Hackney Advice


Below is a list of some frequently asked questions and answers.  They are based on the types of queries that Hackney advice giving organisations often receive.

Asylum: Can my family come to the UK to escape violence?

The UK has signed a United Nations Convention on refugees, which means that it is committed to offering asylum to people who are at risk of persecution in their own country. The process of applying for asylum in the UK is extremely complex and you must seek specialist advice to find out whether your family member might qualify for asylum.


Only a small proportion of asylum applications are successful, so you should also consider whether they could come to this country in another capacity. They may, for example, have family links with the UK that could give them rights to be here while things are unsettled in their home country.


UK immigration law is complex and getting it wrong has serious consequences. You should always consult a specialist.

Can my employer dismiss me because I am pregnant?

If your employer dismisses you because of your pregnancy you could make a claim to an Employment Tribunal for automatic unfair dismissal (regardless of how long you have been employed) and also for pregnancy discrimination.


You would need to be able to show an Employment Tribunal that the main reason for your dismissal was your pregnancy. You will need specialist help to do this.


For more information see www.adviceguide.org.uk or contact Acas on 0300 123 1100 or at www.acas.org.uk.

Debt: I am struggling to pay my credit card bills. What can I do?

If you are struggling to pay your credit card bill, contact your card provider to discuss your problem as soon as you can. They might agree to let you pay a reduced amount for a while. Ask for interest to be frozen so that the debt doesn’t go up.


It’s not a good idea to increase your credit limit at this stage, as this is likely to get you into more debt and they will expect you to destroy the card if they are freezing interest and suspending action.


If you have other debts or you’ve had a change in your circumstances which means you can’t pay, Citizens Advice Bureau, Step Change and National Debtline can help you to sort out your problems.

Debt: I am struggling to pay my energy bills. Can I get help?

If you're behind with payments of your gas or electricity bills, contact your fuel supplier straight away.


Your fuel supplier must offer you an arrangement to pay off the arrears at a rate you can afford. Your supplier must offer you a method of payment which is the most suitable for you and they must take into account your ability to pay.


You may be able to arrange to pay off your arrears in monthly instalments. This is called a payment plan. If you're facing disconnection, or haven't been able to keep to a payment plan, your fuel supplier may offer to install a prepayment meter.


A prepayment meter will allow you to pay a fixed amount off your arrears at the same time as paying for the fuel you're currently using.

How much paid holiday am I entitled to?

You are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks' holiday a year. This is called statutory holiday.


To work out how many days statutory holiday you can take a year, you need to multiply 5.6 by the number of days you work in a week.


For example:


if you work a five-day week, you are entitled to 28 days' paid holiday a year (5.6 X 5).


if you work 2.5 days a week, you are entitled to 14 days' paid holiday a year (5.6 X 2.5).


The maximum amount of statutory paid holiday you can be entitled to is 28 days. This applies even if you work more than five days a week. Your contract of employment may give you more leave than this. Part-time workers are entitled to a pro rata amount.


Some workers are not automatically entitled to statutory leave (for example, members of the armed forces or police force) and these workers have to rely on their contracts of employment for their rights to holiday.


Your employer will decide when the leave year starts and finishes - it may run from 6 April one year to 5 April the next, or it may run from 1 January to 31 December. If your leave year includes time before 1 April 2009, your entitlement will be less. It is calculated on a pro rata basis - 4.8 weeks for the period before 1 April 2009 and 5.6 weeks for the period from 1 April 2009.

How will the Benefits Cap affect my benefits?

Starting from 15 July 2013 there was a limit on the total amount of benefit you can get if you're working age. This is called the Benefit Cap.


If the cap affects you, your Housing Benefit will be reduced.


No deductions will be made to your other benefits because of the cap. This means that if you don’t receive Housing Benefit, your benefits can’t be capped.


The cap is £350 per week for single claimants and £500 for families ( i.e couples with or without children and single parent families) regardless of the number of children.


Remember that this figure is the maximum weekly amount that can be paid including housing benefit.


