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Q&A session with specialist advisers from Citizens Advice Service - ANSWERS BACK

(38 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 24-Sep-13 09:51:12

This week we're running a Q&A session with Citizens Advice Service.
Weve invited a team of specialist advisers to answer your questions and point you in the right direction.

Citizens Advice has provided free, independent and confidential advice for nearly 75 years.  Citizens Advice supports millions of people every year on a wide range of issues from welfare to women's rights in the workplace and everything in between.

Citizens Advice uses the experiences of the people who visit them to campaign for changes to unfair policies and practices, helping many more people along the way. If you need advice, want to volunteer or join one of its campaigns, visit

So whether you're worried about debt or need help tackling a consumer issue, post your questions before end of 1st October. We will select 20 questions and post the responses to these on 8th October.

Please note, the information provided will apply to mumsnetters living in England only, unless otherwise stated in the original post.

CitizensAdvice Wed 09-Oct-13 15:57:19


I'm currently 37 weeks pregnant and run a business with my husband. It's a seasonal business so we will close next week till March. I also have a part time job (15 hours a week). I am not entitled to maternity pay/leave as I started at 16 weeks pregnant. Am I entitled to any maternity allowance?

You will be entitled to maternity leave from your part-time job as entitlement starts from day one. All employees have the right to take up to one year’s maternity leave.

You won’t be able to get to statutory maternity pay because you haven’t worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the time you are 15 weeks away from the date the baby is due.

Depending on your earnings and length of time you have worked recently, you may be able to get maternity allowance. This is a much wider allowance and you just need to have worked either for an employer or as self-employed for 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before your baby is due and to have earned at least £30 in 13 of those weeks. These weeks don’t need to be consecutive and both your part-time job and running your business can count towards this.

Your average earnings will be worked out over those 13 weeks and your earnings from your part-time job and your self employment can be combined.

You can claim maternity allowance at any time after you are 26 weeks pregnant (using the MA1 form). This can be paid for up to 39 weeks at a rate of 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings or £136.78 – whichever is the lower.

Once your baby is born, you may be entitled to child benefit and if you and your husband are on a low income, you may be able to get:

• child tax credit
• working tax credit
• housing benefit

To find out more about what you may be entitled to, visit our website Adviceguide.

CitizensAdvice Wed 09-Oct-13 16:02:26


Can my ex visit our children in my home without it affecting my benefits?

My ex has just moved out to shared accomadation, he cant really take our 2 children there to stay as he has a room and shared access to bathroom etc, which isnt ideal with a 5yr old and 6month old.

I've had an interview under caution before as someone had reported me as living with a partner (I wasn't) and I can't face it all happening again if someone see's him coming here to spend time with his children and decides to report me again!

You don’t mention which benefits you are claiming, but for most means-tested benefits such as income support and housing benefit you will be treated as a couple if you are living together as husband and wife or civil partners.

When deciding whether you are part of a couple, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will look at things like whether you live in the same household, share finances with your ex and what your living arrangements are.

The DWP may decide to investigate your claim if they think your ex is living with you. If your ex has another home elsewhere, then this is strong evidence that you are not living in the same household.

If you are called in for another interview, it would help if you could give your ex’s address and explain why he is visiting the children at your home. If you also make it clear that you do not share finances and maintain separate households (this could include practical details such as where your ex keeps his belongings, where he is registered for council tax etc), then it’s unlikely your benefits would be affected.

If you are getting tax credits, the test is a bit different if you are still married to your ex – in that case you’ll still be treated as a couple unless you are separated under a court order or in circumstances which are likely to be permanent.

Get further advice if any of your benefits are affected as you have the right to challenge any decisions you disagree with – your local Citizens Advice Bureau can help.

CitizensAdvice Wed 09-Oct-13 16:08:02


I am currently working through a Consent Order with my solicitor. She is looking at consolidating my Spousal maintenance so that I can take it out of the equity that we have in the house. It should be about £120,000. Sensibly, I should re-invest this to provide a monthly maintenance payment for me until my retirement. I am considering purchasing a flat to rent out which would provide a monthly payment. I am currently working 17 hrs a week as a Child carer and am a single mum. I am in receipt of Tax credits. Will these be affected by this spousal maintenance payment?

If you receive a lump sum maintenance payment it will not affect the amount of tax credits you get. If you buy a flat the value of the property will not affect tax credits. However, any income you receive from renting out the flat will be taken into account and added to your earnings and other income when working out how much child and working tax credit you will get.

