Advice column

July 2024 - Renting

I’ve got to move house and will be renting somewhere on my own for the first time. It’s exciting but there’s so much to think about and I’m worried things could go wrong. Do you have any tips or advice on what I should do when looking for a new home?

Whether you’re renting on your own or with other people, one of the first decisions to make is whether you want to rent directly from a landlord or through a letting agent.

Renting directly from a landlord might mean you have less to pay before moving in, fewer references and you might not need to do a credit check. Alternatively, renting through a letting agent means that if they manage the property they’ll liaise with the landlord about any repairs that need doing on your behalf. However, if a letting agent behaves badly and you believe they’re at fault you can complain to their independent complaints body, known as ‘redress scheme’.

There are lots of websites you can use to find somewhere to rent but if you can’t look online, you could visit a local estate agent or ask friends and family to help you. When you’re looking, remember, never pay any money before you’ve seen the property and if you can take someone with you when viewing properties.

Avoid renting directly from an existing tenant, this is called ‘subletting’ and the tenant might not have the landlord’s permission to rent to you, which could cause problems down the line.

If a tenant is showing you around the property on behalf of the landlord they should give you the landlord's contact details.

To make sure the property you're going to rent is safe, affordable and meets your needs, ask the landlord or letting agent some key questions. For example, how much rent is and how it should be paid, if the rent includes any bills, how long the tenancy is, if there’s the opportunity to renew and if there’s a break clause in case you need to end the tenancy early. 

Check if you’ll need to pay a holding deposit while the landlord carries out pre-tenancy checks, this can’t be more than a week’s rent and should be returned to you at the start of the tenancy. You should also ask your landlord or letting agent what documents you'll need to provide when you agree to rent the property including evidence of your Right to Rent.

Before you go ahead, ask how your tenancy deposit will be protected, if any furniture or appliances are included in the tenancy and, if relevant, whether you can have pets. You should also request any obvious problems with the property are fixed before you move in. 

If a landlord refuses to rent to you because of who you are, this may be discrimination. For instance because of your race, religion or sexual orientation. A 'no kids policy' or refusing to rent to you because you get benefits could also be discrimination. You only need to tell a landlord or letting agent you receive benefits if they ask. Some may then require a guarantor as security if you have no renting history, or if they feel you may have trouble paying rent. They can still refuse to rent to you if they think you won’t be able to afford it.

Remember, if you need any other pointers or advice on renting or you run into any problems, use our Self referral form.

June 2024 - School costs

The school holidays are about to begin and as a parent I’m already dreading September. School costs can quickly mount up - uniform, transport, trips and probably more I haven’t even thought of yet - I’m really worried I won’t have enough money to cover it all. How will I manage?

School costs can seem overwhelming, but if you're on a low income your local council might help you with some of the expense.

As any parent knows there are a multitude of opportunities and requirements that go hand-in-hand with school and many come with a price tag. For that reason there is support available when it comes to paying for school uniforms, trips and essential equipment. Some extra curricular clubs such as music might also have funding available. You can find what help is available locally on the Reading Services Guide.

When it comes to uniform, schools have a responsibility to make sure they are affordable. A good starting point is the school website which will have the uniform policy, as well as how to find second-hand items. 

Some schools will require branded items but these must be kept to a minimum in line with government guidance on affordability, available at  If you are worried you still can't afford the required uniform you should speak to someone in the school office who might be able to help. 

In terms of food, children in infant school - reception, year one and year two -  automatically get free school meals. If your child is in junior school - years three to six - you can apply for free school meals if you get certain benefits. 

In some cases free transport is available. If your child is aged five to 16 your local council might help with free or lower-cost transport if you don't live near school or your child's unable to walk there. And for older children in a sixth form or training as an apprentice, there may also be support available. You'll need to ask your local council if they can help.Unfortunately we can’t help with homework, but there is more information on financial support that’s available for school costs and general budgeting advice on the Citizens Advice website.

May 2024 - Preparing for a holiday abroad

We’re booking a summer holiday to Spain. It’s been a while since we’ve gone on holiday and we really don’t want anything to go wrong. What can we do to protect ourselves and prepare for the unexpected?

