New phone app – help dealing with a trader
Date: 20 June 2012
Over half of British homeowners admit that they forget to ask the right questions when they invite traders into their homes to quote for a job.
TrustMark have just launched a free app for iPhones that prompts you to ask the right questions when having a conversation with a trader. In 11 easy steps, the app advises you what to think about and what your rights are.
The app allows you to:
- generate an instant record of your conversation with a trader
- be prompted to ask the right questions when a trader is in your home and may be quoting for a job (the ‘checklist’ approach helps you ask questions you might otherwise feel a bit awkward about, but which are essential to knowing about the firm and agreeing the work in question)
- record what is agreed using text, photos and recording audio
- email a copy of this conversation to yourself and the trader (creating a record which could help avoid disputes later on, or which could be contractually very helpful if a dispute should arise)
- get advice and tips at every stage, helping to inform you on what to look out for and about your consumer rights
- keep copies of previous conversations for all repair, maintenance and improvement jobs in or around your home.
It is best to get quotes from at least three traders before deciding who will do the work. Using this app, you can compare what you have recorded with quotes from other traders.
TrustMark is a not for profit organisation, licensed by the Government that signposts you to reputable local traders. You can search the TrustMark website to find local traders at www.trustmark.org.uk.
Download the app at www.trustmark.org.uk/apps
If you don’t have an iPhone, you can print a copy of the questions to ask at www.trustmark.org.uk/apps/print/
Tax credits renewal deadline
Date: 19 June 2012
If you've been getting tax credits, you should receive an annual review pack from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) by the end of June. HMRC call this a renewals pack.
You must make sure you look at this pack and fill in any forms you need to by 31 July. You must do this even if you are no longer getting any money or expect payments to end soon.
If you don't do this by 31 July:
- you will have to repay any money you've received since 6 April, and any overpayments form previous tax year
- if you're still getting payments, these will stop.
HMRC need you to look at the pack so that they can work out how much your payments should be for the current tax year and make sure they paid you the right amount for the last tax year.
Your annual review pack may contain an annual declaration and an annual review notice or just an annual review notice.
Read through the pack carefully to check that all the information about you is correct and whether you need to contact HMRC.
If you do need to contact HMRC, you can either do this by phone, or by sending your form back in the post to the Tax Credit Office.
If you don't get anything about your tax credits, you can contact the tax credit helpline on 0345 300 3900.
NatWest banking problems – what you can do
Date: 25 June 2012
Many NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank customers have been hit by an online banking problem which struck at the end of last week.
The RBS Group, which owns these banks, says the IT problem has now been fixed but some customers are continuing to experience problems. The knock-on effect for customers has included:
- wages or salaries not paid in
- not being able to pay rent, mortgage and other direct debit payments
- not having access to cash
- not being able to pay utility and other bills
- being hit with bank charges because of late bill payment
- the possibility of your credit rating being affected.
If you bank with NatWest, RBS orthe Ulster Bank, check to see if any payments due from an account have bounced.
If you've been affected:
- let the bank know as soon as possible. NatWest branches are staying open until 7pm on Monday 25 June, and until 6pm from Tuesday 26 June to Friday 29 June. Some Ulster Bank branches will be aslo open until 7pm till Friday 29 June
- if you're short of cash, ask the bank to help you out – the RBS Group has said they may be able to help some customers on a 'discretionary' basis
- if you've not been paid - talk to your employer to see if they can provide emergency help
- let any companies or organisations you need to pay know soon about the problem – especially TV licence, car insurance, mortgage companies and the council tax department. If you think the cash won't be available, ask if they can delay payment and refund any charges. Ask your bank to provide written evidence that any problems you have had were because of the computer problems and not down to you
- keep a record of how you've been affected – just in case you need to make a formal complaint later on - for example default charges and interest on credit cards if someone had to use one to pay for goods, services, or withdraw money. Put it in writing to your bank and keep a copy.
The RBS Group says it will refund all charges incurred as a direct result of the computer problem. This includes charges incurred by a third party - for example, if you were late paying a non-NatWest credit card or mortgage because your account wrongly showed there wasn't enough money.
If you're out-of-pocket due to a banking error and no fault of your own, you have certain rights. The independent Financial Ombudsman Service says that, whilst it can't comment specifically on the RBS situation, generally in situations like this a bank should put you back in the same position as you would have been in before the error occurred.
