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Job Opportunity – HealthWatch Project Manager

On behalf of Citizens Advice Devon, CA South Hams presents an exciting opportunity to join the dynamic team that delivers Healthwatch in Devon, Plymouth and Torbay (HWDPT).  Working closely with colleagues at Colebrook SW and Engaging Communities SW, the post holder will play a vital role in developing and delivering local Healthwatch services, ensuring the patient voice is represented at all levels within the emerging Integrated Care System (ICS).

For further information click below for a job description and an application pack

Job description

Application Pack

Energy Price Hike

What to do if your energy supplier goes bust? 

  • Wait for your new supplier to contact you. They’ll explain what will happen with your account and when it will be moved. Contact your new supplier if you don’t hear from them within 2 weeks.
  • Don’t switch tariff or supplier until your account is moved to the new supplier. You might find it harder to get any money you’re owed if you switch before this happens.
  • If your account is in credit your money is protected – Your new supplier will tell you how you’ll be paid back.
  • If you pay by direct debit, don’t cancel it straight away. Wait until your new account is set up before you cancel it.
  • If you have an online account, it’s a good idea to log into it, check your balance and download any bills.

Before your new supplier contacts you, you should:

  • take meter readings – it’s useful to take a photo of your meter too
  • keep any old bills you have – these can help prove your payment history, credit balance or debt
  • make a note of your account balance – you’ll find this on your most recent statement

When you know who your new supplier is

  • Your new supplier will write to tell you when your new account has been set up. This should happen within a few weeks.
  • Your new tariff might be more expensive than the old one. You should contact your new supplier to make sure you’re on the best tariff for you.
  • You can switch if you’re not happy with your new supplier or tariff. You can do this without paying an exit fee.
  • If you get the Warm Home Discount, your new supplier will tell you if you can still get it. If you can’t get the Warm Home Discount with your new supplier, you can switch to a different supplier.

If you have a smart meter

  • Your smart meter could stop working in smart mode when you’re moved to the new supplier. This means it won’t send automatic meter readings. If you normally top up using an app, this could stop working too. Ask your new supplier how to do this.
  • If your new supplier can’t get automatic readings you’ll need to take readings yourself and send them manually.
  • You might need to switch to a different supplier if you want your meter to work in smart mode again. Before you switch, you should contact the supplier and ask if they’ll support your meter working in smart mode.

If you’re a prepayment customer

  • You should only top up in small amounts until your new account is set up. It’s best to pay only what you need to get through a few days.

This is because if you have a smart prepayment meter, there’s a chance that your credit could be wiped when your account is moved. You’ll get your money back if this happens, but this can take a long time.

Your new supplier should:

  • let you know how to top up your meter
  • provide a new prepayment meter if necessary – they shouldn’t charge you for this

Also:

  • Check where your nearest top-up point is – it might not be the one you’ve been using.
  • Your new supplier should tell you how much emergency credit you can get. It might be different from your previous supplier.
  • Your new tariff might be more expensive than the old one. You might be able to find a cheaper tariff if you switch to a different energy supplier. You won’t have to pay an exit fee.

If you were in debt to your old supplier

  • You’ll still have to pay this back.
  • Wait for your new supplier to contact you. If they’re taking on your debt, they’ll let you know.
  • If the new supplier isn’t taking on your debt, you’ll have to pay an administrator instead – this is an organisation that takes over a company that goes bust.

What can Citizens Advice do to help you?

  • Find out who your new supplier will be if yours has gone bust.
  • Help switch to a cheaper tariff when the situation settles
  • Help you apply for Warm Home Discount. Different suppliers have differing eligibility rules – if you are moved to a new supplier, you will need to check if you are still eligible.
  • Advise on many other ways to reduce your energy costs. In many cases, simple changes to the way you use energy in the home can save £100’s each year.

 

How to contact Citizens Advice

 

More info at

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/energy/energy-supply/problems-with-your-energy-supply/your-energy-supplier-has-gone-bust/

 

Money Saving expert

 

Nick White

Energy Adviser and Project Manager

Citizens Advice South Hams

Advice Column September

I’m going back to university and moving into a shared house with friends for the first time. Although I’m excited, I’m also a bit nervous as I’ve never rented from a private landlord before. The house looked fine when we viewed it, but that was months ago now and I’ve heard horror stories about dodgy landlords for student houses. What should I look out for when I move in?

