Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Universal Credit – Fraud Warning

There have been a number of reports within Derbyshire of people falling victim to Universal Credit fraud. This follows an emerging national trend. We are seeking to warn local residents to be aware of the potential risks.

There have been different variations of the fraud reported within Derbyshire, and nationally. Fraudsters advertise “Government Loans” or pose as DWP officials promising an increase in benefit awards.

Loans are being advertised online and on social media and people are being asked to provide enough information for the fraudsters to make a claim for Universal Credit and obtain an advance payment. Then, either the money is paid directly to the fraudsters or the victims are asked to pay a fee for applying for the loan.

In some cases, smartly dressed people have turned up at victim’s addresses and stated that they are from the DWP and are trying to increase benefit income. They then proceed to start a claim for UC and obtain the advance payment with the information provided by the victim.

The result for victims is that their benefits stop and they may not be able to return to them. Victims may still have to repay the money despite not having benefited from it. In some cases the DWP are investigating victims under caution for benefits fraud, the ultimate penalty for which could be imprisonment.

There remains uncertainty as to whether the DWP will restore a victim’s previous benefit entitlement in cases where claims for Universal Credit have been created in their name.

We are advising all local residents to take the following steps:
  • Never disclose Universal Credit login details to anyone
  • Do not provide sensitive details (National Insurance number, date of birth, bank details etc.) to any third party
  • Exercise caution when seeing loans advertised online, especially social media
  • Treat any claim to help increase income from someone purporting to be from the DWP with suspicion

If you think that you have been a victim of such a fraud contact the police and Action Fraud as well as notifying your local Job Centre.



Monday, 3 June 2019

NED News Adviceline: Summer 2019

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 (0345 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.

My first council tax bill of the year has come through and I know I’m not going to be able to afford it with so many other important bills to pay, let alone food. What should I do?

Council tax arrears is a “priority debt”, which means you need to address it before paying off other non-priority loans like credit cards.

Once you’ve missed a council tax payment, you’re in “arrears” and so owe money to your council. You should receive a letter from your council – it’s important not to ignore this as after 14 days your council can take you to court and request you pay your entire year’s bill at once.

It’s important you speak to the council straight away if you don’t think you can pay. Ask to speak to someone in the council tax office and tell them about your situation.

You’ll probably be asked to commit to paying a regular amount each month. If you’re not sure how much you can afford, use the Citizen Advice budgeting tool or talk to one of our specialist advisers.

If you’re on a low income, you might be able to get a reduction on your council tax bill. You might also be able to qualify for your council’s Hardship Scheme. You can read more about getting help with your council tax on the Citizens Advice website.

If you fail to pay your council tax arrears you’ll have to pay court costs and possibly bailiff fees as well as your debt, which can add hundreds of pounds to your bill.

If you’re struggling with multiple debts you can contact your local Citizens Advice. You can find their contact details on the Citizens Advice website.

I recently joined a dating website. I was contacted by a lovely man and we started to exchange messages. We now email every day, although we haven’t met in person yet. We had arranged to go for a meal, but then he cancelled because he needs to concentrate on fundraising for his daughter – the medicines she needs aren’t available on the NHS.

He’s asked me to contribute, his daughter needs treatment urgently. He’s given me details of a bank account to pay into. I want to help, but I’m unsure because I’ve only known him a short time.

You’re right to be cautious. Unfortunately dating sites are increasingly being targeted by unscrupulous people. It can be difficult to accept that someone you’ve developed feelings for is trying to swindle you. But scammers can be highly skilled at using emotional triggers to persuade people to part with money, or with personal information that might make victims vulnerable to identity theft.

Your friend may be completely genuine, but try to find out if he’s really who he says he is. A reluctance to call you or Skype, or profile information such as educational achievements not matching the content of his messages, could be a red flag that this is a scam.

Other things to look out for include expressing strong emotions in a short period of time, moving the conversation away from the dating site and onto a private channel such as email or instant messaging and asking lots of personal questions – but giving away very little in return.

Trust your instincts and if in any doubt, don’t part with your money. For further help on identifying possible scams contact Derbyshire Scamwatch 01246 868838 or email: scamwatch@nedcab.org.uk

Derbyshire Scamwatch aims to raise awareness of scams that are blighting people’s lives as well as educating and informing people about scam prevention through presentations, talks, social media and our own Derbyshire Scamwatch website.

Derbyshire Scamwatch is determined to make a difference for people by providing up-to-date information on the latest scams and offering expert advice and tips to prevent people from being scammed in the future.

