20 January 2020
Advice Column: Xmas Pay

My employer asked me to work extra hours in the lead up to Christmas as it was really busy at work. Now that I have been paid I don’t think I have been paid for all the extra hours I worked. What should I do?

Many workers will have put in lots of extra hours in the run up to Christmas, and it’s important to make sure you’re paid for it all. Get together evidence of your completed hours. If you haven’t got your own record of your hours, you could use things like:


  • old rotas
  • clocking in records
  • emails from your employer confirming your shifts

Once you have got together your evidence, try speaking informally to your employer. You could also try speaking to your human resources or payroll department, if there is one. Ask them to explain anything you don’t understand on your payslip or why you haven’t been paid. If you disagree with anything, explain why.

If your employer has made a genuine mistake, ask them to pay you the money you’re owed straight away. You shouldn’t have to wait until your next pay day.


If you and your employer can’t agree on how much you should have been paid, you can challenge them. You should act quickly - it’ll be much harder to get your money back after 3 months from the date the problem arose.


If you’re not getting anywhere, consider the following further steps to get what you’re owed:


1.     your trade union might be able to negotiate with your employer for you. If you’re not in a trade union, find out if there’s one at your workplace that you can join. You might find details in your staff handbook, intranet or on notice boards at work.

2.     Check if your employer has a formal grievance procedure you can use. Even if they haven’t, you can still raise a grievance - for example by writing a letter. Explain why you think you haven’t been paid enough and include copies of any evidence.

3.     If your grievance doesn’t get the result you want, you can take your employer to a tribunal. You'll have to notify ACAS first. ACAS is an organisation that provides independent support to help sort out employment disputes. They'll see if your employer will agree to a process called ‘early conciliation' - a way to resolve disputes without going to a tribunal. The quickest way to start is to fill in the early conciliation form on the ACAS website. Or you can call ACAS on  0300 123 1100

4.     Your last resort is to take your employer to a tribunal. Think carefully before you go ahead. You usually have to make a claim to the tribunal within 3 months of your employment ending or the problem happening. You need to have already notified ACAS, gone through the early conciliation process and got an early conciliation certificate. It is best to get advice before proceeding to a tribunal.


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


15 January 2020
Big Energy Saving Week


Torbay Citizens Advice is holding a 4 day event at Paignton Library. We will be there Monday 20th, Tuesday 21st, Thursday 23rd and Friday 24th between 10am and 3pm.


We will be showing people how to use the Citizens Advice energy price comparison tool which is free, uses a full market comparison, is totally independent and gives a customer service rating for the major energy companies.


We are going to have leaflets, giveaways etc.


Come along and join us!

07 January 2020
Advice Column: Financial Healthcheck 

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


It is a good idea to start the New Year with a resolution to carry out a money overhaul and make sure that you are getting the best possible deals.


Ten top tips for 2020:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




09 December 2019
Advice Column: Energy Costs 

I live with my two children and partner in a small semi-detached house. During the winter we use more heating and electricity as we’re home more. Do you have any tips on how I can keep the cost of my energy down during the winter?


There are a few things you can do to save some money during the winter period. Check when your energy contract is due to expire. If you're at the end of your contract use https://energycompare.citizensadvice.org.uk/ to see if you could save money by switching supplier or tariff.


If you're on a prepayment meter you could save money by replacing your meter with one that lets you pay after using energy rather than in advance. Most suppliers won’t charge you for removing a prepayment meter, though many will run a credit check or ask you for a deposit.


You may also be eligible for certain grants and benefits, these could include Warm Home discount or help with energy debt. Visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk if you need help with the application.


Here's a few practical tips to help keep costs down:


  1. Using a timer for your heating, lowering your thermostat and using radiator valve controls could save you over £100 per year
  2. Changing light bulbs to an energy-efficient one could save £50 over the lifetime of the bulb
  3. Turn appliances off standby mode to save around £30 a year
  4. Seal cracks in floors, skirting boards and add draft excluders to letterboxes, doors and windows.


