if you have reached the qualifying age. If you were born:

  • before 6 December 1953, this is the same as women’s State Pension age

  • on or after 6 December 1953, this is your State Pension age

You can find out your Pension Credit age at www.gov.uk/state-pension-age

Pension Credit is an income-related benefit made up of 2 parts - Guarantee Credit and Savings Credit.

  • Guarantee Credit tops up your weekly income if it’s below £163 (for single people) or £248.80 (for couples).
  • Savings Credit is an extra payment for people who saved some money towards their retirement, for example a pension.

Until 14 May 2019, if you have a partner and only one of you has reached the Pension Credit qualifying age, you can still apply. The person who has reached the qualifying age must be the one who applies.

From 15 May 2019, if you have a partner and want to start getting Pension Credit, both you and your partner will normally need to have reached the qualifying age.

If your partner has not reached the qualifying age, you may still be able to start getting Pension Credit from 15 May 2019 or later if, on the day you want to start getting Pension Credit, you and your partner are entitled to Housing Benefit for people who have reached the qualifying age for Pension Credit.

If you’ve both reached Pension Credit qualifying age, either of you can apply.

It is strongly advisable that any, so called, mixed-age couples eligible for Pension Credit where only one partner has reached State Pension age should apply for the benefit now before the new rules come into force on 15 May 2019. They will be able to remain on Pension Credit unless there is a change in circumstances affecting the claim.

For more information and advice go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk or www.ageuk.org.uk/torbay

15 April 2019

ADVICE COLUMN: Pregnancy and Employment 

I’m 3 months pregnant and just beginning to show, so last week I thought I’d sit down with my manager and let them know before any speculation could take place. My manager was really happy for me, but this week I’ve been pulled aside and told they’re letting me go due to poor performance. I’ve worked here for 2 years and never had any negative feedback so I don’t understand. Could they be sacking me just for being pregnant? Is this legal?

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been working for your employer, being fired because of pregnancy, or pregnancy-related issues, is automatically classed as unfair dismissal.

Although your employer said you were being sacked for poor performance, you’re right to be suspicious as this only came to light after you told your manager about your pregnancy. If your employer says your dismissal has nothing to do with you having a baby, you will need to prove that it was. You can ask your employer to send you written reasons for your dismissal.

As you have been employed for two years, your employer can only dismiss you for specified fair reasons, such as gross misconduct or persistent poor performance. Except in the most serious cases of gross misconduct, your employer will be expected to follow a fair process and show the dismissal was for a fair reason.

If you want to challenge the dismissal, you can take your case to an employment tribunal. You should first raise a grievance with your employer and contact the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service about Early Conciliation. Be sure to act quickly as time limits in employment tribunals are short.

To prepare for the tribunal, gather as much evidence as possible. This includes emails with your employer about your pregnancy, previous performance appraisals, and correspondence about you being dismissed.

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

02 April 2019

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

11 March 2019

ADVICE COLUMN: Workplace Disputes

I am having problems at work. My employer has called me a meeting to discuss this. I am worried. What should I do?

If you're unhappy about something that your employer has said or done, you should always try and talk about it with them. It's a good idea to try to sort out problems early on. If things aren't sorted out quickly, this could cause bigger problems between you and your employer.

It's a good idea to write down your concerns and anything that happens. This will be useful as a record and reminder of the situation.

If you've been dismissed, or your employer starts formal disciplinary action against you, there is a procedure they should follow under a code produced by the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). As part of this, you should be given the chance to defend yourself in a meeting, and to appeal their decision. If you can, you should do this in writing to your employer. You should explain to them why you don't agree with their decision.

If you can, it's often helpful to get advice so you know where you stand. Your employer may be entitled to do what they're doing and you may not be able to do much to change it. On the other hand, your employer may not be entitled to do what they're doing, and you might be able to use your legal rights to change things.

If you're a member of a trade union, you should always try to talk with your union official about any problems you have at work. Part of your trade union's role is to help sort out problems individual members have at work. Problems can often be resolved more easily with the help of your union. But if you're unhappy with a decision your union has made for you, then you should get advice elsewhere.

If talking about things with your employer hasn't worked, you might want to think about another way to sort out the problem. One way of doing this is to put in a grievance. A grievance is a way of more formally raising your concerns, problems or complaints about work with your employer.

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

07 March 2019
The FAIR Project                                         

The FAIR project is a service for people over 50 in Torbay. It stands for Financial Advice, Information & Resilience and offers advice and information on benefits, local welfare provision, getting the best utility deals and help for those in debt. The project is a joint venture involving local community groups and specialist providers and is led by Citizens Advice Torbay. It is funded by the Big Lottery Fund via Ageing Well Torbay.

We offer a drop-in service and people can self-refer at four community access points:

The Acorn Youth Community & Sports Centre, Lummaton Cross, Barton, Torquay,

TQ2 8ET. 01803 328819  www.acorn-centre.org.uk

Open Monday – Friday 9 am – 9pm. Saturday 9 am – 5 pm.

Brixham Does Care, Old Market House, Town Hall, 1 New Road, Brixham,

TQ5 8TA.  01803 857727   www.brixhamdoescare.co.uk

Open Monday – Friday 9.45 am – 4 pm.

Brixham Youth Enquiry Service (YES), The Edge, Bolton Street, Brixham,

TQ5 95H. 01803 851414  www.bxyes.org.uk      

Open Monday – Friday 11 am – 5 pm.

Crafty Fox Café ‘n’ Hub, 103 Foxhole Road, Paignton, TQ3 3SU.

01803 669005  www.craftyfoxcafe.com

Open Monday – Friday 10 am– 3 pm

Volunteers at the community groups will assist clients with simple benefits and debt enquiries and refer more complex cases on to specialist partners as appropriate. These specialist partners are Citizens Advice Torbay, Age UK, Homemaker SouthWest and Torbay Advice Network. Mencap, Healthwatch, Sanctuary Housing and VisualEyes are also partners in this initiative. Mencap will be running workshops for unpaid carers and people with a learning disability around various aspects of finance.

For more information please contact FAIR co-ordinator Susan Bottomley:

susan.bottomley@citizensadvice.org.uk 07706 714366