The chances are you’ll have the relaxing holiday you deserve, but there are a few things you can do in advance to help your holiday go smoothly. That includes the golden rule of getting travel insurance and brushing up on what your rights are if something goes wrong.

The first thing to do is check if your passport is in date. Renewing can take several weeks so you don’t want to leave this until the last minute. You can check the validity of your passport for your trip on GOV.UK by seeing the entry requirements of the country you’re travelling to. 

This is especially important if you’re flying to Europe as EU countries no longer accept passports that are more than ten years old. If your passport was issued pre-Brexit then the expiry date might be more than ten years from the issue date, but if it’s older than ten years, you’ll need to get it renewed for EU travel - even if it’s still in date. 

Flight delays and cancellations could happen to any of us, so it’s worth knowing what your rights are if this happens. If your flight is delayed long enough, your airline has to give you access to food and drink vouchers, phone calls and emails, and accommodation if you’re delayed overnight. If your flight is cancelled, you have a legal right to a full refund or replacement flight to help you get to your destination.

Bags going missing is another classic holiday nightmare. But you do have a right to compensation if your airline delays, loses or damages your checked-in luggage. The Citizens Advice website shows you how to do this.

You might also get compensation for other things, like a day trip getting cancelled, or if you paid for a deluxe room but only got a standard one. This will depend on whether you booked a package holiday, made ‘linked travel arrangements’ or organised the holiday yourself as an independent traveller, so it’s worth checking to see what compensation you can get.

Finally, Citizens Advice says you should get travel insurance, as it can cover many of the things already mentioned, like flight delays and lost luggage, but also things like a holiday cancellation and medical emergencies. You should get insurance as soon as you book a holiday to make sure you're covered from the get go, but check first to see if you’re covered for what you need through an existing insurance policy or through your bank account.

Hopefully you won’t face any problems while on holiday, but early planning and preparations can go a long way. If something goes wrong and you need advice on a consumer problem, check the Citizens Advice website.

April 2024 - Understanding your payslip

I’ve just got my first payslip from a new job, I’m slightly embarrassed to say I don’t understand what all the different sections refer to. How do I know what each means and if it’s correct?

Congratulations on the new job, hopefully you’re settling into the new role. 

There’s no need to be embarrassed about not understanding your payslip, it contains lots of information which can be tricky to get your head around but it is important to understand. Your payslip shows your pay, deductions and tax information. All employers are required to give their employees a payslip and it’s a good idea to keep them for as long as possible.

The top left corner of your payslip is where you’ll usually find your employer’s details. Opposite this, in the middle or top right corner, should be your details. This is also where you might find your payroll or employee number, this is what your employer uses to identify you for payroll purposes.

Next, you’ll see lots of different numbers and codes. The payment date is when your pay will normally arrive in your bank account, it can be monthly or weekly and fall on any day of the month. 

Your National Insurance (NI) number refers to your unique number. You must have a NI number to work in the UK.  It’s used to make sure all your NI contributions are recorded and so you can get any state benefits you’re entitled to, including state pension later in life.

Your payslip might show a tax period, the tax year starts in April and ends in March. The number here corresponds to the period in which you’re being taxed, eg. if you’re paid monthly, 01 will represent the tax period in April, while 12 would mean March.

Next is your tax code. This is decided by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and is used by your employer or pension provider to work out how much Income Tax to take from your pay. Your tax code is made up of several numbers and a letter. The numbers refer to how much tax-free income you get while the letters can mean different things depending on your circumstances. You can find out what they mean on the government website

Make sure you’re not on an emergency tax code otherwise you’ll be taxed more than needed. 

Now to your pay and deductions. Gross pay, means how much you’ve earned before anything is deducted. Deductions are amounts taken from your gross pay, common ones include: income tax, national insurance, pension or student loan payments. Income tax is the tax you pay on your earnings to fund public services, this is something you have to pay but the amount will vary depending on your earnings. You pay National Insurance so you can be entitled to certain benefits, and it also contributes towards the NHS.

