72) TAX RETURNS DEADLINE – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Liz is currently off on a major Christmas shopping trip and I have, unwisely, been left in charge of house and cats. I trust and hope that things are better than a previous expedition when she and her friend had a slight difficulty due to there being so many packages to load that there was insufficient space left in the car to accommodate said friend. I have been keeping a wary eye on my credit card as well. To make things worse it is time to submit my online Tax Return which invariably results in quite unreasonable demands from HMRC.
This is a good time to remind everyone that if you submit your returns online, then the moment has come for action.
71) POWER OF ATTORNEY – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
The other week I was happily recounting a story to Liz which concerned a downhill race my friend Dave and I had on off-road bikes from 7000’ in the alps, reassuring her that we had only crashed once. I also mentioned a recent trip to the Cairngorms where John, Don, Dave and I encountered a problem due to a river inconveniently being in spate and the old bridge having been swept away, although I emphasised that we had thought better (just) of trying to cross it Additionally I announced I had decided to buy myself a new mountain bike which I promised I would ride with my usual caution. She looked over her newspaper and inquired, purely coincidentally, if my Will was up to date, and said she understood that it was useful for people to have a Power of Attorney in place in case they became incapable of handling their own affairs. I found myself at my solicitor’s office shortly afterwards.
70) UNIVERSAL CREDIT – UPDATES – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
On Sunday I got up at my usual 5am, cleared a mountain of annoying paperwork and emails, and decided to head back to bed for a well-deserved snooze. But there was a problem. My side of the bed was largely occupied by one wife and two cats and my attempts to regain my lawful territory were met with a series of hisses and growls, extended claws and bared teeth. When Liz is in that sort of mood I tend not to argue, so I settled for the much-diminished space available to me and eventually managed to nod off for an hour or so. It would be fair to say that my attempts to negotiate a satisfactory outcome failed miserably.
Fortunately things are going much better at CCAB. A large part of our work involves negotiation and representation and we regularly raise issues with Government to inform social policy and change
69) HEATING OUR HOMES – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
One night I arrived at a lonely mountain bothy in a heavy snowstorm. It was just a touch chilly and the electric water pump refused to start. It turned out that the water feed came from a nearby burn and the inlet hose was frozen solid under a couple of inches of ice. I was accompanied by a Social Worker who unhelpfully thought counselling the pump might work, whilst I preferred the idea of taking a sledgehammer to it, but eventually I lay face down in the snow, broke the ice (literally)and fiddled about underwater until the accursed inlet cleared. A peat fire and a spot of (purely medicinal) internal warming courtesy of Old Pulteney made me feel much better.
As winter approaches heating our home becomes ever more vital and the other day someone happened to mention to us that an article on this subject would be valuable.
68) CHARITABLE GIVING – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
This has been a rather sad week and Liz and I have just got back from Badenoch and Strathspey after our daughter’s husband, Duncan, finally lost his long battle with cancer. Things did brighten a little however when the background music playlist at the crematorium proved to contain “Burning Ring of Fire” and “Bat out of Hell” – Duncan was a TT and Superbike racer and this greatly appealed to all the bikers present who shared his irreverent and wonderful attitude to life.
And this week we are going to look at charitable giving. I do not think I have ever been so impressed as I was by the amazing care and kindness which I witnessed at the Highland Hospice in Inverness where Duncan spent his last weeks. Charities do incredible work and today we depend on them more and more to provide the support and help that all of us are likely to need at some time in our lives. So what are the rules?
TAKE PART IN CITIZENS ADVICE SCOTLAND FOOD SURVEY
19 September – 17 October 2018
Caithness Citizens Advice Bureau is urging local people to take part in a national survey on issues relating to food, including cost, choice, access and quality.
The Food on the Tablesurvey will run for the next month. It is available online at www.cas.org.uk/foodonthetable and paper copies will also be available at the local Citizens Advice Bureau at Thurso CAB and Wick CAB
“The people who come through our doors often talk about how hard it can be for them to put food on the table. Cost is certainly a major issue for many, but it is not the only one. We also hear from people who find it hard to access good quality food in the local shops. “
“The Scottish CAB network is running this national survey, and I want to make sure that Caithness people form a big part of the total responses. The results will be used to inform government ministers and help shape future policy on food, so it would be a shame if people here missed out on their chance to have their say.
“So we are asking everyone in Caithness to complete this short survey. We want to hear from people of all backgrounds and sections of society. It only takes a few minutes and you don’t have to give your name, but the more responses we get the stronger our voice will be.”
Take part in the online survey here http://www.cas.org.uk/foodonthetable
67) SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT”S PROGRAMME for 2018 / 2019 – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Yesterday I took a rare day off and, wandering happily into Thurso, decided to avail myself of the public conveniences at Riverside. On trying to enter I found the facilities to be locked and further examination revealed a fiendish device, complete with what looks like a credit card reader would you believe, affixed to the door. I gathered that in order to gain access I would be obliged to hand over the incredible sum of fifty pence. I decided that in view of the vast amount of income tax, council tax, capital gains tax, duty, VAT and everything else I already render unto Caesar because I have no choice but to do so, there was no way on this earth I was paying 50p for a two minute visit to the bathroom and nor will I in the future, so I headed (urgently) for CAB instead.
Which brings us neatly to today’s topic – the work of Caithness CAB and our need for Volunteers prepared to join us in our work.
66) VOLUNTEERS REQUIRED – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Yesterday I took a rare day off and, wandering happily into Thurso, decided to avail myself of the public conveniences at Riverside. On trying to enter I found the facilities to be locked and further examination revealed a fiendish device, complete with what looks like a credit card reader would you believe, affixed to the door. I gathered that in order to gain access I would be obliged to hand over the incredible sum of fifty pence. I decided that in view of the vast amount of income tax, council tax, capital gains tax, duty, VAT and everything else I already render unto Caesar because I have no choice but to do so, there was no way on this earth I was paying 50p for a two minute visit to the bathroom and nor will I in the future, so I headed (urgently) for CAB instead.
Which brings us neatly to today’s topic – the work of Caithness CAB and our need for Volunteers prepared to join us in our work.
65) YOUR CONSUMER RIGHTS WHEN YOU BUY A CAR – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
The other day an annoying message appeared on my fuel computer informing me that it was time to top up my tank. When I went to pay, the cashier demanded a distressingly large sum of money and I realised that it had cost me more than I paid for my first car, a ‘65 Ford Anglia 105E, for which I had unwisely given £50 cash to a trader in Inverness. It was a very reliable car – you could rely on it never to start or to complete a journey without the application of a hammer – but on the plus side it cost very little to run as it rarely actually went anywhere.
We get a surprisingly large number of complaints at CCAB from people who have bought a car from a dealer and subsequently found that all was not well.
64) INFLATION AND INTEREST RATES – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
If you had visited last night you would have found me lying face down on the path, apparently talking to myself. You might well have considered that all was not well and decided you would perhaps seek advice elsewhere. Actually, there is a perfectly rational explanation – I was talking to some hedgehogs. We decided to create a wildlife area in the middle of the garden and have a couple of huge New Zealand Flax plants, along with a number of shrubs and lots of dense under-planting, surrounded by low walls, and Hedgehogs (and several suicidal frogs) have moved in, which necessitates feeding, and I was happily watching the hoglets eating.
The Hogs have great advantages – they have a free home and food and no living costs at all. We on the other hand have one or two issues on the horizon. I think I mentioned inflation and interest rates in my predictions for 2018 and, sadly, it looks like I was pretty close.
63) THE NEONATAL EXPENSES FUND – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
I always get up at 5am but on Saturday decided to have an extra 10 minutes thinking time. This did not go down well with the cats who detached themselves from Liz’s pillow and stood on my chest – as they weigh a good 5kg each I was well aware of this. They then proceeded to pat me on the nose and, when that failed to get a response, attacked my feet. I gave up and minutes later two heads were buried in feeding bowls whilst I mainlined caffeine, had a quick shave, shower and breakfast and headed for Dornoch to meet John and Don for a day’s hike. Traffic was very heavy and slow and I was so bored I even switched on the radio (I normally just listen to the engine), but the airwaves were filled with politicians blaming each other for things so I turned it off.
It struck me that the only disadvantage of living in Caithness is that it can take a long time to get down the line and at CCAB we often have inquiries from people who need to get to Raigmore Hospital to visit a sick relative and who simply do not have the money. One of the most distressing situations is when a new-born baby is involved and the parents naturally want to spend every possible minute with the wee soul. Well, happily help is at hand. The Scottish Government have introduced a humane and very sensible scheme to help parents (and guardians) whose premature or ill new-born baby is in hospital.
62) ARE YOU OWED MONEY? – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Regular readers of this column will recall that I have a personal war of attrition with TV Licensing who seem to believe that, simply because I buy the odd house to renovate, it automatically follows that I must have a TV set installed – which I do not. I won a major victory some years ago when I actually got compensation from TVL, which I promptly spent on a vast supply of toilet rolls and then sent a polite letter of thanks, assuring them that I would think of them every time I used the facilities. This was very satisfying.
At CCAB we often get inquiries from people who are owed money, or who have suffered a loss, because of the actions or omissions of a business or individual – for example where a firm has failed to provide goods or services you have paid for, where someone has refused to pay a tradesperson, or where a debt has not been settled – and there is a general belief that you have little redress. Many people are scared of going to court, or taking on a big firm, and this is where CCAB comes in and it is very satisfying indeed when we manage to get your money back.
61) CARER”S ALLOWANCE – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Today started rather more dramatically than normal. This was due to the activities of two cats, one mouse and one wife all pursuing one another under the bed in the early hours. After a brief but disruptive altercation the cats plus the mouse were ejected via the bedroom window and said wife returned to bed. I wisely pretended to be asleep but have now decided that this is a good time (5am) to prepare this week’s column. You may recall that my last article concerned Attendance Allowance (AA) for people over 65, and to say that we have has a good response would be an understatement. My colleague who arranges appointments has been a trifle busy and this tends to support my view that the existence of many entitlements is not well publicised. It occurred to me that the next subject to cover would be Carers Allowance (CA), which is the benefit payable to people who care for those in receipt of AA, Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Armed Forces Independence Payment. So what is it and how do you claim it?
60) ATTENDANCE ALLOWANCE – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Before too long I have a very significant birthday. No, I am not going to tell you my age, but various dis-respectful suggestions have been made as to the nature of gifts I might like to receive. Well, my assorted offspring can forget anything designed for more mature citizens. What I want is a day on the Nurburgring in a Focus RS with a demo drive by Sabine Schmitz and then a few laps to try and match her time. I might follow this by climbing the odd alp and indulging in satisfactory quantities of malt and cigars. So there!
Which brings me very neatly to today’s topic – Attendance Allowance. Recently, we have found that many older people are completely unaware that this benefit exists and they are losing a lot of money as a result. The reason for this is that it is not exactly widely publicised, and huge sums of money go unclaimed each year. So what is it? Well, for a start you need to be 65 or over and you also need to have a disability or illness that makes it hard for you to look after yourself.
Scams Awareness Month which starts 1 June is being run across Scotland by the Citizens Advice service and Trading Standards Scotland. It is aimed at everyone and covers all types of scams.
59) SCAMS – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Have you ever driven around the Arc De Triomphe? Don’t. In the early 60’s Father decided it was time for a tour around Europe and, unwisely, decided to negotiate this infamous Parisian landmark. After being carved up for the first time and being forced to go round again he reacted mildly, simply muttering about how useful a gunfights on the bonnet would be. On the next lap he questioned the wisdom of having been involved in the liberation and, when it happened again, he passed a very politically incorrect remark along the lines of “just one Panzer is all it would take”, lowered the window, gave a Churchillian salute, and used a common Anglo-Saxon word with “ez-vous” added to the end. A couple of tons of Rover 3-Litre then thundered towards the chosen exit with tin snails surrendering in all directions.
At least he gave some thought to things before he took action and that is something we all need to do these days. Sadly, we regularly see clients at CCAB who have had a phone call from some apparently pleasant person who has managed, in a five minute phone call, to persuade the victim to hand over bank details, to “invest” their pension fund into something highly dodgy, or to transfer large – sometimes huge – sums of money to a fraudster. June is our annual anti-scams month and it goes to show you what a serious problem it is when Citizens Advice run a major campaign every year to try to protect people from criminals.