Some energy suppliers also offer grants to allow improvements to your home, like insulation or a new boiler. What help you can get depends on your circumstances and what would help your home. You don’t need to be a customer of one of these suppliers to apply. You can check your eligibility at: www.simpleenergyadvice.org.uk. 


25 November 2019
Advice Column: Loan Sharks

My friend told me about someone she knew that could help me out with a loan. Although I’ve been making regular repayments, my loan just seems to be increasing and I have no paperwork to prove the amount I borrowed initially. The person who I borrowed from has now started sending threatening messages. What can I do?


Any person lending money should have permission to carry out the regulated activity from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).


Licensed lenders must comply with legal obligations in dealing with consumers, including the use of official paperwork and fair collection methods.


Loan sharks operate illegally without authorisation from the FCA. These criminals prey on the most vulnerable in society, charging extortionate interest and using intimidation and violence to pressure their victims.

 

You can find out whether a money lender is authorised by searching the name of the firm or person at www.loansmart.org.uk/.


Loan sharks often charge astronomical rates of interest and don’t issue paperwork to confirm the arrangements that they have made with you. These illegal lenders usually appear friendly at first but quickly trap their borrowers into spiralling debt. As the debts can’t legally be enforced, many will resort to the most extreme and callous methods to enforce repayment including threats, violence and intimidation.


In some cases, loan sharks have been known to take items as security including passports, driving licenses or even bank or post office cards with the PIN in order to withdraw money directly from the borrowers’ accounts.


If you or someone you know has been the victim of a loan shark, you can contact the Illegal Money Lending Team on the 24-hour hotline 0300 555 2222 or visit www.stoploansharks.co.uk.



12 November 2019
Advice Column: Cost of Christmas 


I’m dreading Christmas this year because we are really struggling to pay the bills and there’s no cash to spare for cards, presents and so on. What can I do?


Follow our key tips to help stretch your budget and make sure you have enough money to pay your bills in the New Year:


  1. Plan ahead. Work out how much you can realistically afford before you start spending, taking into account what you need to keep back for your essential bills like rent or mortgage, council tax, gas and electricity.
  2. Set a limit on how much you are going to spend and stick to it.
  3. Remember that Christmas is an expensive time of year for everyone. With some close friends and adults in the family you may be able to make a ‘no presents’ pact. Or agree to exchange only token gifts with a fixed limit on what you spend, perhaps using local charity shops.
  4. Try shopping with cash only - that way you can't spend more than your budget.
  5. Shop around, you may find it cheaper elsewhere, including on-line
  6. Try not to feel pressurised by children into buying expensive toys or other items you can’t afford. Explain the situation to them.
  7. Don't run up an overdraft unless you have an arrangement with your bank – the interest you have to pay will be punitive.
  8. Get advice as early as possible if you do run into debt problems. Don't ignore them and hope they'll go away - they won't.


For more information and advice about how to deal with money problems, go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk 


28 October 2019
Advice Column: Blue Badge Scheme

My mum has a non-visible disability which causes her walking difficulties. I heard something on the news about how she may now be eligible for a blue badge. How can I find out about this and help her apply? 

 

On 30 August, the Blue Badge scheme was extended to people who live in England and have non-visible disabilities or conditions which affect their ability to walk. As a result, your mother may now qualify for a badge.

 

Your mother will be automatically eligible if she gets certain types of benefits. These include some categories of Personal Independence Payment and the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance.

 

If she’s not automatically eligible she can still apply for a badge. Her local authority will use evidence from doctors and other healthcare professionals to determine whether she qualifies or not.

 

Your mother can check her eligibility and apply for a local authority-issued Blue Badge at www.gov.uk/apply-blue-badge If she can’t do this herself, you can apply on her behalf.

 

You’ll need a recent digital passport-style photo, proof of her identity, address, details of any benefits she receives, her National Insurance number, and evidence of how her non-visible disability or condition affects her mobility.


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



14 October 2019
Advice Column: Nuisance Neighbours 

I live in a rented property and a family has moved in to the house next door and is being a nuisance, yelling late at night over a loud television and leaving bin bags strewn over the front of the house. I don’t want to antagonise them in case they become threatening. What can I do?