Most payslips will add up all the deductions from your pay into a single amount to make it easier for you to see how much is taken from your pay each month. Your net pay is the amount of money you will receive after all the deductions have worked out.

Lastly, taxable pay is the amount of your salary, to date in the current tax year, that has been subjected to tax. This will usually appear next to your net pay figure.

If you need further help with your payslip or employment matters the Acas website has lots of useful information.

March 2024 - Council Tax

My council tax bill is coming out in March and I am dreading opening it as it always goes up. My income has stayed the same but everything else seems more expensive and I have hardly anything left over - how will I cope if my payments for this year go up? 

Many of us are feeling overwhelmed as we see our basic bills and essential costs go up. You’re not alone in finding things difficult and, crucially, there’s support available. 

First off, there are discounts available to some people depending on their circumstances. You can check your bill or contact your council to find out if you might be eligible for an automatic reduction to your council tax. 

If you're not getting a discount, you might still be entitled to one. It depends who lives in the property. So, if you're the only adult in your home, you’ll get a 25% discount on your council tax bill. 

When working out how many people live in a property, some people aren’t counted - they’re called ‘disregarded people’ and include under 18s, a student nurse or someone on an apprenticeship scheme and many more. Check the government website for more details. If everyone who lives in the property is disregarded, you will still receive a council tax bill, but it will have a 50% discount. However if everyone in your home is a student or severely mentally impaired, you won't pay any council tax. 

Additionally, if someone has moved out, tell the council as this might change your eligibility. If you are entitled to a discount as a result, it will be valid from the date when the person moved out, even if you told the council after the event, and the reduction may be backdated. 

If you think you might be eligible you should apply to your local council for a discount as soon as possible. Find out about council tax on the Reading Borough Council website.

You mention that your income hasn’t increased. If you are on a low income you might be able to get your council tax reduced. If you get benefits or have other people living with you, this might affect how much your council tax is reduced by. 

Your local council will ask you details about your income and your circumstances, so they can work out if you’re entitled to a council tax reduction. They will then calculate your new bill and tell you how much council tax you need to pay. 

If you have other people living with you who are aged 18 or over, you might all be responsible for paying council tax. Only one of you needs to apply for a council tax reduction. The council will make a decision and reduce the amount of council tax you have to pay accordingly. 

You may also be eligible for additional support if you’ve reached State Pension age which you can check on the government website GOV.UK. If you’re under State Pension age, the ‘working age rules’ apply and if you've reached State Pension age, it depends if you or your partner get certain benefits. 

The working age rules still apply if you've reached State Pension age and you or your partner get: 

If you've reached State Pension age and don't get any of these benefits, the 'pension age rules' apply. 

Even if none of the reduction criteria applies to you, your local council can still reduce your council tax bill or cancel it altogether, this is called ‘discretionary reduction’. They’ll normally only do this if you can show that you’re suffering severe hardship and can’t afford to pay council tax. 

If you’re in this situation you should ask your local council for help. You’ll need to show them evidence of your circumstances. If your immigration status doesn’t let you claim public funds, you can still apply for a discretionary reduction. A discretionary reduction doesn’t count as public funds. 

Council tax is a priority bill so it’s important to keep in contact with your council if you can’t keep up payments. 

We know that times are incredibly tough but please remember, you don’t have to face this alone, do contact us if you have any benefit or debt issues. See our Get help page for more  information on how we can support you.

February 2024 - Housing - damp and mould

Damp and mould is building up in our house as the weather gets colder. Our living room is the worst and there’s a strong smell, so we’ve stopped having friends round. We’re also concerned about our health. We’ve reported it to our landlord, but they haven’t done anything. With six months left on the tenancy agreement, we’re running out of options. What should we do? 

You’ve done the right thing by bringing this to your landlord. To work out if they are responsible you’ll need to find the cause of the damp and mould, but this can take time unless there’s a clear cause, like bad insulation or a leaking roof.