There are hundreds of permutations, but all the scams have one thing in common – the thief gains your confidence, persuades you that you must act right away, and gets you to do something that, given a few minutes to think, you would never have done. And by then it is too late. First of all, and I have said this many times, your bank or building society will never, ever, phone you wanting you to give your personal details. Neither will HMRC and neither will DVLA. Why would they? They already have your data. If you get a cold call from someone, particularly if they claim to be from your bank or so much as mention the word “pension”, then hang up and never engage or give them the chance to speak. Pension de-regulation was always going to be a scammers picnic and the Government plan to ban “cold calls” is hardly going to deter a crook calling from an untraceable number.
One of the current scams going around the County involves someone phoning to say that they are from “BT”, claiming that your line is about to be disconnected unless you pay money there and then. No, it isn’t. And whatever you do, if they leave a message asking you to call back, don’t. If you do, you’ll be routed via hugely expensive links and your phone bill will be stratospheric. Another one involves a letter from the “ FIFA Postcode Lottery”. There is no such thing, but you would be astonished how many people phone the number and get ripped off.
58) “PRE-AUTHORISATION OF CREDIT/DEBIT CARDS – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
This is my first streamlined article to match the equally new Groat format. Fear not – the same level of information will always be there – just slightly compressed. A few years ago I was driving a rented Oldsmobile in backwoods USA and entered a town where a large notice at the city limits said “Take it Easy – Critters Crossing’” and the speed limit signs had all suffered nasty cases of pellet rash. Clearly my sort of place and when I pulled in for Gas (14 gallons / $13.86) I handed a $20 bill to the attendant (after I woke him up) before I topped up, got my change, and headed off watching out for Critters and people in pickups with shotguns.
Paying in advance is normal in the US and some other countries, but not in the UK. You will have read of the outrage after ASDA decided to “run a trial” at certain outlets and a £99 “holding charge” was taken from motorists’ cards, no matter how little fuel they put in their tanks, if they “paid at the pump”. Other major retailers were, reportedly, intending to follow suit. After much adverse publicity this cunning plan has, for the time being anyway, come to a rapid halt. Personally I never pay at the pump or use self-service checkouts because I will not support anything that might lead to lob losses, but this is a new and alarming development. So what is behind it?
57) “NEW RULES AND REGULTIONS” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Is it just me or do you get the impression that we are being besieged on all sides by new rules and regulations, apparently designed to make our lives more difficult, whilst at the same time we are expected to pay more and more to receive less and less? On top of that there appear to be an unlimited number of annoying pests who phone us day and night attempting to separate us from our hard-earned cash by various dubious means and I think it is fair to say that we are all getting tired of it. Winston Churchill once said that “if you make 10,000 regulations then you lose all respect for the law” and he did have a tendency to sum things up rather well. I mention these points because there are a few topics we need to cover today all of which will, I hope, help you to protect yourselves and gain you some well-deserved peace and quiet.
56) “FINANCIAL PLANNING FOR AN EMERGENCY” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Do you remember when jobs were fairly easy to find? I decided to take what is now called a “Gap Year” after Highers and got three jobs right away. During the day I dug ditches for the Forestry Commission, which was great. If we were on piecework we shovelled enthusiastically and, if we were not and there was a drop of rain, we sat in the Transit on “wet time” and I became an excellent poker player. At nights I served drinks in a very upmarket hotel and got lots of tips. On Saturdays, because I was moderately handy with a rifle and could drive a Landrover, I was recruited by a local estate to accompany the Keeper when there was a shooting party. This was very interesting and also highly profitable. All you had to do was carry the guns and then make sure that the guest actually pointed same in approximately the right direction. I recall one occasion when some rather over-excited shooters from a certain southern European country got this badly wrong. Tormoid, the keeper, who had served all over Europe in the war and who had a wide knowledge of potential risks, had warned me in advance that things could go adrift and they did. The Pointer put the grouse up and Tormoid and I had to dive behind a peat stack to avoid being peppered. Unfortunately the dog was not quite so quick and a near international incident ensued, which was only resolved following a highly advantageous (for Tormoid) financial agreement being reached.
Sadly today employment is not so easy to find and at CCAB we regularly help people who have fallen into difficulties due to the death of a breadwinner, or redundancy, or who are simply unable to manage due to a low wage or a reduction in hours or pay. So what can you do? Well, there are a number of risks which we all face – death; illness or accident; loss of a job or reduction in income
55) “UNFAIR DELIVERY CHARGES” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Having made the major error of actually taking the Easter Bank Holiday I wandered into CAB this morning (Tuesday) and, after diligent searching, located my desk underneath what appeared to be the product of a small rainforest. Having started up my PC I found that some 40 plus people were all anxious to talk to me urgently and, when I unlocked the front door at opening time, the waiting room swiftly overflowed. I am therefore writing this piece at home at night, disturbed only by two cats who enjoy jumping on the keyboard. (If you find any spelling errors then they are at fault, not me). My study, which is usually a haven of quietly humming computers and scanners, seems to have been turned into an extension greenhouse and I note that there are several boxes of seed potatoes, onion sets and tomato plants littered about and I strongly suspect that Liz may have some knowledge of this.
I recently bought some new IT equipment for said office and – happily – was able to source it locally. A couple of years ago Liz decided it was time to buy a new suite for the house and many hours were spent going through brochures. Eventually I was advised that we wanted a particular design made by a well known maker from down the line and I got as far as placing the order only to be told that “as we were in a KW Postcode (and therefore on an island) the delivery charge would be – as I recall – an extra £200 on top of the standard £150”. I explained that actually, whilst the inhabitants of Caithness are regularly marginalised by all and sundry, the last time I checked there was still, surprisingly, a terrestrial connection to the rest of mainland Scotland. Thus, we were not an island. I was then asked if we were close to Glasgow. No. The salesperson seemed a little perplexed by this and said she would call me back. When she did so she confirmed that delivery would indeed cost this outrageous sum and the goods would be conveyed by a firm specialising in deliveries to the outer islands of the west coast. Famed as I am for my patience when dealing with annoying people, I cancelled the order there and then and managed to buy an excellent product from a store in Wick (delivered from Italy) with no excess charges at all and positioned and prepared by friendly local people.
I have no doubt that many readers will have had similar experiences and CCAB, working with Citizens Advice Scotland, have been campaigning long and loud for some action to be taken.
54) “COUNCIL TAX ” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
The other day I saw the postie coming up the drive and, amongst the various begging letters from annoying utility providers and HMRC, I spotted an ominous looking envelope which I examined carefully before applying the letter opener to it. It transpired to have been sent to me by The Highland Council and contained a demand for an astonishingly large sum of money in respect of Council Tax for the coming financial year. It included a sum, which was apparently due for Scottish Water Services and, having seen how much that was for, I was relieved that I do not have to pay for waste water as well, due to having my own drainage system. Having recovered from the shock I picked up a copy of the Groat, hoping to find a cheering story, but noted that one of the main articles concerned the fact that it is proposed that we will all have to pay parking charges in order to abandon our vehicles amongst the potholes in what are euphemistically described as “car parks” in our major towns – I am not sure who owns the facility by Wick Riverside opposite the bus stop, but I have ceased to use it as I am scared of losing my car in one of the many pits haphazardly scattered around the place and have no intention of paying for the privilege. What the introduction of parking charges will do to our local businesses I hate to think, but I digress.
Anyway, we have no option but to pay our Council Tax, which has gone up by 3% this year.
53) “AFTER THE BEAST FROM THE EAST” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
If you are reading this it is safe to presume that you have survived the rather dramatically named “Beast From The East” or, as an aged friend of mine from the Royal Burgh of Wick described this unfortunate meteorological event, the recent “puckle of snow”. It is fair to say though that there has been a goodly snowfall and the other morning I was awoken – as is standard practice – at 0500 hours by two hungry cats. They did this by removing themselves from Liz’s pillow and transferring themselves to my chest where they bounced up and down and proceeded to pat me on the nose until I gave in and got up. Five minutes later two heads were buried in two feeding bowls, and this was followed by agitated meows at the back door. I gave them excellent advice relating to the possible use of litter trays, but both insisted on going out. In very short order indeed there was a frantic banging at the bedroom window and two pure white cats (formerly predominantly black) charged in and, before I could stop them, buried themselves under the duvet next to a less than happy wife. I managed to disappear back to the kitchen before she realised that I might, unfairly, be considered to be at fault. The form of words utilised by her to express her displeasure was quite educational I have to say.
Having escaped to the relative tranquillity of CAB I decided that this would be a good time to have a look at everything related to heating and fuel costs
52) “ACCESS TO MEDIA” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
This weekend Liz has been in official residence, which means that I have been under close supervision, thus reducing the time available for my habitual scanning of the media. I did however pick up on the current furore surrounding the decision of Formula 1 to do away with the tradition of having “Grid Girls” at races, with much outrage generated on all sides of the argument. It reminded me of a story from the Eighties, when the England football team was in Germany to play a couple of “friendlies” against the hosts. The night before the first game the English players retired to bed so as to be at peak fitness the next day. In the early hours an “Oompah” band appeared in front of the hotel and the resultant racket meant that no sleep was had. Calls for vengeance were made and the night before the return match an open top London bus, with the upper deck entirely full of “Page 3 girls”, appeared in front of the Germans’ hotel. Each young lady had a brass instrument and the consequent cacophony, made even worse when the girl with the cymbals suffered an unfortunate and painful accident, woke up the entire neighbourhood. The Polizei were summoned and the journalist in charge was marched in front of the commander and ordered to explain herself. In a moment of utter genius she drew herself up to her full 5’2”, clicked her heels, and barked “But Herr Kapitan, we were only obeying orders”.
Which brings us nicely to today’s topic. Access to media, whether in print, online or via radio and TV, is something many of us take for granted and it enables us to keep abreast of current affairs
51) “HOME ALONE” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
This weekend Liz has left me in charge at home, having decided to visit daughter number one down the line. Her departure involved chucking 2kg of war paint and a spare pair of jeans in her weekend bag, filing her beloved hot hatch with gas, checking her appearance in the mirror, switching to “Sport” mode and taking off in her customary spray of gravel. I have been issued with written instructions detailing what I have – and have not – to do and I will read them in due course. I have managed extremely well and in the 24 hours to date have only broken one dish, had a slightly unfortunate incident involving a cottage pie (still edible) and suffered a single (non life threatening) injury. I have spent my time valuably, catching up on a huge stack on newspapers and have found a couple of items of interest to this column.
50) “MONEY MATTERS” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
You may have noticed that it has been a touch wintry recently. Throughout the land we have been variously digging out our driveways, getting stuck in the snow, falling over on pavements or, in my case, all three. On the plus side Caithness looks beautiful in a mantle of white, although it would be nice if some of the side roads were more of a black colour. I note that the Highland Council gritting budget is reportedly already overspent by about £500,000 and various councils in Scotland are also into serious deficits. I hate to mention it, but this is only January and we live in the Highland of Scotland. Winter does tend to continue for quite a while yet so the final figures are going to make uncomfortable reading by the time the temperature finally picks up in April. Many people in the County will remember when it was quite common for the Ord to be closed for days on end and for huge snowbanks to be present at the roadside for weeks. I recall many long nights rescuing people trapped in the snow a couple of decades ago and, on one famous occasion near the Slochd, when our Snowcat broke down, managing to get 13 people into a SWB Landrover and then parking myself on the spare wheel on the bonnet while the driver reversed through drifts for over a mile in a whiteout to get them to safety. This was great fun, but the lack of funds for gritting is not.
So, appropriately, this is a good time to talk about money.
