Welcome to Sharon Hodgson's main advice page.
Please follow these links to access these subject pages individually:
1. > Benefits and Income >
2. > Debt advice >
3. > Housing >
4. > Energy >
5. Emergency Support - coming soon
6. > Employment issues >
7. > Family issues >
8. Immigration issues - coming soon
9. Police matters - coming soon
NB - This information here below was our old advice page - here for reference - Last edited: May 22, 2018
On this page you will find some information which may help resolve various issues that you may be experiencing.
NB - If you are able to update any of this information yourself, then please do let us know by e-mailing: [email protected]
Disclaimer - While reasonable efforts have been made to supply credible organisations' websites, Sharon Hodgson is not responsible for their content and their use is entirely your own decision.
You can also find information on Government services at: Gov.uk website
Unemployment & Benefits
The "Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service" (ACAS) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues. You can call the ACAS helpline on 0300 123 1100. You can also contact ACAS’s regional office for the North East on 08457 38 37 36. ACAS Website: www.acas.org.uk
With an employment dispute, you can call ACAS for advice.
If you are faced with an employment tribunal, you will need to make your case, either on your own or by a representative.
The Central London Law Centre has provided a document titled "Claimant’s Companion" which is a guide for workers who are bringing employment tribunal cases with the help of a solicitor or voluntary sector advisor. This document does not provide workers with the knowledge to bring their own case, but instead to understand the legal jargon and background information to what their representative is telling them. This document can be accessed here. Claimants Companion
If you are unsure where to find a legal representative, the Law Society has a useful database which can help you. You are also able to contact the Employment Tribunal enquiry line on 0300 123 1024. It must be remembered that they cannot provide legal advice. www.gov.uk/courts-tribunals/employment-tribunal
If you are made redundant, you may be entitled to claim out-of-work benefits. These benefits are in the process of transferring over to the new ‘Universal Credit’ system. Sunderland City Council website provides up-to-date information concerning these benefit changes here (Sunderland City Council).
If you are claiming income-related benefits, you may receive help towards interest payments on your mortgage or loans you have taken out for certain repairs and improvements to your home. This initiative is called Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI). It must be noted that there is no guarantee that you will receive SMI for a loan you have taken out.
The payment for SMI is paid directly to the lender and they cannot help towards the amount you have borrowed - only the interest. This only begins 13 weeks after claiming benefits. If you are receiving Pension Credits, then there is no waiting period.
If you believe you are eligible to claim SMI, then you must contact the Job Centre Plus or the Pension Service.
You will also be entitled to certain benefits and training if you are out of work. The best approach is to contact your local Job Centre Plus, as they can advise you on benefits and also help you in your search for a job. If you are unable to work for any reason, it is best to contact Job Centre Plus.
You can contact Job Centre Plus on 0845 608 8637 for issues such as, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance and Incapacity Benefit. When calling the above number you must confirm your National Insurance Number and your date of birth. You will then need to give, or set up a 4 digit Personal Identification Number (PIN) and it must not be a memorable date like your date of birth.
You can contact Job Centre Plus on issues relating to Social Funds on 0845 603 6967 and Maternity Allowance on 0845 608 8610. Lines for these services are open Monday to Friday 8.00am to 6.00pm – the Job Centre Plus website advices that the lines are normally less busy before 9.00am
You can also contact Job Centre Plus concerning;
Bereavement benefits on 0845 608 8601
Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit on 0845 600 1587
Finding a Job on 0845 606 0234.
Making a new benefit claim on 0800 055 6688.
*These lines are open Monday to Friday 8.00am to 6.00pm Monday to Friday.
If you are struggling with money and have an unforeseen emergency where there is no access to other monies, then you can apply for Crisis Support from Sunderland City Council. This support can be in the shape of a food parcel, fuel top-up or provision for emergency travel in exceptional circumstances. You can find out if you are eligible for this money here.
If you find that you have been put through a Work Capability Assessment and failed, then you will be able to appeal the decision. This must be done within a one month deadline from the date on the letter stating the decision to revoke your benefits. To appeal, you must use a GL24 form. More information on this can be found here.
