Citizens Advice brings cheer to Suffolk this Christmas

Citizens Advice charities have been supporting people in Suffolk this Christmas by helping to solve problems that are a burden to households. The charities helped 22,000 people last year, and say that Christmas can be a difficult time of year for vulnerable people.

This month, Citizens Advice helped a father who approached his local office when his primary school age daughter was placed into his care by social services.

The child’s mother was experiencing a mental health crisis and the child was removed from her care after involvement from the police.

The child was taken to her father immediately, without any of her belongings and with only the clothes she was wearing.

The local Citizens Advice arranged a food parcel for the family and applied for a grant from the local Lions Club so that the father could buy her clothes.

An Adviser arranged for the child to receive a Christmas present through a scheme run by the local Salvation Army and passed her thank you card to the Lions Club.

The local Citizens Advice is helping the father to claim the child benefit and associated benefits that he is entitled to so that he can provide care for his daughter.

Citizens Advice are also helping vulnerable people in Suffolk to heat their homes this winter, in partnership with Suffolk Community Foundation.

Citizens Advice Ipswich administers applications for the Surviving Winter Grant for the whole of Suffolk.

So far, over £20,000 donated by the generous people of Suffolk has been shared in the form of over 170 grants to older people across the County and that is only the beginning of the project. Surviving Winter partners are aiming to reach a target of £150,000 in donations to be awarded to around 800 households to help keep them warm over the winter.

As well as providing this much-needed extra funding, Citizens Advice across the county gives additional help with energy costs, benefits applications and money advice. This helps to keep people well in their homes.

In this year alone, Citizens Advice in Suffolk has dealt with £9m of debt, helping to stabilise the financial situation for families in 2018.

Helping to manage debt leads to people getting some control back in their lives, and allows them to budget for the everyday essentials as well as occasional extras like Christmas presents.

Nicky Willshere of Citizens Advice Ipswich said,

“People turn to us when their problems are difficult to solve, and this is even more important at Christmas, which can be a difficult time for many.”

“Volunteers are the backbone of our service. Last year, 425 volunteers gave their time at their local Citizens Advice in Suffolk to help people in need. Thanks to them, we helped 22,000 people.”

“We are grateful to all of those who enable us to help those in need, including volunteers, funders and charity partners.”

“We receive numerous thank you cards and small gifts from grateful clients at this time of year. Though that is not why we do it, it is great that our volunteers and staff are recognised for their hard work throughout the year.”

“One client put it better than I can – thank you to everyone for helping my family get through this difficult time – I would not have known where to go if you weren’t here. Until now I didn’t know how hard it could be.”

Buyers need to beware as thousands of customers report being ripped off on online marketplaces, says Nicky Willshere, Chief Officer at Citizens Advice Ipswich.

More than 13,000 problems with purchases in England and Wales on online marketplaces were reported to the Citizens Advice consumer service last year.

Online marketplaces – websites where traders and private individuals list and sell products – are becoming increasingly popular for people trying to find the best deal.

As customers turn to online marketplaces in the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, Citizens Advice Ipswich is warning residents in Ipswich to be aware of the dangers.

This year’s National Consumer Week, which runs from 26 November to 2 December, focuses on customer rights when buying from an online marketplace. Citizens Advice Ipswich says people don’t always know they have fewer rights when they buy from a private seller, compared to if they buy from a business.

If you buy from a private seller the principle of “buyer beware” applies. This means while the seller can’t misdescribe the item, they can omit information. For example, if a laptop is described as being a silver laptop in “excellent working condition” but it’s faulty, you could ask for your money back. But if “excellent working condition” is missing from the description, you won’t be able to.

As part of National Consumer Week, Citizens Advice Ipswich suggests people check all the product information carefully before buying something on an online marketplace. They also recommend that shoppers take extra care, like reading previous reviews and saving screenshots of their purchases.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Officer said:

“Far too many people are being ripped off on online marketplaces. As part of National Consumer Week we want to make sure customers know what to look out for when making a purchase and their rights if something goes wrong.”

