Advice column

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

New advice column:

I’ve got three kids, and as usual, my finances are not in good shape ahead of Christmas. I’m on a low income so had to put some purchases on a credit card. I have been trying to pay it off but I’m already behind on other bills. I haven’t been able to pay my council tax in three months and received payment reminders from my energy provider. What should I do?

First things first, work out how much you owe - make a list of who you need to pay each month and how much. If you don’t have your most recent statements, you can contact your creditors to find out.

Make sure you are getting all the income that you are entitled to. For example, you may be entitled to tax credits to top up your income or help with child care, housing costs or school meals.

Create a budget by adding up essential living costs, such as food and housing, and take these away from your income. Any money you have spare can be put towards your debts. Citizens Advice’s budgeting tool, found on its website, can help.

Your council tax, rent or mortgage, and energy are priority debts as there can be serious consequences if you don’t pay them. These must be paid first. Separate these and work out how much you owe.

As you’re already in arrears with your council tax, you must act quickly and contact your council to arrange an affordable payment plan. You can also contact your energy supplier to help you sort out a payment plan that works for you. They must help you do this and you can get help from your local Citizens Advice if they don't. To cut your future bills you should make sure you're on the best deal you can get. Use a price comparison tool to check.


For further help working out your budget, negotiating with creditors or checking which benefits you’re entitled to, contact your nearest Citizens Advice by phone, online or face-to-face.

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit

December advice column

Problems when buying from an online marketplace

'I bought a pair of trainers from a private seller on an online marketplace. The advert said they were Asics but when they arrived the branding said Basics. They are clearly not what was advertised, are terrible quality and not fit for purpose. Do I have any rights? What can I do?'

 If you’re shopping online from an individual seller, the principle of “buyer beware” applies - which means you are purchasing subject to all defects, and the seller does not have to declare problems.  

However, the seller must not misrepresent the goods, for example, by claiming they’re a certain popular brand when they are not.

Because your trainers are not as described in the advert, you may have grounds to ask for your money back.

First, try to fix the issue by contacting the seller to explain the problem, let them know your rights and that you would like your money back.

Should this get you nowhere, check to see if the online marketplace has its own protection and disputes resolution system.

Finally, if neither of these work for you, consider making a claim to the court, known as a small claim. There is guidance on how to do this on the Citizens Advice website at


Autumn advice column:

What to do if you're falling behind on your bills

I recently become a carer for my partner who I live with and can no longer work. We’ve started falling behind on our bills and I’m worried our debts are only going to get worse. I’m on Carer’s Allowance but what else can I do to turn things around?

A change in circumstances can often trigger financial problems. It’s good to see you taking action now as this will stop you from sliding into further debt.

See if you can make any savings on your household bills by switching suppliers, or changing deals. You may be able to get a reduction on your council tax bill - speak to your local authority directly.

Try to boost your income too. You may be able to apply for benefits jointly with your partner to be paid alongside Carers Allowance. 

You should contact your creditors and ask if you can reduce your repayments until you’re back in work. They can also freeze any interest and charges so your debts don’t go up while you pay less. Check to see if you have payment protection insurance to cover giving up work to become a carer as well.

If you’re still struggling to cover your outgoings, it’s important to prioritise paying your household bills like your council tax and rent or mortgage.

For further help working out your budget, negotiating with creditors or checking which benefits you’re entitled to, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit


September 2018 

Problem neighbours

A family has moved in to the house next door and is being a nuisance, yelling late at night over a loud television and leaving bin bags strewn over the front of the house. I don’t want to antagonise them in case they become threatening. What can I do?


It’s best to try to resolve problems by speaking with your neighbour, if it’s safe to do so. Explain the effect their behaviour is having and ask them to stop. If the problem continues, keep a record of incidents, which will come in handy if you decide to take the matter further.

A mediator may help you and your neighbour find a solution. If you’re a council or housing association tenant, they may have their own mediator you can use. If not, you’ll need to find one yourself and pay a fee.

Ask your neighbour’s landlord to speak to them on your behalf. If your neighbour lives in social housing, their landlord should have a policy for dealing with antisocial behaviour.

If the landlord can’t help, or you don’t know who it is, your council might be able to. Visit its website for information on the types of complaint it deals with.