49) “PPIs” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
A few years ago Liz and I were in the States and headed up to Rhode Island for a long weekend on a campsite. This involved her brother Martin and I loading his vast Chevy pickup with countless cool boxes containing food (and the odd can of Budweiser) along with lots of firewood for the campfire, hitching up an equally vast camping trailer and heading off along the freeway followed by Liz and Kathy doing a Thelma and Louise in Kathy’s Pontiac coupe. Apart from an admonitory finger wag from a State Trooper (due to Martin utilising the 5.7 litre V8 a bit too enthusiastically), all went well and Liz and I put up our tent amongst the pines. On the second night there was a terrible storm and it occurred to me that a tent in the woods was not perhaps an ideal place to be, but decided I could do nothing about it and went back to sleep. In the early hours there was a huge gust and a nearby tree crashed to the ground, blocking the access road. A swift call to the site office and two maintenance guys appeared with a chain saw. Liz and Martin stood there watching every move and Kathy commented “Yep. Like a couple of vultures waiting for the roadkill to die” – and indeed they were. In due course they liberated enough firewood for a month and both were as happy as if they had just won the state lottery.
Luckily the tree fell the right way and nobody was flattened, but we all need to make sure we are well insured against possible disasters. And the major banks, credit card providers and many lenders were very keen indeed, until they got caught out, to flog us what is now generically known as “PPI” or “Payment Protection Insurance” (many different descriptions were used by the way, so check your records).
48) “LOOKING FORWARD TO 2018 ” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
In a couple of days 2018 will be upon us and we all have our favourite ways to celebrate (or not as the case may be) but there is no doubt that Scotland is going to enjoy itself immensely. There may also be a modest amount of profit to be made by licensed premises, distilleries and the manufacturers of various proprietary headache cures. I firmly believe in supporting Scottish industry so have selflessly purchased the odd bottle or two (or three) of single malt so as to play my part. I think the best New Year I have ever had was in the wilds of Glencoe, standing at the door of a mountain bothy at midnight with a roaring log fire behind me and a glass of aforesaid malt in one hand and an excellent Havana in the other, surrounded by some of the finest mountains in the world all blanketed in deep snow and lit up by a brilliant moon. The perfection was only slightly marred a couple of hours later when my companion – a chap who has climbed all the big Himalayan mountains – failed to safely descend the ladder from his bunk and got stuck upside down. His shouts awoke me and I managed to get several very useful photos before effecting a fairly low-altitude mountain rescue. I still have the pictures in case a need arises for use of same but he has been very nice to me ever since this failed descent.
So what will the New Year bring? As always there are many variables but we can be sure of a number of things.
47) “CHRISTMAS” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
It may have come to your attention that Christmas – the season of goodwill – is nearly upon us. Throughout the land there is a spirit of kindness and charity displayed to all. For example I notice that one or two councils in England, whom I shall not name, have recently come up with brilliant ways to tackle homelessness. Proposals have apparently been made to fine people large sums of money if they sleep rough or, in one case, (a city famous for its connection with the production of pottery) it had been suggested that if homeless people utilised a tent then fining them up to £1000 would be an appropriate response. Fortunately, this led to public outrage and the decision was reversed after a petition was raised and one or two activists set up camp outside the House of Commons. And another City (with a famous university – not Cambridge) came up with the bright idea of threatening fines of £2500 if the homeless left their pathetic bags of possessions in, for example, a doorway. I am not sure how this is going, but I think the authorities have had rather a lot of bad publicity. Apparently “Public Spaces Protection Orders” are utilised to enforce the will of the burgermeisters and one can be in all kinds of trouble if one fails to comply. It does not seem to have occurred to the authorities that homelessness is a symptom of underlying social problems and addressing the cause(s) with a little human compassion might be better. This strikes me as a marked contrast to a case a couple of Christmases ago when a chap set up temporary home in a shelter at Thurso riverside. Within hours of his arrival, concerned residents offered him blankets, food and shelter and the council reaction was that an elected Cllr personally took an interest and offered all possible help to him. And in a more recent case in Wick – equal concern was expressed by the residents about the welfare of another person in similar circumstances. Rather more in the spirit of Christmas perhaps and pretty much what one would expect in Caithness.
Anyway we all want Christmas to be a happy time, so I thought a little input from CCAB would be useful. I wrote a similar item last Christmas, but repeating the message is wise.
46) “THE BUDGET” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
A slightly unusual situation has occurred. I am having a whole week off, which is the first time since last Christmas. This has advantages, in so much as I can have a rest, but is also fraught with danger as Liz has me under 24/7 surveillance and there is now no excuse for my failure to attend to any overdue domestic tasks such as balancing the central heating radiators (done); fixing a broken flagstone dyke (done); erecting new curtain poles (done); shifting a few tonnes of logs (half done); repairing potholes in the road (work in progress); or submitting my tax return and preparing Liz’s (not done, but thinking about it). When this lot is seen to and I have dutifully trudged 10 paces behind around a number of depressingly festive stores and listened to the umpteenth repeat of a cover version of “White Christmas” whilst being beset by suspiciously happy shop staff dressed as amusing elves, I hope to have a day or so to drive my car and wander about on a few hills – preferably ones where there is no mobile signal. But before this, I thought it would be useful to provide a bit of information on the content of the recent budget, and, more importantly, to assess where it will leave you and I in real terms
45) “ARMED SERVICE ADVICE PROJECT” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Am I alone in thinking that we have possibly become a bit too risk-adverse nowadays? A couple of things brought this to mind this week and the first involved the weekly shop. Liz was emptying numerous (suitably green) shopping bags whilst I watched carefully in the hope that there might be the odd treat for me. I was delighted when I saw her opening a packet of salmon fillets and I eyed them hungrily, only to be told that they were actually for the cats, as a birthday treat, and not for me. As I grumpily went to chuck the empty packet into the (recycling) bin, whilst passing a gratuitous remark relating to how unusual it was for an island girl to be in possession of a salmon with no visible net marks on it, I could not help but notice that the packet carried a dire warning – “Salmon – contains fish”. Well, I would sincerely hope so. What else would it contain? Beefburgers? Have we really reached the point that we need to explain that salmon are in fact fish? To add to my grumpy mood I went to buy my poppy from a stand manned by two respected local veterans and found that one is not allowed to buy a poppy with a pin attached in case one pricks one’s delicate pinkie. If you want a pin then there are some on the table but you have to get one yourself – to avoid a possible claim presumably. Honestly, I despair.
Which leads me very neatly to today’s subject – The Armed Services Advice Project.
44) “UNIVERSAL CREDIT” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
I see that the BBC today (Sunday) reports that allegations have been made by a former secretary to a certain Government Minister that she was sent by him to purchase particular items, perhaps most accurately described as being of a personal and private nature, and indeed of a type and description which most people would regard as being best kept to oneself (so to speak). Apparently the Cabinet Office is going to assemble and, with due gravitas, decide “whether or not the Ministerial Code of Conduct has been breached”. Well, if the allegations are true then I would sincerely hope it has. Anyway, at least this will create a buzz in the corridors of power I suppose.
I spend a lot of time studying politics and economics and these can be somewhat dry subjects (although I find them fascinating) so it is actually quite refreshing to read something a little more light-hearted such as this (which involves both topics), although it would seem from various reports in the press that there is still a culture of misogyny and homophobia in Westminster which seriously needs to be dealt with whoever is involved. And it would be very nice if our elected representatives would stop this sort of nonsense and cease fighting & trying to score points off each other and perhaps concentrate on what they are actually in power for – looking after the people who put them there.
Which brings me nicely to today’s topic – Universal Credit.
CAITHNESS CITIZENS ADVICE BUREAU
DO YOU WANT TO MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE TO PEOPLE’S LIVES?
WELFARE RIGHTS OFFICER REQUIRED
Motivated person required who has knowledge of the social security benefit system, experience of providing social security related advice, and the ability to work as a tribunal representative. Excellent verbal and written communication skills are essential. You must have the ability to research complex material, and have excellent interpersonal skills. Organisational skills are also very important in this post.
This post may require a considerable amount of travel so the applicant must be able to travel within the Caithness area as required. Training and support are provided.
There are two posts available, one of which will involve work with pre- and post-discharge hospital patients, and the other post will involve working closely with the Caithness Mental Health Team.
SALARY: £19855 pa
35 hours per week
The post is for a fixed term of one year
Further details and application pack from:
Miss Jill Smith
123 High Street
Caithness, KW1 4LR
Closing date: 20th November 2017
[The post is subject to the disclosure of criminal history information.]
The CAB is committed to equal opportunities both in service provision and employment.
43) “CREDIT CARDS” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Do you ever get the feeling that you are being watched? I was happily sitting at my desk in CAB one day when I sensed a presence nearby and got the uncomfortable feeling that I was under surveillance. I swivelled a cautious eye to the right and found that I was unfortunately correct and there was not just one potentially dangerous presence in the vicinity but two, in the form of Jill (Manager) and Liz (Wife), who both had their arms folded and were studying me carefully. As my time tends to be divided roughly equally between being supervised by one or the other of them this caused me considerable alarm and my attempt to conceal myself under the desk was not successful. It transpired that there was a need for my car keys and my credit card – Jill wished to place various items in the boot of said car and Liz wanted my card for an unspecified, but no doubt expensive purpose. I learned long ago that attempting to resist either of them is pointless and I duly handed over the required items. I subsequently retrieved both car and card with the car being somewhat heavily laden and the card slightly melted.
Which brings me to the topic for today – credit cards
42) “PARKING” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Some years ago I set off for a day out with the patriarch of our stateside family, known to all as “Pa”. We were heading for upstate New York to visit a military museum and, on arrival, I headed towards the kiosk to pay followed by very vocal reminders that I was not to forget that said venerable elder was ”an ex-GI and a senior and disabled” and was therefore entitled to various discounts. The attendant weighed things up and announced that it might be easier if he “just let the old guy in free”. A wise decision. On the way home Pa announced he was hungry and, as Ma was not present, he would have some forbidden fast food. Spotting a Burger King he launched his beloved Chevy across 6 lanes of traffic and a number of red lights with much enthusiasm, responding to irate honking by shouting “I’m a goddamned veteran, let me through”. We entered the car park, ran over a parking cone, came to a halt across three bays, and nearly hit the attendant who responded with “You just have a nice day now Sir”. Americans can be very sensible at times.
Whilst Pa’s parking may have left something to be desired at least he didn’t encounter the sort of nonsense which many Caithnessians are being confronted with if they make the error of using various privately run car parks in the cities.
41) “NUISANCE CALLS” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
At the height of the cold war I found myself spending a few weeks at a certain RAF Station learning some vital new skills. This involved much charging about in small fast aircraft and, once I accepted that sitting on a parachute is very uncomfortable, I enjoyed myself immensely, particularly when we flew upside down or did something else that would cause the Hi-Viz brigade to have an attack of the vapours. One day our mission was to do a “bandit” chase and, said bandit having been issued with a very fast car and a fair start, our three planes took off and our chase cars snarled out of the gates. Now, if you take a dozen hyper-competitive young men and set them up in a conflict situation, armed with some excellent toys, things get very serious very quickly and it was a close run thing. We finally got the cars vectored in and the bandit boxed up on a motorway slip road with minutes of spare avgas left. The only casualty was a Vauxhall Senator (“Snoopy”) whose demise was reported with the unequivocal words “Excom. Peanuts. Snoopy is txxs up”. Which it was.
During the debrief a phone call was taken by the Boss. The conversation was short: – “Sqd. Ldr. Biggles here”. Outraged squawking. “Low Flying. Oh Dear”. More outraged squawking. “Can you describe the aircraft? No? Ah”. Further outraged squawking. “Tell me. Did you see any red stars or hammer and sickle symbols?”. Brief squawk. “No? Thanks Heavens for that. Good day to you Madam”.
And that is one way to deal with a phone call you do not wish to take. Sadly, today, about the only calls, which a lot of people, particularly the elderly, ever get are what we can safely describe as nuisance calls and it is driving everyone mad.