Renting a house with friends is usually an exciting time. Most landlords are reasonable people who look after their properties and tenants well, but it’s always a good idea to know your rights.

Here’s a checklist of things to do when you first move in:

  • Make sure you have your landlord’s contact details. Your landlord is responsible for keeping your home in good condition and arranging repairs when they’re needed. They should be your first point of contact if anything goes wrong.
  • Make sure your deposit is protected. Check that your landlord has given you information about the scheme used to protect your deposit.
  • Take photos on the day you move in. It’s also worth asking your landlord or letting agent for an inventory, to check everything is in order. Use this to note down any problems and the condition of the furniture, kitchen, carpets, bathroom etc.
  • Check if you’re in a ‘house in multiple occupation’. If you’re living with two or more people who aren’t part of your family, and share a toilet, bathroom or kitchen with you, this is considered an HMO. This means your landlord must make sure your home meets certain safety standards. This includes making sure smoke alarms are installed and there’s a safe fire exit. The landlord must also ensure shared areas such as staircases and corridors are clean and in good repair. Some HMOs need to be licensed by the council – if you’re unsure whether this applies to your home, check with your local council.
  • Make sure your landlord gives you: a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate, an Energy Performance Certificate and a How to Rent leaflet.
  • Understand your tenancy agreement. It’s important to know who’s responsible for paying bills and what to do if there are any changes, like if someone wants to move out. The Citizens Advice website explains the different ways shared accommodation can be organised.

If you encounter a problem with the property, contact your landlord. They might not already be aware as they shouldn’t come in without your permission. If it relates to disrepair, for example if your heating system fails or there’s damp in the property, it’s best to put this in writing so that you have evidence if you need it later.

If your landlord is unresponsive or refuses to help, contact your student services or local Citizens Advice service for support. In serious cases, for example if your health or safety is at risk, you may be advised to contact the council.

Advice Column August

I’m a single parent and lost my job during the pandemic. My local Citizens Advice helped me apply for Universal Credit which has been really helpful to cover some of the income I’ve lost. But I’m very worried about the upcoming £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit – I don’t know how I’ll be able to pay for the school uniforms and shoes, especially as they grow so fast! Is there any other support out there to help plug the gap?

If you’re on a low income or employed, you might be able to get help with some of the costs of sending your child to school, including school meals, transport and uniform. It’s always worth talking to your local education authority to see what support is available as some of their resources and offerings can differ. The following information is for England.

Free school meals

 

Children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 automatically get free school meals. If you have older children you can apply for free school meals if you get certain benefits. In your case as you’re on Universal Credit and you applied after 1 April 2018 you would be eligible if you earn less than £7,400 a year without benefits. You can see the full list of eligibility requirements on the Citizens Advice website.

 

To apply for free school meals you need to contact your local authority, you can check the details at Gov.uk by typing your postcode in.

 

Transport

 

If your children are aged between five to 16, your local education authority might offer free or lower cost transport if you don’t live near school or your child’s unable to walk there. You need to apply to your local education authority for help.

 

Uniforms and other costs

 

Your local education authority might also be able to help with some other costs, like uniforms, music lessons or trips and activities. There may also be local charitable schemes to help with these costs, it’s worth checking with the school to see if it knows of any. Schools can also sometimes also advise on finding secondhand uniforms.

 

What’s next

 

If your child is staying in education after year 11, you must tell HMRC’s Child Benefit Office if you want to continue receiving child benefit and any extra support for children within means-tested benefits. When your child turns 16, HMRC will send you a letter asking whether your child will stay in education or training. You must reply to this letter to keep getting Child Benefit.

Advice Column July

I’ve heard that Universal Credit is going to be cut from September. I struggle to get by as it is and I’m really worried that if I lose £20 a week, I’ll get into serious debt. I’m already behind on some of my bills. What can I do to avoid things getting worse?

 

You’re not alone in this – there is support available.