If you’ve tried everything but the problem persists, ask for a Community Trigger. The council might work with the police and others to create an action plan. As a last resort, you can go to an ombudsman if you’re unhappy with how your council or social landlord has handled it.

If your neighbour becomes threatening or violent, you should tell the police.

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit

Summer 2018

Holiday problems

I booked a luxury hotel room for my package holiday, but arrived to find it wasn’t available. I spent the week in a standard room instead. I’ve reported this to my travel agent. Am I entitled to any compensation?


Your holiday was lower in value than what you booked. This means you should be able to get compensation for your inconvenience and any extra costs incurred.

Contact the customer services department of the company you booked your holiday with by email, letter or via the company website. Make sure to keep a copy of what you send.

Explain fully what went wrong and how much compensation you want. This should be the difference in cost between the luxury room and the standard room, any costs incurred from staying in the standard room, and what you feel is reasonable compensation for your inconvenience. Make sure you keep receipts for any extra expenses.

If the company refuses to pay compensation, or you don’t think its offer is good enough, check whether the company is a member of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). ABTA should be able to mediate between you and the company.

If the company is not a member of ABTA, look for an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). This is an independent third party who can help you reach a resolution without going to court. Alternatively, if you paid by credit or debit card, contact the Financial Ombudsman who can mediate.

If you need any more information, or are unsure of your next steps, contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or your nearest Citizens Advice.

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit

June 2018

Rental scams

I’ve seen a new property advertised which I’d like to rent and am thinking about putting a holding deposit down. However, the rent is really cheap - should I be worried it’s a scam?

You’re right to be cautious if the rent is a lot cheaper than the market rate. Don’t be hurried into paying a deposit before you view the property and look at your tenancy agreement.

Viewing the property is important - not least so that you can see if it’s as advertised. If the landlord refuses, or is evasive, take this as a possible warning sign they are not legitimate. Even if you have seen the property, it’s still important to check your tenancy agreement carefully.

You should expect your tenancy agreement to give the name and address of the landlord, along with their contact details. Ask for this information to be added if it’s not already included.

If no contract is provided, or information on your landlord is missing, this is another red flag that the letting could be a scam.

Finally, it’s a good idea to see if the landlord is a member of a professional landlord association or is accredited by the local council. Membership isn’t compulsory, but it will mean they are legitimate and will operate to a minimum standard.

Trust your instincts and if in any doubt, don’t part with your money. For further help on identifying possible scams contact your nearest Citizens Advice, or call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06.

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit

May 2018

Doorstep loans

I do not think the company that sold me a doorstep loan carried out proper affordability checks and now I cannot afford to pay it back. Can I get a refund?

The Financial Conduct Authority - which regulates the doorstep loan market - says a loan is unaffordable if you cannot make repayments without borrowing again.

Lenders must check your finances and situation - including future income and spending - to make sure you can pay back the loan.

You might feel your agreement was unaffordable if you were given a loan that was more than you could manage to repay and it caused you problems.

If you think you are owed a refund, first complain to your lender. List the ways you think their affordability checks were not properly done, the problems this has caused, and what you would like to happen.

The lender must acknowledge your complaint promptly and has eight weeks to respond formally or resolve your problem.

If you are not happy with their response, or they don’t respond at all, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service using a form on its website.

Should the lender agree with your complaint, they may agree to write off the balance left on the loan or refund some of the interest you have paid.

If they don’t, and you have to take your complaint further, the Ombudsman can force the lender to write off the interest or even the remainder of the loan, and possibly order them to pay a small amount of compensation for your distress if they uphold the complaint.

The Ombudsman’s decision is binding on your lender.

If you need any further advice, contact your nearest Citizens Advice

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit

April 2018

National Living Wage 

I am over 25 and entitled to the National Living Wage, but I suspect I am being underpaid. How can I find out if I’m being paid the right amount, and claim what I am owed from my employer?

If you think you’ve been underpaid, you should act quickly, as it’s harder to get your money back three months after the problem arose.

Check your payslip to see if there’s been some mistake. You will be able to see the number of hours you’ve worked, the rate you’ve been paid at and if there have been any deductions.

Ask your employer to explain anything you don’t understand on your payslip, and tell them why you think you have been underpaid. If there was a genuine mistake, ask your employer to pay you straight away. You shouldn’t have to wait until the next payday.