You are able to ask for further written details about the decision, and once you have received that information you have 14 days in which to ask for the decision to be reconsidered. The two websites provided above give further details on how to get through an appeals process.
Food banks are there for people who are struggling to make ends meet and need support to feed their families. Sunderland’s food bank is run by the Trussell Trust.
Some food banks are self-referred, but many operate on a voucher system or referral scheme where care professionals, like doctors, health visitors, social workers, CAB and the police identify people who are in crisis and issue them with a voucher.
Sunderland’s food bank is based at Elim Church, Durham Road, Sunderland, SR2 7PD. The contact number for the Sunderland food bank is 0191 567 1367, or you can find more information here. Sunderland Elim Church Food Bank
There is also a Washington Community Food Bank which provides access to emergency food aid for individuals in crisis. You can contact them on 0191 452 7392. Website: http://wcfp.org.uk
Employment & Protecting your rights at work
The National Careers Service offers advice and guidance for those seeking employment over the age of 19. You can contact one of their advisers by phone on 0800 100 900. You are also able to e-mail advisers and have web chats - amongst other services - with The National Careers Service. More information can be found on their website here.
If you are between the ages of 13 – 18 years old, there are dedicated NCS resources available here.
If you are seeking employment, the Universal Jobmatch service allows you to search those positions listed with local Jobcentres from across the country.
If you are a member of a trade union, your union representative may be able to provide advice or assistance about employment matters. If you are not a member of a Trade Union, then you can join various unions including the GMB, Unite and Unison.
There are also organisations which will provide advice and help to those in work. Some include:
Pay and Work Rights helpline
This helpline provides advice concerning the National Minimum Wage, working for an employment agency, maximum weekly working hours, agricultural working hours, and working for a gangmaster.
Telephone: 0800 917 2368
An organisation which provides a free Legal helpline to parents and carers on employment rights, such as maternity and paternity leave, rights to time off in an emergency, and parental leave. They also provide support on negotiating flexible hours, and provide basic advice on benefits and tax credits for working parents.
Telephone: 0800 013 0313
Landlords have certain obligations to their tenants. The rules and procedures vary depending on the type of tenancy, but there are certain basic rules which are always the same. The housing charity Shelter provides a page which outlines what you should expect from your landlord, available here.
One of the most important requirements is that your landlord must place your deposit in a tenancy deposit protection (TDP) scheme. These include Deposit Protection Service (Custodial and Insured), MyDeposits, Tenancy Deposit Scheme and Capita Tenancy Deposit Protection. These government-backed schemes ensure that you will get your deposit back within 10 days of the tenancy ending, if you have complied with the terms of your tenancy.
There are various other things you may need to know about renting from a private landlord, set out by Shelter here.
Some basic advice concerning Housing and budgets includes:
- making a list of all your debts and put them in order of priority;
- write down all your income and expenses - then see how much you've got to pay your debts;
- work out how much you can afford to pay to each creditor (a person or organisation you owe money to);
- consider seeking advice from a debt advice agency such as National Debtline on 0808 808 4000, visiting the National Debtline website or contacting Step Change on 0800 033 4321. (formerly known as the Consumer Credit Counselling Service)
- most importantly, talk to your landlord - try to reach an agreement about paying off the arrears, but don't agree to pay more than you can afford. One way to do this is through an agreed Debt Management Plan (DMP). Be careful to only set up a plan with a company that is licensed by the Office of Fair Trading. More information can be found at the Government’s new website, Gov.uk here (LINK: https://www.gov.uk/options-for-paying-off-your-debts/debt-management-plans)
- If you’re on a low income, or are having financial problems, you should check if you can qualify for benefits. You may qualify for more than one and even if you have a job, it does not mean that you are not eligible. The best place for advice on benefits is your local Job Centre Plus.