Some people will be exempt from the Benefit Cap. These include people who claim disability benefits (Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment or Attendance Allowance) for themselves or for a dependent, anyone over state pension age and those who work at least 16 hours per week if single parent, over 60 or disabled; or at least 24 hours per week for couple (with children) & one works at least 16 hours or at least 30 hours per week (claimants over 25 – no children or disability).

I applied for council housing and was told that I was not a priority. What can I do?

Local authorities have a legal duty to give help and advice to most people who are homeless, but they do not have to provide accommodation for everyone. If you have just arrived in the UK or you have just returned after living abroad, you may not be eligible for homelessness assistance.


The local authority will check that you are actually homeless or about to become homeless within 28 days. If you have a home somewhere else, where you could reasonably live, you will not be treated as homeless. The local authority will also have to decide whether you or someone in your household has a priority need for housing because of some special circumstances.


You will have a priority need for housing if you are pregnant or have children, if you are a young person of 16 or 17, or a young person aged 18, 19 or 20 who has recently been looked after by social services. You will also have a priority need if your home has been affected by an emergency such as fire or flood. You may also have a priority need if you are vulnerable because of having been in the armed forces, in prison or because you've had to leave your last home because of domestic or other violence. You may also have a priority need if you are vulnerable because of old age, mental illness or disability, a physical disability, or because of another special reason.


You must not have lost your home because of something that you deliberately did or failed to do. For example, if you were evicted from your home because of anti-social behaviour you could be classed as intentionally homeless. The local authority will also check that you have a connection with the local area. This may be because you normally live, work or have family there. If they decide that you have a local connection with another area, they may refer you to that local authority instead.


If you are found to be eligible for help, homeless, have a priority need and are not intentionally homeless, the local authority may give you temporary accommodation until they can offer you other accommodation which will bring their duty to rehouse you to an end. They don't have to provide accommodation from their own properties. They can house you in various ways, for example, by referring you to a housing association, or arranging accommodation with a private landlord.

I have lost my job. What benefits can I get?

The benefits you can get will depend on your individual circumstances.


If you are looking for work, you may be entitled to contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance. If you have children, you may be entitled to Child Tax Credit. If you are sick or disabled and cannot work, you may be able to get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). If you are a lone parent or a carer, you may be entitled to Income Support.


You may receive help with rent and council tax by applying for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction.


If you own your own home or are buying your own home and you receive Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related ESA or Pension Credit, you may be entitled to help with your housing costs, although this may not be available immediately.


Some benefits are contribution-based. This means that the amount and type of benefit you receive depends on how many, and what type of, national insurance contributions you paid when you were working. Other benefits are means-tested. This means that an assessment will be made of what income, savings or capital you have.


For more information go to www.gov.uk or www.adviceguide.org.uk

I have received a letter informing me that bailiffs are coming to my house. What should I do?

If you've received notice that the bailiffs are coming, don't ignore it. The bailiffs charge fees to come to your property and your debt will just get bigger if you don't take action.


Bailiffs shouldn't threaten or harass you. If they do, you can make a complaint. You should also check the fees added to your bill, to make sure they're not charging you more than they should.


You don't have to let a bailiff into your home, even if they say that you do. However, if you want to stop bailiff action, you will need to take steps to deal with the debt you owe. You could do this by contacting your creditor, speaking to the bailiff through the letterbox or a window, or leaving your home to talk to the bailiff outside.


However, even if you refuse to let the bailiff in, they may find another way to get into your home. For example, if you've left your back door unlocked, the bailiff might get in that way. If you have an outbuilding like a shed or garage on your property, the bailiff can enter them, if they are unlocked.


The bailiff can only get in using a usual means of entry such a door, and so cannot climb over walls or through windows. The bailiff can only use peaceful entry to get in, which means they can't usually use force.


Bailiffs can sometimes use force to get into your property, but in very limited situations.


Find out what to do if the bailiffs call and how to deal with the debt they're collecting by visiting www.adviceguide.org.uk and search using “bailiff”.

My debts are out of control. What can I do?