40) “HEATING OPTIONS” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
One winter weekend a mate and I headed for a remote bothy in Torridon where we planned a couple of days in the mountains. We arrived in a snowstorm but swiftly got the fire burning and sparked up the propane powered generator which, as well as providing electricity, also pumped water from the burn and – importantly – caused the WC’s to operate. We thought we had the place to ourselves but it transpired that a multi-national group of evangelists had also booked bunks so, with some language difficulties, we showed them how to start the generator and, hoping that they had grasped the instructions, we settled down to a night in front of the fire. Whilst our young friends sang many happy hymns we armed ourselves with a couple of bottles of burgundy, a box of small cigars and a chess set. At 0600 the next morning there was a knock on the members room door. My friend, being a Social Work boss, was of course dead to the world so I grumpily opened the door to be confronted by a beautiful Chinese lady wearing a disgracefully short kimono and a flower in her hair. She then uttered the immortal words “Suzi want bathroom. Iain start his engine”. Obviously, as a gentleman, I duly complied and settled down for the statutory 30 minute wait and stood at the porch with a coffee watching the blizzard screaming in and decided that “cold” was an inadequate description for the situation.
Personally I like the winter but one needs heat and this week, with winter not too far away, I thought we could look at the options available to you if you need some help.
39) “CHILD BENEFIT” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Liz was the last baby to be born on a tiny, now uninhabited, island in the Hebrides. The water came from a burn, there was no electricity, and the five families were crofters and fishermen who supplemented their income by working for the local landowner. When she was to be christened the Minister was respectfully rowed across and she was baptised in front of a peat fire and then put back in her crib made from an old cupboard drawer. It was considered polite to offer the Reverend a dram, which was of course available, but the problem was that said uisge-bheata had emanated from a poit-dhubh (a still which the men may just possibly have forgotten to register with the Exise-man). This minor difficulty was swiftly resolved by a quick search of the beach and the location of an empty proprietary whisky bottle which was filled with the suspiciously clear spirit (which was, to put it mildly, best described as rocket fuel). The Minister, a man of excellent manners and who was no doubt was well aware of the origins of the refreshment, politely sampled same and then scoffed several more libations. It is understood that during the voyage back he sang a number of hymns, very loudly, and the words used differed substantially from the approved text. Which brings us neatly to today’s topic which concerns Child Benefit (originally known as “Family Allowance”).
38) “EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAL FEES AND BABY BOXES” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Last week a lady resident of the Royal Burgh of Wick was happily pottering around in her house when she received a phone call from a person who claimed to be the CAB Manager and who explained that CAB wanted to help her with her debts. The lady was a little taken aback, but recovered swiftly and advised the person in question that not only did she not have any debts but she knew with total certainty that he was not the CAB Manager. She knew this because she, Mrs Della Smith, was the person responsible for having given birth to the real Manager, Miss Jill Smith, and he, the caller, was certainly not there at the time. Mrs Smith, in common with her daughter, is not a woman to mess with and the scammer departed with a distinct flea in his ear and is probably now planning to become a Sunday school teacher. An irate call was made to Jill and relayed to me and I popped a swift warning on Facebook and some 25,000 people read it in 24 hours. It turns out that this is the latest ploy adopted by certain species of pond life and various people have told us that they have had a similar call. CAB will never make a “cold call” to anyone ever so please bear this in mind. Anyway, a happy end to our scams month.
37) “POSTCODE LOTTERY SCAM AND UNIVERSAL CREDIT” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Recently a Police Department in a certain US state, close to the Mexican border, decided to have a seat belt campaign. Every 10,000th vehicle to pass a fixed site on the freeway would trigger a camera and the registration plate would pop up on a patrol cars’ computer screen. If the driver was wearing a seat belt then the lucky motorist would win $1000. The camera was triggered and the cop red-lighted the car in question. When the officer got to the driver’s door he was greeted by outraged shouting and swearing on the usual lines of “Have you nothing better to do?” etc. He explained to the driver’s wife that her husband had won $1000 and she said that this was great and now he could afford to buy licence, registration and insurance for the car. This led to further outrage and the wife apologised and said he always acted up when he had been drinking. He now became apoplectic and the wife told the officer that she would give her husband one of his special cigarettes, which he hid under the seat, to calm him down. In the stunned silence, broken only by the sound of cruiser sirens approaching in all directions, a voice was heard coming from the trunk asking “are we over the border yet Senor?” It is not known if the marriage survived.
WICK CAB DECORATES ITS WINDOW FOR SCAM AWARENESS MONTH AND WICK GALA WEEK
CAB SCAMS CAMPAIGN ENTERS WEEK THREE, TARGETS MESSAGE TO SOCIALLY ISOLATED PEOPLE
Caithness Citizens Advice Bureau has entered the third week of its Scams Awareness Month, a campaign that aims to help people become more vigilant about fraud and scams.
“All of July we have been spreading the message to local people that they should spot, avoid and report scams. We are now past the half-way mark of the campaign and we have already distributed information to lots of local people. Just by raising awareness of scams and making people more vigilant we believe we are saving local people from the misery and hardship that scams can cause.
“Though our campaign messages are for everyone, this week we are targeting in particular those people who are socially isolated. Research has shown that people who live by themselves and don’t have much social contact can be vulnerable to scammers, for example through doorstep scams or online fraud.
“It has been recently reported that the names and addresses of nearly 300,000 people across the UK are on lists which are being sold between criminals to use as targets for scams. Research has found that 9 in 10 people on these target lists are unaware that they are being targeted. Often, people who are socially isolated are not able to connect to the support or help to prevent this.
“We can all help such people by talking about scams and reporting them when they happen, and also by passing on our information to those we think may be vulnerable. The one thing scammers don’t want us to do is talk to each other about them and how they operate. They rely on us keeping quiet. So we can all play our part in beating them by looking out for ourselves and each other.”
This week’s CAB Tips to avoid scams
- Want to avoid cold callers on your doorstep? Get a sticker for your front door from your local Trading Standards or police force #scamaware
- If you think a vulnerable friend or relative is falling prey to scammers, @think_jessica can help: http://bit.ly/1pzUheY #scamaware
- Charity @victimsupport gives free & confidential help to victims of crime, their family, friends & anyone else affected #scamaware
- Doorstep and face-to-face scams still affect many people. Help us stop scammers picking on vulnerable members of society and click share to spread the word: http://bit.ly/2sV
36) “BEREAVEMENT” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
It is said that there are two certainties in life – death and taxes. This unfortunately seems to be true. I recall that my paternal Great-Grandfather inconveniently managed to expire just before his 100th birthday which led to a rapid rearrangement of plans which were in place to mark his centenary. It was commented upon at the time that if he hadn’t spent his life wandering happily about the place fighting various wars, consuming alcohol and tobacco in prodigious and inadvisable quantities, and if he had avoided consorting with a number of ladies with whom it would have been best not to have so consorted, then he would have undoubtedly lived to be 100. However it would have seemed a very long time and it would have been extremely boring.
We all have to face facts and we have already talked about the need to have a will in place to ensure our wishes are met after leaving the departure gate, and to consider having a Power of Attorney drawn up to make sure that we are looked after if we reach a point where we cannot manage our own affairs, but what about those left behind? What about the costs incurred when someone dies? What entitlements are there to help if we sadly find ourselves bereaved?
Watch out for fake job offers online
As part of Scam Awareness Month, Caithness Citizens Advice Bureau and Highland Council Trading Standards want to alert young job seekers about the potential pitfalls when applying for jobs or signing up to recruitment agencies online.
Glenys Brown, Trading Standards Officer, based in Inverness explains, “Unfortunately, nationally, there has been a sharp rise in the number of online job hunting scams and the age group most likely to be targeted with fake job offers are young adults aged between 18 to 24 years”.
Recent statistics issued by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (run by the City of London Police) https://www.cityoflondon.police.uk, also show people under 25 are most likely to fall victim when applying for jobs online.
Glenys Brown adds: “Young adults have grown up with digital media and are confident in their ability when using the internet, however, this group is now being deliberately targeted by criminals and unlike other age groups less than 50% of young people are likely to report a scam”. (Source: Citizens Advice).
Typical scammers may also target younger adults and offer to carry out ‘fake’ services for a fee, such as taking money to write CV’s, which are never received or offering bespoke training, that does not exist.
Caithness Citizens Advice Bureau and Highland Council Trading Standards have provided the following guidance for young adults on how to protect themselves, when job hunting online:
- Never part with money. A genuine job offer will not ask you to pay for DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) or any other security checks.
- Never take it on face value. If you have been ‘head-hunted’ with an offer of a job that is too good to be true…….then it probably is! Be suspicious!
- Be wary of emails from generic email addresses(such as Hotmail and Yahoo) which are poorly written asking you to contact them. Do not respond!
- Beware of so called business/recruitment opportunitiesinviting you to attend a presentation for a fee or claiming that you can earn £1000’s home-working per week with no outlays.
- Do your own research online!Check if the telephone number; email address advertised exists online and check out reviews under the business name; address other contact details.
- Never accept money for nothing! – beware of any advert promising ‘get rich quick’ schemes. You may end up being a ‘money mule’ and an accessory to a money laundering crime.
- Never phone them for an interview –Remember – if an employer wants you to work for them, they will call you.
- Never provide personal details– be very suspicious of any requests for personal data ahead of an interview or registration meeting (if a recruitment agency).
Young adults are also being advised to wait until they receive a firm job offer in writing, before providing personal information such as bank account details. And only provide copies of documentation such as a birth certificate; passport or driving licence when they meet their prospective employer face to face
Safer-Jobs, (a website founded by the Metropolitan Police) provide free advice to ensure that people have a safer job search. Victims of recruitment scams can also report incidents confidentially through the Safe-Jobs website at: https://www.safer-jobs.com/contact . Consumers can also use sources such as Companies House https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/ and LinkedIn https://uk.linkedin.com/ to find out more about the organisations, businesses and people you are in touch with.
Further advice on your working rights can also be found at: https://www.safer-jobs.com/rights.cfm.
Jill Smith, Caithness CAB Manager said “Employment scams are a particularly cruel type of crime. Remember if you wish to speak to an advisor regarding employment rights or finding a job you can contact CAB at Wick or Thurso, visit our website at Caitnnesscab.org or follow us on Twitter or Facebook. We are very aware of scams at CCAB and try to keep abreast of all the new developments. Remember, if in doubt do not engage, bin the email or hang up the phone and speak to Caithness CAB and we will advise. And if you want to job hunt you can do so at CAB where supported internet access is available delivered by Ormlie Community Association in cooperation with CCAB.
Highland Council Trading Standards work in partnership with Citizens Advice Consumer Service. If you feel you are a victim of a scam you can also contact Citizens Advice Consumer Service, who offer a free and confidential consumer advice helpline on 03454 04 05 06
35) “SCAMS” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Last night I was all set to toddle off to bed for a well-deserved sleep, happily contemplating 7 hours peace and quiet. At this point Liz announced that there was a problem (actually two of them as it transpired) and instructed me to fetch a ladder. I warily inquired why she required same at that time of night and she simply pointed at the highest point of the roof where two apparently terrified kittens were perched on the ridge tiles. I do have a previous conviction for falling off a ladder so I ascended carefully and tried out my negotiating skills with said frustrating felines. This did not go well but after a while I managed to get a hold of one of them who showed his deep gratitude by wrapping himself around my arm and hanging on with all claws extended. The other one was above bribery with tasty treats and ignored all entreaties and occasional threats but the minute I descended the ladder to wipe off the blood the mendacious moggie leapt onto a satellite dish and then to the ground where he proceeded to eat his supper as if nothing had happened. I realised I had been scammed and headed for bed grumping mightily.
34) “PEOPLE MATTER” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Winston Churchill once said “ Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time” and he was undoubtedly correct. Theresa May announced in April that we were to have yet an other General Election (I am starting to lose count, but I make that two referendums, two general elections, one Holyrood election and one Local Council Election in the last three years and I have probably forgotten something).
I think it is safe to say that she is no doubt severely regretting having called the vote and quite a few other people will certainly share her views. I am writing this on Sunday morning so by the time of publication who knows what will have happened, but the events of June 8th prove one thing – democracy works and politicians would do well to remember that ordinary people can and will make their views clear and it is very unwise for any party to misjudge the national mood and equally foolish for individual MP’s to fail to listen to local concerns. The “dementia” tax issue and the proposal to drop the “triple-lock” on state pensions may well have been the turning point in the big picture and throughout the UK local people have made their views clear on local matters. So where does this leave us in Caithness?