You don't bank with the RBS Group but have been affected
If you haven't received a payment due from an RBS Group customer, or your employer banks with RBS, RBS says it will offer help. It hasn't given details yet, but says it will announce these later in the week.
Your credit score has been affected due to a late payment
Ask for a credit report from the three credit reference agencies - Experian, Equifax and CallCredit. This costs £2.00 and will show if there is a default on your credit file because of the late payment of a bill. If there is a default on your credit file, talk or write to the company you owe money to, for example your mortgage company, and explain the reason why. Ask the company to remove the default on your credit file. You could include any evidence you have from your bank which shows the late payment was not down to you but a fault with the bank's computer system.
If the company you owe money to doesn't accept the reason for the late payment, you can apply to add a notice of correction to your credit file which explains the reason for the default.What happens if you're left out-of-pocket?
If you find you're left permanently out-of-pocket because of the computer problems and your bank won't offer any further help, you can make a complaint, using their internal complaints procedure.
You should be able to find details of the complaints procedure in your branch or on their website. If you can't find information about the complaints procedure, ask them to send it to you.
Follow each stage of the complaints process. The bank must investigate your complaint and give you a clear answer within eight weeks.
If the bank doesn't send you a response within eight weeks or you are still unhappy, you may be able to complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.How to contact NatWest, RBS or Ulster Bank
You can use the following telephone numbers to contact the affected banks:
RBS can be contacted 24 hours a day on the following numbers:
- personal customers – 08457 24 24 24 (from the UK); +44 131 549 888 (calling from abroad)
- business customers – 08457 121 121 (from the UK); +44 7547 121 121 (calling from abroad)
Natwest can be contacted 24 hours a day on the following numbers:
- personal customers – 08457 888 444(from the UK); +44 8705 888 444 (calling from abroad)
- business customers – 08457 11 44 77(from the UK); 44 8705 11 4477 (calling from abroad)
Ulster Bank can be contacted Monday to Sunday 8am-10pm (automated service available 24 hours a day) on the following numbers:
- a dedicated helpdesk for current issues is available - 0800 231 232 (8am-10pm)
- personal customers (Northern Ireland) – 08457 424 365 (from the UK); +44 289 053 8033 (calling from abroad)
Struggling to pay your energy bills?
You may have been shocked to find your energy bills have gone up again, despite this being a very mild winter. Even if you've cut back on how much you use, your bills may still be higher this year compared to last. You might notice this particularly if you pay by cash, cheque or you're on a pre-payment meter.
If you find yourself getting into debt with your energy supplier, Citizens Advice and Consumer Focus have put together the following five top tips to help you:
- Always contact your energy supplier as soon as you realise you might have trouble paying. Debts will build up and be harder to pay off the longer you leave them. Your supplier has a responsibility to help you if you have problems paying your bill.
- Tell your energy supplier what you can afford to pay – they have to take this into account in agreeing repayments of the money you owe.
- Ask your energy supplier, your local Citizens Advice Bureau or call the Home Heat Helpline 0800 33 66 99 to find out about other free energy help available. For example, you might qualify for a discount off your bill or free insulation to help your home stop leaking heat and cut your bills.
- Even if you are in debt you may still be able to switch to a cheaper deal with your current supplier, especially if you pay by cash, cheque or pre-payment meter. If you pay by pre-payment meter and have less than £200 of debt you can also switch to a cheaper deal with another supplier.
- Financial help is available which could make it easier to afford your bills - check you are receiving all of the benefits and tax credits you're entitled to by getting in touch with your local Citizens Advice Bureau or checking our Benefits section.
Tax allowance changes for people aged 65 and over in the Budget
There has been a lot of press coverage of the news in the Budget that the personal tax age allowance for people aged 65-74 will rise to £10,500 from April, and for those 75 and over will be £10,660 from April and that the allowances will be frozen at that point. This means that the £10,500 allowance will be frozen at that level for people born between 6 April 1938 and 5 April 1948, and the £10,660 allowance will be frozen at that level for those born before 6 April 1938.