You're in debt, don't panic. But it's important to do something, because the problem won't just go away. Don’t ignore calls or letters from the people you owe money to (your creditors). Contact them to explain why you’re having problems. Most organisations will be more helpful if you approach them first.


The first thing you need to do is make a list of all your creditors.


Once you've done this, you need to work out which ones are priority debts. A priority debt is one that could have serious consequences if unpaid. Not paying your rent or mortgage would leave you homeless, or not paying your gas or electricity bill could leave you being cut off and taken to court.


Non-priority debts are ones which have less serious consequences if you don't pay them. They include things like overdrafts, loans, hire purchase, credit card accounts and catalogue debts. However, if you don't pay your non-priority debts your creditors may take you to court.


When you have decided which are priority debts, work out how much you can realistically afford to pay back. To do this, you will need to make a list of all the income and expenses for your household.


Check your income and see if there are any benefits or tax credits you are entitled to that you are not getting. Look carefully at your spending and see if there is anything you are able to cut down on. For example, you could shop around for a cheaper gas or electricity provider, or look at cheaper mortgage or insurance providers.


An advice agency can help you draw up a budget and help you increase your income if this is possible.


When you've worked out how much you have left over after paying your expenses, contact each of your priority creditors. Show them your budget and try to make an arrangement to pay back what you owe.


If you can’t afford to pay anything to your priority creditors and your situation isn’t likely to get better, the outcome may be very serious. Get advice straight away.


How you deal with your non-priority debts will depend on whether you have any money left over from dealing with your priority debts and paying for essential household expenses like housing costs and food. If you have money to spare, you may have several options for dealing with your non-priority debts. However, if you have little or no money left, have nothing of value to sell and think your situation isn't likely to get better, your options will be very limited.


Be very careful about taking out further loans to pay off existing debts. You may end up paying back a lot more than you borrowed and the interest rates may be extremely high. Some loans can be secured against your home and you could end up losing it if you fail to make repayments.


You do not need to pay for debt advice. Citizens Advice Bureau, Step Change and National Debtline give free, independent and confidential advice. They can help you work out repayments and negotiate with your creditors.

Refunds: I bought an item in the sale which is faulty. Can I get my money back?

You have just as much right to expect the item that you are buying to be of good quality as if you had bought the item before the sale. The only difference with sale items is that if they were clearly marked as 'shop soiled' or imperfect you would not be able to ask for a refund because you would have been aware when you bought the item that it was not going to be perfect.


All legal rights still apply to goods bought in a sale. They must be of good quality, fit for the purpose you are buying them for and as described on packaging or labels. That means that if a saucepan is described as non-stick the egg you are frying should not stick to it or the 100% cotton blouse you buy should be exactly that. For more information on how to deal with a problem with goods, call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 08454 04 05 06.

Will I be affected by the bedroom tax?

From 1 April 2013, if you live in social housing and you are under state retirement age your Housing Benefit is likely to be cut if you have a spare bedroom. This is also known as the 'bedroom tax', the 'under-occupancy rules' or the 'spare room subsidy'.


Housing benefit will be reduced by 14% if you have one extra bedroom and 25% if you have 2 or more extra bedrooms.


However, there are some exemptions:


1. People who are approved foster carers will be allowed an extra bedroom, whether or not a child has been placed with them or they are between placements, so long as they have fostered a child, or became an approved foster carer in the last twelve months.


2.Adult children who are in the Armed Forces but who continue to live with parents will be treated as continuing to live at home, even when deployed on operations. This means that the 'bedroom tax' rules won't be applied to the bedroom normally occupied by the member of the Armed Forces if they intend to return home.


3. There are special rules if a severely disabled child cannot share a room with another child in the household. In such a case, the 'bedroom tax' won't apply and the disabled child should be allowed their own bedroom, without Housing Benefit being reduced.


4. If you have a disabled child who needs their own bedroom because of a disability, let your council know. They should take this into account when working out how much Housing Benefit you should get. They may ask you for medical evidence or other information about your child's condition to help them make their decision.


5. These rules only apply to disabled children. The 'bedroom tax' will still apply to disabled adults who cannot share a room with their partner.