“With millions of people trying to find a bargain online on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, buyers need to beware when purchasing off online marketplaces.”

“To reduce the risk of being left out-of-pocket it’s a good idea to check the product information on these sites carefully before they make a purchase.”

Here are Citizens Advice’s tips for using online marketplaces:

Check the product details

This should include: photos; a description; cost of the item; delivery charges; contact details for the seller; and any cancellation rights.

It should be clear if it’s being sold by a trader or private seller – this is important as your rights are different.

It is wise to read previous reviews as these can often flag potential issues, but watch out for fake reviews. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Take screenshots of the item you want to buy

This will come in handy if the item you receive is different to what you saw on the website.

Use a payment method that protects you

You’ll have a better chance of getting your money back if there’s a problem by using a card or Paypal, particularly if it’s an overseas seller. Avoid paying by bank transfer.

Go back to the seller if there’s a problem

Explain what’s happened, how you’d like them to fix it and give a deadline for them to respond. If they don’t sort it out, see if there’s an alternative dispute resolution service that can help. Report them and the online marketplace to Trading Standards if you think the issue is unfair.

Getting your money back from a private seller

The product description needs to be accurate, but if information is missing you won’t be able to ask for your money back.

If the item doesn’t match the photos on the website, you may also have grounds to ask for your money back.

We need a regulator to rein in rule-flouting bailiffs, Citizens Advice Ipswich says

Citizens Advice Ipswich is throwing its weight behind a campaign for an independent regulator to crack down on badly behaved bailiffs.

New figures from Citizens Advice England and Wales and debt charity StepChange suggest that 850,000 of the 2.2 million people contacted by a bailiff in the last two years were victims of bailiffs breaking the rules.

Of the people affected by, or who witnessed a bailiff breaking the rules, 1 in 5 (18%) had seen unsympathetic treatment of someone with an illness or disability, 1 in 6 (17%) had a break-in threatened, and 1 in 10 had tools or a vehicle removed which were needed for their work.

In the last two years Citizens Advice Ipswich helped 196 people dealing with bailiffs for debts such as council tax arrears, parking fines, and magistrates’ court fines. And the frequency of client contacts concerning bailiffs is on the rise.

In one example, Citizens Advice Ipswich helped a client who was suffering with depression and anxiety after giving birth and was in arrears with her council tax. The bailiff refused to consider a payment arrangement and told her that if she didn’t pay up she would be arrested and her children taken into care. This caused the client’s mental health to deteriorate further.

Rule-breaking bailiffs often cause people more stress, anxiety and financial hardship, according to the research published on Tuesday. When someone had a negative experience with a bailiff:

  • 7 in 10 reported increased stress and anxiety
  • 1 in 2 experienced knock-on effects on their finances, with 1 in 6 people (17%) taking out additional credit to pay the bailiffs

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

“The government must step in and regulate the industry to prevent people suffering at the hands of bailiffs who flout the rules. It beggars belief an industry that can cause so much damage is not properly policed by a regulator. We see first-hand the widespread harm the actions of bailiffs and the companies they work for inflict on people and their families. It must stop. The evidence is clear, the Ministry of Justice has no option but to establish an independent bailiff regulator.”

Press Release – Citizens Advice services threatened by proposed withdrawal of County Council funding

Suffolk County Council has told Citizens Advice charities operating across the county that it is proposing to end its funding support.

The full council will vote in February on whether to withdraw the funding, which was worth £375,000 to Citizens Advice across Suffolk during 2017/18. Almost 22,000 people sought help from Citizens Advice in the county last year.

John Ashton, Chair of Sudbury and District Citizens Advice, speaking on behalf of the Citizens Advice network in Suffolk, said:

“While future funding is never guaranteed, we are dismayed that Suffolk County Council is proposing to withdraw all funding from Citizens Advice in the county.”

“We are seriously concerned about the impact of this proposal on our communities, especially on the most vulnerable. It would be very difficult to find alternative sources of funding in time to ensure continuity of service.”