Friday, 1 March 2019

NED News Adviceline: Spring 2019

I’ve got three kids, and as usual, my finances were 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 and I have 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 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, or face-to-face.

I’ve had my Universal Credit payments reduced for missing an appointment. I don’t think this is fair as I had a good reason for not being able to attend. Now I am struggling to make ends meet. What should I do?

If you think the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has made a mistake in reducing your payments, you can ask for the decision to be reconsidered.

Contact the department as soon as possible setting out why you disagree with the decision. Make sure to include the date of the decision and your personal information, including your National Insurance number.

You can ask for this reconsideration in your Universal Credit online account, using a form on the government website, in writing or over the phone. Your local Citizens Advice can help you put together this information.

If the DWP does not change its decision you can appeal, although this could involve going to a tribunal and may take some time to be heard.

If you’re struggling to make ends meet, you can apply for extra help. Ask the DWP for a hardship payment. This is usually a loan and will be deducted from future Universal Credit payments. You can apply for this payment through the Universal Credit helpline, or by asking at your local Jobcentre Plus office.

You may also be able to apply for financial help from your local council. Speak to your local Citizens Advice to see what help is available to you.

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 www.citizensadvice.org.uk.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Demystifying Universal Credit

This week further announcements were made about the Universal Credit. In this post we will look at what was announced and what it means for claimants.

Roll-Out of Universal Credit by Managed Migration

Managed Migration means the process by which the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) plans to transfer people in receipt of the six existing benefits (which have been incorporated into Universal Credit), onto Universal Credit. The six benefits are: Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and, Housing Benefit. The DWP now calls these ‘legacy benefits’.

The DWP plans to begin Managed Migration in 2019. This will involve asking people already in receipt of legacy benefits to make a claim for Universal Credit. There has been a lot of comment about this roll-out being postponed but at present it is still going ahead as planned. The DWP are proposing to limit the managed migration to an initial number of 10,000 test cases before going back to Parliament for permission to begin fully migrating claimants onto Universal Credit.

Currently, if a claimant receiving legacy benefits has a change of circumstances (such as a new child or a separation) they may need to claim Universal Credit as new claims for legacy benefits are not being accepted except for a few limited exceptions. This process of claiming after a change of circumstances is known as Natural Migration. So for example if a claimant has their ESA stopped, they can no longer claim JSA and must claim Universal Credit.

Claimants in receipt of a Severe Disability Premium

A Severe Disability Premium is an extra payment added to a benefit claim for people in receipt of the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment or the care component of Disability Living Allowance. Universal Credit does not include Severe Disability Premiums so claimants who have had to claim have been losing out financially.

From today (16 January 2019), any claimant who is receiving, or entitled to, a Severe Disability Premium as part of their legacy benefit claim will not be able to claim Universal Credit and will not be affected by Natural Migration.

This change only affects claimants from today. People who have already transferred to Universal Credit and lost a Severe Disability Premium have been promised compensation by the DWP but this has not been passed in law so no further information is available.

Families with more than two children

Due to an error with the way the Universal Credit system was created, any family with more than two children has been unable to make a claim for Universal Credit. This has meant that families with three or more children have been able to continue making a claim for legacy benefits even if they have had a change of circumstances.

This loophole has now been resolved and from 1 February 2019 families of any size will have to claim Universal Credit if they make a new claim or have a change of circumstances.

However, Universal Credit payments will be limited to two children. There will be no extra payments for families with more than two children if the children were born after 6 April 2017.

This means that families with any number of children born before 6 April 2017 will receive Universal Credit payments for all of those children. No additional payment will be made for any children born after that date. For families with one or two children, their Universal Credit payment will be limited to two children regardless of how many more they have after 6 April 2017.

People of pension age with younger partners

In a long-expected move, the DWP has announced a date for changes which affect claimants where one partner in a couple is of pension age and the other is working age.

Currently if a person is of pension age but they have a partner of working age, the couple can make a claim for Pension Credit rather than Universal Credit. Pension Credit is usually preferable to Universal Credit.

The DWP has announced that from 15 May 2019 the rules will change. In cases where one person in a couple is under pension age the couple will be obliged to claim Universal Credit until the younger partner reaches pension age.

Further information

For more information or advice on how Universal Credit may affect you visit the Citizens Advice website or the gov.uk website. Alternatively for face to face advice visit your local Citizens Advice drop in session.