Advice column

advice column
 
Our advice column features common queries along with advice and information about what you can do to resolve them. 
 
If you have an issue that you are trying to resolve and it is not covered below you can email us for advice, or call us on 03444 111 444 (lines are open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm); or for advice in person visit your local Citizens Advice.

 


November 2017

Problems with cancelling contracts

My gym will only allow me to cancel my membership in person. This is written in the contract but I’ve since moved away from the area. What can I do?

To end your gym membership you will need to follow the terms of the contract. However, it’s also possible to challenge any terms which cause unnecessary hassle or are designed to keep you tied into the contract.

For this reason, you could try to challenge the term which states you need to end the contract in person.

Start by writing a letter or email explaining you want to end your membership and why you can’t do so in person. If writing a letter, it’s best to use recorded delivery so you have proof that the letter arrived.

If the gym won’t accept your written cancellation ask if they’ve got a complaints procedure in place which you can follow. If not, then send another letter giving them a final chance to end the contract.

If they still won’t agree to cancelling your contract get in touch with an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme - an independent complaints body which settles disputes. The gym may belong to one already, or should provide details of an approved scheme and say whether they’d be prepared to work with it.

You can also contact the Citizens Advice consumer service or contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help on cancelling contracts which include possible unfair terms.

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk


October 2017

I am behind on my energy bills and my energy company wants to install a prepayment meter. I don't want one as I've heard they can be more expensive than paying by direct debit. What can I do?

Suppliers may try to install a prepayment meter if you are falling behind on your bills. This is so you can pay for your energy by topping up your meter before you use it, and don’t get into debt.

If you don’t want pay for energy in this way, contact your supplier to tell them you are struggling with your bills. They should help you agree a repayment plan, based on how much you can afford and how much energy you use. If you are already on a plan but can’t afford it, see if you can make a new arrangement.

Also discuss with your supplier the costs of the different meters and tariffs. Once you’ve agreed to pay back your debts, your supplier won’t install a prepayment meter if you don’t want one.

There are further steps you can take to help you with your bills. You may be eligible for the Warm Home Discount, which could reduce your energy bill by £140, or a one off Cold Weather Payment from the government.

Some energy companies also offer grants to their customers to pay off fuel debts, while other companies and charities have grants which are open to anyone.

For further help on negotiating with your supplier or applying for benefits, contact Citizens Advice: visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk or contact your nearest Citizens Advice


September 2017

Holiday problems

I’ve just got back from a week-long holiday to Greece. My outbound flight was cancelled with an hour’s notice, but I got the replacement flight provided by the airline. Can I claim compensation?

If your flight is cancelled at short notice you are legally entitled to a full refund or a replacement flight.

If the replacement flight delays you arriving at your destination, you can also claim compensation directly from the airline operating the flight - unless it was cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances, like bad weather.

The amount you can claim depends on when your replacement flight departed and arrived, how far you were travelling, and when the flight was cancelled.

Start by contacting the airline’s customer services department and explain you’d like to claim compensation for the delay.

They will ask for your flight details and booking reference number, and explain your next steps - either writing a letter or filling in a form on their website. You’ll need to enclose copies of any tickets and receipts. Make a copy or take a screenshot of the form.

If the problem isn’t resolved after 8 weeks, you can take your complaint to the Alternative Dispute Resolution service the airline is a member of, or if that doesn’t work, the Civil Aviation Authority.

For further help contact the Citizens Advice consumer service or visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk or contact your nearest Citizens Advice


Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk


August 2017

Employment rights for seasonal workers

I’ve just been hired by a cafe as a temp covering the busy summer months. My boss says that because I’m a temp, I’m not allowed to take any holiday. Is this right?


Your boss is wrong - as an employee, you’re entitled to take paid holiday regardless of the contract you’re on.

While they can refuse to give you leave at specific times, they can’t refuse you holiday pay altogether. If you can’t take time off during your contract you should receive your holiday pay in a lump sum at the end.

How much holiday you’re allowed depends on the length of your contract, and how many hours you work.

First, check how many hours you’re entitled to by using gov.uk’s calculator. Save a copy of the calculation to refer to.

Then speak with your boss and explain that you are entitled to either annual leave or pay in lieu of your holiday - you can refer to your employment rights on the Citizens Advice website. Give them a copy of your holiday calculation too.

If your boss refuses to give you time off or holiday pay, put your complaint in writing to them.

Should your boss still not give way get in touch with ACAS, the free dispute resolution service that specialises in employment.

For help understanding your rights, approaching the discussion with your boss or taking things further, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.
 
Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk

July 2017

Scam awareness: Travel insurance scams 

I’m planning a long holiday and have been struggling to find travel insurance for a reasonable price. I’ve found a good deal from a Facebook advert 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 viewed on its website.

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 further advice contact the consumer service or get in touch with your nearest Citizens Advice.

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk


June 2017

Universal credit 

I am about to apply for Universal Credit for the first time, but have been told that there is a six week wait before the first payment. I’m worried that I won’t be able to pay my bills. Is this right, and is there anything I can do?


After applying for Universal Credit, there’s usually a five or six week wait before your first payment, which is explained during the application process.

Although you can’t be paid faster, there are things you can do to help tide you over.

As part of the claim process, you’ll usually attend an interview at the Jobcentre Plus.

At the interview ask if you can apply for an “advance payment” - this is a loan that will be deducted from your future benefits.

You’ll need to show how much money you need for essential bills like food and housing, and explain why the loan will protect you from serious financial difficulty - like being unable to pay your rent.Advice column universal credit web

Alternatively, you can apply for an advance payment through the Universal Credit helpline on 0345 600 0723.

