#LifeSchool: How NOT to Fall for Scams Online

Today’s #LifeSchool is coming from recent experience and shows how online, if something is too good to be true, it usually is, and desperation to get something can lead to costly mistakes.

I start by setting the scene and updating a bit on what us lot have been up to, as it’s been a while since I posted (being that I seem to be resident more now on my radio show and instagram).

We took the decision a little while ago to relocate to the coast. Not a decision we took lightly, as I bloody hate moving with a passion, but we agreed at the end of last year that we no longer feel the town fits us as a family, what with rents raising again by £200 in a year to £1350 a month for a house on our street, and being unhappy in general with the quality of life in the borough. We’ve not been given our marching orders, in fact, we love our current Landlord (unusual for us) but we have started looking to the Dorset area at our own pace.

As a result, we have posted online as we’ve had success finding a house this way before.

A while back, I posted on Gumtree, which I find is the best resource as you can advertise on their Wanted Property section for free. Its also where I look most days for any properties that have come up from Private Landlords, as, unlike RightMove and Zoopla, ads are instantly view-able.

My ad was simple, just asking for a 2 or 3 bed unfurnished house, with a good sized garden, close to local amenities, as well as saying we are relocating in part due to Littlest being far healthier in clean country coastal air than in the built up area we are in now. We also, hoping to reel in a Private individual, said we will take on a house needing a little cosmetic improvement, as we find sometimes this lowers your deposit.

We had a few responses, unfortunately none which were suitable, but as we have no notice period to mean we have to rush into anything, we didn’t mind.

I did, however, receive a text in March, which asked me to email a Miss Miller about a property she was sure would meet our requirements.

Not feeling anything was amiss, and having had other texts, I emailed on the address the provided- jessmiller867@gmail.com, and received an email back straight away;

miss miller

All sounds fine, right?

I didn’t even question it. The photos she sent were of an utterly beautifully furnished home, which most people would jump at at that price. The only reason I never continued with the conversation, bar to email back once to decline, was because the property offered to me was not in Dorset, but in Wales.

I didn’t give it a second thought until yesterday, when another text came through-

textmrsester

Now, I’ll admit, I was a little questioning of the wording, but not everyone who rents houses has perfect English, and that doesn’t rule them out as a Landlord. Especially not since the name of the email address was clearly Spanish. I did feel the text was familiar but I emailed straight away. This is the reply I got;

mrsesteremail1

Look familiar?

I couldn’t help noticing that, although some of the details had been changed, and it was from a different email address, the two emails were ridiculously similar. I also looked up the address given for the property and the photos of the house she sent me look nothing like the photos you can find online when the small estate she refers to was built. It is also an estate of very few houses but mostly modern flats, none of which are three bedroom. The photos sent were very similar- a beautiful home with modern furniture but a period home with big sash windows- not a modern home on a modern estate.

I clocked straight away and alerted Gumtree via Twitter. They are now investigating and will be sending the details to the relevant body.

It is a known scam on Gumtree and other similar sites. These scammers prey on people’s desperate need in some cases to find a property at a time when it is hard as hell for many to find an affordable home in an area they want to live in. By tapping into this need, they can guarantee that a few people will fall for their scam and send the required £500 by transfer- which they will never see again.

I decided to humor “Mrs Ester” after she text me (the cheeky bugger whoever she/he is) asking why I had yet to respond. And lo and behold, her “solicitors” bank details are now in my inbox and that of Gumtree- I wont post them here in case this is an account they are scamming.

To make matters worse, the scammer asked me for a range of personal details for their “solicitors credit and reference checks”.

This is easy to fall for as it’s a practice used by 99% of genuine agents and owners, and I’ve had many performed in the past which I’ve had to pay anything between £50 and £120 for. So to be offered one for free would definitely entice people who have a tight budget.

I, obviously sensing a scam, used one of my own- using a fake address generator and giving a fake approximation of my name. To which Mrs Ester asked me to send her two passport photos of myself for “identification purposes”. No doubt if I had of done, my identification would have been used for further frauds.

So, this Life School is asking you all, however desperate you are, always always query messages if you are advertising in the same way.

If the deposit is tiny on a home filled with designer furniture, and they don’t ask for fees, they probably aren’t being nice and trying to get you homed, they are very likely to be conning you. In the case of homes in Dorset, even a deposit on an unfurnished home is in the region of £1,300+, and considering how much both “Jess Miller” and “Mrs Ester” wanted someone to assure them they’d look after their “facilities”, asking for such a tiny deposit is questionable too.

