Money Matters: a new Age Scotland project

Age Scotland has received funding from the Money Advice Service for a new project: until February 2018 we are offering older peoples’ groups a choice of Money Matters roadshows.

We have four new people in the team: Jessica Shields our Evaluation officer, Fiona Scott our Project assistant, Cheryl Fowler who will be delivering most of our roadshows and Sam Longden who will support helpline advisers and improve our information about money matters.

We can deliver roadshows on a choice of subjects:

Benefit entitlements – did you know that 1/3 of people who are entitled don’t claim Pension Credit? Could you be missing out? Do you know how many ways there are to get help with your council tax bill? Might you be entitled to Attendance Allowance?

Care costs and funding – what does care cost? If you qualify for free personal and nursing care what is actually free? Is it true that most people have to sell their house?

Power of Attorney – what types are there? How do you choose your attorney? What are your responsibilities if you are an attorney and where can you get advice?

Wills and funeral costs – why should you write a will? Do you know what a funeral costs? How much help is available from the government? How can you save money on costs?

Planning for and managing financial changes – does your group support people who face particular challenges with money because of caring responsibilities, health issues or bereavement? We can look at how best you can manage financial issues which affect you, and learn from you too.

After the roadshows, people can call the Age Scotland helpline, 0800 12 44 222 for a confidential conversation with an adviser.

The aim of the project is to find out “what works”. So we will be working with you to find out what you know before and after roadshows, seeing how many people make follow-up calls to our helpline and, if you agree, contacting you afterwards to find out if you did take steps to claim a benefit, take out a Power of Attorney or plan for funeral costs. We really need the feedback about what worked and what didn’t work, and we will adapt our roadshows and information in response to what we learn from you.

We are looking for some groups to help us to develop our training and information, and we will also be asking professionals who work with older people what money issues they are raising, what they know about money concerns for older people and what would support them to guide older people to find advice and help.

For more information or to book a roadshow call the Age Scotland switchboard on 0333 323 2400 or email the team

5 tips on how to be more energy efficient – August’s Hot Tips

Our free calendar “Hot Tips” aims to ensure everyone in Scotland knows about the organisations and services available to them, and provides information on how to make the most of later life.

Our topic for August is Energy Efficiency. Ciaran MacDonald, Policy Officer at Age Scotland, shares five top tips on what you can do now to be be more energy efficient and potentially save money ahead of heating your home this Winter.


This has been an exceptionally cool summer. In fact I was invited on to BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Good Morning Scotland’ programme earlier this month to discuss what sort of knock on effect this can have, and how cooler summer months could affect a growing older population.

One of the points mentioned during this discussion was that if we spend money on heating during the summer then it could have an impact on household budgets for the rest of the year.

Yet, help is at hand. The summer months are an ideal time to think about how energy efficient our homes are. If you would like a more cost-effective and warmer home this winter, then why not follow these simple steps.

Step 1
It’s always wise to make sure your energy supplier has an accurate and up-to-date reading of your meter. Most suppliers will have dedicated lines, which you can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to inform them of your usage.

Step 2
Call your energy supplier to see if you are on the cheapest possible tariff that reflects your usage. Although your circumstances may change throughout the year your supplier will be able to recommend the best deal for you – so just ask!

Step 3
Switch off any electrical equipment, which you don’t need left on. You could make a yearly saving of up to £3 by turning off one appliance. As some homes have up to 50 appliances on standby at any one time that’s a lot of money to be saved!

Step 4
Consider installing an energy efficiency measure. There are many simple technologies that can be added to make your home warmer, such as installing loft insulation or a more effective central heating system. Home Energy Scotland is supported by the Scottish Government and is the one stop destination for free and independent advice on what is best for your home.  Visit the Home Energy Scotland website or call 0808 808 2282 for more information.