It’s best to try to resolve problems by speaking with your neighbour, if it’s safe to do so. Explain the effect their behaviour is having and ask them to stop. If the problem continues, keep a record of incidents, which will come in handy if you decide to take the matter further.


A mediator may help you and your neighbour find a solution. If you’re a council or housing association tenant, they may have their own mediator you can use. If not, you’ll need to find one yourself and pay a fee.


Ask your neighbour’s landlord to speak to them on your behalf. If your neighbour lives in social housing, their landlord should have a policy for dealing with antisocial behaviour.


If the landlord can’t help, or you don’t know who it is, your council might be able to help. Visit its website for information on the types of complaint it deals with.


If you’ve tried everything but the problem persists, ask for a Community Trigger. The council might work with the police and others to create an action plan. As a last resort, you can go to an ombudsman if you’re unhappy with how your council or social landlord has handled it.


If your neighbour becomes threatening or violent, you should tell the police.


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


16 September 2019
Advice Column: Council Tax Arrears 

I am struggling to pay my Council Tax bill 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 Council Tax Support - Exceptional Hardship Fund. Check the local authority website for more details of the Council Tax Support scheme and how to apply for help from the Exceptional Hardship Fund.


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




02 September 2019

Time to Enrich Your Life - Volunteer Taster Afternoon on Tuesday 10th September @ 2pm.  

If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to be a volunteer with Citizens’ Advice Torbay, come to our Volunteer Taster Afternoon on Tuesday, 10th September, at 2pm.  


You’ll be able to meet some of our wonderful volunteers, and hear from them what it’s like helping your local community. We need more trainees to become telephone assessors and face to face advisers, and we will be running an initial training course starting in October. If you have two mornings or afternoons, or a whole day per week, to give, then we’d love to hear from you!


Nicole, pictured below, has been volunteering with us for six years. “Volunteering for Citizens’ Advice has enriched my life. You meet interesting people from different walks of life, and it is such a pleasure when you are able to help someone and make a difference. The volunteers and paid staff are a great bunch of people too! You do have to be able to take the disappointments, but sometimes just talking to a client and listening to them helps. I continue to keep learning a lot, about employment law, immigration, housing, benefits, debt, discrimination etc. I highly recommend volunteering with Citizens Advice Torbay! 


Jane trained as a phone assessor earlier this year, and it has already made a strong impression on her. “Volunteering with Citizens’ Advice provides an intellectual challenge - there is a lot to learn, satisfaction when someone leaves you happier than when they arrived, and camaraderie and support if you're feeling down, and lots of laughs on the better days”.


Andrea has been with us for the past year. “I joined Citizens Advice as a volunteer when I moved to Torbay in order to feel part of the local community and to meet people. It’s challenging but interesting work. And I can truthfully say I have been made to feel part of the team and valued as a volunteer”.


So, if you’re thinking of giving some of your time to your local community, why not come along to our Volunteer Taster Afternoon on Tuesday, 10th September at 2pm at our Paignton office. This could be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for!


You can find more information on our website www.citizensadvicetorbay.org.uk or send an email to dolores.unwin@torbaycitizensadvice.org.uk

02 September 2019
Advice Columns: Smart Meters

My gas and electricity deal has come to an end and the energy company has offered me a new contract. However, they’re insisting I get a smart meter fitted. I’ve heard these don’t really work and I can’t see the benefit. Am I better off looking for a different supplier, or will the new company also force me to have a smart meter? 


It’s always worth shopping around. Citizens Advice has a tool on its website (https://energycompare.citizensadvice.org.uk/) which can help. Our energy star ratings also look at how well suppliers perform on a range of measures, including customer service, rather than just price.


As regards the smart meter, you certainly don’t have to accept one. A supplier can’t tell you that you must have one installed. However, it might mean you’re not eligible for all the deals on offer. In future the cheaper tariffs offered by suppliers might only be available to customers with smart meters.


If you do decide to go ahead, your supplier should explain the process beforehand, show you how it works and give you a number to call if anything goes wrong.


