Category Archives: press release

Press Release: Citizens Advice now helping one renter every minute as eviction ban just “papering over the cracks”

New research by Citizens Advice shows the charity is now helping one person every minute with problems relating to renting from a private landlord.

In the first two months of this year, the charity saw a 40% increase in people seeking one-to-one advice on issues relating to the private rented sector compared to the same period in 2020.

A year ago, the government announced a ban on most eviction proceedings. That ban was extended several times and is in place until May 31st. However, its conditions have been altered so tenants with more than six months’ rent outstanding can now be served with an eviction notice. This includes people who have built up arrears during the pandemic.

Polling by Citizens Advice, through its national Tenants’ Voice panel, shows private renters are still concerned by the threat of eviction despite the ban. A third said they had been worried about the issue in the last three months.

Figures from the charity’s website show in the first two months of the year 69,000 people viewed its advice pages dealing with problems related to private tenancies.

Citizens Advice also helped 16,530 people with one-to-one advice on these issues in the same two-month period. That’s one every minute during office hours. This includes:

4,781 (29%) who had problems with repairs or maintenance
1,541 (9%) who were worried about possession action not related to rent arrears
848 (5%) who reported harassment by their landlord
670 (4%) who wanted help with a possible illegal eviction.

The Tenants’ Voice panel also found two thirds of those surveyed had experienced problems with maintenance or disrepair in the last three months.

Case study:

A teaching assistant, who is the single parent of a toddler, and who also cares for her disabled father who lives with them, came to Citizens Advice for help when she was issued with a Section 21 eviction notice by her landlord after complaining about maintenance problems. This included extended periods without heating or hot water.

She has paid hundreds of pounds out of her own money for repairs. This has left her struggling to afford the rent and her landlord has said he’s charging her 8.1% interest a day for late rent.

She said:

“I have had to wash up in the bath, wash my daughter’s clothes in the bath. She has woken up cold in the night, it’s been a nightmare. Previously we always paid our rent 100% – even throughout the pandemic.

“I’m a wreck. I can’t sleep. I am up every night at 3am in the morning and throwing up worrying about it. I have until the end of May to find somewhere to live.”

Opportunity for change:

Citizens Advice says the forthcoming Renters’ Reform Bill is an opportunity to lay the foundations of a more equitable private rented sector. The charity wants:

An end to Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions – as promised by the government in 2019
Indefinite tenancies used as standard, to give renters more certainty and flexibility, and reduce their exposure to annual rent increases.
A new National Housing Body and register to set consistent standards, give tenants greater protection, and help responsible landlords

Nicky Willshere, Chief Officer at Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“The government’s eviction ban helped private tenants feel more secure during the pandemic. But it’s been a case of papering over the cracks.

“Our research paints a disturbing picture of a private rental market in which tenants pay high rents on badly maintained properties, while living in constant fear that any complaint could result in summary eviction.

“The Renters’ Reform Bill is an opportunity to lay better foundations for a more equitable private rental market which provides better quality housing and helps tenants feel more settled in their homes.”

Press Release: Money doesn’t always buy you the best energy supplier, warns Citizens Advice

Ahead of Ofgem’s price cap increase, the latest edition of the Citizens Advice star rating (http://bit.ly/CitizensAdviceStarRating) – which ranks domestic energy suppliers on customer service – reveals that money doesn’t always buy good service.

Citizens Advice analysis shows expensive doesn’t always mean good and cheap doesn’t always mean bad. Of the 20 cheapest deals with energy suppliers, only five tariffs are with suppliers in the bottom third of the star rating table, whereas 10 tariffs are with suppliers in the top third.

With the energy price cap having been increased by £96 to £1,138 from 1st April 2021 for default tariff customers, the charity is encouraging people to consider switching suppliers to get a better deal. Doing so could save an average household up to £200 a year and secure a supplier with better customer service.