33) “MATERNITY RIGHTS” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Last week we saw a sickening and wicked attack targeted against children and young people who were out enjoying themselves at a concert in Manchester. People from all over the UK came together to have fun and listen to the music but, as we all know, the evening ended in tragedy. Youngsters and their parents from all over Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and no doubt from other countries as well, have been killed or injured and families left devastated. The criminals – and that is all that they are – who commit such acts want to spread misery and destroy lives and it seems to me that we need to celebrate life to show that we will not be cowed by those who seek to prevent us doing so. So this week we are going to talk about a happy subject and what can be more happy than bringing a new life into the world?
At Caithness CAB we work closely with our local NHS Midwives, and expectant mums have the option of referral to CAB to get advice on all the entitlements, rights and benefits available to them. If you prefer you can come to us directly – all you need to do is phone or drop in – and we will make sure that you get all the information and help that you need. So where do we start?
Caithness Citizens Advice Bureau are looking for new Volunteers to train as Advisers at both their Wick and Thurso Bureaux. Deputy Manager Iain Gregory said “Volunteers Week runs from 1st to 7th June this year so this is an ideal time to ask people to join us to make a difference. Caithness CAB is a hugely successful organisation and has become a vital part of the Caithness Community over the 30 plus years of our existence. The need for CAB has increased greatly over the past few years and we now help thousands of people in Caithness and North-West Sutherland every year. We advise on countless subjects and it is our mission to enhance the quality of people’s lives by making sure that they gain access to expert advice and guidance on the subjects which matter to them. We welcome Volunteers from all walks of life and all we ask is that they have a genuine wish to help others. We know that some people are put off as they think that they do not have the knowledge or the skills needed – there is absolutely no need to worry about this as we provide a very full training package, including teaching computer and IT skills, and we never ask anyone to take on advising duties until they are confident that they are ready. Skilled Advisers are always on hand to help new volunteers with everything and we have found that trainees’ confidence builds quickly and that they get great satisfaction when they help their first client. Why not come and join us? Thanks to our support from Greencoat Stroupster Community Fund and Spirit of Caithness / Foundation Scotland we are able to concentrate on recruitment and training for another year.”
Jill Smith, Manger, said “I would agree with Iain’s comments about IT training – please do not be put off even if you have never used a computer in your life because we will have you up and running with all the basic skills within a matter of days and we will make sure that you get great training. Volunteering for CAB will enhance your own life and the lives of many others so please get in touch”. Caithness CAB can be contacted on (01847) 894243 or (01955) 605989, by email on email@example.com or click on the “Volunteers” tab.
32) “NHS SERVICES” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
You may have gathered that there is shortly to be an election. Countless babies have been kissed by aspiring politicians and many promises have been made, most of which will not be kept, but all of our would-be leaders claim (publicly at least) to be strongly behind the NHS. One of my family, who has been seriously ill for some time, recently had a nasty accident when he slipped, fell and broke his hip. His two dogs, an Alsatian and a Border Collie, lay on top of him to keep him warm and barked until help arrived and he was taken to Raigmore. When we visited I was struck by three things – firstly it was extremely busy, secondly the staff were under great pressure, and thirdly every one of them displayed quite amazing levels of professionalism and genuine care and compassion. It was hugely impressive and reassuring.
31) “CAR BUYING OPTIONS” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
A few years ago Liz and I got the early train from Thurso to Inverness, changed for Kings Cross and, after a taxi ride across London with a rather right-wing cabbie, we got to Dover late on. We had a bar meal and a good sleep and caught an early morning boat to Calais where I picked up a suitably warm version of the Peugeot 106, threw the tent in the back, retrieved Liz who was happily chatting up a gendarme, and turned left for Belgium. We covered a good 4500 kilometres across Europe, including an utterly brilliant run over the San Bernardino Pass with a thundering alpine postbus clearing the way with the posthorn on the descent and two biking Vikings on matching Ducatis following us. At the end of the trip we wanted to get to Dunkirk for a couple of days beach camp before heading home so I had to drive across Germany and well into Holland in a single day. It was very hot and the Autobahn was busy so after we camped up over the Dutch border I was delighted when it rained and I stood in the rain in jeans only. A Dutch chap stuck his head out of his tent, weighed things up and announced “ Typical. Scotchman. Free shower. Mean person” (or a word to that effect). Brilliant. We are planning another couple of road trips soon and the car is of course, for me, the major decision to make. Which brings me to today’s topic – car purchase
LONG-SERVING CAB ADVISER RETIRES
The retiral of one of the longest ever serving Caithness CAB Advisers was marked on Wednesday, 26/04/17, in the Pentland Hotel, Thurso, when staff and volunteers gathered to say farewell to Lyall Crowe who has been with CAB since August 1997.
Lyall specialised in employment cases and during his time with CAB he helped hundreds of people with work issues. Between 2009 and 2016 alone he saw 331 clients and recorded an astonishing £1,311,863 in awards and payments due to clients from employers. Lyall was a seafarer and he was known to entertain staff with his tales of his life afloat (and sometimes aground) and it would be fair to say that he applied the principles of steering a ship to the way he did his job – he kept a steady hand on the rudder and he helped many clients to navigate hazardous reefs and shoals into clear waters.
A collection had raised a substantial sum and Jill Smith, Manager, presented Lyall with a Laptop Computer and Printer along with a picture of his favourite ship. Lyall will be greatly missed and all of his colleagues and clients wish him well in his well-deserved retirement
30) “COUNCIL TAX” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
It is Easter Monday and I have a day off which means that we will be heading for Wick where Liz will shop whilst I am placed in the crèche (cafe) until required to attend at the checkout. The time now is 0600 and I have decided to spend a couple of hours dealing with my own business affairs without the phone ringing. Among the usual pile of emails is a suggestion from HMRC that I might like to check my account. With due caution I have done so and found that – as usual – they want protection money. This is bad enough, but I have now cast a jaundiced eye over my Council Tax bill and found that it is some £150 more than last year.
29) “BANKS AND BANKING” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Today we start with another amusing story from the USA. A recently retired American police officer told me about a chap who decided to hold up a bank in the city. He made careful plans complete with a checklist – mask; gloves; bag to put the money in, and a gun. He marched up to the teller’s window and announced – with a regrettable lack of originality – “This is a stick-up. Hand over the cash”. The teller explained that she just happened to have a satchel of money beside her and she gave it to him, wished him a nice day, and pressed the bandit button on the floor as she did so. At this point our hero realised the flaw in his scheme. This was a drive-in bank and he did not have a getaway car. He duly waved the gun at a lady customer, heaved her out of her vehicle, jumped in and took off. After a few yards the pyrotechnic charge in the satchel discharged and the criminal genius was sprayed with red die, as was the windshield – and the cash. He crashed into a snow bank and leapt out – still clutching the bag and his pistol – and was just in the process of holding up another lady when my friend arrived and made it quite clear that he was under arrest – utilising a form of words perhaps a little stronger than the Miranda ruling actually called for.
As we all know it would not be unreasonable to take the view that the great financial crash of 2008 resulted, very largely, from something of a role-reversal where certain banks and bankers were allegedly responsible for holding up the customers, and not the other way round. I don’t think that many people realise just how close we came to complete economic collapse at the height of the crisis and even now we still see the effects and can only hope – probably forlornly – that both our politicians and our bankers will learn from the lessons of history. So what can we do to protect ourselves and our own financial interests in the new landscape of ultra-low interest rates and loss of trust in financial institutions?
28) “HOLIDAYS ABROAD” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Most of our family live in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and on one holiday we were accompanied by my mother-in-law, who had formerly lived there for many years. I happened to be reading the stateside equivalent of The Groat and my attention was drawn to an article from the Police Department who were fundraising for local charities. It transpired that if one phoned them up and pledged $50 then they would “arrest” anyone you wished and place them in a lockup in the courthouse where they would be issued with a telephone and told to raise as much as they could in “bail” money before release. I looked contemplatively at MIL, who was happily stirring a cauldron, and in due course a cruiser with two State Troopers aboard turned up and MIL was busted on a charge of overbearing conduct towards yours truly and given a very fetching smock to wear, covered in arrows. She was then carted off in cuffs. Yes, I am aware that many men are now reading this with envy so please continue to the end. There is more.
27) “ROAD TAX” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
On Friday night I found myself driving along a road in Caithness. The surface was in perfect condition, there wasn’t a pothole in sight, there was no loose gravel ready to propel bikers and cyclists into the scenery, the white lines were sparkling, the roadside foliage had been trimmed back so there was a clear sight line across all the corners and everything was superbly maintained. On a series of bends I came up behind a couple of campervans, but I knew there was a good opportunity ahead and as I reached the apex of the final bend I had a clear overtake on the dead straight and deserted road. A final mirror and shoulder check, a sustained headlight flash and then several hundred horsepower did what comes naturally and seconds later I was safely tucked in and sitting on the speed limit. And the whole drive was like that. And then I woke up. On Saturday I had occasion to visit a few places and people and drove along the A9 from Thurso and turned up by Hilliclay. This is not a road. This is a cart track. An 18th C traveller would recognise it as such. I would recommend a careful inspection to see if there are any stagecoaches in the ditches. Weydale wasn’t much better and by the time I nipped (or rather crawled) over the hill to Castletown and thence back to Thurso and up to Ormlie to buy some heavy duty polish to guard against stone chips my humour was a little thin – although not quite as thin as the roads budget apparently.
All of which brings me to today’s topic which relates to what is now termed “vehicle tax”.
26) “CARERS ALLOWANCE” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
One lovely July day I was heading up Glyder Fawr in the Welsh mountains accompanied by a 6’4” 16-stone ex-paratrooper who has, to be polite about it, a somewhat intimidating countenance. He was fractious because he was too hot, was carrying far too much kit in his Bergen and his knees were hurting due to his unwise habit of throwing himself out of perfectly serviceable aeroplanes. When confronted with grumpy paras it is always excellent advice to keep as far away as possible so we agreed that I would head for the summit, brew-up and wait for him. Near the summit I met a couple descending and having described my mate to them, requested that they tell him to hurry up because his Carer was waiting and it was time for his medication. I then ascended a pile of jagged rocks, which I knew he couldn’t scale, and interestedly awaited results. Minutes later an outraged figure stormed up the mountain and made a number of suggestions to me, which I wisely declined to act upon. He soon calmed down when I reminded him that it was my turn to pay for the beer, although I kept a safe distance from him as we traversed Tryfan later on – it is a very long way down.
And this brings us neatly to the topic of today’s article – care. Many of us find at some time in our lives that there is a need to look after a family member or friend and it sometimes happens that it is a very long-term commitment. There is also a good chance that we will need care ourselves. Care needs can be due to physical infirmity or perhaps an issue with mental health – dementia is very common – and if someone has to go into a nursing home or has to receive professional assistance at home then it can prove very expensive indeed for the public purse and it is usually far better for the person if that care comes from someone they know and who understands them. This was recognised years ago and Carers Allowance was introduced to meet this need – although the level of assistance is decidedly low, of which more later
25) “THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT” – The latest in a series of articles by lain Gregory of Caithness CAB
Today we start with thanks. Thanks to all of you who supported us and signed the “Save Caithness CAB” petition. The cuts have been cancelled. It seems that money has been found. We are going to stay open. Yes, we will have to continue to keep a very careful eye on things. Yes, there may be moves to reduce our budget in the future. Yes, I rather think that our Midwifery and Mental Health Outreach Funding may not continue and we will have to ask our ever-willing Volunteers to help with this. And yes, Jill Smith and I and all our staff and volunteers will need to produce even more on an inflation-depleted budget but the disastrous planned cut to our core funding will not now go ahead and we are able to present a very powerful mandate indeed should anybody suggest any similar cuts in the future. The messages we received from you were not just touching – they were humbling. I said in my last piece that the people of Caithness had the power to make a difference and that it was time to take a stand against one cut too many – and you responded in astonishing numbers. Just to give you an idea we have at time of writing no less than 782 supporters on change.org and a further 921 hard copy signatures – a total of 1703 We only launched the petition on 20th January. Newcastle CAB (a city with a population touching a third of a million) were threatened with closure last year and their online petition – launched 8 months ago – has only attracted 1287 signatures. I rest my case. Yes we can make our voices heard and we can do it again when other issues arise.