There are benefits to smart meters; they send daily meter readings to your supplier, meaning they can bill you accurately for the energy you’ve used. They won’t automatically save you money, but you can use the digital ‘in-home’ display to keep track of how much energy you’re using and then try to reduce it.

For more information and advice go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.



19 August 2019
Advice Column: Housing Costs 

I am renting and have an assured shorthold tenancy. I have been struggling to pay the rent for a few months. I am working full time but my wages aren’t enough. I am only just managing with my other bills and spending. Now I am falling behind on my rent payments and I am worried about losing my home. What can I do to stop this from happening?


It’s good you’ve looked for help. This is the first step to staying in your home. Rent arrears, like council tax debt or mortgage arrears, are a priority debt. Non-payment can cause serious problems, such as losing your home.


If the landlord says they plan to evict you, have served you with an eviction notice, or you have letters from court, get advice urgently.


Go through correspondence from your landlord. Compare payments you’ve made to the amount of arrears due, to make sure the numbers agree. Speak to them about why you’re struggling with your rent.


Create a budget by adding up your essential living costs, such as food and energy, and take these away from your income. Use the Citizens Advice budgeting tool and benefits calculator to see if you can increase your income. Try to find cheaper deals on your energy, phone and broadband. Put any spare money towards your debts.


If you’re able to pay off some of the arrears, your landlord may agree to a payment plan, enabling you to pay smaller amounts. Be clear and realistic about your budget. If they don’t agree a plan, or if you feel unable to negotiate alone, get advice.


The payment plan should be written down and signed by the landlord. They can’t evict you without going to court. But if you do get evicted, ask the council for help with housing and benefits. Contact them immediately, they can help you stay in your home.


For further help with your budget, negotiating a rent payment plan, or eviction advice, visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk


06 August 2019
Advice Column: Travel Insurance Scam 

I’m planning a long holiday and have been struggling to find travel insurance for a reasonable price. I’ve found a good deal on social media but my friend thinks it might be a scam. How can I be sure if it’s legitimate?

 

Your friend is right to raise the possibility that it might be a scam and you should do some research on the company before making a purchase.


Insurance is a financial product and the seller must be registered with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Check they’re listed on the financial watchdog’s register which can be found at: https://register.fca.org.uk/

 

If they’re not named, take your business to a different provider as the seller will not be legitimate. If they are listed, it’s still worth doing further checks on them.


A good starting point is comparing the price of the insurance deal with similar offers from competitors. Big discounts are often a telltale sign of a scam, but it could also be that the policy is cheap because it doesn’t provide adequate cover.


Ask for a copy of the full policy so you can check it against where you’re going and what you’re doing. If the seller won’t provide one, or says they will only give it to you it after you’ve paid, don’t give them your business.


Once you know the seller is legitimate use a secure payment method, such as a money transfer service like PayPal, to pay for the insurance. Don’t pay with a bank transfer, and don’t go ahead with the deal if they ask you to.


For more information and advice go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk or telephone the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06.



22 July 2019
Advice Column: Financial Healthcheck 

I have been struggling financially over the last year or two and finally seem have got things straight. What should I do to make sure I maintain my financial situation?


It is a great idea to carry out a regular financial health check to make sure that you are in the best possible financial position. Our top ten tips can help with this:


  1. The first step is to identify your regular income and expenditure and conduct a line by line review of your budget to see if you can either increase your income or reduce your expenditure
  2. You may be losing money by sticking with your existing bank or energy supplier; shop around, it‘s simple to change.
  3. Don't automatically renew your car, holiday, or house insurance without comparing prices.
  4. Check that you are not missing out on money that you should be getting in benefits or tax credits, tax rebates or allowances.
  5. Plan to build up a savings fund by setting aside a regular amount to put towards emergencies, and things such as birthdays, holidays or Christmas.
  6. Shop around for the best savings rates and check regularly that it is still the best deal available.
  7. Check out tax efficient ways to save money like Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs)
  8. If you really need to consider taking out a loan, make sure you shop around and get the best deal. Look out for low interest rates.
  9. Be wary of consolidating your debts. Get advice and don’t put your home unnecessarily at risk. Defaulting on a loan secured against your home could mean that you lose your home.
  10. Be wary of low interest credit card transfers. Check the terms and conditions carefully.