It was also announced that from 6 April 2013, people who turn 65 on or after this date will no longer get an age allowance. This means that no-one born after 5 April 1948 will get an age allowance - they will stay on the basic personal allowance. And the higher rate for those aged 75 and over will be only for those born before 6 April 1938. HMRC estimates this will mean an average loss to someone aged 65 of £83 from April 2013. It also means that a large number of people aged 65 or over who would have been exempt from income tax because they received higher personal allowances will have to pay it from April 2013, and 300,000 may have to pay higher rate tax.
So, in addition to the rules about who can get the married couple’s allowance (where entitlement is limited to couples if one of them was born before 6 April 1935), there will be a range of tax allowances fixed by date of birth. Further information about the changes is available on the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group website at www.litrg.org.uk
Crisis loan changes
The government has announced changes to crisis loans from 9 April.
From that date:
the maximum crisis loan for living expenses for non-householders is reduced to 30% (from 60%) of the appropriate benefit personal allowance rate. It will remain at 60% for householders and people without accommodation crisis loans awarded because someone has been awarded child tax credit but has not yet received it will no longer count towards the limit of three crisis loans for living expenses in twelve months.
Tax credits are changing
If you get Child Tax Credit or Working Tax Credit, you could be affected by the changes to tax credits that are happening on 6 April.
The changes include the following:
- The limit of how much you can earn and still get Child Tax Credit is going down, from about £41,000 a year to about £26,000 if you've got one child or about £32,000 if you've got two children. However, this is just a rough guide and it could be different in some circumstances, for example if you're paying for childcare, are disabled or have more children
- Couples who have at least one child and get Working Tax Credits will have to work at least 24 hours a week between them instead of just 16 hours. One of you must also work at least 16 hours a week
- If your income goes down by £2,500 or less in a tax year, this won't be taken into account until the next tax year. If it goes down by more than £2,500, HMRC will re-work your tax credits but will ignore the first £2,500. You'll still have to wait till the next tax year for any extra tax credits you might be due as a result of your income going down. However, you should always tell HMRC about changes in your income straight away
- If you make a new claim, or have a change in your circumstance which would mean your payments should go up, the extra money you'll get will only be backdated by one month instead of three months
- If you get the '50 plus element' of Working Tax Credit, this will stop. Nobody will be able to claim this after 6 April.
These changes mean you may stop getting your tax credits if your income is too high from 6 April, or you may have to work extra hours to continue getting the tax credits.
However, if you have a change in your circumstances which means you may get extra tax credits, for example your income going down by more than £2,500 in the new tax year, or you have a new baby, you should tell HMRC straight away. This may mean you could still be getting your tax credits after 6 April.
For more information about all the changes, go to the Directgov website at www.direct.gov.uk
You can also listen to our policy concerns about changes to working tax credits at www.citizensadvice.org.uk
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the government consumer watchdog, is concerned that you may not be getting full value for money if you buy an extended warranty.
An extended warranty is a form of insurance for goods, so that if your goods break or are damaged, you can get them repaired or replaced at no extra cost.
You'll typically be asked if you want to buy an extended warranty when you buy products such a washing machine, a TV or a laptop. However, you're often not given enough information to work out whether you really need a warranty and if you could get a better deal elsewhere.
Here are some top tips if you're thinking of getting an extended warranty:
- it's optional – you don't have to buy it - if the goods you buy turn out to be faulty, you're entitled to get a refund, a repair or replacement from the shop you bought the goods from whether you have a warranty or not
- think whether you're likely to need it – many goods cost less to replace than the cost of the warranty
- check if you're already covered -- you're likely to be covered for the first year by a free manufacturer's guarantee, or you could be covered by your home contents insurance policy
- shop around – you don't have to buy a warranty from the same place you buy your goods from. It's often cheaper to get a separate insurance policy elsewhere ask for full details of what you'd be covered for – if you think it's still worth it, you have up to 30 days to buy the warranty from that place
• you can change your mind about a warranty you've already bought for domestic electrical goods – you have up to 45 days to cancel this type of warranty.
Some retailers have promised to improve the way they sell extended warranties. This could include setting up comparison websites and providing more information in-store about other providers.
The OFT is now considering whether these measures go far enough or if more needs to be done to give consumers the information they need to make an informed choice.
To find out more about extended warranties, go to the OFT website at www.oft.gov.uk.