Step 5
Don’t be scammed! Sadly there are many ruthless tradespeople out there capitalising on people’s fears of the cold. If you have any doubts or feel pressurised to agree to work then don’t! If a scheme is legitimate you will not need to sign up for it there and then. Reputable companies will fully understand this. If you have any queries or concerns then contact Home Energy Scotland (details above) or the Trading Standards Scotland Consumer Advice line on 03454 04 05 06.

Finally, if you are worried about meeting the cost of your energy supply or if you live in a home that is difficult to heat, remember help is available. For free, independent advice, why not contact Home Energy Scotland or get in touch with your local Citizens Advice Bureau or call the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06.

Download your 2015 Hot Tips Calendar here and get information and advice throughout the year. Here’s what you’ve thought about Hot Tips so far:

  • “Brilliant information that I will pass onto family and friends”
  • “Thank you for the calendar – useful & attractive”
  • “Invaluable, great help – used daily, all year”

Download yours today!

What is the Help for Heating fund?

In their guest blog, RSABI tell us about the “Help for Heating Fund”, launched in December 2014, which aims to alleviate the effect of fuel poverty amongst people who have depended on land-based occupations.


 

It is widely recognised that rural fuel poverty is consistently higher than the national average with older people being particularly vulnerable. Energy efficiency improvements can help make homes more comfortably and affordably warm.  However, in many rural communities where properties are typically older, harder to treat or lie off the gas grid, they alone cannot lift people out of fuel poverty in the context of rising fuel prices and low fixed incomes. 

RSABI recognises that during the Winter months many households will be inadequately heated, with many people will be worrying about paying their energy bills.

632x305_woman_adjusting_thermostat

The Help for Heating Fund has been set up to help alleviate the effects of fuel hardship for those who have depended on the land but are now unable to work. The application is simple and the charity has made cash available specifically for this fund, with help coming in the form of a fixed grant of £300 for successful applicants.

A few points to note – the Help for Heating Fund application criteria are simple: applicant households must fall within the Scottish Government’s definition of fuel poverty – over 10% of total income (which includes all benefits, disability or otherwise, and housing benefit, if received) spent on energy bills (or this would be the case if their home was heated to generally acceptable adequate levels). Applicants must meet RSABI occupational criteria – having worked full-time on the land in Scotland for at least 10 years and being no longer able to work owing to age, illness and/or disability.

Those in need of help, or others who may know someone who is sitting at home in the cold, are being encouraged to contact RSABI. Please call the RSABI office in confidence for more information (0131 472 4166), or visit the website www.rsabi.org.uk


RSABI Logo

Join the campaign for warm homes

As energy suppliers once more hike up their prices, Age Scotland joins the call for action to keep our homes warm.

Cold hands

Fuel poverty is a national scandal, with more than half of single pensioners fuel poor.  At both Scottish and UK levels schemes have been established to tackle fuel poverty; the Scottish Government’s Home Energy Efficiency Programmes for Scotland (HEEPS) and the Westminster Government’s Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation. But there has been some slippage around implementing these, with the poor results so far for the Green Deal being particularly concerning.

Much of the cost of the UK Government’s schemes is levied as an added cost on household fuel bills, which means that those already struggling to pay their bills are disproportionately penalised.  This needs to change.

Part of the solution to fuel poverty is for the UK Government to use the money it gets from carbon taxes to help make homes super-energy efficient – with excellent insulation, renewable energy and modern boilers.  The UK Government taxes big companies for the damage their carbon emissions cause to people and the environment. These taxes are used by the Government to help combat climate change and wean the UK off dirty fossil fuels.  That’s a good objective, but the money the Government receives isn’t being used to help people use less energy to heat their homes – which would cut carbon emissions even further AND cut people’s energy bills.  The companies eventually pass these taxes on to consumers and they end up on our bills. Over the next 15 years Westminster will raise an average of £4 billion every year in carbon taxes.

