Thursday, 9 January 2020

The Trades Union Congress, Zero Hours Contracts and UCAN

On 13th January 2020 at 6:30pm renowned speakers from the labour movement highlighted the impact of zero hours contracts. I would like to thank the Trades Union Conference for organising such an event in partnership with Thomson Solicitors. Ripon Ray, representing UCAN, a campaign group focused on educating and informing members of the public on universal credit, was part of the panel.  

Friday, 27 December 2019


Is there a way for you to save money on energy if you are hard up?

It will get to a stage when cold weather will become unbearable.  You may have to make a decision and turn the central heating on to keep yourself sane in such long nights and short days. 

In Britain the average temperature in winter had been 5c. Last winter it was 3.5c. Protecting yourself from cold weather is going to be a challenge even in current winter especially when it's below 0 degrees. If you have children, elderly or health conditions, you and your household could be further in need of a warm home. Putting aside double or triple glazing, or anything else expensive to install,  I want to give you a few simple tips to save you  money on energy which may, at the same time, prevent you from catching a cold, asthma, or even a heart attack in this winter.

Payment in winter:

The cost of gas and electricity is significantly high during winter. It’s also a necessity to use fuel in this period. In summer you have the warm weather so there is no need to keep your home warm. Unfortunately, in winter, there is no escaping. You need it to stay alive.

It might put you at ease to know that your energy bills can be brought down if you know where to look. Cold Weather Payments are one of the ways to do just that.  To qualify for the payments, you may have to keep an eye on the actual weather forecast. Watch out for your nearest weather station and keep a record of the temperature at or below 0 degrees. The scheme is valid only between 1st November 2019 and 31st March 2020. There is a catch though: you must be in receipt of Pension Credit, Universal Credit, Income Support, Income Based Job Seekers’ Allowance, income related Employment Support Allowance for at least one day during the period of cold weather. You’ll get £25 for each 7 day period of very cold weather. In case you want to find out how to get it, check here:

If you are in receipt of state pension (and another benefit), you may be entitled to a one off Winter Fuel Payment. You should be getting this payment automatically. Your energy supplier adds the payment to your bill. If you don't get a reduction in your bill you should consider making a claim by calling 0800 731 0160. You will be asked to provide your National Insurance Number, bank or building society account details, and the date you were married or entered into a civil partnership (if appropriate).

Avoid estimated bills:

According to Ofgem, the energy industry regulator, an average household energy spend is around £1,254 per year.  To estimate your bill, a  fuel supplier uses various equations - your past energy usage, the time of year, whether your house is insulated and the number of people who live there.  

If you are paying your bill on an estimated reading, you are not the only one. It’s a well-known fact that in winter the cost of energy is high regardless of the variation in usage in the weekends, in the daytime or  at night. An estimated bill is not the true reflection of your actual use of energy. If you are ever in doubt, contact your provider to get a true reflection of your energy cost. You need to write your meter number or take a picture of it, contact your supplier and give them the number shown on your meter. You will then know your actual energy usage. 

Switch supplier

Perhaps you have done everything you could, yet, it’s impossible to bring the cost of energy down - what do you do next? You must consider switching your supplier. If being faithful to your energy supplier does not bring reduction in the cost of energy, what is the point of sticking with it., a free online website that you can use to find whether there are better fuel suppliers available to you in your locality.   

Guess what: I recently helped a client to switch.  Through I brought her energy bill down by £300 for a year. You won’t necessarily see the reduction in your energy until you make the decision to be unfaithful and do something about it. You do need to come out of your comfort zone and make the move.