Check the persons credentials, if they claim to be from an agency, find the agency online. If it’s a sophisticated scam, and the agents exists, ring them and ask if they have someone in their employ with that name. If not, its likely to be a scam.

Look up the address they claim to have a home in, like I did. Does the type of home match the description or images?

Never, ever agree to a bank transfer, I’ve never known a company to ask for this to be given. Most will allow you to pay cash if you are suspicious- if they wont let you, they are probably dodgy.

And if they speak like one of those “Princess Conseula of Guadalope who has cash monies for you to hold for £1,000000000 in return for help oh gracious one” they are doubtless a scamming bastard.

Now, that’s not to say you can’t find a decent property via these sites- I have done in the past and countless others probably have too. If you do sense a scam, it’s always worth emailing or tweeting at the site so they can remove these fraudsters.

However small amount of time you have to find a new home, however much the property sounds amazing, always exercise caution.

And don’t become another victim of these despicable scams.

Advertisements

Shit We Never Needed What We Learned at School

…That our teacher’s told us we would. The feckers.

After doing #LifeSchool posts of stuff they never taught us at school that they probably should have, I have been thinking more and more about the stuff we did get forced to learn but actually didn’t need after all.

I have included some on here from Elder too. He was at school in the mid 70s to mid 80s and of course, education was different then. In the case of the naughty buggers, thank fuck for that.

MATHS

Maths, of course in a lot of ways was probably helpful, if you went on to do a job that was hardcore and you needed more than just adding up.

No matter how many times I used to try watching Carol Vorderman Maths Videos, I hated maths and found that no matter how hard I tried, the minute it hit my brain it refused to stay, like blue tack that’s run out of stickiness.

I remember many times and many teachers who told us all when we complained that one day we’d need maths. We might be in a supermarket and need to work out our money. We may need to pump up a tyre at a garage. Yes, pythagoras theorem would come in handy one day.

Except, actually, it hasn’t.

Mental arithmetic is just bollocks and outdated now. We all have mobile phones these days, and can Google that shit.

(Which was rather handy this morning as Littlest was asking me, pre- coffee, what half of 9.6kg is. I have no idea what maths he was doing that at 7 he would need to know this, but fear not, thought I, and Googled it whilst he wasn’t looking).

I do the odd sum in my head- as long as it’s not times tables, division or hard subtraction I’m all good. But my brain just thinks to itself, look love, you pay £30 a month for a mobile phone, put down the Facebook feed for two seconds and use my lovely shiny calculator instead. My brain knows and cares. So I do.

So, that’s a few hours a week off the timetable. What’s next?

LATIN

I have to hold my hand up- we didn’t do Latin at RNS. I’d like to think it was down to Elder’s generation not having technology lessons, hence why it was compulsory for his lot. I know however that my sister’s grammar school did it so know it’s more likely that we were considered to thick to try to teach it to.

What the hell was the point of Latin?

Who actually speaks this anymore?

According to Elder, a lot of our language derives from Latin, so it was worth knowing.

I then asked if he can actually remember any Latin as it was so important to know it in the 80s. Even he must recall some swear type words of Latin wonder, surely?

Erm, no. He can’t remember any.

He can however remember lots of hip obscure bands and acts from the 70s and 80s though.

Sure, Latin did shape our language as we know it now. But we know it the other way now. We don’t learn language before that time so why Latin? In fact, why waste years teaching a language no one speaks anymore, when you could just do a lesson on it in History over a term. We don’t learn Roman Numerals as part of maths, so why a few words that sound a bit like words we use now?

If that’s the case, should we learn text speak now for when it takes over the English language entirely? And why do we not learn Gaelic or Welsh in English schools, we’re far more likely to bump into someone speaking these than Latin.

Quod attinet Latine didicisti?

Punctus non est meus.

Next up, my second most hated part of school.

PE

PE. God, I hated PE, and I was quite good at some aspects of it.

I think I hated PE so much as our PE teacher was hugely overweight. I never once saw her actually manage to jog. She was good at shouting at us though. How anyone as grossly overweight as this cow was could comment on our ability to run round a field or jump in a sand pit was frankly questionable. I do recall one brave soul remarking that perhaps she should try running round the field in blistering heat 3 times and see how far she got before keeling over. I think they got detention.