 

Firstly, depending on your situation, you might be able to ask to have your Universal Credit paid differently – these are called ‘alternative payment arrangements’. This might be an option if you’re in debt or rent arrears, among other reasons. To apply for an alternative payment arrangement, call the Universal Credit helpline on: 0800 328 5644

 

If you’re behind on some of your bills, the first step is to make a list of how much you owe and add up how much you need to pay each month.

 

You now need to prioritise your debts. We have advice on our website to help you do this. Some bills can cause you more problems than others if you don’t pay them. Rent or mortgage arrears, energy bills and council tax are your priority debts as there can be serious consequences if you don’t pay them.

 

Be sure to get in touch with the organisations you owe money to. Not everyone feels confident to do this, but they might be able to help by letting you pay smaller amounts or taking a break from payments. Many organisations have put in place protections for people who’ve struggled to pay their bills during the pandemic.

 

The government-backed Breathing Space scheme could also give you extra time. If you’re eligible, you could get 60 days where your creditors can’t contact you, take action to make you pay, or add interest and charges to your debt. You’ll need to get advice from a debt adviser first – they’ll check all your debts to see if they’re covered by the scheme.

 

Finally, it’s always a good idea to have a budget – take a look at the budgeting tool on our website and make sure you’re getting all the income you’re entitled to.

 

Everyone’s circumstances are different, particularly when it comes to managing personal finances. If you need more specific support or don’t feel able to manage your situation alone, call our debt helpline: 0800 240 4420

Advice Column June

I’ve got tickets to an event at the end of June, but given the recent government announcements on delays to the rules relaxing I don’t think it can go ahead. The organiser hasn’t reached out yet to explain next steps. What can I do?

Ticket holders who change their mind about going to see an event, like a concert that is still going ahead, have no legal right to a refund.

If, however, the event is cancelled, your refund rights will depend on how you bought the ticket. Email the organiser or check their website or social media profiles to see if there’s an update about the event.

If you bought your ticket from an official seller and the organiser cancels, moves, reschedules, or makes the event behind closed doors, you should get a refund. This is the case even if it is cancelled due to a government ban on large events. The official seller is the best person to ask about how to get a refund.

If you’re having no luck getting a refund check to see if the seller is a member of the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR). If they are, you can use STAR’s complaints procedure. STAR members should receive a refund at face value if the event is cancelled and the organiser has agreed to refunds.

If you bought your ticket from a ticket-reselling website, refunds will depend on the site’s terms and conditions.

If you bought from a private seller and the event is cancelled or rescheduled then it is unlikely you will be able to recover your money. We still recommend you contact the seller.

If you’re due to go to an event, keep checking the information from the official seller or organiser to ensure you’re up to date.

Unfortunately we’ve found that in these situations scammers prey on those who are affected.

If your event is cancelled and people or companies offer their services to try to recover money on your behalf, make sure that you’re looking out for the signs of a potential scam.

Citizens Advice South Hams launches exciting new video advice service

Citizens Advice South Hams are launching their new Advice Via Video service which
enables clients to contact an advisor from the comfort of their own home. The new
channel, which can be accessed from the charity’s website, is just like face-to-face but
without the hassle of travelling to a Citizens Advice office. The charity hopes this will
make it easier for people from across South Hams to get advice when they need it.

“We are incredibly excited to be able to offer this new service for our clients,” says
Teena Barrett, Operations Manager at Citizens Advice South Hams. “It will mean clients
can speak to one of our trained advisers from wherever they are.”

“The link from our website takes clients into a virtual waiting room, where they will then
be connected to an advisor. It’s completely secure and requires no data to be stored.”

Advice Via Video uses a secure internet conferencing platform similar to Skype or
Facetime. Just like other Citizens Advice services it is completely free to use. Privacy is
maintained as each client is given their own private video room which only advisors can
enter.

Janie Moor, Chief Officer at Citizens Advice South Hams says, “This new way of
contacting us is particularly aimed at those in remote and rural locations across the
South Hams who would previously have struggled to travel to a face-to-face
appointment. We know that many people needing our help face complex situations,
and our video service is designed to provide the same approach as face-to-face but
without the need to travel.

Advice Via Video does not replace the charity’s existing access points but adds a new
way for people to contact them.