Damp is when an area of your property doesn’t dry out, often because it’s cold. The main types are rising, penetrating, construction, and condensation damp. It can lead to mould, which is a fungus that grows in areas where warm damp air condenses on cold surfaces, like window frames. Information on the national Citizens Advice website can help you work out what type of damp you have, who is responsible and what you can do. You should also check your tenancy agreement for mentions of repairs and damp.

Your landlord is responsible for fixing a damp problem if it’s making your home unsafe to live in. For example, this could be if it’s affecting your health or the health of those you live with. Your landlord will also be responsible if the damp is related to repairs they should have carried out, like if the window frames are rotting. They would have to cover the cost of repairs to any items damaged by the damp, including carpets and furniture.

Condensation is a key cause of damp we’re all familiar with. Keeping homes well-heated and well-ventilated is the best way to prevent this, but for many of us today, high heating costs and cold weather are making this very difficult. If you’re finding it hard to insulate and heat your home, check our website to see if you’re eligible for support.

Always avoid doing anything that can make damp worse, as it may affect whether the landlord takes responsibility for repairs. The national Citizens Advice website has advice on what to avoid, like drying clothes on heaters, blocking air vents, or using portable gas heaters.

You may reach the point where you just want to get out of your tenancy agreement early, but remember this can be very tricky and there might be things you haven’t tried yet.

For example, if your landlord is responsible for the damp in your home but doesn’t do anything, there are steps you can take, like reporting them to the local authority. And as a private renter, if you’ve got evidence from a health professional that damp is making you ill, you may be able to get free legal advice through Legal Aid. 

If you’re feeling stuck, call our Adviceline on 0800 144 8848 or Reading Borough Council on 0118 937 3787

January 2024 - Debt

I’ve built up a bit of debt and I am panicking. Even though I cut back, Christmas was expensive, my rent has gone up and my paycheque just doesn’t stretch as far as it used to. I’m doing everything I can but it’s not enough - what can I do?

First of all it’s important to know you’re not alone in finding things difficult and, crucially, there’s support available.

You say you’ve built up a bit of debt. The first step is to collect all the information you have about your debts, this might include contracts, bills and statements. 

Next, make a list of your debts and write down the details of each. This could include whom you owe the money to (this person/company is your ‘creditor’); when you first missed a payment; and how much you now owe. You’ll also need to make a note of your account or reference number and what steps the creditor has taken to get the money back, eg. sending you letters.

It might feel overwhelming when you see all of your debts written down - but try not to worry, the important thing is that you're sorting them out.

If you’re behind on household bills, prioritise paying your rent or mortgage, plus energy bills and Council Tax first. Not paying these bills has the most serious consequences. You should speak to the person or company you owe money to, to see if there are any manageable steps you can take to start reducing your debt.

Once you’ve got these debts under control, you should look at any other debts like credit card or store card debts, payday loans or missed Buy Now Pay Later payments.

While you’re looking at the money going out, do remember to consider money that could be coming in. It’s always worth checking if there are any benefits that you’re eligible for, including support with your energy costs and living costs. There’s a benefits calculator, advice on how to reduce living costs and information on other ways to increase your income, on the Citizens Advice website.

There’s also emergency support that you may be able to access, such as a food bank or fuel vouchers. You could also contact your local council to see if they can offer support. 

We know that times are incredibly tough but please remember, you don’t have to face this alone, do contact us if you have any debt issues. Fill in our self referral form and we will get in touch to see how we can best support you.

December 2023 - Winter fuel bills

I am a single parent with two kids and I’m really worried about how I’ll afford to pay my energy bills when I have to start putting the heating and lights on more now winter is here.

At the moment I just about have enough money to cover my bills but there is nothing left over. The thought of getting into debt keeps me awake at night but the idea of my children being cold and possibly unwell as a result is just unbearable. What can I do?

You are not alone - a record number of people came to Citizens Advice with energy debt in the first four months of 2023 (32,400) - a 112% increase on the same period in 2020 (15,200). 

There are things you can do to feel in control when it comes to your energy bills.