All too often people come to us when they've already reached crisis point or can no longer cope with their problems. By carrying out a regular financial health check and taking some preventative measures many problems could be averted before they become crises.

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




09 July 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 a useful 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


24 June 2019
Advice Column: Doorstep Loans 

I don’t think the company that sold me a doorstep loan carried out proper affordability checks and now I can’t afford to pay it back. Can I get a refund?


The Financial Conduct Authority - which regulates the doorstep loan market - says a loan is unaffordable if you cannot make repayments without borrowing again.


Lenders must check your finances and situation - including future income and spending - to make sure you can pay back the loan.


You might feel your agreement was unaffordable if you were given a loan that was more than you could manage to repay and it caused you problems.


If you think you are owed a refund, first complain to your lender. List the ways you think their affordability checks were not properly done, the problems this has caused, and what you would like to happen.


The lender must acknowledge your complaint promptly and has eight weeks to respond formally or resolve your problem.


If you are not happy with their response, or they don’t respond at all, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service using a form on its website - www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk


Should the lender agree with your complaint, they may agree to write off the balance left on the loan or refund some of the interest you have paid.


If they don’t, and you have to take your complaint further, the Ombudsman can force the lender to write off the interest or even the remainder of the loan, and possibly order them to pay a small amount of compensation for your distress if they uphold the complaint.


The Ombudsman’s decision is binding on your lender.


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


07 June 2019
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 Scams Awareness campaign, which runs from the 10th – 23rd 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.


For advice or to report a potential scam, get in touch with the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06.


29 May 2019
Citizens Advice Torbay thanks volunteers for making a huge difference to people's lives

Leading local advice charity, Citizens Advice Torbay, is celebrating its volunteers who dedicate their time to solving people’s problems and making a difference to their lives.


Volunteers Week, which runs from 1-7 June, recognises the contribution that volunteers across the UK make, and the charity is highlighting the work of its own team, which helps people in the community struggling with debt, housing, benefit and employment issues among other issues.


With over 50 volunteers, giving up 159 hours each week, Citizens Advice Torbay was able to help 3572 people directly with 13775 problems last year. The charity’s volunteers have played a crucial role ensuring people in Torbay get the advice and support they need to get on with their lives.


The charity offers a wide range of voluntary roles including advisers, administrators, on reception, as trainers, helping with publicity and events, and as trustees.


Volunteer Radia (pictured below) said: “Everyone is respected and is part of the team. The training is really good and there’s loads of support. If I don’t know something, there’s always a more experienced volunteer to ask and there’s always a supervisor on duty to help. And no two days are the same. It always gives me a good feeling knowing I’ve helped someone”. 


Steve Barriball, Chief Executive at Citizens Advice Torbay said: “Our volunteers make a huge difference to people’s lives. They give up their free time to help people in their community, who may be going through problems, to get back on their feet.


“Volunteering is for everybody and it brings its own rewards. It’s a great way to meet people and learn skills.


“If you’d like to help people in your area and can spare a few hours, we’d love to hear from you.”


Thanks to the contribution of Citizens Advice volunteers locally, 7 out of every 10 clients have their problem solved and 4 out of 5 say the advice received improved their lives.


If you’re interested in finding out more about volunteering with the Citizens Advice service please visit www.citizensadvicetorbay.org.uk/volunteering or drop into the office in Palace Avenue in Paignton.

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

                                                 


      

18 February 2019

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 a pay rise at work.


Follow our six 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


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




07 February 2019
Advice Column: Pay & Entitlements 

My employer regularly withholds or delays my pay. This makes paying my bills really difficult, and it is not always clear what I am being paid for. What are my rights?


There is no legal right to have wages paid in any particular way, for example, for an employee to have their wages paid directly into their bank account.


The way that an employee's wages are paid will depend solely on what their contract of employment says. If you do not have a written contract, you still have a contract of employment, but it will be a verbal contract. In cases where there is a verbal contract rather than a written contract, the way wages should be paid should have been agreed between the employer and employee, or if not, it will depend on how the employer usually pays the wages of the employees in that workplace.