“It is essential that our service is as accessible as possible as we begin to emerge from
the pandemic, continues Janie Moor. “Advice Via Video is simple, convenient and as easy
as making a phone call, but with the added benefits of face-to-face communication. If
you have any kind of worry or issue at all, jump onto our website, click on the Advice Via
Video link and an adviser will speak to you as soon as they are available. It’s that easy.”

Citizens Advice offers free, confidential, and impartial advice to anyone on issues such
as debt, benefits, employment, housing, and health. Advice Via Video is available as a
virtual drop-in service between 10am – 1pm and 2pm – 3.30pm, Monday to Friday.
Alternatively, you can see an advisor in person at one of the outreaches in Totnes, Kingsbridge, Dartmouth, and Ivybridge set to re-open by mid-June, email them via the
website or call 0808 278 7948.

To access Advice Via Video or for more information about Citizens Advice South Hams
visit their website www.southhamscab.org.uk.

Problems with a contractor?

I’ve been saving up to have my kitchen redone, but I’m a bit worried about it. Last time I had any work done on the house, it took more than double the time I thought it would and ended up costing me a fortune. I’m looking for a different builder this time, but how will I know I can trust them?

Many of us will take advantage of the warmer weather and bank holiday weekends coming up to improve our homes, and it’s important to make sure the job goes well. Here are some steps you should take when choosing a trader:

  • Find a Trading Standards ‘approved trader’ – use the internet to search for one in your area or the Government’s approved trader scheme TrustMark.
  • Get references or recommendations – ask people you know or ask the person you hire for examples of work they’ve carried out in the past. Try to avoid contractors who won’t give references – it’s a sign they could be dishonest.
  • Find out if they are a current member of a trade body – trade bodies have codes of practice and can help resolve problems if things go wrong, so check your trader is a member. Ask who they’re registered with and then check the trade body’s website.
  • Only use certified traders for gas and electrics – it’s dangerous to use someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Check the Gas Safe Register for a list of traders and use a registered electrician who can certify their own work. When you’re having a kitchen fitted, it’s worth checking whether the person you’ve hired will be doing the electrical or gas work themselves. If not, check who they will be using and whether they’re registered.
  • Get a written quote – this is different to an estimate. A quote is legally binding and the builder can’t change it without a good reason – for example, if you ask for extra work to be done. Try to compare quotes from a number of contractors to make sure you’re getting a fair price.
  • Get a written contract – this should cover exactly what you’re paying for and everything you’ve agreed on, like timings, payments, who will pay for materials and subcontractors.
  • Think carefully about payment – opt to pay in stages rather than upfront. Where possible, try to pay by card as this can afford you extra safeguards if something goes wrong.
  • Keep copies of receipts – also keep your written contract as evidence, as well as photos of any problems if they arise.

If you have a problem with a contractor, and you’re not sure what to do or where to go, call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline 0808 223 1133.

Problems with your energy bills?

My energy bill really shot up last month. I don’t feel like I’ve been using any more heating or electricity than usual, so I’m worried I’m being overcharged. I’ve tried to contact my energy supplier for support, but no one ever seems to answer the phone or respond to my emails. I’ve waited on hold for nearly an hour several times before giving up. What should I do?

It’s normal for your energy bills to change depending on the time of year and how much gas and electricity you’re using. But if your bills seem strangely high, then it’s important to investigate why.

Firstly, check your meter is working properly and your usage has definitely not gone up, even accidently. Also check what heaters you have and whether you’re using them correctly. Night storage radiators and immersion heaters in particular can cause very high bills if used incorrectly.

There are a few things worth looking into. It could be that your bill is an estimate, in which case you need to give your supplier a new meter reading. If it’s not an estimate, check your last meter reading to see if it matches the one on your bill. If you still don’t have an answer, your supplier might have raised their prices. In any case, you’re doing the right thing to contact them.

Customer service varies between suppliers and unfortunately we hear of many bad experiences similar to yours. We also know the problem has worsened during the pandemic. If you’re struggling to get through to them, you could make a formal complaint. We offer advice on how to do this and things to consider first.

We publish a comparison table every three months which rates suppliers’ customer service, based on things like telephone wait time, email response time and the accuracy of their bills. Have a look for yours to see how they fare against others. If they’re low on the list, consider switching to a different one.