There are some simple tips to help save money on your energy bills. They won’t cover all the extra costs, but they can make a difference:

Have a look at our YouTube channel for some more ideas on how to reduce energy use around the home.

If you’re struggling to afford your energy bills, you might be able to get support from the government or your energy supplier. The first step is to contact your supplier to find out what they can offer. You may be eligible for benefits including the Warm Home Discount, Cold Weather Payments or the Household Support Fund, find out more about these on our website. 

If you would like to speak to someone in more detail about how to save money on your fuel bills, our energy advisers are here to help. You can self-refer via our website or call us on 07946 383931.

For more information visit the Citizens Advice website.

November 2023 - Online scams

I do most of my shopping online. I am always on the lookout for a bargain, especially with the festive season coming up but I’m worried about scammers. What should I look for, to avoid getting caught out?

You’re not alone, lots of people do their shopping online these days, it’s convenient and can save you time. But as more and more of us move online, so are scammers, with their tactics becoming more sophisticated all the time.

While scams can be tricky to recognise there are always things you can look out for and steps you can take to protect yourself from falling foul to a scammer.

The golden rule to remember is that if it seems too good to be true then it probably is. This goes for products which are ‘must-haves’, are sold out at major retailers, or are heavily discounted.

If you’re buying from a site you haven’t used before, do some research before hitting buy. Find the company’s return and refund policies so you know your rights if something goes wrong with your purchase. You should also look up the company’s address, this can normally be found in the website’s ‘contact us’ section and should have a street name, not just a post office box.

Also take some time to see what other people have said about the website. Start with an internet search and look at different review websites, don’t rely on reviews the company has put on its own website.

Be very wary of people contacting you out of the blue on social media or via text and email offering an item for sale or deal on something. And scammers will often ask you to pay in unusual ways, or put you under pressure to buy very quickly. For example, they’ll ask you to send money through a transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union or pay via vouchers.

If you do fall victim to a scam, firstly don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed. Scammers are clever and regularly adapt their methods making them harder to spot. Anyone can get scammed.

Secondly, do report it, this alerts authorities to scammers’ techniques and prevents others from being taken advantage of. You can report a scam to Citizens Advice or Action Fraud.

If you’ve transferred money in the last 24 hours contact the police via the non-emergency number 101, however if you feel unsafe use 999. Also contact your bank to let them know you’ve transferred money, you should still do this if 24 hours have passed. 

You can find out more about your rights via the Citizens Advice consumer advice pages or by contacting our Consumer Helpline if you need more help.

October 2023 - Safety of Halloween costumes

Halloween is coming up and my children are keen to dress up for trick-or-treat. I’ve read about accidents involving costumes catching fire and I’m worried about buying an outfit that could be highly flammable. I don’t want to spoil their fun but I do want to make sure everyone is safe. How can I check if the costumes would be safe for my children to wear?

It’s not easy being the ‘safety police’ when everyone just wants to have fun - especially when that fun includes extravagant costumes. Children should always be kept away from naked flames, but Halloween costumes come with their own set of risks for which extra safety precautions are needed.

They’re not always subject to the same fire safety checks as normal clothing as they can often be classed as toys. With Halloween being a time where lots of lit candles in pumpkins are on the same doorsteps that trick-or-treaters congregate on. As you rightly point out there have sadly been accidents associated with dressing-up outfits and so checking the garment complies with UK/EU safety standards should be a top priority.

No one wants an unexpected horror story at Halloween so it’s always best to know what you’re looking for when buying any costume to make sure the risks are limited as much as they can be:

And while you might like to let your creative streak run wild and attempt to make your own bespoke costume, it’s worth keeping in mind that homemade fancy dress costumes may also come with risks, especially if you use fabrics or decorations not designed to be worn.

If you’d like more advice, or to report something to Trading Standards, contact Citizens Advice consumer service by phone or online.

September 2023 - Second-hand cars

I need a new car for work but I can’t afford to buy a new one so I’ve been looking at second-hand options. I’ve heard so many horror stories about people buying cars that turn out to be faulty. I’m worried that I won’t know what to check, especially as I know very little about cars. How can I make sure I don’t buy a dud car?