It also needs to be said that the Groat and Courier publicity helped immensely & for this we are very grateful – and when I say “we” I include all those who cannot speak for themselves. Also, it is only correct to thank those elected members who stood for us – and therefore the people. I think the sheer strength of public feeling came as a surprise all the way to Holyrood. It is worth mentioning that the morning after the closure story broke I had two people in CAB in tears because they did not know what on earth they would do. And that is a lesson for the future I think – no more cuts aimed at those least able to fight back. Real people – often those with no voice – get badly hurt. Well they have a voice now – yours
Blog 24) “CUTS MAY FORCE CLOSURE OF CAB ” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – January 2017
Have you heard of the Darwin Awards? Named for Charles Darwin, these are annual honours bestowed, after careful consideration, upon a select group of people who have exhibited an astounding misapplication of judgement and thereby succeeded in removing themselves from the gene pool. A recent example was a chap in the USA (it had to be) who replaced a faulty fuse below the steering column of his pickup truck with a .22 bullet. All was well for about 20 miles until the inevitable occurred. Whilst he did not actually kill himself, the unfortunate trajectory of the bullet ensured that he was unable to pass his clearly faulty genes on to anyone else and thus he was honoured with a Darwin Award. Why do I mention this? Please read to the end. You will see.
Caithness CAB is threatened with closure because of funding cuts.
Blog 23) “HOUSING ” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – January 2017
In the late 1950’s (when I was extremely young!) my father told me to shake hands with a caller – a Highland Gentleman in his 100th year – and, when I was older, explained that the reason was that the visitor remembered as a child his parents discussing the forcible eviction of their families from their land and the houses being burned, and he wanted me to meet him so that I would understand just how recent the Highland Clearances really were. My wife, Liz, was the last baby to be christened on a remote island off the north-west coast (think Stroma but much smaller) and soon afterwards all the families left, going to Canada and other Commonwealth countries for a new life, with Liz’s family eventually landing in Boston, where most of them remain. Scottish history is full of such stories and the diaspora of the Scots is of course worldwide. Happily today things have moved on, but we must never forget the lessons of the past, and the right to a proper home, and the ability to remain within it, is enshrined in Human Rights legislation
Blog 22) “INSURANCE ” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – January 2017
I was awoken at 5am the other day by the loud purring of a cat who was curled up on my chest. He then decided to launch a pre-emptive strike on his brother, sinking all his claws into me as he sprang. My anguished cry awoke Liz who told me not to scare the cats and not to bleed on her new bed-set. I advised said felines to relocate themselves and they promptly charged down the hall and ascended to the top of a previously unscaled sideboard. Moments later I heard the crash of breaking china and in my hurry to assess the damage I tripped over a cat toy and broke my fall on a radiator. I decided the office would be safer, so I waltzed off on icy roads and arrived to find someone had sliced through our main phone cable, the wireless Internet box was playing up and the boiler wouldn’t start. To cap it all my man-flu was now critical. After spending 30 minutes contacting India on my mobile, rebooting the system with a size 10 and re-pressurising the boiler, I had a Lemsip, topped up on caffeine, nicotine and reflected that at least I wasn’t booked in for a vasectomy.
Life can throw up one or two unexpected issues from time to time and we need to be prepared for them. It is always a good idea to have an emergency fund to cover the basics, but we all need to have insurance in place to protect us against major disasters.
Blog 21) “CHRISTMAS ” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – December 2016
Many years ago in a certain North Highland village there occurred a series of mysterious events. Residents, invariably pensioners, awoke and found that an unknown benefactor had left a gift on the front step for them overnight. In each case the tribute was a large, freshly caught and most palatable salmon. This came to the notice of the press, for whom it was also a gift from heaven, (or possibly the nearby river), and headlines such as “Robin Hood”, “A fishy tale” and “The scales of justice” were – to be honest – rather overused. There was great speculation and it was even suggested – quite wrongly I am sure – that these prime specimens of the Salmonidae family may have been obtained without the permission of the riparian owner. As far as I know the philanthropist(s) in question were never identified, but it did lead to one of the best pieces of advice ever given by a Police Officer to a member of the public. An old lady opened her front door, armed with her scrubbing brush, and found such a present on the step. Being an old lady she telephoned my friend, now sadly deceased, and asked what she should do. After a moment or two of thought he advised, “Well my dear, first take a large pan …………………………”. Wonderful. And the village? Well there is a clue for you in the last paragraph so please read on……..
Blog 20) “STATE PENSIONS ” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – December 2016
One of my numerous Grandchildren recently announced, with due gravity, that he was concerned about me. I was quite touched by this until he explained that he found it regrettable that he had to spend time worrying about what I was up to instead of the more traditional practice of it being the other way round. Apparently he was convinced that, sooner or later, I would wipe myself out after an injudicious jump on my mountain bike or as a result of falling off a mountain. Also I noticed in the press that there has been an alarming upsurge in somewhat riotous behaviour from older people on holiday in the Costas and a new term has been coined to describe them. Apparently they are known as “saga louts”. As a baby-boomer I find all this most heartening and it serves to illustrate just how things have changed over the last century. Older people are now, generally, surviving much longer and whilst I am sure that none of the readers of this column would dream of behaving uproariously, we all need to have a close look at our State Retirement Pension provision to make sure we know exactly where we stand when retirement arrives and can then conduct ourselves as we see fit
Blog 19) “TRAVEL, TRANSPORT AND HOLIDAYS ” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – December 2016
Recently I did something rather bold – I bought train tickets from Thurso to Glasgow. All went well until Inverness where we had to navigate the highly annoying barriers. It was clear that our cases would not pass through easily so we asked if we could use the wider gate, but were informed this was verboten. A few seconds later Liz was stuck fast and a person, hopefully trained in the use of a key, was summoned. Wife duly retrieved, we then had to join a lengthy queue to get onto the Glasgow train and again, equally inexplicably, we had to negotiate even more gates. These apparently are not opened until shortly before departure (why not for heaven’s sake?) so scores of people all had to try and board at once, with no sign of a porter, inadequate seating, hopeless luggage space and a staff member who would do well to remember that the passengers are doing the train company a favour, not the other way round. From there on things deteriorated rapidly and on changing at Perth it descended into farce. On being asked by a railway employee if I had enjoyed the journey I advised, “Just carry on as you are – third-world service delivery and quality standards are within your grasp”. He seemed pleased.
At Caithness CAB we regularly deal with travel problems so I thought a bit of advice would be handy….
Blog 18) “POLITICS AND REALITY ” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – November 2016
Just in case anyone hasn’t noticed there has apparently been an election in the United States and it seems that a decision has finally been made as to who is to be the 45th President thereof. You may also have noticed that there was more than a little rhetoric and many dire threats were issued. It all makes our own system seem quite tame – I mean, can you imagine Theresa May threatening to jail Jeremy Corbyn or Liberal Democrat supporters rioting in the streets? No – neither can I, but I suppose it would enliven proceedings somewhat. The election follows hot on the heels of the “Brexit” vote, which rather upset the apple cart as well, and many politicians worldwide are in something of a panic – they do so hate it when the people do not vote as ordered and all this is causing them to worry what might happen next. Perhaps the main problem is that politicians of all colours tend to make lots of promises during election campaigns and then promptly fail to keep them. And this brings me neatly to today’s topic – realities as opposed to political claims.
Caithness CAB report for 2015/2016 issued – November 2016
A leaflet on the advice issues deal with by Caithness CAB volunteers and staff in 2015/16 is now available in print and also at Caithness CAB 2015/16 Report
Blog 17) “Attendance Allowance” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – November 2016
A couple of years ago Liz and I decided to have a long weekend in Glasgow. This was because both of us had frequently passed through or attended meetings there, but had not really had the chance to get to know the city. We stayed in a nice hotel with a very helpful receptionist – everyone seems to be helpful in Glasgow in the same way that Bill Bryson said in his book “Notes from a Small Island” that “everyone was helpful in Thurso”. She kindly provided us with what she called “concessions” to allow us a reduction on the open top bus tours. The next day I proffered same to the driver who handed me two remarkably cheap tickets and I realised that he had given us over – 60’s concessions. This was not well received by Liz and with typical Glasgow quick-thinking the driver advised that “well, she got a student’s concession and as for you just sit in a corner and drool if an Inspector gets on”. Brilliant!
It does have to be said that as the years pass what was once a V8 might tend to run on a few less cylinders and all of us are prone to one form of health issue or another and might just need some help – hopefully not for a long time yet, but we all need to know what is available to us. I have noticed that a lot of older people are not aware of the assistance that is out there, or they do not want to take what they see as “charity”. Well, after some 50 years of subsidising HMG you are entitled to get something back – you have paid for it after all. We have talked before about things like free TV Licences, Help with Heating Costs and Bus Passes, but today I want to tell you about Attendance Allowance because I know that many people simply do not know that it exists.
So what is Attendance Allowance?
Big Energy Saving Week will take place from 31 October – 6 November 2016. Citizens Advice Scotland is working with Citizens Advice on the annual campaign to ensure that consumers are able to manage their fuel bills; by spreading awareness of methods to save money and energy, signposting consumers to information and helping those experiencing problems to access support.
The key themes of the week will be:
- Check (that you are on the best tariff; that you’re not wasting energy at home; that you’re getting all the support you are entitled to)
- Switch (if you could save money with a different tariff or supplier; if you could get a better deal by installing or removing a prepayment meter)
- Save (take energy saving measures to make sure you’re not using more energy than you need)
In addition, because BESW marks the start of the winter, we want to make more use of it as an opportunity to highlight all the opportunities available in your community and join it up with your wider work and existing energy projects such as Energy Best Deal.
See more information at https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/campaigns/current_campaigns/big-energy-saving-week/
Blog 16) “Courts and the Law” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – October 2016
My guide and mentor in life, sadly now deceased, was a Professor of Law and the author of learned tomes on “Diminished Responsibility Homicide” – light bedtime reading you might say. He started as a junior barrister on the infamous Craig and Bentley murder case and spent a lifetime specialising in such trials thereafter. He had a lot of very useful guidelines for practicing law and he once explained to me that one of the great advantages of advancing years for Counsel was that one could always have a “Rumpole Moment” if faced with the difficulty of not having a plausible answer immediately to hand should a Judge or Sheriff ask for one. He spent some time trying to persuade me to go into law, preferably on the criminal defence side, and said that the golden rule was never, ever, to ask your witness a question unless you were certain of the answer you were likely to get. I note that my wife seems to adopt a similar technique when cross-examining me as well.
We do tend to get quite a lot of legal inquiries at Caithness CAB and often the best advice is for the client to consult a solicitor to make sure that all the bases are covered. It is fair to say that an awful lot of advice given by well-meaning friends and relatives is seriously wrong and this can prove expensive and very detrimental indeed. Fortunately CCAB have a lot of information to hand and can give general guidance and information to anyone who finds themselves in a situation where the full majesty of the law is about to bear down upon them, or where they have a grievance which might well need to be taken to a civil court.
So where do we start……..?
Blog 15) “Discrimination” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – October 2016
At one point in WW2 my father was inconveniently dispatched to the USA, via Canada, to work with the USAAF and one day he found himself seated in a first-class carriage on a train heading from NYC to the far deep south. He fell into conversation with a charming southern gentleman who transpired to be a distinguished Doctor who had risen from difficult beginnings and who had founded a large charity hospital caring for those who could afford neither medicine nor insurance. Father’s friend was highly educated, well-read and in all ways an exemplary human being and they talked for many hours. And then the train stopped – apparently in the middle of nowhere – and the Doctor explained that he must now leave and go to the “cattle trucks” at the rear of the train. The reason was that they had reached the Mason-Dixon line (the boundary of the old slavery states) and he was therefore no longer permitted to sit in the carriage because he was black. Father – from whom I inherited an abiding dislike of bigots – was incensed but could do nothing. They say that revenge is a dish best served cold and I will tell you about it at the end – it is indeed worth waiting for.
