Citizens Advice Manchester has been extremely proud to support the Lloyds Bank Academy and it was great to be at the launch yesterday with GM Mayor Andy Burnham. On a daily basis we meet people who need to access essential online services but have little or no digital skills. To be able to refer those who want to improve these skills has been a much needed outcome. We have already had some great success stories from of the people we have referred and look forward to how the Academy develops. #digitalskills #digitalexclusion #digitaltraining #LloydsBankAcademyRead More
Our Manchester Women Making History Project is almost over! #VoiceBoxCafes #Vote100
During Parliament Week, we are hosting a celebration event to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of women's right to vote and the achievements of the participants on our Manchester Women Making History Project, a project designed to engage women aged 18-30 with democracy and public life!
This is an opportunity to have your voice heard, put questions to inspirational women campaigners and leaders and meet like minded women.
Join us: Friday 16th November 10am-12.30pm. Book your place here!
You might be able to get £140 off your electricity bill under the Warm Home Discount Scheme if you’re either:
getting the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit
on a low income
Check with your supplier to see if they offer the Warm Home Discount - not all suppliers are part of the scheme.
If you've applied for the Warm Home Discount but you switch supplier before you get the payment, you have to apply again with your new supplier. Your new supplier might have different rules about who gets the discount. This doesn’t affect you if you get the discount automatically, without having to apply.
Find out more about the Warm Home Discount Scheme on GOV.UK.Read More
As both national and local governments increasingly make their services Digital by Default @digital_default, Citizens Advice Manchester recognises the importance of supporting individuals to access online services, as well as helping them to gain the skills they need to do this independently when possible in the future.
To ensure we are providing support to empower our clients, we will be running Digital Smart sessions across Manchester. Our Bite Size sessions are flexible to meeting the needs and interest of the people that we are helping, as well as connecting them to services which could further support them in developing the relevant computer Money Skills, further details of these sessions are available on this link; https://www.citizensadvicemanchester.org.uk/moneysmart/
Our Digital Smart sessions have been made possible by working in partnership with the @goodthingsfdn, @MancLibraries and @ManAdultEd, using the Learn My Way online program to help people to improve their Digital Smart skills. We wanted to take the opportunity, during @getonlineweek, led by the Good Things Foundation, to communicate how this has developed and why we think this is important for residents of Manchester.
It is great to be working with Manchester Adult Education Services to support residents of Manchester, as, learning from our experiences, we have found that by inviting and encouraging people to use these services, we could help more people to deal with their problems in the future, as well as creating more resilience within local communities in the face of an increasingly digital world.
We feel this is important to do as ‘in Greater Manchester, just 42% of adult residents use all five of the basic skills online.’
These skills are communicating, creating, transacting, problem solving and managing information when online. Having these skills can mean individuals can access a wide range of services; from being able to use government services and applying for jobs, to safely shopping online or speaking face to face with a relative who are in another part of the country, or the world. As well as the social benefits of having access to these services, individuals can save time and money that can help them to cut their household costs and increase their spending power. For example, the average saving is £774 a year by being online, through online shopping, discounts, savings on utility bills or reducing costs.
A brief history of our Digital Journey
In October 2016, we set up our first Digital Hub at North City Library. From this location, we provided a face to face drop in session for residents to access information about their rights or to access essential services, such as housing applications, benefit forms and school admissions, online. We found that most of the people we were helping did not know that these services were available online, or were unable to access these services due to their level of skill or confidence.
Louise from our North City Library drop in said;
‘Getting support through the materials online's helped me to gain confidence to find out more options with life choices and take action, also addressing key security concerns that affect me trusting online services.’
Since our initial success at North City Library @MCCHarpurhey, we have now expanded our partnership working in Manchester Libraries, the Yes Centres @yesMCR and Trinity House Community Resource Centre to provide a city wide digital hub service, which has 12 drop in locations which helps people to deal with over 13,000 enquiries each year @ManchesterCAB. We have also helped 1300 people through our Facebook Messenger chat Citizens Advice Manchester
How Digital Smart got its start
In June 2017, we worked with the Good Things Foundation to deliver an 8 weeks course to 40 individuals at both HARPURHEY NEIGHBOURHOOD PROJECT and the Mustard Tree @MustardTreeMCR to help individuals to gain the digital and money skills they would need to gain independence online. After the course was finished, we were keen to get feedback from the participants on their experiences.
John, a participant of our 8 week course, delivered through the Harpurhey Neighbourhood project said;
‘The course has been delivered excellent and has helped me with numerous services on the internet it's been very insightful and helpful on a lot of areas i wasn't aware of and also enjoyed working in a group as a team.’