For many people, buying a car is a major purchase and whether it’s new or second-hand, the process can seem daunting and complicated. But don’t worry, there’s lots of information on the steps to take when buying a car and what you can do afterwards if something goes wrong on the Citizens Advice website

First of all, where are you going to buy the car? If you’re buying from a trader, choose a trustworthy one with an established name with a good reputation. Ideally, they will be part of a trade association or follow the industry’s code of practice. 

If you’re buying via an auction, this is much riskier as you’ll have fewer legal protections like the right to returns or refunds so carefully read the terms and conditions before you bid. 

If you buy from a private seller, there’s a few extra steps to take. For instance, try to inspect the car at their home address so if something goes wrong later, you have a record of that.  

Make sure the car’s details are correct by using the DVLA’s free online vehicle information checker. You’ll need the registration number, MOT test number, mileage and make/model of the car to do this check. Also, check the car’s MOT history for free on

Keep a copy of both these results (take a screenshot or download the information) as well as the original advert or description of the car. You might also consider getting a private history check to see if the car’s been reported stolen, still has money owing on it, or has been in a serious crash. This will cost about £20.  

Before buying a car, it’s good to check if it meets emissions standards as it could mean paying extra charges when driving through London’s ULEZ or clean air zones across the UK. 

Inspecting the car is crucial before buying. Ideally, do this during the day when it’s not raining (scratches are harder to see on a wet car) and take it for a test drive for at least 15 minutes and on different types of road, if possible. Check you have the appropriate insurance for a test drive (either your own or the seller’s policy might cover you). 

Once you’ve decided on a car, don’t be afraid to negotiate on the price. If you take out a loan or finance to buy it, make sure you can afford the repayments over the lifetime of the contract. If you pay with cash, you will have fewer protections than other options like debit. 

Often, despite doing all these checks, you might find something wrong with the car after you’ve bought it. You may have a legal right to a repair, the cost of a repair or some money back but it’s on a case-by-case basis and some examples might be the car’s mileage is wrong or the car keeps breaking down. 

For more information, check out the Citizens Advice website or call its consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.

August 2023 - Cost of living - school age children

My children are starting new schools in September, one is in primary school and the other secondary. Between uniforms, PE kit and knowing they’ll need to catch the bus each day the costs are adding up. I’m already pretty stretched, so I’m not sure how to cover these extra outgoings. Is there any help I can get?

A new school year can put pressure on lots of people’s budgets, so you’re not alone in your worries. But there is help available.

A good place to start is the Citizens Advice website where you’ll find lots of information on the support you might be entitled to for school-related costs. 

The help you can get to cover school lunches will vary depending on how old your children are and if you claim benefits. Children in Reception, Year 1 and 2 automatically get free school meals. You can apply for free school meals for older children if you claim certain types of benefits, including Universal Credit, Child Tax Credit and Income Support. The full list is available on the Citizens Advice website.

You mentioned concerns about travel costs. If your child can't walk to school because of special educational needs or disabilities they should get free school transport. You may be able to get help with transport costs from your Local Education Authority if your children can’t walk because it's dangerous or too far. Your Local Education Authority is part of your local council that deals with education in your area, you can find yours on GOV.UK. Contact it directly to find out exactly what support it offers.

If you’re on a low income, your Local Education Authority may also be able to help you with activity and school uniform costs. You’re likely to be considered to be on a low income if you get means-tested benefits like Universal Credit or Housing Benefit. In some places there are also local charitable schemes that can help. A good place to find out about these is the school itself or Parent Teacher Association (PTA) both will usually know if these kinds of schemes exist.

A lot of people are feeling the squeeze at the moment, but it’s important to remember that help is available with starting school costs and you’re not alone. For more information visit the Citizens Advice website.

