Tuesday, 1 October 2013

NED News Adviceline: Autumn 2013

I’m a homeowner, and I’ve been looking for ways to cut my energy bills. I’ve just received a leaflet about the Green Deal – is there anything I should know before I decide whether to sign up?

The Green Deal is a new Government scheme to help with energy saving improvements to your home such as loft insulation, double glazing and solar panels. The scheme lets you make these improvements without having to pay up-front. Instead, you take out a loan which is repaid through the savings on your energy bills. Like any credit arrangement, the Green Deal is a serious financial commitment, so you need to think carefully about whether it’s right for you.

The loan is attached to properties, not people, so if you move house then repayments will pass to the next owner or tenant. You’ll have to let them know that loan is attached to the property before they agree to buy.

The scheme is designed so that savings always outstrip repayments. But this isn’t a guarantee, so taking out a Green Deal loan may mean that your bills increase. If you’re on an electricity meter repayments will be taken off your credit in small amounts several times a day, so you may find that your credit is used up faster.

If you decide to go ahead, the first step is an assessment of your home, which you often have to pay for. Green Deal assessors and providers must be officially accredited – you can check by looking at the central register at gdorb.decc.gov.uk/consumersearch

If you decide to go ahead after your assessment, there is a seven-day cooling off period . If you change your mind during the cooling off period, you won’t have to pay a cancellation fee, although you are likely to have to pay some of the assessment cost if work has been carried out before you cancel. Green Deal loans are covered by the Consumer Credit Act, which gives you important rights. If you have a complaint, you should contact your provider. If they can’t sort out your problem, you can contact the Energy or Financial Services Ombudsman.

If you can’t save money through the Green Deal, you may be able to get extra financial help under the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) for energy saving improvements to your home, including solid wall insulation and cavity wall insulation.

Get free, confidential, independent advice from North East Derbyshire Citizens Advice Bureau. See www.adviceguide.org.uk or your local phone book for contact details.

Also get advice about the Green Deal, the Energy Company Obligation and other ways to get help to save energy in your home from the Energy Savings Advice Service on 0300 123 1234

My six year old son has been diagnosed with autism but, despite having Special Educational Needs, my local authority is refusing to accept our medical evidence and to provide the support he needs.

I want to appeal against the council’s decision but don’t think I can afford to pay for legal advice. However I understand that since April 2013 changes to legal aid mean I might not get financial support – what can I do?

Civil legal aid helps to pay for the costs of getting legal advice if you’re on a low income. However, the government has made large cuts to the civil legal aid budget and, since April, civil legal aid is no longer available for many types of problems including divorce, as well as particular debt, housing and welfare benefit issues.

It is still available if there is a risk of domestic violence or child abuse; if your home is at risk, or in some other cases.

Fortunately, if you meet the financial conditions, legal aid is still available for people appealing against Special Educational Needs assessments decisions by councils. In some cases, legal aid is free. In other cases, you may have to pay towards the cost.

Unless you are on certain benefits, your income will have to be assessed to decide if you qualify for legal aid.

Whether or not you are eligible for legal aid, there are organisations you can contact for free advice about SEN appeals. You can find a list of organisations in www.adviceguide.org.uk

If you need to apply for legal aid for a Special Educational Needs problem, you must apply through the telephone gateway service run by Civil Legal Advice on 0845 345 4345. It is open from 9am to 8.00pm, Monday to Friday and from 9am to 12.30pm on a Saturday. Calls cost no more than 4p a minute from a BT landline. Calls from mobiles are usually more.

If you’re worried about the cost of the phone-call, you can ask an adviser to call you back. You can text ‘legalaid’ and your name to 80010 and an adviser will call you back within 24 hours.

The helpline has a translation service if you would like advice in a language other than English or Welsh.

There is also a minicom service for people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing or speech-impaired and a type-talk service for people with hearing difficulties.

You can also get advice online from their website at www.gov.uk.

It’s important for people to be aware that although Legal Aid has been cut it is still available in certain circumstances. If you have a legal problem it is worth finding out if you qualify for Legal Aid.

I’m behind on my energy bills, credit cards and rent and my phone is ringing constantly with people demanding money. The stress is getting me down and I don’t know what to do.

The most important thing is not to panic. Remember that this is a common problem and help is freely available from Citizens Advice.

Dealing with debt is daunting and at times seems insurmountable, but it is better in the long run to tackle your debts rather than taking out more loans.

You first need to get a clear idea of who you owe money to: make a list of your creditors then work out which debts you should prioritise.

The most important debts are those that would have the most serious consequences if you didn’t pay them. You should look to get rent and energy bills sorted first so your home isn’t at risk and so that your water and electricity keep running.

Once you know your priorities, you should try to get a clear idea of how much money you have spare. Make a list of all your income and spending.

Go through your spending line by line and think about any savings that you could make: can you cut any spending? Or switch your energy supplier? Can you walk to work and not take transport?

Next, give your debtors a call. Stay calm and be honest with them: tell them how much you have available and see if you can agree a repayment plan with them.

If you can’t see any spare cash and do not have anything you can sell to makes ends meet, then it is much better to first seek help than to take out a loan. Loans can sometimes end up getting you more into debt rather than helping you.

You should remember that Citizens Advice can help you at any stage, and more advice is available here: www.nedcab.org.uk