Citizens Advice research shows that nearly a quarter of energy customers – equivalent to over six million households – are worried they’ll struggle to pay their energy bills because of the pandemic. With bigger winter bills arriving in the coming weeks for many customers, it’s critical that people are able to easily access support from their supplier. The charity is calling on poor performers in the star rating table to improve their customer service – including tackling billing errors and difficulty in contacting suppliers.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Officer at Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“At a time when so many people are facing job losses and financial trouble, it’s unacceptable that energy bills are another source of stress. With the rise in the energy price cap, many will have to pay more and rightly expect a decent service. Suppliers must step up to give their customers what they deserve.

“Everyone should consider whether they are getting value for money from their supplier – paying more doesn’t always mean you will receive a better service. Don’t put up with it if it’s not good enough. Shop around if you can.”

Case Study:

A dad-of-two started receiving high energy bills when the family moved home in May last year, but his energy company didn’t respond when he tried to question the amounts.

He said:

“In October, I got a bill for £3,000 too much. I contacted the Citizens Advice consumer service and they helped me put in a formal complaint. The bill was sorted and everything was okay.

“Unbelievably, in January this year, another bill came for £650. I was so shocked. I have been contacting the company since January and no one has called me back or replied to my email.

“I’m so frustrated at the amount of time I’ve spent chasing, and nothing has been done. I thought it had been resolved.”

18 people helped every minute: What Citizens Advice data shows about the year everything changed

Citizens Advice is warning that debt is the looming problem of the pandemic. As the one-year marker since lockdown began approaches, the charity has charted a worrying increase in the need for advice, food bank referrals and charitable grants.

The charity’s 12 months of pandemic data maps the waves of demand for different types of advice during its busiest ever year (1). In this time, there have been more than 60 million views of its self-help advice pages, and its frontline advisers have given one-to-one advice to two million people – 18 people every minute.

Fuel debts and CCJs. The number of people wanting debt advice dropped sharply during the first lockdown. Emergency protections meant they could postpone seeking help while they tackled more immediate day-to-day issues. Since June, the numbers have been steadily increasing. There have been steeper rises in the need for charitable support, help with fuel debts and searches around County Court Judgements (see graphs one to three). Without further interventions, Citizens Advice expects debt issues to increase.

Wills. In a stark reminder of the human cost of this pandemic, the charity also saw a big rise in views of its web pages on wills and deaths. An acute increase during the first wave of the pandemic was followed by an even greater increase during the winter lockdown, mirroring the higher death toll of the second wave.

Redundancy. In terms of redundancy, Citizens Advice saw a staggering increase in the need for help throughout the first lockdown, but this nosedived as the initial extension to the furlough scheme extension was mooted (see graph four).

People’s questions about the furlough scheme also changed. From March to May 2020, they were largely around working and being made redundant while on furlough, but as people became used to the scheme the questions changed to getting a second job. As the third lockdown and homeschooling took hold, the focus was instead on if people could ask to be furloughed (see graph five).

Universal Credit. Demand for the charity’s Help to Claim Universal Credit service mirrored the initial surge in applications for the benefit, which flattened from May onwards. During the past 12 months, Citizens Advice has seen a change in the people seeking support with applications, with women and under 35s making up a bigger proportion, but a fall in the proportion of disabled people.

The charity, which was formed in response to the outbreak of World War Two, was already offering remote advice before the pandemic, and so was well-placed to adapt as the crisis took hold. In 2020 it helped 77% more people by phone, 83% more by webchat, and 41% more by email compared to the previous year.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“Our data shines a light on how people’s worries and fears have changed throughout this pandemic.

“It has given us early warnings of the problems ahead, and that alarm is now signalling the return of debt problems as people deal with the fallout of job losses, lower wages and less stability.

“Behind the numbers are the individuals who have been buffeted by a wave of problems triggered by the pandemic. Our frontline advisers will continue to be there to support them, but as a nation we must ensure no-one is left behind on the road to recovery.”

The stories behind the data: ‘I can’t always afford food – I’m worried about how I’ll survive’

Lisa, 43, has worked in the travel industry for most of her life, but in March she was told to shield and furloughed. In October, she was made redundant when her team was cut from nearly 50 people to five.

She said: “For the first time in my life I had to apply for benefits. My Universal Credit and Jobseekers’ Allowance doesn’t cover all my bills. There’s always something that
I’m not able to pay in full. I’m now in council tax arrears and I’m behind on a loan.