- If you find yourself facing homelessness, Sunderland City Council hopes to soon provide an access unit for young people and a domestic violence refuge, and they are currently reviewing their support for homeless people in the area. They are also aiming to make more places available for homeless people to stay. If you think you need their help and are worried about this issue call the Housing team on 0800 731 2963.
There are several different ways of borrowing money. Banks offer overdrafts, credit cards are another option. But make sure you check out all the advantages and disadvantages of each available option. Interest rates do vary widely.
The Money Advice Service provides free, unbiased and independent advice and useful information on APR and interest rates. This may help you avoid any pitfalls that will leave you paying more than you should.
If you are seeking to take out a loan, stay clear of ‘loan sharks’ and high-interest payday lenders, and try to explore cheaper and more ethical options, such as Credit Unions. There are two credit unions in Sunderland:
Wearside First Credit Union, Unit 6, 25 Waterloo Place, Sunderland, Tyne & Wear, SR13HT. Telephone: 0191 514 7491
Great North 2000 Transport Credit Union, North Bridge Street, Sunderland, Tyne & Wear, SR51AQ. Telephone: 0191 514 2000.
You can also contact the Financial Ombudsman service which provides businesses and consumers with advice and support in relation to financial matters. You can visit their website here or phone them on 0800 023 4567 between the hours 8.00am to 8.00pm Monday to Friday and Saturday 9.00am to 1.00pm.
Bailiffs - Your "creditor" (the person you owe money to) can make a claim against you in the County Court. A County Court Judgment (CCJ) may be made stating you must repay the debt. They can ask the court to issue a 'warrant of execution', which means that bailiffs may be called in to help recover the debt. If you owe tax to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), or Council Tax to your local authority, they may also send bailiffs to recover the debt.
You don’t have to let bailiffs into your home, unless they are there on behalf of HMRC and have a magistrates’ warrant, or if you have been evicted by your landlord and they have obtained a County Court possession order.
If you have concerns over the legitimacy of a bailiff, then you can use the Certificated Bailiff Register provided by the Ministry of Justice.
Debt Collectors cannot enter your home to take possessions. If you are being harassed by a debt collector, contact your local council immediately.
Getting involved with 'loan sharks' is a bad idea, as they charge very high rates of interest and often use violence. To find out if a lender is licensed before you borrow from them, call the Consumer Credit Register on 020 7211 8608 between 9.30am to 4pm from Monday to Friday.
However, if you are already involved with one, contact your local Trading Standards Institute’s Office immediately on 08454 04 05 06. You can contact your Sunderland’s Trading Standards and Public Health office on 0191 561 1661, or email them on [email protected].
You can also contact the Illegal Money Lending Team 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0300 555 1122, or call Community Legal Advice on 0845 345 4 345 between 9.00am to 8.00pm Monday to Friday, and Saturday 9.00am to 12.30pm.
If you find yourself homeless, then you can contact Sunderland City Council’s Housing Options Team on 0800 731 2963. You can ring this number 24 hours a day. If you have access to a computer, you can email the Team at [email protected].
Shelter UK provides information concerning homelessness here.
If you are 16 or 17 and find yourself homeless, then Sunderland’s YMCA has a great webpage which explains the process you need to go through here. Sunderland YMCA
If you are struggling to make payments, your lender may agree to reduce your payments for a short period, give you a ‘payment holiday’ or extend your mortgage term to reduce payments.
You can visit the Mortgage Advice Bureau at 83 The Broadway, Sunderland, SR4 8PA, or phone them on 0191 528 9080.
The Mortgage Rescue Scheme is aimed to be a last resort after you have tried all other options to relieve your situation. There are two kinds of financial help, the Equity Loan and Government mortgage to rent. You must apply for this scheme through your local council. Please contact Sunderland City Council on 0191 520 5555.
Writing a budget can be a good way to prioritise bills and essentials, and help you work out a payment plan. First calculate all your essential outgoings, including household bills, rent, credit cards, and also items such as food and clothing. Then work out your income, including any benefits you are entitled to.