The amount of rent taken into account will be the same as that agreed for income tax purposes. The first £300 per year of rental income is ignored and the remainder added to your other income. You are allowed to deduct from rental income any amount of expenses you have to pay to run the property. For example, if you pay for repairs to the property, insurance premiums and mortgage interest payment you would deduct those costs from the income.

Most other means-tested benefits (eg income support and housing benefit) are not paid if you have £16,000 or more capital. Your maintenance payment and the value of a property you don’t live in would be taken into account and benefit would not be paid.

Universal credit will replace tax credits in the next few years and your claim will transfer to the new benefit at some point. We don’t yet know the date this will happen. Universal credit is not paid if you have capital of £16,000 or more. The value of the flat would count as capital and therefore, you would not qualify for universal credit.

CitizensAdvice Wed 09-Oct-13 16:12:03


Is it the case that Working Tax Credit will soon be replaced by Universal Credit and savings over £16,000 (or some other limit?) will exclude claimants who currently receive WTC?

Universal credit is a single benefit which will eventually replace the means-tested benefits listed below:

• income support
• income-based jobseekers allowance
• income-related employment and support allowance
• housing benefit
• child tax credit
• working tax credit

Universal credit has only one set of rules, including an upper capital limit of £16,000. If you currently receive tax credits and have savings of more than £16,000, you will not be entitled to universal credit.

Universal credit is being rolled out gradually and currently only applies to new claims for single, unemployed people living in certain areas of the country. Universal credit will be rolled out to six new areas across Great Britain between October and March. As yet, it is still unclear which areas will follow afterwards and when.

You can find more information about universal credit on our website Adviceguide.

CitizensAdvice Wed 09-Oct-13 16:16:11


I assume this advice session is about employment issues so here goes..

I am a single parent and work shifts. My child has just been diagnosed with an illness that is classified as a disability. I am also qualified (with the same employer) in another role which I do regularly, so I asked my employer if I could work in that department for a few weeks as it is not shifts. I just need to do it until my child stabilises, we settle into a routine and I have a few friends and family trained up to be able to help with childcare.
Initially my employer said yes, so I made preparations to do that (childcare for my other child etc.). Later that day they retracted it and said no, on the basis that it wouldn't be fair to someone else who was in the same position.(?)
I already suffer from anxiety and am on anti-depressants and this situation has sent my anxiety levels sky high again so the doctor has now signed me off sick. When I am not working shifts I lose shift pay, so the other role would have given me some allowances to compensate.
I actually want to work and being at home, coupled with the financial stress and the obvious worry about my child is making me more anxious and depressed about the whole situation. I am also concerned for the future as I am not sure how I will manage childcare now during school holidays etc as he will always need a trained person with him. Will I be able to request Mon-Fri, term time only working? There are plenty of shifts fitting in with that but my employer is always one who's default answer is no!
Any advice is much appreciated as to how best to resolve this. I love my job, I want to work (and we need the money) but I need to be sure that my child is well-looked after before I can go to work.

Start by working out what you want. I think your aim is to remain in work and return 9 - 5 Monday - Friday during term time.

If you’ve been an employee (not a casual or agency worker) for 26 weeks you have the right to formally request flexible working. (Note, you can make 1 formal request per 12 months and as many informal requests as you want). But your employer doesn’t have to agree it, so approach this as a problem to work together to solve.

Details of how to make a request can be found on the Acas website.

The key points in making a successful request are:

• follow the procedure to the letter
• be clear about the changes you want, why you want them and why they suit your employer - think of solutions to objections before they’re raised
• think about compromises e.g. a short term change to get back on your feet and set up a new caring regime

Your employer’s reason for not accepting the request (that it wouldn’t be fair on other employees) is insufficient.

You should know that your employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments doesn’t extend to making them in respect of a disabled person an employee is caring for. But if you are harassed or treated less favourably because you are caring for a disabled person than if you were asking for time off to, say, look after a non-disabled child, then that is unlawful under the Equality Act.

If your employer fails to follow the flexible working procedure and/or refuses your request then get legal advice - their refusal may amount to indirect sex discrimination and disability discrimination. Good Luck!

CitizensAdvice Wed 09-Oct-13 16:21:03


My sister in law is two months pregnant and works in a private nursery. She has diabetes and at the request of her doctors she has to attend frequent hospital and doctor appointments. Her boss is continually making snide remarks about her being pregnant and at times refusing to let her attend appointments. She is made to feel guilty about attending medical appointments and has been told that she will have to make the hours up. What possible legal remedies are available to her as she feels bullied and discriminated against?