It’s best to apply as early as possible in your claim, as you may be turned down otherwise.

If you are refused an advance payment, you can ask the Jobcentre Plus for a reconsideration. Emergency assistance may be available if you are still turned down - Jobcentre Plus or Citizens Advice can inform of you of your next steps.

For help with your application or more information on managing your money, contact your local Citizens Advice.

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk


April 2017

I've hired a builder for a loft conversion but he’s now asking for more money to finish the job, despite agreeing a price in an email. What should I do?

Your options depend on whether you got an estimate from the builder, or a quote. An estimate is a rough outline of costs, while a quote gives exact costs both parties agree to.

If you got an estimate, ask the builder for a breakdown of the new costs - both materials and labour. The builder needs to be able to explain the price rise.

Try and negotiate if you think the new costs are unreasonable. Asking another builder or a trade association for an estimate could help you decide what’s fair, and where to start your negotiation.

If the builder won’t negotiate, make a complaint to them in writing describing why you think the costs are unreasonable.

If they still don’t bring their price down, you can check if the builder is a member of a trade association to see if they can help. Or you could look for an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme - this is an independent third party who can help you to reach a resolution.

Quotes are a legal agreement, so the builder shouldn’t be charging more unless there were unexpected events affecting the work, or an error in their calculations. Contact an ADR scheme if there were no mitigating circumstances, who will help you to resolve the situation.

For further advice, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk


Sick pay 

March 2017

"I took 7 days off work for flu and my employer won’t give me sick pay. I usually work 21 hours in a warehouse but I’m on flexible contract so my shifts moved round. I called in sick and they took me off the rota for a couple of weeks, and are saying that I won’t be paid. Is this right?"

Whatever your contract type, you’re entitled to sick pay if you meet certain rules around the length of your illness and your usual pay.

Statutory sick pay is paid from the fourth day you’d usually be working that you’re off sick. You need to normally earn £112.00 a week or more before tax, and to report your sickness according to your workplace rules like phoning in or filling in a form.

If you’d already agreed to those working hours before you took time off for illness, your employer removing you from the rota doesn’t change your rights - you’re still entitled to sick pay. Your employer may not be aware of their responsibilities, or they may even be trying to avoid paying.

The first step is to ask your employer to fill in the government Statutory Sick Pay form explaining their reasons for not paying you.

Once it’s filled in, call the number for HMRC on the form. They’ll clarify whether you’re entitled and if you are, make sure you’re paid.

If your employer won’t fill in the form, contact HMRC, who have a legal duty to solve issues around sick pay.

For further help and advice, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk


Phone contracts  

February 2017

"I recently signed a two year phone contract with a new network provider but the reception in my home is terrible. Is there any way I can get out of the contract, or have I just got to stick with it?" 

While poor signal doesn’t give you a right to cancel your contract, you should be able to make a case to your phone company to end it.

If you bought your mobile online or over the phone within the last 14 days, you can cancel the contract without needing a reason by contacting your provider.

But if you bought it in store or have had the phone for longer, you’ll need to ask to leave the contract.

Contact the company and explain the problem. They may give you a device which can boost your signal.

If this doesn’t work, you can ask to terminate the contract. However they will usually ask you to pay an exit fee, which can be as much as the remaining cost of the contract.

Paying the exit fee could allow you to terminate the contract immediately, but if you don’t want to pay then make a complaint using their complaints procedure.

This can take time, but if you haven’t got a resolution after 8 weeks, ask an Alternative Dispute Resolution Service to intervene. An adjudicator will make a decision on releasing you from the contract.

For further help, call the consumer service helpline on 03454 04 05 06 or contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

 

Money worries

January 2017

"I was made redundant last month and I've already started to fall behind on my bills. I'm looking for work, but is there anything else I can do so I don't end up in debt?" 

There are steps you can take to avoid your bills from building up.

First, check that you’ve been paid any redundancy money you’re entitled to - you might get statutory redundancy pay and possibly contractual redundancy pay if you’ve been in the job two years or more. This should be evident on your final payslip, but if it’s not contact your employer.

Then look at ways to boost your income. See if you’re eligible for benefits like Jobseeker’s Allowance with Citizens Advice’s benefits calculator. You could also check if you can make savings on your bills, for example by switching to a cheaper gas or electricity deal.

Now look at how much money you have coming in and compare it to your essential spending. Priority bills include your rent or mortgage and council tax, and should be paid first as there can be serious consequences for missing payments.

If you own your home, contact your mortgage lender to see if you can negotiate on your monthly repayment. You could also see if your credit card provider will negotiate on repayment amounts to give you some breathing space.

For further help understanding managing your money, contact your nearest Citizens Advice

Also see our online advice about getting help with your bills.

 

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk


Cut the costs of your energy bills

"I'm worried by how much money I spend on gas. My home is draughty and I turn the heating on even in summer. How can I cut my bills?”

The good news is that there are a few different ways you can use less energy, and also pay less for what you use.

Start by finding out if you can get a lower price for your gas. Find a copy of your latest bill so you can see how much you're paying per unit. Then use Citizens Advice’s online energy price comparison tool at https://energycompare.citizensadvice.org.uk/ to check if a different supplier is offering a cheaper deal. 

If you do find a better offer, call or email the new supplier and ask to move to the tariff you’ve identified. They’ll inform your old supplier and switch you over to their supply. This normally takes 17 days. 

You should also look into improving your insulation, such as getting draught excluders or cavity wall insulation. Energy Champions at Citizens Advice can help explain what could work best for your home and the potential costs involved.

Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for financial assistance to help you meet the cost of your bills, as well as any improvement works to your home.

For further information and help visit Citizens Advice

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