All employees who have worked for their employer for at least two months are entitled by law to a ‘written statement of their terms and conditions of employment’. The employee's contract should give the following details about their wages:-


  • when wages are paid, for example, at the end of the week, at the end of the month
  • whether wages are paid in advance or arrears. With monthly pay, it is common to be paid partly in advance and partly in arrears. With weekly pay, it is usual to be paid in arrears, that is, wages are paid after the work has been done
  • if wages are paid a week in hand. Sometimes if an employee is paid weekly, they have to work for two weeks before they receive any pay. This means that they are always, effectively, being paid a week in arrears and are owed a week’s pay throughout their employment. This week in hand payment will be made when the employee leaves the job.

All employees are entitled to an individual written payslip, at or before the time they are paid. A written payslip could also be a payslip sent by email. The payslip must show:


  • gross pay, that is, pay before any tax or national insurance has been taken off
  • the amounts of any deductions which change from week to week, for example tax and national insurance, and what the deductions are for
  • the total amount of any fixed deductions. These are deductions which do not change from week to week, for example, union dues. An employer does not have to give details of what these deductions are for as long as they give a separate statement with these details at least once a year
  • the total amount of take-home pay after deductions.

For more information and advice about pay and entitlements, go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk




21 January 2019

ADVICE COLUMN: Xmas Pay

My employer asked me to work extra hours in the lead up to Christmas as it was really busy at work. Now that I have been paid I don’t think I have been paid for all the extra hours I worked. What should I do?

Many workers will have put in lots of extra hours in the run up to Christmas, and it’s important to make sure you’re paid for it all. Get together evidence of your completed hours.


If you haven’t got your own record of your hours, you could use things like:

  • old rotas
  • clocking in records
  • emails from your employer confirming your shifts


Once you have got together your evidence, try speaking informally to your employer. You could also try speaking to your human resources or payroll department, if there is one. Ask them to explain anything you don’t understand on your payslip or why you haven’t been paid. If you disagree with anything, explain why.

If your employer has made a genuine mistake, ask them to pay you the money you’re owed straight away. You shouldn’t have to wait until your next pay day.


If you and your employer can’t agree on how much you should have been paid, you can challenge them. You should act quickly - it’ll be much harder to get your money back after 3 months from the date the problem arose.


If you’re not getting anywhere, consider the following further steps to get what you’re owed:


1.     Your trade union might be able to negotiate with your employer for you. If you’re not in a trade union, find out if there’s one at your workplace that you can join. You might find details in your staff handbook, intranet or on notice boards at work.

2.     Check if your employer has a formal grievance procedure you can use. Even if they haven’t, you can still raise a grievance - for example by writing a letter. Explain why you think you haven’t been paid enough and include copies of any evidence.

3.     If your grievance doesn’t get the result you want, you can take your employer to a tribunal. You'll have to notify Acas first. Acas is an organisation that provides independent support to help sort out employment disputes. They'll see if your employer will agree to a process called ‘early conciliation' - a way to resolve disputes without going to a tribunal. The quickest way to start is to fill in the early conciliation form on the Acas website. Or you can call Acas on  0300 123 1100

4.     Your last resort is to take your employer to a tribunal. Think carefully before you go ahead. You usually have to make a claim to the tribunal within 3 months of your employment ending or the problem happening. You need to have already notified Acas, gone through the early conciliation process and got an early conciliation certificate. It is best to get advice before proceeding to a tribunal.


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




07 January 2019
Advice Column: Financial Healthcheck

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


It is a good idea to start the New Year with a resolution to carry out a money overhaul and make sure that you are getting the best possible deals.


Ten top tips for 2019:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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




21 December 2018
Advice Column: Energy Costs 

I am really worried about my gas and electricity bills. I am struggling to keep up with my payments. What can I do?


Citizens Advice Torbay is on hand to help you understand the ways in which you can save on energy costs. We can help compare your energy usage with other suppliers to see if we can find you a cheaper deal and save you money. We can also help negotiate with your current supplier or help you switch energy provider if this is something you wish to do. 