If you’d like to talk it through with someone, get in touch with your nearest Citizens Advice for support or contact the consumer helpline.

Covid scams are on the rise – here’s how to spot them

January Advice Column – Coronavirus Scams

“I’m really worried about my elderly relatives being targeted by coronavirus scams – are there any warning signs that I can tell them to look out for? What should they do if they think that something is a scam?”

Unfortunately, we’ve seen an increase in scams since the beginning of the pandemic, so it’s good to be thinking about the steps you can take to help protect friends and family.

Common scams we’re seeing are about bogus testing kits, coronavirus vaccinations and government refunds or fines. You should watch out for messages about coronavirus from unusual email addresses or phone numbers, and shouldn’t click on any links. Be aware that you won’t be asked to pay for coronavirus vaccinations – they are provided for free by the NHS.

Here are some general warning signs to look out for:

  • You suspect you’re not dealing with a real company – for example, if there’s no postal address
  • You’ve been asked to transfer money quickly or to pay in an unusual way – for example, by iTunes vouchers or through a transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union
  • You’ve been asked to give away personal information like passwords or PINs
  • You haven’t had written confirmation of what’s been agreed

If you think something is a scam you should hang up the phone, close the website, or shut the front door. Never feel pressured to make a decision straight away, and don’t give out personal details or money unless you’re certain that they can trust the person. If you feel threatened or unsafe you can ring 999.

For help with online scams, contact a Citizens Advice Scams Action adviser by calling 0808 250 5050. For more information about other types of scams, visit the Citizens Advice website

Citizens Advice Wills Week 2020

This annual event takes place in September and helps raise much needed funds for the local charity to help train its army of volunteers in advising and helping local people who need advice on debt, employment, benefit and disability entitlement, as well as many other issues. This year in March the charity had to drastically change its way of operating due to Covid 19. Almost overnight it moved to home working, retraining its volunteers so they could carry on working throughout the long lockdown period.

Janie Moor, CEO of Citizens Advice South Hams says, “We help thousands of local people find a way out of their problems, one of them is what happens when a close family member dies. We have seen heart breaking situations where someone has died and a will hasn’t been updated, leaving families in very difficult circumstances. Everyone should make sure they have a legally valid and witnessed will. Thanks to our supporting partners this is a fantastic opportunity to do just that and I would encourage anyone who has not got a will to take the step.”

If you die without making a will, money, property and possessions will be allocated in a way defined by law and possibly not how you would have wished. Unmarried partners and partners who have not registered a civil partnership cannot inherit. Also any existing will is no longer valid once you marry, so anyone wanting to leave assets to anyone other than their wife, husband or civil partner needs to make sure they have an up to date will.

For one week from the 21st – 25th September anyone can have a will written for free but will be asked to make a donation to Citizens Advice South Hams. Practices taking part are Start Point Law and Beers Solicitors in Kingsbridge and Wollens Full Spectrum Law in Dartmouth.

To make an appointment ring one of the participating practices directly and quote Citizens Advice Wills Week. The offer is only available to those who wish to make a simple Will which would typically include basic gifts of cash, property, assets, or family heirlooms to beneficiaries.

Suggested donations to Citizens Advice would be £100 for an individual or £150 for a joint will, a significant saving. Appointments are vital, so anyone thinking of taking the offer up is advised to book well ahead. All participating practices observe Covid19 safety concerns.
Contact information for participating practices are –

Beers Solicitors – tel 01548 857000 or email sonia.hems@beersllp.com 29, Fore Street, Kingsbridge, TQ7 1AA

Start Point Law – tel 01548 288008 or email info@startpointlaw.co.uk 108, Fore Street, Kingsbridge, TQ7 1AW

Wollens Full Spectrum Law – tel 01803 832191 or email michael.davies@wollens.co.uk 10, The Quay, Dartmouth, TQ6 9PT

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I was impressed with the attitude, depth of knowledge and the attention to detail that was given to my problem. They took great care in explaining my rights, options, and responsibilities in resolving it. I would recommend Citizens Advice to anyone with a problem as the help is wide-ranging.

Jake – April 2022

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