“The Suffolk Trustees and Chief Officers will now consider all options for managing a potentially reduced budget, should the decision remain unchanged. We will work hard to deliver the best outcome that we can for the people of Suffolk.”

In a joint statement, the Chief Officers of Citizens Advice in Suffolk said:

“We are local charities and we rely on local support. The funding we receive from Suffolk County Council enables us to make a real difference in the lives of people across the county and we are very grateful for that.”

“Our top priority is always the people who need us. The number of people we see continues to grow and our dedicated team of staff and volunteers is committed to serving them.”

“National research shows that for every £1 invested in Citizens Advice we generate at least £1.88 in savings to government and public services and £11.43 in wider economic and social benefits.”

“If agreed, these cuts would be a significant reduction in our budgets and will lead to difficult choices. We will work closely with our partners, staff and volunteers to make the best decisions we can in the circumstances.”

This press release has been published on behalf of all Managers of Local Citizens Advice across Suffolk.

Disabled people in Suffolk can be more than £300 a month worse off under Universal Credit

Disabled people in Suffolk can be more than £300 a month worse off under Universal Credit, Citizens Advice in Suffolk reveals

Citizens Advice across the county have said that some disabled people in the area could be around £300 a month worse off under Universal Credit compared to the previous system.

The Citizens Advice across Suffolk has helped 3,500 people with Universal Credit since it was rolled out.

Of these, 1,160 were disabled or had a long-term health condition.

A report published by national Citizens Advice on Friday – Universal Credit for Single Disabled People – revealed a significant drop in financial support for some single disabled people in a range of circumstances.

This includes losses that can be more than £300 a month for working disabled people because of flaws in the design of the new benefit. The Work Allowance is meant to improve work incentives for disabled people in Universal Credit.

However, in practice, the Work Allowance can only be accessed through the Work Capability Assessment, which gives benefits awards to people unable to work, rather than for disabled people who can work.

This creates the situation where a worker must be assessed as not fit for work to receive targeted in-work support.

Citizens Advice across Suffolk are calling on the government to make changes to the design and the amount of financial support in Universal Credit to make sure disabled people aren’t penalised when they claim the new benefit.

Nelleke van Helfteren, Deputy Manager of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“We see the toll that Universal Credit can have on disabled people across Suffolk.”

“They can be hundreds of pounds worse off than under the previous system – even when they do get the support meant for them.”

“This money is desperately needed to cover key costs including essential bills and stop people falling into serious financial difficulty.”

“The government must fix Universal Credit and increase the financial support disabled people can receive under the new benefit.”

3Ds Universal Credit leaflet

Following our recent presentation at Citizens Advice National Conference we include this news item to help those who attended to find a pdf copy of our 3Ds leaflet for Universal Credit.

3Ds Universal Credit Leaflet

The guide is the result of the Ipswich & Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) and Citizens Advice Ipswich coming together to form the ‘3Ds’ Project.

The ‘3Ds’ in question are: Disability + Disadvantage = Duty.

This partnership was formed after ISCRE had identified problems being experienced by disabled or long term sick JSA claimants in looking for work because of their disability.

Because of this, many were being ‘sanctioned’ (losing benefits) for not complying with their job seekers agreements. Nationwide, the number of claimants sanctioned had increased by 64% with one in four of these identified as being disabled or long term sick. A total of 11% of JSA claimants in the East of England had been sanctioned.

Under the Equality Act 2010, the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) has a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled or long term sick claimants to overcome difficulties that are not faced by people who are not disabled.

The leaflet is aimed at both DWP staff and the jobseekers and their friends and family. It defines the meaning of disabled under the Equality Act, explains the legal duty of the DWP and includes a tear-off form for claimants to take to the job centre explaining their disability and any reasonable adjustments that should be made to their job seekers agreement.

A copy of the leaflet can also be found on our campaigns page.

Press Release: £19 billion owed in everyday bills, as Citizens Advice reveals it helps 1 person every 3 minutes with bailiff issues

Citizens Advice is calling for better regulation of unaccountable bailiff firms as it reveals households have fallen behind on their essential bills, such as council tax and utilities, by an estimated £18.9 billion.