And the showers, oh God the showers. We didn’t have to use them anymore, but you knew that should one of the evil cows who liked to torment you be bored, they would always throw you in fully clothed and turn the coldest, brownest water on all over you. And what would our fat teacher tell you? Drip dry, that’s what, no sympathy was given, no fucks taken for the poor child who had to walk around stinking of old water in wet clothes all day.

I hated team sports too. All team sports did was set you up for Office life when you get asked to go on a Team Building exercise and revert to school days of picking off the weak one by one. I was shit at team sports (dyspraxia was not my friend), I nearly lost teeth during basketball.

You can, if you want to, just go to the gym now, or have a tummy tuck. Easy peasy.

Time for something from our EU cousins now

FRENCH AND GERMAN

Remember the times of trying to remember whether a word had the female “la” or the male “le” a the beginning of a word?

The amount of times I would have my French teacher tell me off for using the feminine rather than the masculine is not worth repeating. I often used to wonder why words had to be girl or boy words, as ours aren’t, but was too scared to voice it.

I didn’t do German, but Elder did French, German (and the aforementioned Latin), I was too scared of the German teacher (who once gave me a detention for waiting outside a classroom. It was a minute before the bell went and the classroom was a mobile one outside which my Geography lesson was in. I was given a detention for being keen to go to class. Figure that shit out. And no, I never went, I got out of it for pointing out how ridiculous it was to be given a detention for being on time for class).

But like my French teacher, our German teacher used to say that we needed these important languages for our future job prospects.

Correct me if I’m wrong on two points:

Have you ever gone for an interview in the UK, and been asked to tell them where a swimming pool is in French and how to get to it?

Me neither.

Also, now that it looks likely we may leave the EU,  if you believe the scaremongers (which I don’t by the way- I am so far out if I could move us further away from mainland Europe I would) we won’t be able to trade with the French or the Germans so why should we bother to know the female or male of a word or how to tell them I have a headache in their native lingo?

I rejoice for a generation that will no longer need to bother.

Why have we never learned any other European languages? I’d have rather learned Spanish, or Swedish. I could sing Waterloo in actual Abba language then. How cool would that be?

SCIENCE

Like Maths, another lesson I was a) shit at, and b) assured that I would find useful in my adult life.

Our science teacher was nice, don’t get me wrong, but his constant promise that we would one day encounter chemicals which, when incorrectly mixed with other chemicals, could possibly explode and we’d die awful deaths (or turn into Spiderman perhaps?)  was utter tosh.

Never have I ever been in that situation. Sure, if I ever watch Breaking Bad I may find the whole meth lab set up easier to follow, but we didn’t know the kooky Dad from Malcolm in the Middle would make that show in the nineties.

I have never had to work out magnets- apart from those I put on my fridge. I have never needed to know the Periodic Table of Elements. I can recall the rhyme we were taught to remember the order of our GCSE ones. I cannot, however, remember which element each letter of this rhyme was meant to represent.

I always felt Science was a boy subject, and frankly, I don’t know why I wasted years learning any of it.

WOODWORK AND SEWING

Yeah, I’m not sure they do these anymore, and good job too.

Woodwork just ended in a wonky bird box, a wonky Barbie table (no idea why I made that, it looked easy) and lots of splinters and near misses with an old rotary drill.

I was never allowed on electric tools.

Sewing class was horrendous, I had no desire to be a seamstress, the rag trade as it was known as had long since died out. I was rubbish with a sewing machine and even worse at hand stitching. Knitting makes me come out in a rash.

With both of these, they may have been worth the bother back in the pre-Elder days. Now, we have Ikea. And Primark. I do not need, and have no desire to bother, to make my own clothing or furniture. It would fall apart in both cases the minute anyone went near it.

Pointless.

So, what would I keep?

Music, for a start, as I had two kick ass teachers (one of whom sadly passed away recently- RIP Mrs Gregory) and found it far more interesting and diverse a subject.

English as I love books and still do (and, well, I was good at it, so am biased. No really, I got two As in English. I got a D/D in Science and an E in Maths).

History as its infinite and then you could teach children days of yore when we didn’t have mobile phones and had to learn long division. How they would laugh.It also teaches you not to fuck up like previous generations and start crappy wars and join Europe.

