Research and Campaigns
One of the twin aims of the Citizens Advice service is to campaign to improve the policies and practices which affect people's every day lives. Everyone who works and volunteers for us contributes to this work by identifying examples of unfairness and our team of research & campaign volunteers use this evidence to write letters, reports and news articles with the aim of influencing decision makers on what needs to change. We also raise awareness about rights and benefits. Campaign success stories are shown at the end of this page.
Our current priorities…
July 2017 was Scams Awareness Month
Wealden Citizens Advice is urging people to spread the word about scams and expose the tactics of fraudsters to protect others.
Wealden Citizens Advice wants to help stop people falling prey to scams by following a three-step rule - get advice, report it, and tell others about it.
It comes as national research by Citizens Advice finds scammers are using a variety of tactics to get people to part with their cash, with people losing an average of £2,500 across all types of scam.
Scam methods include vishing whereby scammers cold-call people in a bid to get their bank details, and offers of fake services, such as telling people their computer has a virus which they can fix remotely.
Investment scams carried the highest price tag, with people investing in fake diamonds or bogus stocks and shares losing of on average £20,000 each.
Citizens Advice is warning people to be on guard and watch out for the different methods used by fraudsters, from doorstep selling of counterfeit goods to demands for upfront payments for services that never materialise.
Kay Birch, Wealden Citizens Advice Chief Executive said:
“Scams are not a minor blight, they heap misery on people and in some cases can lead to financial ruin.
“Fraudsters use sophisticated techniques to con people and because they vary their methods, it can be tricky to spot when something is a scam. If you come across something that seems suspicious, seek advice so you don’t put yourself at risk.
“It’s vital to report scams and spread the word so we can clampdown on con artists and stop others falling into the same traps.”
Eight common scams reported to Citizens Advice are:
Investment - victims are persuaded to invest money into fake ventures and are then unable to get their money back.
Fake services - people are offered a service for a fee, only to find the service isn’t real or doesn’t exist at all. Examples include, offers to fix computers remotely and fake invoices for advertising.
Vishing - con-artists cold-call people pretending to be a legitimate company, asking for credit or debit card details - for example on the pretence that they need to refund overpaid bills.
Doorstep selling - victims are offered goods door-to-door or from the back of a van, which are likely to be counterfeit. Fraudsters selling mattresses, “fresh” fish and cleaning products were all reported to Citizens Advice.
Upfront payment or fee - fraudsters ask for a payment in advance for a service or product that never materialises, such as asking for a fee to get a loan, or to pay for a training course to secure a job.
Premium rate texts - victims inadvertently agree to receive premium rate texts about games or competitions, usually costing around £4 each.
Counterfeit goods - people buy goods at marketplaces or online that turn out to be counterfeit or even stolen. Common products include cigarettes, shoes and clothing, and tickets for events.
Goods not received - people place orders for goods which don’t arrive. Scams are often carried out through social media and online auction sites.
If you think you have been scammed you can get advice by:
calling the Citizens AdviceADVICELINE on 03444 111444
dropping into your local Citizens Advice office - opening times and directions can be found at wealdencitizensadvice.org.uk where you can also access on line information
calling the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06
You can also report scams to Trading Standards at https://new.eastsussex.gov.uk/business/tradingstandards/contactus/
2. Universal Credit
1 in 3 clients seek our help with regard to welfare benefits and tax credits. In 2016/17 we helped clients secure an additional £3.2m in additional benefits and tax credits.
Universal Credit is a single monthly payment for people in or out of work. It replaces some of the benefits and tax credits that people might be getting now:
- Housing benefit
- Child Tax Credit
- Income support
- Working Tax Credit
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
The benefit is being rolled out across the whole of Wealden over the next year with claimants moving on to the new benefit as and when their circumstances change. Wealden District Council website has a list of when each Wealden postcode is expected to transfer on to the new benefit.
Nationally Citizens Advice are calling for a pause in the roll out of universal credit to fix three fundamental problems with the system:
- People are waiting up to 12 weeks for their first payment without any income. This is leaving families reliant on family, friends and Food Banks and is increasing the threat of debt, disconnection and eviction.