This was of course racism of the worst possible type and we have made great leaps forward in the last few decades, and discrimination of any sort couldn’t possibly happen here. Could it?….
Blog 14) “Problems with Neighbours” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – September 2016
One of the great advantages of living in rural Caithness is that, with any luck, your neighbours will be farmers or crofters. When we lived at Forse we were in just such a lucky position. I recall one hot summer’s afternoon, whilst I slumped somnolently on a garden bench, being vaguely aware of the sound of a passing tractor and trailer. This was swiftly followed by a loud thump and I was startled to see what appeared to be a bowling ball heading up the drive towards me. Closer examination proved it to be a neap. On another occasion we returned home from town to find an empty, and somewhat tattered, cardboard box in the hall. The mystery was solved when we encountered a rather irritable lobster wandering about the kitchen – conveniently close to the pan cupboard as it transpired. Now that we live on the outskirts of Thurso we are equally well blessed and our nearest friends are a farming family, the lady in question being an excellent baker and I am of course duty bound to give advice on the quality of all such produce.
Unfortunately not everyone is so lucky and neighbour disputes feature frequently in our day-to-day work at Caithness CAB. Problems occur over a very wide range of issues and each presents its own complications when trying to reach resolution. So what are the most frequent problems and what can we do?..
Blog 13) “Tax” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – September 2016
Today being Monday I wandered off happily in the direction of Wick ready to be placed in the crèche whilst Liz purchased various essential domestic items and, hopefully, some chocolate for me. Prior to leaving home I cast a jaundiced eye over the mail and noted that HMRC are under the entirely erroneous impression that I enjoy financing the imaginative expense accounts submitted by various people, that the Council think it is reasonable to expect me to hand over large sums of money for them not to cut the roadside grass or empty my bins before they are overflowing and DVLA also apparently wish me to part with a frightening sum which will, apparently, cure global warming. On filling my car with fuel it occurred to me that the vast majority of the fifty quid, which I proffered, would go straight to HMG and we would still have to swerve round potholes on the A9. So, as you may have gathered, today I am going to talk about tax. It is said that there are two certainties in life – death and taxes – and that is indeed the case……..
Beware of payment method scams – warns Highland Council Trading Standards (30/08/2016)
A consumer can protect themselves from falling for a potential scam by understanding the preferred methods of payment used by scammers who don’t want to leave a money trail. Here are a few examples:
Payment by BACS – This particular method of payment may be used by cold call telephone boiler room scammers or investment crooks. Telephone fraudsters will request a payment to be made by using the Bankers’ Automated Clearing Service (or commonly referred to as BACS) which allows money to be transferred between bank account holders. Once the payment is made, the scam victim will in all likelihood be unable to retrieve their money as it is difficult to trace.
Bogus Escrow Scam – This type of scam is usually associated with the supply of goods such as a car. Escrow services are intended to ensure security by holding goods and money in trust for both parties. If either party fails to deliver its part of the deal, the other party’s item will be held at the escrow service and eventually returned. The Bogus Escrow Scam assures the victim that the scammer has sent the item and that the victim should send their payment to the ‘bogus’ escrow service. The scammer then immediately closes down the ‘bogus escrow service’ and does not send the item to the victim. The scammer then blames the escrow service, claiming that the item was with it at the time it closed down; if the victim did not investigate the escrow service before using it, the ruse may be believed. Money and goods can be difficult to trace from this type of scam.
Payment by Bitcoin – Bitcoin is in effect ‘digital money’ that has no central bank or controller. Bitcoin’s circulation is provided for through computer code and cryptography. It is open source, meaning anyone can look at the code to verify it. Investors can trade and invest using Bitcoin and there is a Bitcoin investment market. However, it is a method of payment used by scammers as again there is no trace once bitcoin funds have been passed to a recipient. Unfortunately there are lots of Bitcoin scams in the market place. One such scam relates to a bitcoin wallet. A bitcoin wallet is a software program used to store bitcoins. Wallet scams attract users with the assurance of greater transaction anonymity. Once the deposit level rises above a certain level, the scammers simply move the bitcoins into their own wallet. Again there is no trace as to where the Bitcoin deposit has gone.
Payments by Ukash Voucher Code – Unlike payments made by debit or credit card, payments made using a ‘Ukash Voucher Code’ cannot be traced and reversed. Ukash Vouchers have recently been highlighted as being used as a method of payment in a PPI refund scam. The victim was asked to purchase 2 x £500 Ukash Vouchers and told to hold on to these whilst their £5000 PPI refund was being processed. A follow-up call from the scammer then asked for the Ukash Voucher Code numbers. The victim unwittingly passed the Ukash Vouchers code numbers on to the scammer who then cashed in both Ukash Vouchers. No PPI refund was ever received by the victim.
Payments by ‘Bankers Draft’ and/or via a money transfer service – Consumers are strongly advised only to use these methods of payment for persons or businesses that they know and that relate to a specific contract that they have entered into. Once the money has been transferred using a ‘banker’s draft’ or by payment through a money transfer service, it becomes untraceable and therefore very difficult for consumers to get their money back. Scammers can use this method of payment for just about any kind of scam, such as investment scams, prize draw scams etc
Payment by Paysafe Card – Paysafe card is an online pre-paid card which can be used to buy goods and services with lots of online traders. A consumer can buy a Paysafe card through a local outlet or shop which is listed online at https://www.paysafecard.com/en-gb/. There is also a Paysafe App so a consumer can connect with participating outlets through their smartphone. The consumer can pay for goods online using the 16 digit number shown on the Paysafe card. The card can be topped up at any time. Once the 16 digit number shown on the Paysafe card is submitted to a retailer, the amount paid cannot be retrieved.
Payments by debit or credit cards Consumers should immediately contact their bank, building society or credit card provider and seek their advice if they have used their credit card or debit card to make a payment to a possible scam.
All payment methods mentioned above are susceptible to identity theft scams and phishing scams.
Phishing is a method used by fraudsters to access valuable personal details, such as usernames and passwords. Phishing messages generally try to convince the recipient that they are from a trusted source like the consumers bank or building society or any account where a consumer’s personal details might be held such as an online auction site or retail outlet. Recently scammers have deployed bogus customer survey emails to tempt recipients to reveal personal and financial information. Some of these customer survey emails offer a prize draw as an incentive to take part.
Consumers should therefore be on their guard when making payments to people or businesses that they don’t know or who have telephoned them out of the blue. The old adage that ‘if it sounds too good to be true……then it probably is!’ still applies.
Consumers can also seek further advice on how to protect themselves from scammers from Highland Council Trading Standards through their partners, Citizens Advice Consumer Service either on 03454 04 05 06
or through the online complaint form provided at: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/scotland/consumer/get-more-help/if-you-need-more-help-about-a-consumer-issue/
Concerned consumers can also report a scam through Highland Council Trading Standards Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/HCTradingStandards/
Or contact Caithness Citizens Advice Bureau.
Blog 12) “Motoring Matters” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – August 2016
Many decades ago, in a remote area of the Gaidhealtachd, I had occasion to pull over an ancient vehicle which transpired to be driven by an equally venerable gentleman of the cloth who had apparently been so intent upon the composition of his sermon that his attention had been completely diverted from earthly matters, in particular due concentration upon the speed limit. We agreed that the generosity of The Lord was unbounded, but I pointed out that in this instance said bounty was a trifle excessive as “thy speedometer runneth over”. We agreed that we would not so transgress again and, from that day on, whenever I passed his reverence I noted that he was proceeding at a suitably ecclesiastical pace. We would always respectfully acknowledge one another and all was therefore well. I was reminded of this recently when a friend of mine……
Blog 11) “Energy” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – August 2016
How many people think that we get a fair deal from our “Energy Providers” as they now style themselves? Right, well that was pretty unanimous. Do you remember when the great Hydro-Electric schemes were built in the Highlands? If you do, you may also recall that we were promised “there would be reliable, cheap electricity in perpetuity for the people of the Highlands”. Something would appear to have been lost in the mists of time because whilst we do have a reliable supply, it is anything but cheap and, as always, the most vulnerable people suffer the most. When the oil price rocketed in 2008 the “Big Six” screamed impending disaster and our bills were increased by huge amounts. Now that the price of oil has collapsed, our bills have barely moved at all. In addition it seems that the days of friendly local electricity shops have gone (we have two empty shop fronts in Wick and Thurso and the charming ladies who used to be there to help have been forced to move on – no profit apparently) and we are now entirely dependent upon call centres, the quality of which varies widely. So, to the theme of today’s article – trying to get the best value and dealing with the suppliers when things, as they frequently do, go wrong……
Blog 10) “Employment” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – July 2016
Last week Jill, the CAB Area Manager, fixed me with a penetrating look and announced that she had had an idea. While considering this potentially alarming development I adopted a suitably grave expression and eyed her warily. This is because long experience has taught me that, whenever she has such a flash of inspiration, it frequently involves me being obliged to do something mentally taxing, physically demanding or on occasion, downright dangerous (think ice bucket challenge on a glacier). I was very relieved therefore when she said that she had decided we should take a break and go for a coffee and that she would pay for it. Afterwards I did try to sneak up to the till but, as always, this attempt was detected and, following our usual disagreement, Jill did indeed pay, pointing out that just for once I was going to do as I was told.
At Caithness CAB we operate a very enlightened and totally compliant employment policy and both Jill and I set out to make our office a happy and welcoming place for everyone but, sad to say, this is very far from the case in many workplaces and the level of complaints which we receive concerning employment issues is surprisingly high – so high in fact that we have a staff member whose task is to deal solely with such cases. (It should also be said that we also get quite a number of inquiries from employers as well and we are equally happy to help them in the same way)……
Be Holiday Savvy Before you go
Advice from Highland Council Trading Standards (28/07/2016)
Holidays can be expensive. Paying for holiday accommodation, flights and or other transport costs can eat into spending money and sometimes impact on your enjoyment of a well-earned break. So where can you make savings? What other costs can you ensure you get the best deal on before you take off? Here are some tips to help your money go further and protect your consumer rights when on holiday ….. Click to see
Caithness CAB receive an Outstanding Award for Community Care Volunteering
On 12 July 2016 Manager Jill and Deputy Manager Iain were very pleased to attend the award ceremony for the Jean MacDonald Cup at the Laurandy Centre, Wick, where Caithness CAB were presented with an Outstanding Award for Community Care Volunteering 2016. Also, many congratulations from us to the other well-deserving award winners.
Also see CVG 2016 Summer Newsletter for information about volunteering in Caithness
Blog 9) “Getting older” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – July 2016
Behind the stern military exterior my late father was a very kind man, but, by the time he reached his eighties he had developed one or two strong dislikes. In third place were the MOD because of the way that they treated our loyal Gurkhas and many outraged letters were sent to the Editor of The Times as a result. Next were the self-appointed guardians of his health who said he should give up his pipe and brandy – he explained to such people that “between 1939 /1945 he had had enough trouble with interfering dictators” and this tended to get rid of them. But at number one were the big banks whom he predicted were, due to their greed and stupidity, one day going to come an almighty cropper…..
LOCAL CAMPAIGN GROUPS LAUNCH ‘SCAMS AWARENESS MONTH’ -July 2016
Caithness Citizens Advice Bureau and Trading Standards are set to expose tactics used by scammers.
Cold calls, high-pressure sales tactics and automated voicemails asking for people’s details are just some of the tricks scammers are using to rob people of their hard earned money.
The organisations are launching Scams Awareness Month on 4 July to help stop people falling prey to scams by following a three-step rule – get advice, report it, and tell others about it.
Fraud victims pay a heavy price, losing billions of pounds every year. Scams targeting people by phone or post alone cost people in the UK an estimated UK £5 billion annually.
Sadly, many people in Caithness are also victims.Informing the authorities and warning others is the only certain way of stopping scams, but people can be hesitant to even tell their friends and family what has happened…..
We’re taking part in Scams Awareness Month 2016. Find out more by visiting the Citizens Advice Scotland Website.
