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Advice FAQs

I’m from Austria and I know I need to apply for Settled Status as the UK leaves the European Union. But I’m really confused about what documents I need in order to apply for me and my children. We’ve lived in England for six years and I’m worried that we might have to leave.

You should apply as soon as you can in case of any delays. Your rights won’t change during the transition period that lasts until 31 December 2020. However, after the transition period ends, you might be asked to prove your right to do things like get a job or use a service like the NHS. Having your status sorted will make this more straightforward.

To get settled status, you need evidence that you’ve lived in the UK for 6 months out of every 12 months for 5 years in a row. As you say you and your children have lived in the UK for six years, you should be eligible for this.

In order to apply, you’ll need to have a few things. These include a passport or national ID card, a digital photo, your National Insurance number or proof of how long you've lived in the UK, a mobile number and an email address.

If you’ve been working, you can find your National Insurance number on your pay slip. If not you can contact HM Revenue and Customs National Insurance Helpline on 0300 200 3500 for help to find it.

It may be easier to make your children’s application after you’ve made your own. This way you’ll be able to ‘link’ your child’s application to yours, using the application number you got when you applied for yourself.

You can do this at any time after you’ve applied - you do not need to wait for a decision. And if your own application is successful, your child will get the same status as you.

In order to apply on behalf of your children, you will need to have proof of your relationship - for example a birth certificate.

If you need any extra help with your application, your local Citizens Advice is on hand to help. You can find their details by going to citizensadvice.org.uk and typing in your postcode.

My mum has a non-visible disability, which causes her walking difficulties. I heard something on the news about how she may now be eligible for a blue badge. How can I find out about this and help her apply? 

From August 2019, the Blue Badge scheme was extended to people who live in England and have non-visible disabilities or conditions that affect their ability to walk. As a result, your mother may now qualify for a badge.

Your mother will be automatically eligible if she gets certain types of benefits. These include some categories of Personal Independence Payment and the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance.

If she’s not automatically eligible she can still apply for a badge. Her local authority will use evidence from doctors and other healthcare professionals to determine whether she qualifies or not.

Your mother can check her eligibility and apply for a local authority-issued Blue Badge at gov.uk/apply-blue-badge. If she can’t do this herself, you can apply on her behalf.

You’ll need a recent digital passport-style photo, proof of her identity, address, details of any benefits she receives, her National Insurance number, and evidence of how her non-visible disability or condition affects her mobility.

My gas and electricity deal has come to an end and the energy company has offered me a new contract. However, they’re insisting I get a smart meter fitted. I’ve heard these don’t really work and I can’t see the benefit. Am I better off looking for a different supplier, or will the new company also force me to have a smart meter? 

It’s always worth shopping around. Citizens Advice has a tool on its website which can help. Our energy star rating looks at how well suppliers perform on a range of measures, including customer service, rather than just price.

As regards the smart meter, you certainly don’t have to accept one. A supplier can’t tell you that you must have one installed. However, if you don’t have one, you might not be eligible for all the deals on offer. In future the cheaper tariffs offered by suppliers might only be available to customers with smart meters.

If you do decide to go ahead and have a smart meter fitted, your supplier should explain the process beforehand, show you how it works and give you a number to call if anything goes wrong.

There are benefits to smart meters, they send daily meter readings to your supplier, meaning they can bill you accurately for the energy you’ve used. They won’t automatically save you money, but you can use the digital ‘in-home’ display to keep track of how much energy you’re using and then try to reduce it.

The Citizens Advice consumer helpline (03454 04 05 06) can give advice on smart meter issues.

 

I am renting and have an assured shorthold tenancy. I have been struggling to pay the rent for a few months. I am working full time but my wages aren’t enough. I am only just managing with my other bills and spending. Now I am falling behind on my payments and I am worried about losing my home. What can I do to stop this from happening?

It’s good you’ve looked for help. This is the first step to staying in your home.

Rent arrears, like council tax debt or mortgage arrears, are a priority debt. Non-payment can cause serious problems, such as losing your home.

If the landlord says they plan to evict you, have served you with an eviction notice, or you have letters from court, get advice urgently.

Go through correspondence from your landlord. Compare payments you’ve made to the amount of arrears due, to make sure the numbers agree. Speak to them about why you’re struggling with your rent.

Create a budget by adding up your essential living costs, such as food and energy, and take these away from your income. Use the Citizens Advice budgeting tool and benefits calculator to see if you can increase your income. Try to find cheaper deals on your energy, phone and broadband. Put any spare money towards your debts.

If you’re able to pay off some of the arrears, your landlord may agree to a payment plan, enabling you to pay smaller amounts. Be clear and realistic about your budget. If they don’t agree a plan, or if you feel unable to negotiate alone, go to Citizens Advice.