Last year, the charity helped one person every 3 minutes with bailiff issues. In 2014, the government introduced reforms which were meant to protect people from unfair practices. Yet since then, Citizens Advice has seen a 24% rise in bailiff problems.

In July, MPs on the Treasury Select Committee said government and local authorities were “worst in class” for debt collection, and that bailiff use can cause additional problems.

Falling behind on household bills typically has more severe consequences than missing consumer credit repayments, like overdrafts and personal loans. People can face having their essential services cut off, can be kicked out of their home due to rent arrears or even face prison if they get behind on their council tax. Citizens Advice is concerned that aggressive tactics are also having serious knock-on effects, leading to further debt and mental health problems.

In one example, Citizens Advice helped a retired couple who – for the first time in their lives – had fallen behind on some of their essential bills and owed £700 in council tax. The bailiffs who came to collect the debt were aggressive and demanded the full amount immediately, saying they were going to call the police if the couple couldn’t pay. The couple are now afraid to open their front door.

Citizens Advice says it has seen a significant increase in the proportion of debt issues it helps people with that are related to household bill debts since 2011. Since then, problems with these kinds of debts have overtaken the number of consumer credit issues that people are seeking the charity’s help with.

Its figures show the people it helps with household bill problems tend to be in a more precarious financial position than those with consumer credit debts. The charity says people with household bill debt were 37% more likely to be out of full-time employment and almost 1 in 3 people (34%) had a mental health problem.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

One person every 3 minutes come to us for help with bailiff issues. Families are living in fear of a visit from the bailiffs, and small missed bills can skyrocket through excessive enforcement fees.

Our evidence shows aggressive tactics by bailiffs cause huge distress and can even push people further into debt. Families are going without essentials like food or electricity to meet their payments.

The Ministry of Justice has already announced a call for evidence into aggressive collection practices by bailiffs. They must use this to take strong action and introduce an independent bailiff regulator to fix this broken system.

Figures from the charity show:

  • UK households owe £18.9 billion to essential service providers and government in arrears. This includes tax credit overpayments of almost £7.5 billion, £2.84 billion owed to local authorities in council tax arrears and £2.20 billion owed to water companies.
  • Household debt has now overtaken consumer credit as the key money problem people bring to Citizens Advice.
  • Last year we helped people with 690,000 household bill debt problems, compared to 350,000 consumer credit issues.

Citizens Advice is calling for:

  • The government to commit to measuring the levels of household debt. The government should collect and report annually on the level of debt to government and to essential service providers – in a similar way to the Bank of England’s monthly statistics on consumer and mortgage lending.
  • The bailiff industry to be independently regulated. The Ministry of Justice should use its announced ‘crackdown on rogue bailiffs’ and 3 year review of the 2014 Taking Control Regulations, to bring bailiffs and bailiff companies under an independent regulator.

People who are concerned about their finances can contact Citizens Advice for budgeting and debt advice.

Why do scams work? Citizens Advice Ipswich explains some of the reasons

In the ongoing battle against SCAMS, Citizens Advice Ipswich is out and about in the town during June explaining to people why scams work and what we all need to look out for.

Visits to Ipswich Building Society, Whitton Fun Dog Day (Saturday 9 June), leaflets in our weekly Outreach surgeries and spots on BBC Radio Suffolk and Ipswich Community Radio are all part of our strategy to get the message out to as many people in the town as possible.

Nelleke van Helfteren, Deputy Manager at Citizens Advice Ipswich says: “unfortunately, there is a scam out there for everyone, whoever you are. The important thing is for us all to start to understand better what it is that scammers rely on to design an effective scam. We need to be more clued up on the tricks in a scammer’s playbook.”

Scammers use a range of tools to target the public:
They create a feeling of obligation – often contacting victims under the guise of being a figure of authority such as a doctor or a lawyer. They may also pretend to share a mutual friend or representing a well-known brand or company – “Dave who used to work with you gave me your number and suggested I give you a call….”