Lots of people have problems with scam mail. This might be letters, emails or text messages trying to get you to join a scheme and con you out of money. Schemes to watch out for include fake lotteries, get rich quick schemes or bogus health cures.
Some of the tell-tale signs of a scam are:
- extravagant promises – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
- you're asked to pay for something upfront. For example, you have to pay a fee to claim a prize
- you're put under pressure to make a quick decision. For example, an investment opportunity will end unless you pay straightaway
- you're asked for your bank account details or other personal information.
Don't give out your bank details or other information, such as your name and address, to anyone you don't know. If you give out your bank details, money could be stolen from your account. Personal information can be used to steal your identity.
If you receive scam emails or letters, don't reply. If scammers get a reply, they'll try and send more messages.
If you've lost money to a scam, report it to the police and Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting centre on 0300 123 2040.
You can find more information about scams and how to protect yourself on the Directgov website at www.direct.gov.uk
Take care with pay day loans
If you're struggling to make your wages last you the whole month, you may have thought of getting a pay day loan to tide you over.
A pay day loan company offers you cash to sort out your short term money problems. In exchange, you need to pay the loan back on your pay day plus fees, which can often be quite high.
And if you don't have enough money to pay the loan back on your pay day, the fees and charges can quickly start to mount up. And a loan company can come after you to try and get their money back.
Asking your bank for an overdraft may be a cheaper way for you to borrow money, but watch out you don't go over your agreed limit. You could also look at other ways to borrow money on lower interest, such as from your local credit union.
If you find you're needing to get pay day loans every month, it's best to get help with budgeting and dealing with your debts.
Oil clubs save money on fuel
If you use oil to heat your home, you could save at least ten per cent a year on your heating bills by getting together to form an oil club with other users in your area.
Oil clubs negotiate with oil suppliers to find the best price on offer. When you’ve agreed the price, a single delivery date is decided. The club saves money because you’ve placed a bulk order and the supplier only has to make one trip to the area. This makes it better for the environment too.
If there isn’t already an oil club in your area, it's easy for you to set one up. You’ll need to find at least 20 local households who are willing to join to make the scheme pay. You’ll also have to decide who’s willing to negotiate with suppliers and co-ordinate the club, so that everyone knows what’s going on.
Consumer Focus and Gwynedd Citizens Advice are making people aware of the following five top tips if they fall behind with their fuel bills:
1. Always contact your energy firm as soon as you realise you might have trouble with paying. Debts will build-up and be harder to pay off the longer you leave them. Your supplier has a responsibility to help you if you have problems paying your bill.
2. Tell your energy supplier what you can afford to pay – they have to take this into account in agreeing repayments of the money you owe.
3. Ask your energy company, GwyneddCitizens Advice Bureau (0845 450 3064) or call the Home Heat Helpline 0800 33 66 99 to find out about other free energy help available. For example you could qualify for a discount off your bill or free insulation to help your home stop leaking heat and cut your bills.
4. Even if you are in debt you may still be able to switch to a cheaper deal with your current supplier, especially if you pay by cash, cheque or pre-payment meter. If you pay by pre-payment meter and have less than £200 of debt you can also switch to a cheaper deal with another supplier.
5. Financial help is available which could make it easier to afford your bills – check you are receiving all of the benefits and tax credits you are entitled to by getting in touch with GwyneddCitizens Advice Bureau or visiting www.adviceguide.org.uk.
Dreading Christmas in 2011?
Dreading Christmas this year because you are really struggling to pay the bills and there’s no cash to spare for cards, presents and so on.
What can you do?
Follow our key tips to help stretch your budget and make sure you have enough to pay the bills in the new year.
• Plan ahead – Work out how much you can afford before you start spending.
• Set a limit – on how much you are going to spend and stick to it.
• Remember that Christmas is an expensive time of year for everyone – With some close friends and adults in the family you may be able to make a ‘no presents’ pact.
• Try shopping with cash only – that way you can’t spend than you’ve got.
• Shop around – you may find it cheaper elsewhere.
• Try not to feel pressurized by children – into buying expensive toys or other items you can’t afford.
• Don’t run up an overdraft unless you have an arrangements with your bank – the interest you have to pay will be high.