Moving forward, we are keen to work with community centres to deliver our Digital Smart sessions across Manchester. Recently, we visited the computer session at the Booths Centre @BoothCentre to provide our first outreach session and found it was great to work within their existing services to help support homelessness people in Manchester become empowered through the digital and money skills that they learn. We have a group of carers from the Manchester Carers Centre @McrCarers coming to our city based office for a session on how to save money online. We will also be visiting the Tree of Life Centre in Wythenshawe @Treeoflifecentr on Wednesday 31st October 1.30-3.30pm to see how their participants could be helped to accessing the benefits of being online.
From now we are looking to expand our reach, and public awareness, of our Digital Smart drop in sessions and visit as many community centres as possible to spread the word and allow access to the many benefits of being online.
Hi, my name is Jamie, and I am part of the new Digital Champion team at Citizens Advice Manchester which will be running Computer and Money Skills sessions from our office and through various community centres across manchester.
We welcome you to join us at our drop in sessions at;
Longsight Library, Mondays 10-1pm
North city Library, Tuesdays 10-1pm
Wythenshawe Library, Mondays 1.30-3.30pm
or you could get a ticket for our weekly in house skills sessions, which run every Thursday 1.30pm-3.30pm, through the following page of our website; https://www.citizensadvicemanchester.org.uk/moneysmart/
Why should you start learning with us?
After seeing more than 13,000 people over the last year alone through our digital hubs which are located around Manchester, we have seen how not being able to access online services can cause distress and anxiety for people who are trying to use a service which used to be face to face or over the phone. At the same time, we find people miss out of the scope of services and information available online by either not being able to use computers or not being aware of how much there is online which can benefit people’s daily lives.
The good news is, once people learn basic digital skills, they can save an average of £744 a year by being online, through shopping, discounts, saving on utility bills or reducing costs, as well as avoiding the distress of not being able to access services which are used day to day.
The sessions are for anyone with any skill level to come in to meet with one of our Digital Champions to discuss what skills they would like to learn, and how we will support them to achieve this. We cover a wide range of topics which accommodate all skills levels, from learning computer basics to the ways that money can be saved online.
The sessions are designed to be fun and really help people to understand the benefit of the digital world, coverings areas such as;
- Online basics
- How being online can save money on bills & shopping
- How to stay safe online
- Using social media to connect with people
- Access services online - like Local or National Government services or useful information from trusted websites.
Citizens Advice Manchester
We welcome the news that energy regulator Ofgem wants stronger powers to protect the country’s smallest businesses from overzealous energy brokers. It’s just a shame it’s taken so long for this problem to be tackled.
Over two thirds of small businesses buy electricity and gas from a broker, who acts as an intermediary between suppliers and customers. Good brokers should, in theory, engage with the small business by informing them of the best deals and tariffs on the market — but this doesn’t always happen.
In its recent response to the government’s Consumer Green Paper, Ofgem said:
“Our evidence suggests that some businesses that engage with intermediaries may be misled or left unsatisfied with their treatment. Strengthening our powers to enforce consumer protection law that applies to the non-domestic market, particularly for smaller businesses, would improve our ability to tackle misconduct by intermediaries. We would like to explore this with government.”
In search of honest brokers
When energy suppliers sell to households, Ofgem makes sure they meet strict standards. They must be transparent about who they work for and give accurate price comparisons. Suppliers have received big fines for breaking these rules.
It’s clear that small businesses need similar protections. We give advice to small businesses through our consumer service helpline and Extra Help Unit. Our advisers have helped with cases where brokers have used sharp practice, even outright fraud, to win contracts. The financial impact on businesses who’ve been mis-sold can be severe — at its worst, it can tip a profitable business into the red.
Last year, we published a list of the most common problems with brokers that small businesses contacted us about.
The list includes aggressive sales, lack of transparency, misrepresentation and mis-selling. More specific examples include brokers claiming to be from an official body, claiming a new product is necessary and hiding commercial relationships with specific energy suppliers. There’s no obligation to record the conversation between a broker and a business that leads to a sale, which means complaints are very difficult to prove. Instead, these businesses rely on the good will of their energy supplier to end their contract.
This lack of protection has dire consequences not just for individual businesses but for the market as a whole.
There’s evidence of an engagement gap in the sector and we think some of this is down to the behaviour of brokers. The good ones are good, but if you’ve had a bad experience in the past, you might not be willing to use a broker again. This is bad for the market and for consumers because there won’t be the same pressure to keep prices down.
What can be done?
To combat this, there needs to be regulation of energy brokers. We’ve been calling for this since 2004, but it’s still the case that business owners can’t rely on the same basic protections in their business premises as they can in their homes.
At Citizens Advice, we believe the right response is a mandatory code of practice. This code should reflect the 6 voluntary principles we developed with Ofgem to encourage good practice among brokers. These clearly outline to the energy industry clear expectations of how we expected energy brokers to behave.Read More