- Universal Credit is too complicated and people are struggling to use it. Universal credit is primarily an online system, both for benefit applications and support for job search. Those who have no access to IT or have limited literacy or IT skills can therefore face a real challenge in accessing the help they need.
- People aren’t getting help when the system fails them with 1 in 3 claimants making 10 or more calls to the helpline, which costs up to 55p per minute. We are particularly concerned that the absence of a job centre in Wealden means that Wealden residents will be denied the opportunity to benefit from face to face job support as they can face journey of over an hour at a cost of more than £10 a time to their allocated job centre.
Together with colleagues across the country we have raised this issue with local MPs and in the meantime we are working together with Wealden District Council and local services to provide access to support locally for those in need.
3. Warm in Wealden
Click here for more information about how we can help you keep your home warm this winter
5189 households in Wealden are estimated to live in fuel poverty - that is to say that they have high fuel bills and once paid those bills would leave them with a residual income below the poverty line.
Our aim with Warm in Wealden was to pilot the effectiveness of Citizens Advice as a single point of contact for those at risk of living in a cold home as envisaged in the National Institute for Health & Care Excellence Guidelines. The project ran between September 2016 and March 2017.
Initially we intended to focus on referrals from health practitioners, but given the rural nature of the Wealden patch we decided it was important to:
- get out and about raising awareness in the local community of how they could reduce their energy costs and stay warm and well
- make every contact we had with those who might benefit from our service count, using prompt cards and checklists to identify those at risk of living in a cold home, even if they had initially sought our help about something else.
We took energy advice everywhere from supermarkets to Park Homes, from Smart Meter sessions to community events and lunch clubs, from radio to local newsletters.
Thanks to the efforts of our brilliant volunteer team, and especially our local Energy Champion Carol Clark, we can count the project a huge success, more than doubling the number of energy related issues we handled compared to the same period in 15/16.
During the life of the project we secured £90k worth of benefits for our clients, helping:
- 230 people switch their energy supply, at an average saving (where known) of around £205 – that’s over £47k
- 79 people get the Warm Home Discount of £140 – that’s £11,060 in benefits
- 61 people register on the Priority Services Register
- 62 people agree arrangements on fuel debt to avoid disconnection
- 23 people with energy efficiency measures
- secure over £30k in benefits/debt write offs for this client group
We have also seen clients coming back to us with other issues now they know how we can help.
The project would not have been possible without the support of National Citizens Advice, especially William Baker and Sarah Jeffery, for which we are very grateful.
We will be repeating the project this year so if you would like us to do a session for your local community, then do get in touch at email@example.com
You can read more about Citizens Advice national research here and campaigns here. If you would like to support our campaigns or have any ideas on areas we should be looking at then do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Campaign Success Stories!
1. PIP Motability success
May 2017 - The DWP has announced reforms to PIP that will allow people to keep their Motability car whilst they are appealing a PIP decision following reassessment from DLA. This is welcome news for those who rely on their Motability car and something we have been calling for - for example in our response to the PIP second independent review.
2. Dialling Down Debt
April 2017 - Parliament have voted in an amendment in the Digital Economy Bill which means mobile providers must give consumers the opportunity to set a bill limit at the start of their contract. This is fantastic news for clients and consumers as it will enable them to prevent shock bills and unaffordable debt. We can all be proud. From local research to national parliamentary influencing our collective effort has made a difference to millions of people!
3. Settled and Safe: a renter's right...No renter should ever have to pay excessive and inexplicable fees for the basic services a letting agent provides. We want to see an end to extortionate fees levied on renters by letting agents.
All letting agent fees to be banned for tenants. This was announced in the Autumn Statement on Thursday 23 November 2016 and subsequently included in the current legislative programme. This is fantastic news and we will be lobbying for the ban to come into force as soon as possible. A big thank you to those of you who have been campaigning on letting agent practices for clients over the years.
4. Make ESA Fit for Work...https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/campaigns/campaign-successes/
Re-tests for the chronically ill have been axed. Follow the link to see BBC's news story on this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-37526324