• Get advice – as early as possible if you do run into debt problems. Don’t ignore them and hope they go away. For advice contact us on 0845 450 3064.
CAB MOVES INTO NEW OFFICES IN CAERNARFON
On the 1 August 2011 CAB moved into new offices at Victoria Chambers, Crown Street, Caernarfon.
The offices offers modern facilities with excellent interviewing rooms. Access is much improved in particular for the disabled , elderly and parents with young children.
Councillor John Gwilym Jones, Chairman of Gwynedd Council is seen officially opening the new offices with Councillor Tudor Owen, Trustees Gwilym Evans and Betty Williams and staff Glyn Thomas.
For free and confidential advice please phone 0845 450 3064 or the national helpline on 0844477 2020.
CAB Gwynedd - Benefits and Money Advice Service Project
This is a timely reminder that CAB Gwynedd has a Benefits and Money Advice Service Project, funded by The Royal British Legion and the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. Serving personnel, veterans, their partners and dependants are eligible for assistance and support on welfare benefits and debt issues.
Vicky Norton, the Benefit and Money advice caseworker can carry out a benefit check, help fill in benefit claim forms, negotiate debt repayments to creditors and establish whether they may be eligible for any grants. Vicky works closely with The Royal British Legion in Wrexham and locally as well as with SSAFA and other service charities.
Since the start of the project in Gwynedd 2 years ago we have helped 200 service personnel and their dependants. If you need help to sort out debts and welfare benefits and are a serving personnel, veterans and dependents Vicky will be more than happy to have a chat with you on 01286 675376.
New Website for Gwynedd & Southern Anglesey CAB - November 2010
New Chair Gwilym Evans in launching the new website said “ We are really pleased that we commissioned a local company Delwedd to design and produce our new web site. We realise that in this day and age information technology is an essential tool of communicating with our potential users and none more so than in the field of advice and information. He went on to say ” We are very interested in having peoples views not only on the content but whether they are able to find whatever information or advice they are looking . We would encourage everybody to make use of our comments page; the more the merrier”.
Chief Officer Cemlyn Williams said “ Now that we have a site that we can justifiably be proud of it is our intention to develop the site further and to offer in the future email advice. He also said ” In the next couple of weeks we intend recruiting new Trustees and we will post on the site the roles and responsibilities and the skills we are looking for in Trustees.”
AdviceLine Cymru Project
Gwynedd and Southern Anglesey CAB sign up to join the AdviceLine Cymru project. The new service which received funding of over £700,00 from the Welsh Assembly Government is intended to help bureaux to increase their capacity. The Adviceline which provides a bilinguall service from the first point of contact will be available 5 days week between 10.00am and 4.00pm
The Adviceline was officially launched at the Eisteddfod by Carwyn Jones, the First Minster for Wales. The Welsh Assembly has been extremely supportive of Adviceline and the Minister stressed that:
“This new phone service will make it easier for those who need help to contact Citizens Advice. This is extremely important at the moment as we try our very best to help people recover from the recession.”
Pictured on the launch day from left to right are:
Gillian Guy (Citizens Advice Chief Executive) Carwyn Jones and Fran Targett (Director, Citizens Advice Cymru)
- Gwynedd & De Ynys Môn secures 3 year funding from the Legal Service Commission that will enable it to provide specialist welfare benefit, debt and employment advice for people that are on low income.
Old Blacksmith is the new CAB in Bangor
An old blacksmith in Bangor has been successfully purchased, renovated and refurbished by Gwynedd & De Ynys Môn Citizens Advice Bureau thanks to a £232,000 Big Lottery Grant.
In officially opening the new offices Betty Williams, former MP for Conwy said: “As a former MP and indeed in my early days as a councillor, I know and appreciate the work done by CAB. At a time when the demand for its services is growing from some of the most vulnerable people in our societu. This project will help CASB to meet the challenges ahead.
Following in the footsteps of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mrs Betty Williams former MP for Conwy has accepted the Trustees invitation to become President of Gwynedd & De Ynys Môn CAB.
Mrs Williams has links to the service that goes back many many years. Moreover she brings to the Presidency vast experience in both local and national politics. In acknowleding the work underatken by Mr Wigley the Board of Trustees are confident that the Presidency continues to be in good hands at a time of unceratinty.