I’m assuming that the extra antenatal appointments are needed because of the diabetes. If they are unconnected, advice should be sought about disability discrimination.

Pregnant employees and agency workers have the right not to be unreasonably refused paid time off to attend antenatal care appointments (including travel and waiting time) during working hours. This is a legal entitlement so it doesn’t matter what the contract says or whether the employer agrees to it.

‘Antenatal care’ includes appointments with midwives or other specialists to check that the mother and baby are well.

A pregnant woman must make appointments to receive antenatal care on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, midwife or nurse and, after the first appointment, the employer can ask for permission to see the appointment card.

It’s pregnancy discrimination if your sister-in-law is treated unfavourably because of her pregnancy or any illness suffered by her as a result of it. Snide remarks are unacceptable but unfortunately, common. This treatment amounts to pregnancy discrimination but it costs £1,200 to claim discrimination so alternative dispute resolution is better.

I’d suggest that your sister-in-law has a word with her boss (or her boss’s boss) and makes it clear she is entitled to paid time off for ante-natal care and is unhappy about the snide remarks. She should mention what’s been said, when, where and who was nearby and be clear that she is unhappy about it and that she wants it to stop.

If this doesn’t work, she should escalate the complaint into a ‘grievance’ by putting it in writing. Her employer will then arrange a formal meeting to discuss it.

This sounds scary, but should be done in order to try to resolve this situation. For more information on pregnancy and maternity discrimination, visit our website Adviceguide.

CitizensAdvice Wed 09-Oct-13 16:38:15


My brother is deceased and he was not named on his sons birth certificate.How can we get his fathers name entered on his birth certificate. His son is now an adult and we have DNA evidence. Parents were never married.

We called the General Register Office (GRO) for help on this one and they directed us to a 'declaration as to parentage'.

In summary, this is a court order issued to establish who is, or is not, the parent of a child. Once a declaration is issued by the courts, the GRO will re-register the birth of a child.

We suggest you first speak to the GRO, using the contact details below:

Address: GRO Casework Team, PO Box 476, Southport, PR8 2WJ
Telephone: 0300 123 1837

As this declaration needs to be made by the court, seek the advice of a solicitor, preferably a solicitor with experience in family law. Without knowing the specific details, we can't give you any advice about the DNA evidence, but a family solicitor will be able to help you with this.

CitizensAdvice Wed 09-Oct-13 16:42:46


I'm a mumsnetter living in France, but I really want to return to the UK. My ex-husband left me and my children here without any notice, just a telephone call one afternoon last year saying he didn't want to be married and that's it. He was always based in the UK and paying tax etc, DCs and I were dependant upon him. Since he left things have been very, very hard for me. Because he was working in the UK and not into the French system we're not entitled to any benefits or support here. I really want to come home to the UK, live near a support network of family and friends and get a job. My question is, what support is there for us in the UK. I would hope I would be treated like any other wife whose marriage has split up and she needs to find a new home, but I don't think I'm going to be. Can you advise please? I need to know if I would receive housing benefit etc, child tax credit and working tax credit.

Different benefits have different conditions of entitlement, including residence rules. If your income and savings are low enough you may be able to claim means-tested benefits such as income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance and housing benefit. But, as you have been living in France, you may have difficulty meeting the residence rules when you first return and could have to wait before benefit will be paid.

Means-tested benefits have a rule that you must be habitually resident in the UK. You will have to show that you have given up residence in France and returned to make your home in the UK.

Factors that will be looked at include:
• reasons you left the UK
• length of time in France
• steps you’ve taken to give up residence in France (eg ending a tenancy, selling property and bringing belongings to the UK)
• reasons for returning and the steps you are taking to settle here (eg renting a home, registering with a GP and looking for work)

If you have been living in France for a short time and kept close ties with the UK you may be accepted as habitually resident in a short period of time, perhaps a few days or a week. If you are turned down, visit your local Citizens Advice Bureau for help appealing against the decision.

For tax credits and child benefit, you only need to be 'ordinarily resident' in the UK – ie have a home here and be living here – as well as meeting the usual benefit conditions. For working tax credit, this includes working 16 hours a week on a low income with responsibility for a child.

For more information about the habitual residence test, visit our website, Adviceguide.

CitizensAdvice Wed 09-Oct-13 16:46:35


I have several debt collection companies contacting me. Several of them seem to be trying to collect the same debt with slight variations of the amount betweeneach None of them have been able to send me any paperwork about the debt, and the best I get is a 'you know you owe it' am I obliged to pay the debt to each of them? Do I pick one company and pay them? will the others know?