Pre-payment meter and save money:

You may want to call it a ‘key meter’ or a ‘pay as you go’ tariff. Around 5.9 million people in the UK have a prepayment energy meter. It’s a well-known fact that prepay customers have fewer options for tariffs and they pay more. If you can find out whether you can change to a credit meter, you will definitely save money.  It will open up to a variety of cheaper tariffs for you. If you request for a credit meter, before they make a decision, a fuel supplier will do a credit check on you to see whether you can keep up with repayments with the meter. If you pass the check, an engineer will call in to remove the prepayment meter. It could be that they may charge a fee to pay for the cost of installation of the credit meter. You might be able to offset the cost of installation by making savings on the new tariff.  

Do remember: each supplier has its own policy on whether to replace the prepayment meter. Contact your supplier first. 

There are other options too. If you are on a pre-payment meter you can still switch your supplier to get a better deal. According to Ofgem, as long as you owe less than £500, you can switch to a new supplier even if you are paying off the debt.  You would do it under the ‘Debt Assignment Protocol’. This  means the new supplier takes on the existing debt and you repay the new provider based on a new agreement with the new supplier. So long the supplier agrees with you to take on your debt, you can then definitely switch. 

Thursday, 21 November 2019


43% of children in Tower Hamlets are living in poverty according to Trust for London. 7.7% of the working population are unemployed in the borough. Whether to claim universal credit or not would be a big question for a lot of people.  In order to raise public awareness of universal credit in the local community, Universal Credit Action Network (UCAN), have organised a public meeting. You can hear from local campaigners and advice charities on the impact of welfare reform to the local community. If you are free on 18th December at 6pm, pop over at Brady Centre, Whitechapel. Refreshment provided!

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Budgeting on Your Money Matters...with Ripon Ray

24% greater than on the eve of the financial crisis, Britons owe a total of £72.5bn on credit cards with £400m added to balances in November 2018 alone, according to the Bank of England. In such a mountainous backdrop, it's essential that regulators and the central government put financial education on top of the agenda for the well-being of communities who are struggling with money.

On Your Money Matters show, I have tackled this exact issue by interviewing Michelle Turpin Cope, Money Trainer. She personally struggled to manage her money once she resigned from her job as a nurse due to stress and depression. She had devoted her life caring for NHS patients. Once her savings ran out, she had to turn to state benefits; otherwise, would have been destitute. The luxury of spending money on a cup of coffee every day, without realising the impact this purchase would have on her finances, was really an issue for her.

Once she went on a money mentor training, she was forced to think about her spending habit. From then on her life changed forever because she was confronted with the psychology of spending. Financial planning or budgeting became the solution to her problem. This is why she has been passionate about budgeting and money management.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Fuel Suppliers and Your Money Matters...with Ripon Ray

For a number of people, switching suppliers is not an easy task - the fear of changing can be very daunting,  not knowing where to research online, going through all the deals that are available and whether these deals are worthy of switching. 

This week I asked Angela Dietrich, a pensioner from East London, who had serious issues with her former fuel supplier, Npower, when she was thinking of switching. I asked: 'How did you manage to switch your supplier?'.

You can find her answer on Your Money Matters show! She also talked about how she was supported by local advice agencies, such as Toynbee Hall and Bromley-By-Bow Centre (BBBC), in order for her to get heard against a very big company, Npower, and to make a complaint against the company.

According to the Money Advice & Pension Service, in order to switch, you should always check Compare gas and electricity tariffs accredited by Ofgem price comparison sites.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Austerity Fuelling Housing and Homelessness Crisis

'Is there a link between shortage of housing, homelessness and the welfare reform in the UK?', asks Ripon Ray

'I made a claim for universal credit over 5 months ago. Nothing has come through yet. My landlord has just sent me a letter which shows I am in rent arrears.  Am I going to be homeless again?’

Joanna Smith, who is nine months pregnant, is living in temporary accommodation in Hackney, London. She was placed there by Westminster Council. The council could not afford to place her in accommodation within its own area.  The high cost of renting in the borough for a low income benefit claimant, such a Joanna, is beyond her means as a private tenant because housing benefit is not going to cover her rent once austerity measures are implemented in the UK. 