Also have a look at our Scams Booklet on our website.
Blog 8) “Brexit” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – July 2016
An unplanned change to this week’s topic! I had originally penned an article on something entirely different, but after last week’s events I thought that it was time for a rapid rethink – something which many people in Westminster are frantically attempting as we speak. We are totally apolitical at Caithness CAB and always stick to the facts, which is what I will do today, but I must say that a little more transparency may have been helpful during the run up to the poll As the results started to come in for the EU referendum I was glued to the TV and to a couple of PC monitors tracking the value of the pound, commodities, and the reaction of worldwide stock markets. When it looked like “Remain” was on track for victory the value of Sterling rocketed, but when it became clear that we were heading for the departure gate the pound dropped to levels not seen for 30 years, $2tr was wiped off the value of markets worldwide, the price of oil dropped sharply and gold producers headed for the sky. So what does it all mean? Where does it leave us now and in the future?
MEET THE MANAGER – July 2016
Jill Smith is the Manager of Caithness and North Sutherland Citizens Advice Bureau and has run our charity since 2008. Formerly a Bank Manager, Jill has huge experience not only in running a busy organisation but also in dealing with the myriad issues which our clients need help with each and every day. Jill has achieved great success in developing CAB into a beacon organisation which deals with thousands of client issues every year.
Jill said “I believe in empowering staff to empower clients and in the delivery total quality at all times. We are a friendly and caring organisation and my vision is to continue to develop our service to cope with all the challenges of the future. Remember we are always here for you – the client – and we will provide you with confidential and correct advice.. You can get help by calling at our Bureaux personally or by telephoning or emailing us. We also have Facebook and Twitter accounts where we post lots of useful information. We look forward to hearing from you”.
RETIREMENT OF LONG-SERVING CAITHNESS CAB VOLUNTEER- June 2016
Jim McPherson from Kirk has been a Caithness CAB volunteer for over 20 years, having joined us in August 1996.
Jim worked as a Generalist Adviser, but in latter years has used his huge knowledge of Crofting Law to advise and assist many people throughout the Highlands and Islands with complex queries and matters relating to Crofting. Jim was pretty well unique in this field and was a very valuable resource and a fount of information. He has also for the last few years been a part of our Specialist Housing Team, advising and assisting people faced with rent arrears and the possibility of eviction and has represented many people in Wick Sheriff Court. Jim was presented with a Shepherd’s Crook, engraved glasses and a bottle of port at a farewell ceremony at Wick CAB last Thursday.
Jill Smith, Caithness and North Sutherland CAB Manager said “Jim’s commitment and dedication over more than two decades is an example to us all. He has assisted hundreds of local people, not only providing reassurance and counsel, but recouping thousands of pounds on their behalf, not only in the generalist field, but through his specialisations in the crofting and housing areas. Thanks to Jim’s skills and dedication many people have been saved from eviction. Jim is highly regarded, not only by his friends and colleagues in Caithness CAB, but also by all the other agencies and organisations we deal with throughout the Highlands and Islands. He will be greatly missed by us all”.
Blog 7) “Relationships” by lain Gregory, Deputy Manager – June 2016
“Today we will start with a love story. Many decades ago my father found himself posted to a RAF Station in the south of England. This was due to a slight misunderstanding concerning the exact location of the German / Polish border and to his having unwisely proved himself to be an excellent single-seater pilot whilst at Uni. My mother, due to further confusion regarding the sovereignty of the Channel Islands, found herself relocating rapidly and embarrassingly for a socialist, to a post as Vice-Principal of Cheltenham Ladies College. By chance they both had a leave pass for the same day and both headed for the City. Father was in full uniform, because this guaranteed unlimited free beer and the adoration of many females. As it transpired Herman Goering also planned a visit that day. In due course the Air Raid sirens went off and Father spent a few minutes bunging assorted civvies into the nearest shelter before finally slamming the door. With Teutonic efficiency our fellow Europeans duly arrived and proceeded to charge about the sky, dropping bombs, creating mayhem and generally behaving boorishly…
Blog 6) The “Benefits” System by Iain Gregory, Deputy Manager – June 2016
“My Maternal Great-Grandmother was a suffragette and she spent many happy hours chaining herself to railings, waving placards, and generally annoying politicians because she believed that women should be allowed to express their views through the ballot box. This radical idea upset lots of people – which was good – and she was arrested frequently. Great-Grandfather, a noted industrialist of the time, swiftly found that demanding the Chief Constable release her immediately resulted in very short rations for him so he tended to keep a low profile and suffer in silence. In due course, Grandmother took up the reins and when my mother was born she was duly christened Emily in honour of Emmeline Pankhurst…
New Volunteers wanted – June 2016
The demands on our services are growing daily and we need to take on new volunteers to meet client demand. We provide top quality in-house training, with mentoring and PC-based learning packages – no experience is needed and all we ask is that volunteers want to help others and bring their experience of life with them. Both of our buildings, in Wick and Thurso, are accessible to people with all degrees of personal mobility and we can adapt and adjust desks and IT equipment as needed.
A press release has been issued and an appeal for volunteers has been posted on our social media channels. For more information please contact Iain on 01847 894243 or Iain.Gregory@caithnesscab.casonline.org.uk.
Blog 5) Credit & Debt by Iain Gregory, Deputy Manager – June 2016
“I tend to work fairly long hours in CAB and am also subject to many demands when not actually at work. My wife, Liz, and boss, Jill, recently entered into a timeshare agreement and made a number of democratic decisions as to my duties, although I note that I did not actually get a vote. It was decided that on one morning per week I will accompany Liz shopping. You can imagine my delight. The first port of call is a supermarket in Wick where, because I am apparently a nuisance if allowed near a shopping trolley, I am placed in what she and Jill amusingly refer to as “the crèche” – more properly described as the café – where I must remain until summoned to the checkout…
Blog 4) Scams by Iain Gregory, Deputy Manager – May 2016
“For many years I was engaged in a tiresome exchange of letters with Television Licensing (TVL). This was because I owned a second home in Inverness and chose not to install a TV set which meant that I did not require a TV Licence. I received countless unpleasant letters about this and TVL went to the top of my dislike list. Following a move of our main home, for which I had a Licence, I wrote to TVL to tell them. They acknowledged this, but very soon, by happy chance, I received a letter telling me that “they were going to take me to court and advised me to obtain legal advice”. With my valid Licence to hand I wrote to them and explained that I am a Scottish Citizen and, in Scotland, any decision to “prosecute” tends to be taken by the PF, a highly qualified lawyer, and not by someone in a call centre in Bristol. Also, the PF does tend to wish to see evidence of an offence in the first place, so there were a few flaws in their case.
In due course a fulsome letter of apology arrived along with a cheque for £10, which I promptly spent on toilet rolls. I then sent a polite letter to TVL to thank them and told them how I had spent my money. I assured them that I would think fondly of them every time I used the facilities and that I had placed their file of letters therein so as to cover any emergencies.
Now, I was dealing here with an organisation who were operating legally, if mistakenly, but who seemed to be trying to use the fear factor to get me to buy a Licence, and had I been a vulnerable, or perhaps nervous older person, I might well have bought one.
Which brings me to today’s subject – Scams. There are countless different types of Scam (for which think crime) and many thousands of crooks operating them. They all depend on the same vulnerabilities in their victims – fear of the consequences if they do not agree to a demand; a human tendency to wish to avoid missing out on an “opportunity” and, finally, the trusting nature of decent people…
Caithness CAB launch Scams Prevention Guide – May 2016
Prevention is always better than the cure. We are fortunate to have had the input of some local experts in the production of this guide. It is available in paper format from Wick and Thurso CAB offices and is also available in electronic format from the Resources tab. We are hoping to raise awareness of scams currently affecting the Caithness community and have issued a press release to help spread the news. Excerpts from that release can be seen below:
Iain Gregory, Caithness CAB ‘We receive an ever-increasing number of queries from clients who have received a phone call, an email or a text message from unknown sources. All these contacts have one thing in common – the caller is after your money and your personal data…’
Inspector Nick Clasper, Area Inspector, Local Policing, N Division, Police Scotland: ‘As has been described within this booklet, there are a variety of scams which are employed with the aim of obtaining money or benefit over the victim. These can occur through a variety of means..’
Emily Fraser, Manager of Clydesdale Bank’s Wick and Thurso Branches: ‘Remember, we will never ask you to provide your personal banking details, either by email or by phone, and you should never provide them to anyone else. Anyone who has any concerns about any contact should always inform their bank – using a telephone number or email address known to be correct…’
David MacKenzie, Team Leader Highland Council Trading Standards: ‘To entice consumers to give out personal details, the scammer may offer a false promise of the consumer being entitled to a rebate on their Council or HMRC Tax bill. The scammer may also falsely state that the consumers’ bank or building society has been targeted by fraudsters. Recipients of such telephone calls should be on their guard…’
If you have any questions in relation to this guide or if you have been affected by scams, please contact the CAB. Link to full press release shown below.
Blog 3) Consumer Matters by Iain Gregory, Deputy Manager – April 2016
Many years ago, when I was a young copper, I was patrolling near Golspie when I pulled over a white Mini driven by a charming and highly attractive young lady who was apparently under the impression that the posted speed limit was simply a polite suggestion rather than a mandatory maximum. As she had no valid excuse whatsoever for her transgression a suitably stern lecture was duly administered and she was advised that, now I had taken down her particulars, she was on notice should she misbehave in the future. Duty done, I resumed patrol, confident that she viewed her warning seriously and that the giggling and fluttering of eyelashes was simply a nervous reaction to being confronted with her sins.
Over the next few weeks I noted that she had indeed slowed down, particularly when she passed my house, although she did seem to be craning her head in every direction except her line of travel. This culminated in a very close shave with my wooden garage at which point I decided that I would have to take her into protective custody. So I married her…
Blog 2) Protection by Iain Gregory, Deputy Manager – April 2016
One summer’s day, a year or so back, I decided it was time for a Mountain Bike ride and suggested to one of my heirs that he might wish to join me. Being 19 years old at the time he, rather impolitely I thought, made reference to our respective ages and to the age and condition of our bikes. Somewhat put out, I advised him that whilst, like it’s owner, my cycle was perhaps not exactly in the first flush of youth, it had the great benefit of having been hand-built in Scotland and it was therefore the best.
This issue having been dealt with we headed off and had a few miles on tarmac followed by a great blast through the trees, but suddenly, for some unknown reason, I noted that said offspring seemed to be pulling ahead. This would of course not do so, when we reached a very steep uphill section with lots of exposed tree roots and stones, I decided to stand on the pedals to gain more speed. All bikers know what comes next…
Social Media update – April 2016
We’ve been busy working on this new website, joining Twitter and updating our Facebook page recently. Hopefully it will make it easier for people to connect with Caithness CAB and see what we have been working on. We’ve also been talking with our money and welfare rights advisers to see what documents may be helpful on the site. This is a work in progress, as is the development of our social media offering so if you spot any gremlins or have a suggestion, please let us know.
Blog 1) Targets and Challenges by Iain Gregory, Deputy Manager – March 2016
Last year I did the “Ice-bucket Challenge”, in a snowstorm, at somewhere above 10,000 feet on a glacier in the Swiss Alps. This was because Jill Smith, Caithness CAB Manager, said I had to. My climbing companions seemed to take great pleasure in assisting me to complete the challenge, and I discovered that whilst our national flag does a great job of representing Scotland, it does rather tend to lack insulation qualities. On the way back down the mountain, when I wasn’t contemplating various ways in which I could assist my erstwhile friends to descend a little quicker than they had intended, I gave some thought to targets and challenges in general.
My target that day was to get above 10k and to survive being doused in ice. It wasn’t easy but it could be done and I did it. All of us have targets and achieving them is often a challenge. We might want to buy our first car or motorcycle; save up to get married or to furnish our first home; raise the deposit to buy a house; plan our family and help our children to go to College or University; start a business; move to a new job and, eventually, retire. All of these targets are challenging and we often don’t really know where to start. This is where Caithness CAB comes in — we can help with each and every one of these things and we can do so in complete confidence and with total professionalism…