Scammers create a sense of urgency as they know we make worse decisions under stress and time pressure. Scammers can convince us that we need to act quickly to encourage victims to make decisions without thinking rationally, without consulting others and controlling our impulses.

Scammers appeal to our emotions – scams are designed to get an emotional response – this can be positive (eg excitement at winning the lottery or a prize) or negative (eg fear and anxiety about ‘fraudulent activity’ on your bank account.

Fraudsters make an art of understanding their target: they have different scams depending on the audience. They know that young people tend to feel immune from scams as they are computer savvy and ‘scams only work on old people’. This is not true. Every 15 seconds someone in the UK gets scammed. People who are well established in life can also feel that they are relatively confident in their ability to identify and protect themselves from scams due to their life experience. This group of people are likely to lose the highest amounts of money – average losses reported last year were around £20,000.

To help stop more people being fleeced by these types of scams, Citizens Advice Ipswich is sharing tips on how to spot them:

  • Be suspicious if you’re contacted out of the blue, even if it’s from a name you recognise
  • Don’t be rushed – you never need to make a decision straight away
  • If it sounds too good to be true it probably is
  • Never send money to someone you have never met
  • Never give out your bank details unless you are certain you can trust the person contacting you
  • Walk away from job ads that ask for money in advance
  • Genuine computer firms do not make unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer
  • Suspect a scam? Hang up, wait five minutes to clear the line or use another phone to call
  • Persuasive sales patter? Just say: “No Thank You”
  • Don’t suffer in silence – speak out about scams

Watch out for legal and financial scams, warns Citizens Advice Ipswich

People need to be on their guard against financial and legal scams. Ipswich Citizens Advice is showing people how to spot scams as it launches Scams Awareness Month.

A total of 1200 financial and legal scams were reported to the consumer service in the year ending April 2018 – a 6% increase on the year before.

The median loss for these scams was £330.

A range of investments scams were reported to the consumer service, including:

Cryptocurrency – Fake websites claim to offer cryptocurrency investments, like Bitcoin. Often, scammers will pretend that household names have endorsed the company to give it some legitimacy.

Binary options – Scammers pose as stockbrokers and get you to place bets on whether phoney shares will rise or fall within a certain date. They’ll promise big returns. You should check if they are on the FCA Register and not on the warning list of firms to avoid

Holiday timeshares – Scammers promise to buy your membership off you for an advanced fee.

Bogus solicitors – A scammer will intercept emails from a legitimate solicitor and pose as them. Scammers often strike when a property is being exchanged on and get the funds diverted to their bank account instead. Check if they are on the Solicitors Regulation Authority to see if they are genuine.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:
“Scammers can make for convincing white collar professionals, especially online, and are skilled at persuading people they are legitimate.

“The stakes are high with financial and legal scams as you can end up losing your savings or pension fund, which can put your long-term financial stability at risk.

“When you get approached about any investment, don’t rush into anything without making sure it’s legitimate first, particularly when you’re contacted out of the blue.”

To help stop more people being fleeced by these types of scams, Citizens Advice Ipswich is sharing tips on how to spot them:

  • Be suspicious if you’re contacted out of the blue, even if it’s from a name you recognise
  • Don’t be rushed – you never need to make a decision straight away
  • If it sounds too good to be true it probably is
  • Never send money to someone you have never met
  • Never give out your bank details unless you are certain you can trust the person contacting you
  • Walk away from job ads that ask for money in advance
  • Genuine computer firms do not make unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer
  • Suspect a scam? Hang up, wait five minutes to clear the line or use another phone to call
  • Persuasive sales patter? Just say: “No Thank You”
  • Don’t suffer in silence – speak out about scams

Citizens Advice Ipswich will be at a number of events through the month of June to help people understand what sorts of things to be aware of.

We will be at Whitton Dog Show – a Fun Dog Show, Castle Hill Park, Congreve Road, Ipswich, on Saturday 9 June. The show starts at 10:30 am and we will be there for the morning and early afternoon. Anyone who comes along can bring their dog and enter into the event as well.

We are also taking part in a session with Ipswich Building Society on Tuesday 5 June.