Friday, 26 June 2015

NED News Adviceline: Summer 2015

I’ve heard that the new pension reforms mean that I will have full access to my pension pot when I turn 55. How do I work out what I should do with my pension savings?

The pension reforms that came in this April give people the freedom to access their defined contribution pension how and when they want. You can buy an annuity, or take your pension out in one go, or withdraw it bit by bit and leave some it invested. Planning for your retirement can be complicated so it’s important to get guidance on your options.

The good news is that the Government has introduced Pension Wise, a new free service offering guidance online, over the phone with The Pensions Advisory Service, or face to face with Citizens Advice. The appointments are pre-booked 45 minute sessions tailored to your individual circumstances. Guidance is impartial, meaning that it will not recommend products or services, but they will describe your options and help you consider their impact.

To get the most out of Pension Wise guidance, preparation is key. First, work out the value of your pension pots. Look at your most recent statement, or contact your provider. Check if there are any restrictions attached. Next, get a state pension forecast, and gather the details of any benefits you receive.

The next step is to work out your likely expenditure. Include the cost of essentials like housing or utilities, and leisure activities. This should give you a rough budget.

Bring the information to your Pension Wise appointment. Your guider will help you think through your circumstances, and present the options available to you.

I bought a new mobile phone six months ago, and I used the signal checker on the website, but I never have any signal at home or work at all. I want to cancel my contract and go back to my old mobile company as I always had good service with them, but my new provider says I’ll have to pay all 18 months of the contract remaining if I want to cancel. I can’t afford to pay that all at once and a new contract, but I also can’t have a mobile phone that never works when I need it. What can I do?

Most mobile phone contracts last 24 months, but often they don’t specify minimum standards of service, so it can be tricky to get out of them without paying a hefty fee. Your best bet is to keep a log of times when your phone doesn’t work. Then contact your service provider and ask them if there is anything they can do. This might solve the problem without you needing to cancel.

It might say something in your contract about how much reception you should get: if so you should be able to cancel the contract without paying. Unfortunately, you can’t rely on what an online coverage checker will say as they’re just a guide and will only ever give an idea of the average signal someone can expect outside in that area.

If the phone doesn’t work in your house or workplace but does work outside, the problem might be with those buildings themselves. In that case you wouldn’t normally be able to cancel without paying. It might be that the signal just isn’t strong enough, so you should ask your provider to carry out a signal strength check.

If there’s no signal in your whole area, you might be able to cancel under the Supply of Goods and Services Act. Very poor service most of the time might mean the network is breaking your contract. Some contracts have terms and conditions which mean they’re allowed to not provide service sometimes, so you need to get advice to see if this applies to you.

Before anything else, contact your service provider, share any evidence of poor service and explain why you should be let out of your contract early. They might well allow you to cancel.

And if you need more advice, contact your local CAB, or call our consumer service number on 03454 04 05 06

My relationship with my partner has broken down and we have two small children. I’m really worried that if this goes to court the judge will favour the children’s mother over me as their father for residence decisions, and that I won’t be able to afford a lawyer who can make sure that I keep my children living with me. What should I do?

Relationship break-ups can be incredibly stressful for any couple, but dealing with the situation sensitively is all the more important when children are involved.

It is not always possible, but the best option is for you to come to an agreement with your partner about the care of your children. Where this doesn’t resolve the issue, the next step is to get the help of a local family mediation service. Decisions made with this service are not automatically legally binding but it can be very helpful if you can use the opportunity to avoid the costly and sometimes acrimonious court system. It is also necessary to attempt mediation before taking the dispute to court.

As an unmarried father, you won’t automatically have a right to a say in your child’s future, even though you may be financially supporting them. This will depend on whether you have parental responsibility for your child. If you were named on your child’s birth certificate since 2003, you’ll automatically have parental responsibility. But don’t worry if you haven’t got it this way – there are other ways you can get it, including asking to the court for an order.

If you are still can’t agree about arrangements for your children, you may have to consider going to court as a last resort. But remember, this will cost you a lot of money and may take a long time. If you want the children to live with you, you’ll need to apply for a residence order. If the children will be living with their mother, you’ll need to apply for a contact order. This will set out the kind of contact you’ll have with your children, for example how often you can see them or take them away on holiday. It can be a good idea to apply to the court for both a contact order and a parental responsibility order at the same time, if you haven’t already got parental responsibility.

Legal aid is not available for the court proceedings of private family law cases. However you may be able to get legal aid to pay for help solving your dispute out of court, through a family mediation service, so this can be the ideal way to make arrangements for your children. Family mediation is an alternative to solicitors negotiating for you but not a substitute for legal advice. You will be encouraged to consult a solicitor during the mediation process to advise you on the personal consequences of your decisions. At the end of mediation, the decisions you have reached can be used as the basis for a divorce settlement, or a legal separation agreement. You can find out more about the availability of legal aid for family mediation at, or on the National Family Mediation website at

If you are thinking of going to court to deal with arrangements for your children, you should consult an experienced adviser, which you can do for free at a Citizens Advice Bureau.