She was dismissed from her job by her employer due to pregnancy.  Given her pregnancy, it is unlikely anyone would give her another job. Her situation made me think about the current state of the housing crisis for individuals and families on low income in the UK who find it  impossible to get accommodation and whether many of them are forced into homelessness due to the government’s welfare reforms.

In 1976 there were over 5 million properties rented from local authorities on social rents. By 2017, council housing stock had shrunk to just over a million.

In 1980, the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, introduced the Right to Buy Scheme which offered tenants discounted prices on their council homes. In the process it removed a considerable number of homes from public ownership.  Hansard outlined that:

‘No single piece of legislation has enabled the transfer of so much capital wealth from the state to the people.’ 

The policy of the transfer of state assets to individuals marked a decisive moment in modern history. The shift paved the way from dependency on state support to the mercy of a deregulated market.  Many local authority properties were also transferred to private registered providers. These properties were acquired by housing associations and private landlords. In 1980, 1% of the total housing tenure was managed by housing associations. Since then it has increased to 6% whilst private tenure has risen from 7.5% in 1980 to 12% in 2018.  At the same time, over 52% of housing is privately owned; either owner occupied or bought to let.

Positive Money, a financial campaigning organisation, states,

‘House prices rise much faster than wages, which means that houses become less and less affordable.’

Inevitably for low income individuals and families who are on state benefits, just like Joanna, getting a private rental property is very difficult. The House of Commons Briefing Paper explained: 

‘The most commonly selected reason was a perceived greater risk of delays in payment or unpaid rent. This was selected by 68% of landlords and 78% of agents. Many landlords and agents also reported a perceived risk that the benefits would not cover all of the rent (reported by 62% of landlords and 70% of agents).' 

Since the financial crisis in 2019-10, a raft of reforms were implemented that left many low income individuals and families into destitution, pretty similar to what has happened to Joanna.  The Welfare Reform Act 2012 introduced the bedroom tax, benefit cap and universal credit and the freeze on the Local Housing Allowance.

According to Crisis, a national homeless charity,  in 2009/2010  and 2016-17 there has been a rise from 11% of homelessness acceptance to 31% by local authorities. It states that:

‘ …Local Housing Allowance reforms as a major driver of this association between loss of private tenancies and homelessness. These reforms have also demonstrably restricted lower income households’ access to the private rented sector. The number of Housing Benefit/Universal Credit claimants who are private tenants is now some 5 per cent lower than when the Local Housing Allowance reforms began in 2011, despite the continuing strong growth of the private rented sector overall.’ 

The Local Housing Allowance, a means tested social security benefit, was initially set up in 2003 to ensure private tenants can pay their rent if their income does not cover the cost by getting housing benefit. 

According to Shelter, a homeless charity:

 ‘Since 2010, housing benefit have not risen in line with rising private rents…this means that most private renters who need their income topped up by housing benefit will face a monthly shortfall between the actual cost of their rents and the support available.'  

Since 2013, universal credit has been rolled out throughout UK and every corner of the country has seen an increase in rent arrears.  Social landlords, defined as local authority and housing associations, say they are now feeling the stress of austerity measures. The Ministry of Justice’s record shows that in between January and March 2019, the majority of all landlords bringing a claim for possession were social landlords.  They make up 63% of all the claims. Many of these housing associations explained that austerity is fueling rent arrears:

‘the difficulty many tenants had with 'direct payment' (that is, being responsible for paying their rent); tenants encountering an unexpected expense; 'accidental' underpayment, which involved tenants underpaying inadvertently; and, the delay between tenants' initial UC claim and their first payment.’

Joanna’s situation clearly resembles what the landlords are stating.   I personally feel it has made her situation worse, just as it has done for many low income individuals and households in this era of austerity. 

The Trades Union Congress, Zero Hours Contracts and UCAN

O n 13th January 2020 at 6:30pm renowned speakers from the labour movement highlighted the impact of zero hours contracts. I would like to...