If you have a shortfall, consider shopping around for better value electricity, gas, food items; buy only the bare essentials and deal with debts immediately.
Check if you are entitled to any benefits.
Note down everything you spend, as this will help you keep on top of all outgoings.
Try to save money on heating, electricity or gas bills by being more efficient. For example, you could turn off appliances rather than leaving them on standby, use energy efficient bulbs and switch off lights. These are small steps, but they could help to save you money.
The Money Advice service has a very handy online budgeting tool here: www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/tools/budget-planner/start
If you are bankrupt, a court can either declare you so, or you can fill in your own bankruptcy petition. Bankruptcy is serious and will affect your life in many ways, so please remember, if you are in debt, it is not the only option.
First try writing to creditors to try and agree a repayment timetable that you can fulfill.
Secondly, you could ask an Insolvency practitioner to help you negotiate with the creditor.
Alternatively, you could arrange for an administration order, through which a county court orders you to make payments to the court, which the court then distributes amongst your creditors.
Following action taken by the Labour Government to rescue the consumer banking system in 2008, personal savings are guaranteed up to £50,000 per account - if you have more than this in one place, it may be a safer bet to split it between two or more accounts with different banks.
Citizen’s Advice provides a comprehensive section on their website which gives information, support and advice concerning banking, available here.
The union UNITE provides a free service if you have a fallout with your neighbour including issues relating to noise, parking, children’s ball games, boundaries, high hedges, litter, building work, dogs, cats, anti-social behaviour, bullying, lifestyle differences, cultural differences, alarms, breakdown in communication, gossip, landlord/tenant issues and verbal abuse. The process is confidential and free. You can refer your own case, or be referred by another organisation. To find out more or to use UNITE’s free service call 0164 231 163.
An ombudsman is an official appointed to investigate individuals’ complaints against issues relating to public authorities. There are various ombudsman and various ways to contact them. This section will provide an overview.
Consumer Group Which? advice on using Ombudsman Services
Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO)
The role of the PHSO is to investigate complaints that individuals have been treated unfairly or have received poor service from government departments, and other public organisations, and the NHS in England.
For complaints about Government departments, such as HMRC or DWP, you must contact your MP first to be refered to the PHSO. This is called the “MP Filter”. The PSHO insists that constituents have exhausted all alternative routes or local resolution mechanisms. However, if you are making a complaint about a health matter, you can go direct to the PSHO yourself - no need for MP referral on health matters.
It must be noted that the decision of the Ombudsman is final and your decision to use them is entirely your own.
To find out more, or contact the PSHO visit their website here or contact their helpline on 0345 015 4033.
Local Government Ombudsman (LGO)
The role of the LGO is to look at complaints made against councils and some other authorities and organisations, including education admissions appeal panels and adult social care providers.
You are able to contact the LGO directly, without going via your MP’s office.
You can call this ombudsman on 0300 061 0614 or visit their website here (LINK: http://www.lgo.org.uk/).
The Housing Ombudsman Service
The Housing Ombudsman Service deals with complaints made about housing associations and local authorities. Some managing agents and private landlords are also members of the scheme.
The Housing Ombudsman Service provides a website that explains the process you need to take when dealing with a housing issue. You can read more here.
The Property Ombudsman
The role of the Property Ombudsman is to reach a resolution concerning disputes with estate agents, letting agents, residential managing agents, valuers, auctioneers and other property professionals.
The Ombudsman will investigate complaints about registered firms who have gone against your legal rights, treated you unfairly, or been found guilty of maladministration. It must be noted that all estate agents must be members of the scheme. There is currently no requirement for other property professionals to register as members.
To start the process, you must write a formal complaint to the registered firm to start their internal complaints procedure. If, at the end of this process, you are not satisfied, you can contact the Property Ombudsman. You must do this within six months of the firm completing their internal complaints procedure.
To process a complaint with the Property ombudsman, you can write to them at Milford House, 43 – 55 Milford Street, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP12BP, call them on 01722 333 306 or email them at [email protected].
Further information is available on The Property Ombudsman website here.