“I can’t always afford food and I’m really worried about how I am going to survive.

“Citizens Advice has helped me access energy and food vouchers and are helping me with my debts.

“I apply for jobs everyday but for every job there’s about 100 people applying. It’s such a difficult time and I just hope that I can get a job and get my life back on track.

‘Our daughter pays our energy bill but we’re still left with nothing once we pay the others’

In 2019, Kish left her job to become her mum’s full-time carer. Her husband’s earnings as a self-employed security worker covered their outgoings, but in March 2020 his work dried up.

She said: “At the end of April we realised that my husband wouldn’t be getting any work, so out of sheer desperation we applied for Universal Credit.

“When we received our first payment we realised that we wouldn’t have enough money to pay all of our bills and buy food.

“We had to turn to one of our children who is fortunate enough to be working and ask for help. Our daughter started paying our energy bill but we are still left with nothing once we pay everything. We’ve cut back on everything, we don’t buy treats, haven’t bought new clothes, nothing!

“As a result of having such a drop in our income we are now in rent arrears of just under £800. Thankfully our housing officer is understanding and has set up a repayment plan of £10 per month.”

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Press Release: Price control is a win for consumers, says Citizens Advice

Citizens Advice has responded to today’s announcement by Ofgem about the next price control for local electricity networks (DNOs), known as RIIO-ED2.

Nicky Willshere Chief Executive of Ipswich Citizens Advice, says:

“In the face of appeals by other energy networks over their price control, Ofgem has stood its ground by continuing to limit shareholder returns. This is a win for consumers. Energy networks have made billions in excess profits during the current price control and it is vital this isn’t repeated.”

Background

Citizens Advice research (http://bit.ly/EnergyConsumersMissingBillions – July 2017) showed that energy network companies were able to overcharge energy customers by £7.5bn during the current RIIO-1 price controls.

Citizens Advice previously established five principles (http://bit.ly/CitizensAdviceRIIO-2Frameworkconsultationresponse) which it believes need to be met if the RIIO-2 price controls are to deliver for consumers.

Press Release – Six-month extension to Universal Credit uplift ‘kicks the can down the road’

Citizens Advice has responded to an announcement in today’s Budget that the £20-a-week increase to Universal Credit will be extended for six months.

Nicky Willshere Chief Executive of Ipswich Citizens Advice, says:

“It will be a huge relief for people on Universal Credit to not face a cut to their benefits next month. But with a challenging recovery ahead of us, this is a stopgap.”

“A six-month extension kicks the can down the road, only to leave millions facing a financial cliff edge in the autumn.”

“We urge the government to think again. The Universal Credit uplift must be kept for at least a year to help people pick up the pieces from this crisis.”

Press Release – 16.5 million people hit by letter delays in January, finds Citizens Advice

Almost one in three people across the UK experienced a delay in sending or receiving letters during January 2021, new research by Citizens Advice has found.

The charity has had people get in touch with concerns that missing mail has seen them unable to pay bills, apply for benefits, and receive vital support from the charity’s advice service.

The charity also found that 7% experienced serious negative consequences of struggling to receive post, like being unable to pay a bill, or missing a GP appointment or job interview. This doubled (14%) for those who were self-isolating or shielding.

Citizens Advice has also seen a 365% increase in the number of people looking for advice on Royal Mail delays on its website in January, compared to January 2020. Indeed, some of the most affected by postal deliveries have been from the South East (36%).

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“We know Royal Mail have faced new pressures during the pandemic, and postal workers have worked tirelessly to ensure we can all stay connected. But letter delivery is a vital public service, relied on by many for bills and other critical information.

“Ensuring that people are able to receive letters at least once a week will provide reassurance to millions. We also urge Royal Mail to provide more transparency to people about what they can expect.”

Citizens Advice, the consumer advocate for the postal sector, is urging Royal Mail to ensure that letters are delivered weekly as a minimum, that delivery returns to normal levels as soon as possible, and that people are given clear information regarding how long delays could last in their area.