In many cases people can save significant amounts of money on their gas and electricity bills. Citizens Advice has estimated that as many as 4.7 million households in England haven’t switched their energy supplier in the last ten years.


Recent research revealed 3 in 10 people believe they will be unable to heat their homes to a comfortable level over the winter.


Our Energy Best Deal project is delivered by Citizens Advice and funded by voluntary contributions from energy companies. We can check to see if you are getting the benefits that you are entitled to, plus we can check if you are eligible for extra help in making your home more energy efficient.


If you are having problems paying your energy bills or if you require help with any energy related issue please contact our helpline on 0300 330 9026 (9.30am – 12.30pm each weekday, except Wednesday) or visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk



17 December 2018
New Year, New Opportunity!


New Year, New Opportunity!


If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to be a volunteer with Citizen’s Advice Torbay, come to our Volunteer Taster Afternoon on Tuesday, 8th January, at 2pm.


You’ll be able to meet some of our wonderful volunteers, and hear from them what it’s like helping your local community. We need more receptionists, telephone assessors, face to face advisers, debt advisers, and administration workers, and we will be running training courses starting later in January. So if you have two mornings or afternoons, or a whole day per week, then we’d love to hear from you!


For Dan, pictured below, the journey to volunteering has been long. “I have been job hunting through the Jobcentre for the past four years, looking for work experience to help with my job prospects. What with being registered blind, lacking work experience and confidence, and even feeling like the world was against me; my life has really turned around since I contacted Citizens Advice Torbay last summer. I’ve now completed training, and am shadowing a fellow telephone assessor, until I feel confident to take the plunge to take my first call. The training was excellent, and they’ve been amazing in making adaptations for me. They’re a friendly and approachable bunch, and not for one moment do I feel out of place, or get treated differently. Making this huge decision to become a volunteer was one of the best choices I’ve made. I highly recommend volunteering with Torbay Citizens Advice, whatever your situation. I’m looking forward to the journey, which is only beginning for me”.


·        Jean works part-time, but still finds time to volunteer as a telephone assessor two mornings per week, having recently completed training as a telephone assessor. “I love volunteering at Citizens Advice Torbay. In fact, I wish I didn’t have to work, so I could spend more time here”. 


·        Clare trained with Jean, and has also started as a telephone assessor two mornings per week, having recently completed training. She says of the training that it was “educational without being frightening, inclusive without being nerve-wracking, and altogether I found it a very enjoyable time, learning new skills amongst very friendly faces”. 


·        Samantha joined us five months ago and is volunteering as a Receptionist two mornings each week. Samantha’s is one of the friendly faces that greets people coming in to the drop-in service, and she says she is enjoying “working with a great team of volunteers. I have gained confidence, I get to meet lots of different people, and I enjoy contributing to the valuable service that Citizens Advice Torbay has to offer”. 


·        “It’s a fantastic experience on many levels”, says Dick, one of our face to face advisers, who started volunteering nine years ago when he retired, in a bid to keep mentally active. “It’s rewarding to help people get to a better place, and it’s great to meet, and work with, other volunteers”. 


·        Terence has been volunteering for the past eleven years, and says he gets a lot of personal satisfaction from being able to help people who genuinely need help. 


·        “Dealing with clients and being able to help with their problems is a privilege”, says Colin, who began volunteering earlier this year, after spending many years as a full-time carer, adding that it’s given him a new purpose in life. 


·        Katie trained as a telephone assessor ten months ago in order to help rebuild her confidence after years away from the workplace. She chose Citizens Advice Torbay because she wanted to give something back and help others. “I never knew I could actually help so much, it’s so rewarding”, says Katie, who quickly made herself an invaluable member of the team. 


So, if you’re thinking about a fresh start for the New Year, why not come along to our Volunteer Taster Afternoon on Tuesday, 8th January at 2pm at our Paignton Office. This could be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for!


You can find more information on our website www.citizensadvicetorbay.org.uk or email dolores.unwin@torbaycitizensadvice.org.uk