Quite often debts get sold on to other collectors a number of times so it is not unusual to get letters from different companies about the same debt. The paperwork doesn't always seem to keep up with the reality of the situation.

The first thing to do is try and match up the debts to the collectors, have a look on the letters, it should show who the debt relates to which may be another credit agency.

If you know the name of the original creditor, you can contact them and ask if the debt has been sold or if a debt collection agency is acting on their behalf and ask them which one they use.

You could also do a credit report for yourself; you can do this on the Internet. It’s all a bit like fitting the pieces of the jigsaw together!

At the CAB we would generally go by the most recent letter you'd received as being the one who owns the debt "now". Talk to them, use their reference numbers. If other companies keep trying to contact you, tell them what you are doing and why. Creditors are usually much more sympathetic if they know you're trying to sort things out.

Your local CAB will be able to help you with establishing who you owe money to and how much. Visit our website to find your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau. They will also be able to advise you of the options for dealing with your debts which are suitable to your circumstances. If you wish, they will help prepare a financial statement of your monthly income and expenditure, and help you make affordable offers to creditors.

CitizensAdvice Wed 09-Oct-13 16:51:10



My husband went to the Doctors for the snip (after 3dcs). The GP referred him to go private. We don't want to pay, shouldn't this be offered on the NHS? We're in Lewisham.

Your local Lewisham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is responsible for deciding which treatments are funded by the NHS and which treatments must be paid for. These decisions are made according to local needs and the funding available to pay for them. Free access to some forms of treatment, particularly non-urgent treatment, will depend on what priorities your CCG has set.

The NHS Constitution says that local decisions about the funding of drugs and treatment must be made rationally after the CCG has considered all the evidence. The information about how they took the decision must be made readily available to the public.

If you want to know more about how the decision that vasectomies must be paid for was reached, or if you want to make a complaint about the service you have received, you can contact Lewisham CCG on 0800 456 1517 or email

Your local Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) may also be able to offer you more advice and support. The South London Commissioning Support Unit (South London CSU) runs the PALS service on behalf of Lewisham CCG. The telephone number is also 0800 456 1517 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm). If no-one is available to take your call, you can leave a message on the answer machine and someone will call you back.

You can also contact your local Lewisham Healthwatch. They listen to the views of patients in the area with the aim of shaping local health policy. They are therefore keen to hear about your views and experiences. Their website is:

CitizensAdvice Wed 09-Oct-13 17:00:13


I am leaving work, for personal reasons.I am working my notice now.
My DH will support me, but how do I keep up my NI contributions ?

If you are working and earning over a certain limit, you are liable to pay NI contributions on your earnings. When you stop work you will no longer be liable to pay these but you may wish to still make NI contributions to protect your future entitlement to state benefits, such as retirement pension.

However, there are certain situations in which those NI contributions can be made on your behalf even if you aren’t working, known as NI 'credits':

• you are receiving certain benefits, eg jobseeker's allowance or employment and support allowance (where credits are awarded automatically), or
• in certain situations, eg if you are caring for a child under 12 (where the credits may have to be claimed).

These credits aren't as good as paid NI contributions however, and only help you partially meet the conditions of entitlement to future benefits. You may wish to seek further advice about whether you should receive credits now that you aren't working (and whether or not you have to claim them), as this will depend on your current circumstances. Visit our website to find your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau.

If you are not covered by the rules on NI credits, you can choose to pay NI contributions on a voluntary basis, but voluntary contributions again do not give full entitlement to future benefits in the same way as a paid NI contribution would. You may again need to seek further advice about whether it is worth paying voluntary NI in order to protect your entitlement to future benefits (eg you may already have paid sufficient NI contributions to qualify for a full state pension).

CitizensAdvice Wed 09-Oct-13 17:02:19


I've shared ownership of my house, whats the name of the form or declaration that anybody living with me needs to sign to say they have no financial interest in the property?

We presume you mean a shared ownership scheme and that therefore you own a percentage of the property.

Put simply, if a person qualifies as having legal ownership or a beneficial interest in a property then they do.

It will depend entirely on the individual circumstances and the arrangements you have in place.

We are not aware of a form which would prevent anyone from having a financial interest in the property if they actually qualify.

I'm afraid, without the specifics of the arrangement you are asking about, we can't provide any further information, but suggest you contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau to talk through your case.

HeatherMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 09-Oct-13 17:11:17

The answers have now been posted. Thanks to everyone who participated in the Q&A.

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