Price cap rise will be ‘heavy blow’ to household finances already hit by Covid

From 1 April 2021, Ofgem will introduce a new increase in the energy price cap, which will see it increase by £96 for default tariff customers, and by £87 for pre-payment meter customers.

According to Ofgem, default tariffs and pre-payment meters are already some of the more expensive energy options, and research shows that pre-payment meter customers are more likely to be living in fuel poverty.

However, Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich, adds that this rise not only comes during a “tough jobs market and essential bills rising”, but also the rise will come “at the same time as the £20 a week increase to the benefit is set to end”. The £20-a-week increase to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit is set to end on April 5.

To visualise the twinned effect of the price rise and the cut to the Universal Credit boost, the £20 uplift would cover nearly a whole week (six days) energy costs for a below average income household.

Indeed, in December, Citizens Advice research showed that 2.1 million households were behind on their energy bills, 600,000 more than in February 2020. That was with the reduced energy price cap and the £20 uplift. This could affect many of our clients, because since 1 March 2020, Citizens Advice has supported more than 350,000 people with Universal Credit.

As such, Nicky Wilshire argues that “now is not the time for the government to cut this vital lifeline”.

Student accommodation: what are your rights?

Citizens Advice has issued the following advice to students who may want to leave their accommodation before the end of the rental agreement.

If you are a student in halls of residence who wants to move out and end your contract. What are your rights?

Students who want to end their contract with the university and move out of halls of residence are unlikely to be entitled to a refund.

However, in the Spring when the national lockdown came into force, many universities did waive rent due on their own accommodation.

It might be possible to put forward a “frustration” argument if a student can’t access their accommodation, for example because campus has been shut down, or it is impossible or illegal for the student to travel to the accommodation.

This might also be relevant if the purpose of the accommodation is radically altered. For instance, if it was closely tied to a student attending a course in a particular location, and the provider is now delivering the whole course remotely.

However, the unprecedented nature of the pandemic means that legal arguments have not yet really been tested in the context of student contracts, and so it is not yet clear to what extent these arguments might succeed.

An argument that any contract is ‘frustrated’ (i.e. it is impossible to perform) is certainly less likely to succeed in a case where the accommodation continues to be available, but it is the tenant’s choice not to occupy it.

If you are a student in privately rented accommodation who wants to move out and end your tenancy. What are your rights?

Generally you are liable for any rent due until the end of your fixed term (and any guarantor may be pursued if you don’t pay).

Some tenancy agreements contain a break clause. But this would be unusual in a student tenancy agreement where the letting is intended to be for an academic year, and the landlord is only likely to be able to re-let it for the following academic year.

If you share accommodation with other people, then unless you each have a separate agreement, you are likely to be jointly and separately liable for rent.

This means that the landlord can pursue any of the tenants (or their guarantor) for any rent due under the joint agreement, regardless of which tenant failed to pay their share.

That said, it’s still worth trying to negotiate with your landlord, and they may agree to release you from the tenancy early, or to waive or reduce rent if you are not living in the accommodation.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Officer at Citizens Advice Ipswich says:

“It must be very frustrating for students that the academic year hasn’t started in the way they would have hoped.

“Unfortunately, there’s not much good news for students who decide to change households for the medium to long-term, by returning to their family home for example. It’s likely that in many cases they will be tied into their accommodation agreements and not entitled to any refund.

“It’s always worth getting in touch with your landlord and trying to negotiate. But realistically, if there is no obligation for them to release you from the contract, they may well be unwilling to do so.

“Where the landlord is the university, they may be more sympathetic to a short-term reduction in rent, or ending a contract early, if there is no longer any reason for you to remain in halls.

“However, it is early in the academic year, and it may be difficult to find alternative halls of residence accommodation if a student gives up their place, but later wishes to return.”

Citizens Advice: help for renters worried about eviction

The ban on evictions came to an end this weekend, and new figures from Citizens Advice suggest that concern is building amongst renters about the possibility of losing their home.

The number of people seeking help from Citizens Advice about issues to do with private rented properties increased by 43% between summer (June to August) 2020 and the same period last year.

