Not what you signed up for? Problems with subscriptions

With ever inventive ways to lure us to shop – from Black Friday offers to Cyber Monday discounts –  it seems the shops are creating newer, better marketing to get us to buy their products and the offers seem all too tempting. So it is important to be aware of a few pitfalls out there.

Whilst not all shops are unscrupulous, many products are now on subscription and it is these products we at Citizens Advice are focussing on during National Consumer Week, this week.  Many of us find online shopping the easiest and simplest way to shop and it can be all too easy to click “buy” from your phone or device without paying too much attention to what you are really buying and signing up to. If the product is a subscription product such as a magazine, skin cream or activity box, we can unwittingly sign up to more than we bargained for.  Marketing campaigns designed to hook you in on an offer of a free trial and once that trial period is up can, begin charging you whatever amount they wish. These subscriptions are easy to agree to but may be harder to get out of so make sure you look out for the following essentials when purchasing:

  • Before you give your bank details make sure that the product is a set cost and the terms clearly state, they will deduct the same amount each month.
  • The length of the contract and how much notice you need to give to end it.
  • If you pay by Direct Debit (DD) be sure you are signing up to a DD and not a Continuous Payment Authority (CPA). A DD will take the same amount each month on the same date, a CPA is different and the charges can vary.
  • Free trials can lead to auto-enrolments to subscriptions.
  • If you change your mind, you have a 14 day cooling off period, so make sure you contact the provider to end the contract.
  • Be sure the offer is from a genuine company and not a scam. The website should start with https:// and display a padlock.
  • Watch out for pre-ticked boxes as you sign up, read the small print carefully.
  • Facing ongoing payments you didn’t sign up for this CyberMonday, go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk/ncw17 to find out more about how to cancel.

During 2015-2016 over 16 million people signed up to subscription products and it is now believed 9 out of 10 consumers use them in one form or another.  But whilst we want to be sure we know what we’re agreeing to sometimes it’s just not as simple as that, so please watch out and shop carefully. For more information on National Consumer Week please go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk/ncw17

Debt and problems with the benefits system top list for Citizens Advice

Problems with benefits, universal credit and debt are at the top issues faced by people coming to Citizens Advice South Warwickshire, but housing and rural isolation are of growing concern.
In the South Warwickshire area more than 34,000 advice issues were addressed and more than 7,500 enquirers were helped, the annual general meeting heard.
Aidan Knox, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice South Warwickshire said the figures demonstrated that people were coming with multiple problems and even though half of the working age clients were employed, the “just about managing” were often struggling with debt issues.
The affordability of housing was a problem in the district with housing related costs, including fuel costs, putting real pressure on families.
“Thanks to Stratford District Council, we’ve been able to fund a part-time court desk service to help people threatened with homelessness and repossession. The number of cases we’ve seen has gone up three fold compared with the same period last year, and we can only see this continuing”, he said.
By stopping one family becoming homeless, Citizens Advice saved the local authority £16,500 on average. During the past year CASW had helped clients claim more than £1.7 million worth of benefits that they were entitled to but not claiming. More than £400,000 worth of debt was written off and a further £200,000 worth of debt rescheduled.
The work done by the 150 volunteers had been officially valued at more than £1 million. Aidan Knox also thanked the major funders for their support of CASW, including Warwickshire County Council, Warwick District Council, Stratford District council and Stratford Town Trust.
Chris Elliott, Chief Executive of Warwick District Council said the work of Citizens Advice was very valued by the Council and there were shared aims in finding and helping those most in need. He was concerned about finding ways to soften the impact as people in the area move to Universal Credit.
Dave Webb, Executive Director of Stratford District Council said the council placed a high value on the relationships with Citizens Advice. “You provide incredible value for money and we see first-hand the work you do to help vulnerable households in the district”, he told the meeting.
Yvonne Hunter, Chair of CASW, said they were very aware of the financial restraints on their funders and partners. “But I hope you can see that funding us is a form of community investment. Giving us some income is a way to reduce the burden on local services. And when we are able to help our clients gain their proper entitlements, this is also money spent locally and returned to the local community”.

Left to right, Chris Elliott, CEO of Warwick District Council, Aidan Knox, CEO of CASW, Phil Evans, Head of Communities at Warwickshire County Council and Yvonne Hunter, Chair of CASW

Citizens Advice thanks volunteers for solving people’s problems and making a difference

Citizens Advice South Warwickshire is celebrating the inspirational volunteers who dedicate their time to solving people’s problems and making a difference to their lives.