July 2023 - Bought something from a scam website

I bought a pram for £400 online, but it never arrived. At checkout it said delivery would take 3-5 working days, but I never received any tracking information. I chased the seller and they said they’d speak to the delivery company, but now when I try to phone them my call goes straight to voicemail. I’ve had no response to emails either. The website I bought it through looked legitimate but now I’ve seen people posting on review sites about products that never arrived and some are saying this is a bogus seller. Have I been scammed and if so, what can I do? 

This sounds like a very frustrating situation, and unfortunately scammers are always finding more sophisticated ways to trick shoppers, including having very legitimate-looking websites. 

From your letter, there are signs it could be a scam. We’ve detailed information on our website about how to spot the signs of a scam that you might find useful to check. 

As you’ve already parted with your money, the first step is to contact your bank immediately to let them know you think you’ve been scammed.

In terms of getting your money back, a lot depends on how you paid. We have full details on our website on the routes you can take. For example, if you paid by debit card, your card provider can ask the seller’s bank to refund the money. This is known as the ‘chargeback scheme’. If you paid by credit card and the item cost more than £100 but less than £30,000 you might be able to claim under the Consumer Credit Act. This is known as a ‘Section 75 claim’. Under £100 on credit card you can’t use Section 75, but you can use chargeback.

It’s always a good idea to report a scam, even if you haven’t got your money back yet. You can do this by contacting Action Fraud. 

It’s also worth knowing your rights as a consumer in case the seller does get back in contact and turns out not to be a scammer. If something you ordered hasn’t arrived, it’s the seller’s responsibility to get the item to you. So if they say they don’t know where the pram is, you can ask for a redelivery or, depending on how long you’ve waited for a delivery, you may be able to get a refund from the seller. We have advice on our website about how to do this

It’s also worth knowing that if a trader, having taken your money, refuses to deliver an item, Trading Standards may be able to investigate them. 

For more advice on dealing with suspected scams or problems with traders, call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline 0808 223 1133 or talk to an adviser online through the Citizens Advice website. Many people may need emotional support after falling victim to a scam, and we have advice on our website about how to get this too. 

Citizens Advice runs Scams Awareness campaigns aiming to: give people skills to identify scams; encourage people to share their experiences with scams; help people gain the confidence to report scams. The campaign is led by Citizens Advice in collaboration with the Consumer Protection Partnership (CPP).

June 2023 - Help if something goes wrong on a package holiday

We’ve booked a package holiday to Spain. It’s our first time booking this sort of getaway, and a friend recently had a terrible experience when things went wrong on a similar trip. What sort of help is available if something does go wrong? 

Hopefully you’ll have a lovely time but if something does go wrong with your package holiday, the Citizens Advice website has lots of information about what to do if something goes wrong with your holiday and what compensation you may be eligible for. 

Firstly, tell the company or travel agent you booked with as soon as possible. This way you’re more likely to be able to get it sorted quicker. If you don’t say anything until you get home, you might get less or no compensation at all. 

If the holiday you went on turned out to be lower in value than the one you originally booked you can make a claim for ‘loss of value’. For example you paid for a deluxe room but only got a standard one, if it wasn't sorted out at the time you can claim back the difference in value. 

You can also claim compensation for any extra money you have to spend while away, for example the hotel was a bus ride away from the beach rather than across the road as advertised. This is called claiming for ‘out-of-pocket expenses’. If this does happen make sure you keep all your receipts for things like bus journeys. 

If big parts of the trip you booked didn’t happen or services weren’t provided, for example a planned two-day excursion was cancelled and no alternative was organised, you can make a claim for ‘loss of enjoyment’. You can also make this claim if something happens that causes you distress or disappointment, such as the pool was closed for the whole trip. 

It’s worth noting that there’s no strict guidance on how much you can claim for loss of enjoyment but any claim you make must be reasonable. You can’t get compensation if you simply didn’t enjoy the holiday or if the problem was out of the holiday company’s control - like bad weather. 

Check the information you received when you made the booking to see what you’re supposed to get. If you don’t get the service you’ve been promised, you may be entitled to compensation for breach of contract. You might also be able to claim from your travel insurance – check if your policy covers this.

If you’re still not sure what to do, call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.