The ban on evictions comes to an end this weekend, and new figures from Citizens Advice suggest that concern is building amongst renters about the possibility of losing their home.

The number of people seeking help from Citizens Advice about issues to do with private rented properties increased by 43% between summer (June to August) 2020 and the same period last year.

Citizens Advice Ipswich helped people with over 380 issues relating to housing and or rent arrears between March and September.

Over the same period, the number of visits to Citizens Advice’s webpage “Dealing with Rent Arrears” more than doubled year on year.

Previous research from the charity has suggested that over a million people have fallen behind on their rent due to Covid-19 across England and Wales.

Nelleke van Helfteren, Deputy Manager at Citizens Advice, shares the top five ‘need-to-knows’ for renters* in England worried about staying in their home.

Find out where you are in the process

“If your landlord wants to evict you from your privately rented home there are three stages they’ll have to go through. First, they’ll need to serve you with a notice. When this expires, they need to go to court to get a possession order, and finally apply for a bailiff visit to evict you. It’s really important to know where you are in that process.

“If your landlord has not yet given you a formal notice then you won’t be evicted for many months. If your landlord has already got a possession order and applied for a bailiff date, you might be evicted with 14 days notice.”

If you haven’t received notice yet but are worried about eviction

“If you haven’t yet been given notice, but are worried about the possibility, talk to your landlord. Explain the effect that coronavirus has had on your household and income. Ask if they’ll accept reduced payments, or let you pay back arrears at a rate you can afford.

“Both the government and the landlords’ body the NRLA have asked landlords to be sympathetic to tenants affected by the pandemic.

“You should also make sure you’re receiving all the benefits you might be entitled to.”

If you’ve received a notice

“The rules on the notice your landlord must give have changed — it may now be up to six months depending on when the notice was served.

“The notice must also be in a specific form, so make sure you have a copy and get it checked. Your local Citizens Advice is one place that can help, either in person or via email. If the landlord hasn’t followed other rules during your tenancy this might also mean that the notice is invalid.

“Your landlord can only make a claim to court after the notice ends. You don’t need to leave by this date, but going to court might mean costs are added to your debt if the notice is valid.”

If your notice is expiring and you’re due to go to court

“After 20 September, courts will start hearings again. If your landlord started the claim after 3 August, you’ll be given a court date automatically, otherwise the landlord will need to serve a ‘reactivation notice’ to restart proceedings.

“Return your defence form if you want the court to consider your evidence or allow you extra time in the property. Supply any evidence of information which you gave your landlord about the effect of Covid-19 on your household and of any payments you’ve made.

“The court will look at the information provided by you and the landlord and decide whether to make an order for possession. In some cases you might be able to stay if you can agree to affordable repayments, but the court has no discretion to allow you to stay if you’ve had a valid Section 21 notice – so-called ‘no-fault eviction’.

“If the possession order is granted, it will usually ask you to leave within 2 to 6 weeks.”

If you’ve had a possession order and are facing eviction

“If the court had already decided your case before the eviction ban started (27 March 2020), you may be given 14 days notice after 20th September that bailiffs will carry out an eviction.

“You should seek urgent advice – from Citizens Advice or another housing charity – about whether there’s any way to prevent or delay the eviction, or about finding alternative accommodation.”

*The advice applies to tenants in private rented accommodation and does not include lodgers.

Even if people are able to follow this advice, Citizens Advice fears that many renters will struggle with arrears built up during the pandemic.

The charity, in a coalition that includes the landlord body the NRLA and housing charities, is calling for direct financial support for people behind on their rent because of Covid-19 – either through grants or government-backed interest-free loans. Citizens Advice is also calling for reforms that give judges more discretion to allow tenants to stay in their homes.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“Neither renters nor landlords can afford to be saddled with long-term arrears as a result of coronavirus.

“The government must urgently consider direct financial support to help renters clear their debts and stay in their homes, and so make good its promise that no renter will be evicted because of coronavirus and meanwhile we are here to help people with questions or concerns. Call us on Suffolk Adviceline 0300 330 1151”

Citizens Advice Ipswich: Seven things to check if you’re at risk of redundancy

Citizens Advice Ipswich has helped people with 740 issues relating to employment issues since lockdown.