To mark Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June) the charity is shining a spotlight on the contribution of the 135 volunteers who give up an average of 6 hours a week to help people find a way forward.

Last year Citizens Advice South Warwickshire helped more than 7,500 people with over 34,000 issues – from housing and debt to benefit and employment rights.  This year the Stratford and Warwick citizens advice services merged together and now serve a population of more a quarter of a million.

Nigel Milne has been a volunteer the Leamington office with CASW for the last 5 years.  After a career in banking and IT, working for companies like TSB and Greater Manchester police, he took early retirement.  He has completely revamped the IT service of CASW and taken a lead role in training everyone on how to use the new system.

“I know it can sound a cliché, but I did want to give something back when I finished work.  Volunteering has given me a lot of personal and professional satisfaction.  I’m not on the front line helping clients directly, but the advisors couldn’t do their job without the background support that I’ve been able to give.   And it’s also meant I don’t have time to be a couch potato, which could have happened! “

Henry Lu has been a volunteer at the Stratford office for the last 5 years.  He spent his career in power system engineering and accountancy. Henry’s claim to fame was being the first advisor to help Megan Giglia, the gold medal Paralympic cyclist, when she was having difficult times in Stratford and she turned to Citizens Advice for help 4 years ago.

Henry (pictured with Paralympic gold medal winner Megan Giglia) said: “It’s always my hope that my clients don’t give up hope and can be helped back to a normal life.  But what Megan achieved by turning her life around and winning UK’s first Paralympic gold at Rio is beyond a dream.”

“I  find advising people is most worthwhile and meaningful . Experiencing other people’s far more challenging problems puts my own into perspective.  It’s very rewarding”.

Charlie Adams, advice services manager for CASW said: “Thanks to our amazing volunteers we are able to help local people who are going through problems to get back on their feet.  If you can spare a few hours each week, we would love to hear from you.  We are particularly looking for volunteers with IT skills who could help Nigel and keep us running smoothly”.

“Volunteering brings its own rewards and is a great way to meet new people and learn new skills.”

If you are interested in finding out more about volunteering with Citizens Advice South Warwickshire, please contact tim.burden@casouthwarwickshire.org.uk  for Warwick and Leamington or 
maria. veitch@casouthwarwickshire.org.uk for Stratford-upon Avon area. 

A big thank you to Stratford Town Trust from local Citizens Advice

Citizens Advice South Warwickshire said a big thank you to Stratford Town Trust for their funding grant of nearly £55,000.

The cheque was presented when the Town Trust representatives came to visit the Citizens Advice offices in Stratford to see first-hand the work being carried out for the local area.

In 2016/17, Citizens Advice helped nearly 2000 residents in the town with more than 7,000 different issues – mainly to do with benefits, debt, housing and employment problems. 

Yvonne Hunter, Chair of Citizens Advice South Warwickshire said

“Many people think we are fully funded by the Government, but in fact we have to raise funds just like any other charity.  Having long term supporters like the Town Trust is invaluable.  It helps ensure continuity of our services and is a platform from which we can raise other funds”

“We continue to see people with more complex issues that require urgent attention.  This includes helping people who are threatened with homelessness and residents who lack basic necessities such as food and fuel”.

Claire Bowry, Grants Manager for the Town Trust said: ‘The Town Trust is proud to contribute to the funding for the vital services provided by Citizens Advice South Warwickshire to the residents of Stratford upon Avon. The dedication and knowledge of its staff and volunteers mean that clients receive support that can change their lives when they turn to CASW for help.’

The Town Trust funding will go towards providing free and confidential advice to town residents.  It will also enable Citizens Advice to offer a home visit service for local people who, through disability, illness or caring responsibilities, find it difficult to get to their Meer Street offices.

Since 2001, Stratford Town Trust has awarded nearly £1 million to support Citizens Advice Services in Stratford-upon-Avon.

 

New Breakthrough project launched

On September 1st we launched a new programme called Breakthrough, which is  jointly funded through the Big Lottery Fund and the European Social Fund.  Breakthrough aims to breakdown the financial and other barriers that stop people accessing work and further learning and, through a money mentor, helps them to develop their skills and confidence and take steps to move closer towards employment.

For more information contact carly.davies@stratforduponavoncab.org.uk