The payment plan should be written down and signed by the landlord. They can’t evict you without going to court. But if you do get evicted, ask the council for help with housing and benefits. Contact them immediately, they can help you stay in your home.

For help with your budget, negotiating a rent payment plan, or eviction advice, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

About five years ago my father-in-law was the victim of a scam artist who fleeced him out of £5,000. Once he realised, he was devastated and we were able to work with his bank to get some of the money back. We thought it was all in the past but in the last six months he’s received numerous calls, letters and texts from what look like other scammers. We want to try and keep him safe as his memory isn’t the best, what can we do?

Unfortunately, falling victim to a scam once can increase exposure to further scams. Citizens Advice has found that, once someone has responded to a scam, their personal details can sometimes be sold to other criminals. This then opens the door to more scam mail, emails, phone calls or home visits.

If you recognise a pattern of unsolicited calls, talk to your father-in-law’s telephone provider and see if you can get these numbers blocked or if you can get something called a ‘standalone call blocker.’ If not, register your father-in-law’s number with the Telephone Preference Service who can help you to handle unwanted marketing calls.

If your father-in-law is receiving texts it’s important that he never replies, as sometimes there can be costly hidden charges. He can report the texts to his mobile phone provider who will be able to block the number. If he’s already been stung and call cost information wasn’t given, he should report it to Phone-pay Plus.

Mail scammers can often impersonate banks, the local council, or other established and legitimate organisations. You should advise your father-in-law against responding unless he’s sure it’s legitimate and was expecting a letter. If in doubt he should contact the organisation directly to check the letter’s legitimacy. He should be careful to not just ring up the number on the letter as it could be a bogus call centre.

In addition, to safeguard your father-on-law from unwanted marketing material or junk mail, register his name and address for free with the Mailing Preference Service which will take his name off some mailing lists.

Doorstep scammers can often be intimidating and, unfortunately, they commonly target older and more vulnerable people. Your father shouldn’t be embarrassed turning people away and shouldn’t let them in unless he’s expecting them. If someone comes to the door saying they are from one of his utility companies for example, he should ask to check their credentials. If in doubt, he should phone the company they represent or check online, but once again make sure to not just use the contact details they provide.

I’m having problems with a builder I employed to build a kitchen extension to our house. The foundations are laid, and he’s knocked through the back wall - the back of our house is now a tarpaulin sheet. We paid an initial deposit upfront, and then two further amounts in cash for materials. He’s now asked for more money - but I’d like to see more work done first. We had a bit of a row, and he hasn’t turned up for the last two days. What should I do next?

There are various things you can do. The Citizens Advice consumer service (03454 04 05 06) is a good first port of call.

If you think your relationship with the builder can be salvaged and you’d like him to finish the work, you can try to sit down with him and agree - in writing - a schedule of works and payments you’re both happy with.

This written contract, if you don’t have one already, should cover exactly what you’re paying for and everything you’ve agreed on, like timings, payments, who will pay for materials and subcontractors. If you pay any future instalments by credit card rather than cash you’ll also benefit from extra protection from the card provider. It’s a good idea to take photos as the work progresses and keep copies of your communications and any receipts.

If you feel the situation with that trader can’t continue you can complain in writing to him or his company and ask for some money back. If you believe the work is substandard you can report problems to Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer service.  If he’s a member of a trade association they also might be able to help.

If that doesn’t work, look for an approved alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme - this is an independent third party who can help you to reach a compromise. The trader may already be a member of a scheme. If not, they should provide you with the name of a certified scheme and say if they are willing to use it.

I’m 3 months pregnant and just beginning to show, so last week I thought I’d sit down with my manager and let them know before any speculation could take place. My manager was really happy for me, but this week I’ve been pulled aside and told they’re letting me go due to poor performance. I’ve worked here for 2 years and never had any negative feedback so I don’t understand. Could they be sacking me just for being pregnant? Is this legal?

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been working for your employer, being fired because of pregnancy, or pregnancy-related issues, is automatically classed as unfair dismissal.

Although your employer said you were being sacked for poor performance, you’re right to be suspicious as this only came to light after you told your manager about your pregnancy. If your employer says your dismissal has nothing to do with you having a baby, you will need to prove that it was. You can ask your employer to send you written reasons for your dismissal.

As you have been employed for two years, your employer can only dismiss you for specified fair reasons, such as gross misconduct or persistent poor performance. Except in the most serious cases of gross misconduct, your employer will be expected to follow a fair process and show the dismissal was for a fair reason.

If you want to challenge the dismissal, you can take your case to an employment tribunal. You should first raise a grievance with your employer and contact the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service about Early Conciliation. Be sure to act quickly as time limits in employment tribunals are short.

To prepare for the tribunal, gather as much evidence as possible. This includes emails with your employer about your pregnancy, previous performance appraisals, and correspondence about you being dismissed. The new Citizens Advice Discrimination Toolkit, found on their website, can help you with this.

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.