May 2023 - Not happy with work done by tradesperson

I’ve just had my bathroom retiled, but I’m not happy with the work. 

At first, things seemed to be going well, but then the tradesperson left to do another job and I had to chase them for updates. They did eventually come back and finish the job, but the work was pretty rough around the edges. They also left all the old tiles and plaster for me to dispose of, which I wasn’t expecting. I’ve now got the invoice, but I don’t think the price reflects the work done or the service I got. Can I challenge this?

It’s always frustrating when you run into problems with home improvements.

You mention that the job looked “rough round the edges”, if this is to a degree you could consider the job unfinished or unsafe, you should be able to get the tiler to come back to fix it. You could also suggest removing the old tiles might be considered as part of finishing the job. 

If the tiler considers the work complete, it’s worth knowing you’re protected by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which says the tiler should have completed the work with ‘reasonable care and skill’. If they haven’t done this, they’ve broken the law. The Act means you’re legally entitled to ask the tiler to fix the problem (if they provided the tiles as well as the service) or get money refunded (if they just provided the service and you bought the tiles). They should fix the problem or refund you in a reasonable amount of time, without causing too much inconvenience. As you’ve received the invoice for the work but not paid yet, now would be a good time to ask them to fix the issue or you can negotiate a lower price for the work.

Let the tiler know you understand what you’re entitled to. Speak to them in person, or contact them in writing/over email, there are template letters on the Citizens Advice website, either way make sure you have a written copy of anything agreed. Before you contact them, it’s a good idea to take photographs to use as evidence of the problem. Make notes about what happened, including dates and times. You should also gather any paperwork and receipts - was there any prior written agreement about who would dispose of the old tiles? Was the final cost was in line with estimates or quotes given to you at the outset of the work. If not, there is advice on the Citizens Advice website about steps you can take. 

If you’re struggling to come to an agreement with the tiler, there are other steps you can take to solve your problem  these include using ‘alternative dispute resolution’, which is a way of solving disagreements without going to court. There are full details about how to do this on the Citizens Advice website.

April 2023 - Bank holidays and employment law

I recently started a new job where my boss has told me I’ll have to work on bank holidays. This was never the case in my old job. Can my employer really make me work on a public holiday, and should I get paid extra if I do?

Congratulations on the new job. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to bank holidays, whether or not staff have to work is up to their employer, and you don’t have to be paid more if you do. The situation will vary from job to job and may depend on a number of factors such as whether your place of work is open on bank holidays, your hours of work and crucially, what your contract says. 

Take a look at your contract, if you have one, to find out what your personal situation is. Your contract might say you will always get bank holidays off but it might say you may sometimes be required to work them or will always be required to work. If your place of work is normally open on a bank holiday you’ll probably be asked to work at least some. But if your contract says you get bank holidays off you shouldn’t be asked to work.

Your contract might say something like: “In addition to bank and public holidays, your annual entitlement to holidays is X days”. This means you get public holidays off in addition to your annual leave entitlement but it might not mean you’re entitled to take the specific days off. You may be required to work a bank holiday, in which case you should get another day off instead.

Alternatively, it might say something like: “Your annual holiday entitlement (inclusive of bank and public holidays) is X days” - this means you have to take bank holidays off as part of your annual leave entitlement. Bank holidays will either be deducted from your annual leave allowance (so you’ll have to book all bank holidays as paid time off) or counted as additional holiday days. 

A common misunderstanding around bank holidays is that employers have to pay you extra for working them. This is not the case. Unless your contract says you’ll be paid extra you will just be paid your normal amount. If your contract says you are entitled to bank holidays but you’re asked to work, you should be able to take a different day off in lieu. Your employer has to follow what’s set out in your contract, if they don’t, you should raise this with them.

If you don’t have a contract, the legal default position is that your employer can tell you when you can or can’t take time off. If you’d like to request a bank holiday off, use the normal method for requesting time off. 

If you find you need to resolve an issue with your employer, first ask for an informal chat, where you can raise your concerns. If this doesn’t get you anywhere, you may need to raise a formal grievance. If you need advice on this contact ACAS.