Pay, redundancy, furlough and contract questions are the top issues it has dealt with during the pandemic.

Nicky Wilshere, Chief Officer of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“We have helped people with a huge range of issues since lockdown, but we know that as the furlough scheme draws to an end, lots of people may be feeling worried and need advice.

“If you’re at risk of redundancy, it’s important to know you do have rights to help protect you from unfair dismissal and to ensure you’re paid what you’re owed.

“It’s completely understandable that you may find the rules and procedures overwhelming, but you don’t have to face redundancy alone. We are here to help.”

For information and advice, contact Citizens Advice Ipswich Adviceline on 0300 330 1151.

Citizens Advice Ipswich’s seven things to check if you’re at risk of redundancy

1. Check if your redundancy is fair. There are rules to protect you from being discriminated against, and for being picked for redundancy due to an unfair reason.
For example, although you can be made redundant while pregnant or on maternity leave, you cannot be made redundant because you’re pregnant or on maternity leave. If you are this counts as “automatic unfair dismissal” and discrimination.
Examples of unfair reasons for redundancy can include being picked because you work part-time or you made a complaint about health and safety.
See Check if your redundancy is fair on our public website citizensadvice.org.uk for more information.

2. Check how much redundancy pay you get. You’re entitled to statutory redundancy pay, which is the minimum the law says you’re entitled to, if you’ve been an employee for two years. The amount you will get depends on your age and how long you have worked for the company. You won’t get statutory redundancy pay if you’ve worked for the company for less than two years, are self-employed or are in certain professions such as the armed forces or police.
You may also lose out on statutory redundancy pay if you turn down a suitable alternative job from your employer without a good reason. Your employer may pay extra money on top of the statutory amount you’re entitled to – this is called contractual redundancy pay. Some employees may be entitled to contractual redundancy pay even though they are not entitled to statutory redundancy pay.

3. Furloughed? Make sure you get 100% redundancy pay. If you were furloughed and then made redundant, your redundancy pay should be based on your normal wage.
If you were paid 80% of your wages while on furlough, your redundancy pay should be based on your full wage.

4. Check your notice period. If you’ve worked for your employer for at least a month you’re entitled to a paid statutory notice period. If you’ve worked there for more than a month but less than two years, you have to be given a week’s notice. For two years or more, it’s a week for each full year you have worked, up to a maximum of 12 weeks. You may be entitled to a longer notice period as part of your employment contract. Your notice period only starts when your employer says you’ll be made redundant and gives you a finishing date – not when your employer says you’re at risk of redundancy.
Your employer might decide to give you notice pay instead of your notice period – this is called ‘pay in lieu of notice’.

5. Check your holiday pay. You’ll be paid for any holiday you have left over when you leave. This should be at your normal rate’s pay, even if you’re currently furloughed on 80% of your pay. You can ask to take holiday during your notice period, but it’s up to your employer to decide if you can take it then. Your employer can also tell you to use up any holiday you have left over, but they must give you you notice. The notice must be at least twice as long as the holiday they want you to take.

6. You might be entitled to paid time off to look for work. If you’ve worked for your employer for two years at the end of your notice period, you’re likely to be entitled to ‘reasonable’ time off to apply for jobs or go on training. You can take the time off at any time in normal working hours and your employer can’t ask you to rearrange your work hours to make up the time off. When taking time off to look for work, you’ll be paid at your normal hourly rate, but only for up to 40% of a week’s work – for instance for up to two days if you work a five day week. See preparing for after redundancy for more information.

7. Check if you’ve got legal help via your home insurance. Often people get ‘legal expenses cover’ as part of their home insurance package, but many don’t realise they can get free legal help to challenge their redundancy if they think it’s discriminatory or unfair. It’s worth checking the terms and conditions and speaking to your insurer if unsure.

If you have a trade union at work, you could also contact them. Your union can help you work out if you’ve got a claim, and support you through the process, for example by going to meetings with you or negotiating on your behalf.

You can visit Citizens Advice’s pages on leaving a job for further information and advice.