Recycling carbon revenue to make homes super-energy efficient could bring 9 out of 10 homes out of fuel poverty. It could also be used to quadruple savings in carbon emissions compared to the Government’s new energy efficiency schemes and create up to 200,000 jobs – exactly what we need to support the UK’s economic recovery.

If you agree please send an e-message to your MP.

We can also make a difference by encouraging older people across Scotland to find out about, and take advantage of, existing help for cutting home energy bills.  Home Energy Scotland can carry out a free home energy check, no matter what your circumstances, or wherever you live in Scotland. 

Warm homes graphic

TaxHelp for Older People: This can’t be right… Can it?

This guest post is by TaxHelp for Older People, a national charity offering free tax advice to older people on incomes below £17,000 a year. The Helpline number is 0845 601 3321.

Man with envelopes

“I pay tax every month, how can I owe that much?” is the cry we hear daily at this time of year as people receive their annual tax calculation (P800) showing an underpayment.

Last month we discussed how to check your calculation, and promised this month to help you through the process of challenging it where you believe that something is just not right.

There are three main reasons that you may want do this:

  1. The figures do not agree with your own.
  2. You think your employer or pension provider has done something wrong.
  3. You believe that HMRC has all of your information but has not used it correctly.

In theory the first is the easiest issue to resolve. Just contact HMRC on 0845 300 0627 and give them the correct information. The P800 will be re-issued. If there is still an underpayment you may want to consider issues two and three.

The second issue is a bit harder to prove. It may be that your employer or pension provider has not operated PAYE correctly. For example, they may not have informed HMRC that you have started work, or if they did, have not operated the tax code HMRC have sent to them.

It can be quite tricky to spot a mistake, but looking for sources of income either not included in your calculation or tax codes or that are different from the coding notice issued to you (if you received any) are good warning signals.  If this is the case, HMRC should seek the underpaid tax from the employer or pension payer, not from you.

You will need to ask HMRC to carry out a regulation 72 investigation. If HMRC choose not to pursue the employer, they should issue you with a regulation 72 direction, which will give you a right of appeal.

The third issue is the hardest to prove.  If HMRC have made a mistake or failed to use information in their possession within a certain time, you can ask for the tax to be written off using their extra statutory concession A 19 (ESC A19).

This is not that useful for 2011/12 underpayments because HMRC has noticed the mistake within 12 months of the end of the tax year. But, if the underpayment is for earlier years, or if the mistake is continued over two or more years, it may still apply. There is no right of appeal against the final decision but you can still lodge a formal complaint.

Often it is difficult for the tax payer to determine where a mistake has occurred and it is wise to ask for both employer error and ESC A19 to be investigated from the outset.

Letters returned from HMRC can be very short telling you nothing, or conversely very lengthy and confusing. You may find it necessary to ask them to explain issues in more detail or to re-examine a particular point.

Don’t be afraid to continue pushing until you are satisfied with the response. And don’t forget, if you remain unhappy you are entitled to use HMRC’s complaint process, the Adjudicator and, if necessary, the Ombudsman.

Energy bills. What’s your story?

Age Scotland’s Policy Officer, Greg McCracken, asks blog readers about their experiences of fuel bills, price increases and energy efficiency measures.

Gas Fire

Staff at Age Scotland have been hearing more and more about older householders across the country experiencing significant increases in their fuel bills despite having installed energy efficiency measures in their homes.  Now, we’re looking for people to participate in case studies which we can use in our lobbying work.

While energy efficiency measures – and in particular new heating systems such as Air Source Heat Pumps or Electric Wet Heating Systems – are supposed to save money and reduce fuel bills, we’ve been told that some people have actually seen their fuel bills increase to over £2,100 per year.

Just to put that in context, that’s nearly a third of your state pension going up in smoke!

A recent report by Consumer Focus Scotland revealed that, while many of these heating systems can deliver improvements, there can be significant costs for householders who are not effectively instructed how to use their new system.

