Research and Campaigns
One of the twin aims of the Citizens Advice service is to campaign to improve the policies and practices which affect people's everyday lives. Everyone who works for us contributes to this work, by identifying examples of unfairness, discrimination or poor practice by local organisations. These examples are monitored and collated into reports. Reports can be sent to Citizens Advice nationally for lobbying of government or can be used to influence policy and practice at a local level in Hastings. Some of the issues we are working on right now include:
Over the past year we have seen many clients who have employment problems. At a recent meeting with Hastings MP, Amber Rudd, volunteers presented the issues brought by a number of people working locally in private care homes. Some of the employees we see do not understand their statutory employment rights, usually because they are migrants. Some employers, mainly independent care home owners, are exploiting their employees’ rights, by illegal unfair practice, for example, not paying them while undertaking mandatory training. We also see unfair dismissal and discrimination against employees who become pregnant under the guise that they cannot carry out heavy manual duties whilst pregnant.
The care sector has patient protection through CQC inspections. These inspections look at care delivered by employees to residents, the relevant staff patient ratios and training records. However, they do not look at any evidence of breaches to employees statutory employment rights. Amber Rudd agreed to determine from Ministers whether the scope of CQC could be widened to check employees’ satisfaction and treatment at work. This would give employees more rights and more security which would make them feel more valued at work and feel more confident to plan for the future.
Access to Meter Readings
Many clients presenting with debts for utility bills are not able to take meter readings in Houses of Multiple Occupation. Meters are often grouped together in cellars, attics, or locked cupboards only accessible by the landlord; or in rooms rented by another tenant. Many of the debt issues could have been resolved sooner with accurate readings. We asked Hastings Borough Council (HBC) to intervene under Schedule 4 of the Housing Act 2004. Council officers agreed to add a new condition to future HMO licenses. This requires landlords to ensure tenants are able to obtain gas, electricity and water meter readings at reasonable times during the course of the tenancy. This includes providing a written document on the location of the meters and ensuring a final reading at the termination of the tenancy. We continue to identify cases for HBC and work together positively for local people with debt issues.
Mobile phone contracts
We have identified a number of clients with issues with mobile phone contracts. This includes sale of multiple contracts, including to people with pre-existing mobile phone debts to the same phone company, contracts that people did not understand either through contract complexity or underlying client capabilities, such as a learning difficulty or mental health problems, and not being able to cancel contracts once a mistake had been realised. We are beginning work with Trading Standards in East Sussex to identify vulnerable clients who have been sold a mobile phone contract they do not understand to help them be released from those contracts.
If you would like to support our campaigns or are interested in finding out more about this work you can contact us via Adviceline on 03444 111 444. You can read more about National Policy Research here and Campaigns here.