If your employer refuses to pay back your wages you can formally raise a grievance, either by writing a letter to your employer or following your company’s grievance procedure. Explain that you haven’t been paid enough and you want them to pay the difference.

If this still doesn’t work, you can take your employer to a tribunal. Contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), who will see if your employer will agree to a conciliation process, rather than go to court. Otherwise you can take your employer to a tribunal. Think carefully before starting a tribunal claim as it can be expensive and stressful.

If you need any advice or guidance through this process, contact your nearest Citizens Advice

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit

March 2018

Personal Independence Payment problems

I have a long-term health condition but I recently had my Personal Independence Payment (PIP) reduced after a re-assessment. I want to challenge the decision - where do I start? 

There are two stages to challenging your PIP assessment decision. The first stage is known as mandatory reconsideration and involves asking the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to take a second look at your assessment decision.

Normally, you’ll need to contact the DWP within a month of your assessment decision being made, and it’s best to do so in writing. Under some circumstances, you can ask for mandatory reconsideration up to 13 months from your assessment decision date. 

Your letter should list all the reasons why you don’t think your PIP award should be reduced. Make sure you provide evidence to back up each point you make, such as practical examples, medical records and supporting letters from specialists who are treating you. If you don’t have the required evidence available, you can submit it separately at a later date.  

Once the DWP has looked again at your assessment decision, you’ll receive a Mandatory Reconsideration Notice which says if your request has been successful or not. If it is, your original award will be reinstated and your payment backdated.

If you’re unsuccessful, you could choose to progress to the second challenge stage. This is where you appeal your assessment decision by taking your case to tribunal.

For more advice, or help with preparing for your hearing, contact your nearest Citizens Advice or visit

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit

February 2018

Housing worries

"I live in a privately rented two-bedroom house and the damp in the living room is aggravating my three-year-old daughter's asthma. I’ve told my landlord but she’s not taking action. What can I do?"

Resolving damp issues can be difficult - especially as the cause of the problem is not always obvious. Also, by raising any disrepair complaint to a private landlord it’s important to realise that there is a risk of retaliatory eviction.

First, make sure you’re not doing anything that could be contributing to the damp, such as drying clothes indoors or blocking vents. Once that’s done, you have two potential routes available.

The first is to report the problem to the Environmental Health department at your local authority. This route is best if you’re unsure what’s causing the damp, but it’s also an option if you think your landlord is responsible.

Tell your council the damp is causing your daughter’s asthma to worsen and provide evidence, including letters from your GP, photos of the damp, and a copy of your tenancy agreement.

The local authority can issue an awareness notice, which tells your landlord there’s a hazard in the home and what she needs to do to fix it, although it does not require her to take action. The authority can also serve the more serious improvement notice, which requires your landlord to carry out the work and also offers you some protection from retaliatory eviction.

Alternatively, you could take her to court. Your landlord may be held responsible for repairing the damp but this will depend on the cause - such as a broken heater or window - and the terms of your tenancy agreement.

If she is responsible, the court can grant an injunction and possibly award compensation. Seek advice from us before going down this route because the legal process can be complex. You may also be entitled to legal aid.

For more information and advice contact your nearest Citizens Advice or visit

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit

January 2018

Money worries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit

December 2017

Post problems 

I ordered my Christmas presents online, and they have not been delivered. Is there anything I can do to get hold of them or get my money back?

It is the legal responsibility of the company you bought the presents from to make sure the items are delivered.

Contact the seller explaining that you’ve not received the items. If you paid for named day delivery and it hasn’t arrived on time, ask for the delivery costs to be refunded. You should receive the difference between what you paid and the standard delivery cost.

Set a deadline for when you need the items by (such as two weeks). The seller should contact the delivery company to make sure your item arrives.

If your parcel still doesn’t arrive on the agreed date, you are entitled to a refund or a replacement. Contact the company in writing setting out what you want. Lodge a written complaint if they refuse. If that still doesn’t work, check if the company is part of a trade association and see if they can help, or look for an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme. This is an independent third party who can help you reach a resolution.

For more information and advice contact your nearest Citizens Advice or visit

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit

November 2017

Problems with cancelling contracts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date advice, please visit

October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further help on negotiating with your supplier or applying for benefits, contact Citizens Advice: visit or contact your nearest Citizens Advice





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