Furthermore, where some modern heating systems such as Air Source Heat Pumps are installed in housing that is older, or isn’t fully insulated (including, for example, solid wall insulation), the system will not be able to operate effectively and will, therefore, cost more to run than it should.

Right now, the Scottish Government is consulting on its Sustainable Housing Strategy.  We want to ensure this strategy is genuinely fit for purpose and reflects the reality of older people living across Scotland.

Age Scotland always encourages older people to undertake a benefits check to make sure they’re getting all the support to which they’re entitled, or to switch providers and ensure they’re on the cheapest tariff.  However, with bills in excess of £2,000 in some cases, it’s unlikely that either of these would be more than tinkering around the edges.

That’s why we’re extremely keen to hear if you’ve experienced a similar story to those above.  Age Scotland wants to develop case studies where people’s bills have risen despite making changes to their home’s energy efficiency.  For example, have you:

  • Installed a new heating system, only to find that your bills haven’t gone down?
  • Received a grant or advice from the Energy Saving Trust for a new system that hasn’t reduced your bills?
  • Had a new system installed but not been instructed how to use it?

If you tell us your story, we will use your experience absolutely anonymously if that’s what you would prefer.  Your personal testimony is so important to strengthening our messages, so if you’d be interested in participating, contact greg.mccracken@agescotland.org.uk, or telephone 0845 833 9332.

TaxHelp for Older People: a yearly cycle

This guest post is by TaxHelp for Older People, a national charity offering free tax advice to older people on incomes below £17,000 a year. The Helpline number is 0845 601 3321.

Couple at computer

This is the first year that HMRC have been able to issue pay as you earn (PAYE) customers with timely end of year reconciliations of tax due and tax actually deducted by employers and pension providers.

These annual reconciliations (form P800) form an important part of the PAYE operation. The (mainly) computerised process involves the taxpayer, the employer/pension provider and HMRC. Over the last few years this has been a painful process for some, but we hope that as the system settles down into its proper routine the problems will start to diminish.

Changes during the year can sometimes be difficult to deal with on time, leading to the wrong tax being deducted. The annual reconciliation will inform the taxpayer what information HMRC holds and will tally up the figures, indicating whether tax is owed or if a refund is due.

If you pay your tax via the self assessment process you should not receive an annual reconciliation calculation. If you do, then something is wrong and you need to contact HMRC.

We are probably all familiar with the term ‘rubbish in rubbish out’ and it’s definitely a phrase worth keeping in mind if you receive a P800. There are many reasons why the collection of tax can go wrong and incorrect data is very high on the list.

The coding system that collects the tax is another major player. It can easily become quite complicated and even a slight time delay has the potential to disrupt your tax. Add to this multiple incomes that can start at different times of the year as you reach retirement and you begin to appreciate the problems.

So what do you do?

Check everything. Question anything that doesn’t make sense! Even if you are due a refund.

  1. Do you agree with the total income figure? Check this against your end of year certificates for employers and pension providers (P60s), certificate 975s from banks and building societies and dividend tax vouchers.
  2. Have you been allocated the correct personal allowance? Should you have the married couples’ allowance? If yes, has it been restricted to £3,648 (2011/12)? Is your income over £24,000? Yes? are you 65 or over? Yes? Then is your age related allowance restricted? Are you entitled to the blind persons’ allowance?
  3. Look out for adjustments. These often relate to underpayments of tax from earlier years. If there is one, do you agree that you had an underpayment? If yes have you enquired why the underpayment occurred? It might be HMRC or employer error and you may be able to appeal against it.

Even if you agree with the figures and an underpayment is due, do not automatically accept that this should come from you. It might be that the error was caused by your employer or pension provider, in which case you are entitled to ask HMRC to investigate or, if earlier years are involved it may have been caused by an HMRC error.

We will cover the details of this and other rights you have when it comes to underpayments in next month’s tax tips article.