Geography as it’s nice to know about other places round the world. I loved Geography so much I did it and History for GCSE and am still able to read a map down to Miss Parker.

See, it’s not all bad, but I definitely think there is more scope to teach actual life stuff if they just ditch the outdated nonsense we had to suffer as kids.

No matter how many teachers tell how many generations that one day they will need to know what pie squared is or whether Hydrogen can be mixed with Potassium (answer? No idea I’ve forgotten as I’ve not studied it since 1998), there are certain subjects that have no place in the modern world.

I’m off to lobby parliament.

If I can just work out my change for the bus…..

 

#LifeSchool: Parking Fines, Speeding Tickets and How To Pay Nothing

It’s this week’s #LifeSchool, and after helping out a mate with a query on these most irritating of niggles life wise, I thought we’d cover driving related stuff.

I don’t drive myself- I feel that my eye sight is such that I would be a danger to myself and other’s if I was to be in charge of anything other than a bike- but after Elder has enlightened me to how daft you can be about parking, knocks and other such car related fun, I’ve learned a thing or two along the way.

CIVIL OR POLICE MATTER?

There are different types of parking fine or traffic infringement that will make all the difference to what or even whether you’ll have to pay up.

If the contravention is a Speed Camera fine, then you’re pretty much stuffed should you have been speeding.

You can ask though to see the offence via a PCN number, and, should you have been forced to go against the speed limit- for example due to another motorist putting you at risk of accident, or because the road has a variable speed limit that isn’t made clear- you can appeal.

First thing you need to do is try and recall what happened on the day the offence took place. Is this a road where others have been caught by an unfair speed camera? The easiest way to find out is ask online. Many areas in the UK now have “Gossip” or “Residents” groups on Facebook, and these are great for asking locals opinions on all manner of local issues. Perhaps the road markings aren’t clear? Does the speed decrease suddenly and without warning? Are signs obscured due to street furniture or over grown trees?

If another resident has had a speeding fine overturned, then you have a great point to start with. You will have to answer the notice given by the Police and let them know you wish to go to court.

Yep, court. If you’re not 100% sure you aren’t fully to blame, then it’s probably not worth wasting the courts. Its probably easier to take the fine on the chin, or see if you can take part in a £90 Speed Awareness Course.

Speed Awareness Courses take place all over the country, and you are eligible if you haven’t been to a previous course within a year, and haven’t exceeded the speed limit by more than 9mph. It does offer you the chance to not get any points on your licence, which, in some industries where a clean licence is part of your job description, is worth the £90 and the telling off nature of the course.

NOT THE POLICE? WHAT CAN YOU DO?

One big con these days is car parking.

Now, we’re not talking your usual, but equally irritating, council appointed Traffic Warden. We’re talking those private firms who have set up in Hospitals, Supermarkets and Fast Food Car parks.

These guys are cowboys. Simple as that. However, unlike the council Traffic Wardens, these are working on the assumption that us road users are gullible and will pay up for fear of bailiffs and Police knocking to seize our cars.

Not so.

It’s this fear that you need to swallow when dealing with these firms.

Just recently, I was speaking to a resident who had parked, fairly, in Asda’s parent and child parking with his 9 and 12 year old. These companies love Parent and Child Parking, and no doubt the “rules” they make up to suit them are a steady revenue stream. In most cases, the supermarket will specify children as anyone 12 and under, but when this Dad had innocently asked the “Warden” why he was ticketed when he parked with children he was told the rule was under 5s.

He felt there was nothing he could do, he had appealed it, Asda didn’t offer help, so he was on the verge through fear and fake threats of losing his vehicle of paying it.

However, that changed when I explained that, actually, these fines are barely enforceable as they are a “civil” matter. Civil matters means it’s a disagreement between two unofficial parties with opposing views. In the case of the bogus fine- or even fines for over staying parking times, or for not using the store the car park is in- if it’s a company rather than a council issuing the fine, there is very little this company can do.

Sure, they could chose to take you to court, but for every 100 tickets they give out, most will be paid by people who just don’t wish to have the hassle of appealing or who aren’t aware of their rights, so the few who refuse to pay for any reason will be more than these cowboys can be bothered with. They hate the intelligent, they have no rights to find you via the DVLA, so they can only hope to gain your details via you contacting them to pay.

No contact means no contract, ignore them, or at most email them with no details other than your christian name, and tell them you have no intention of paying and they can take this (add your own reason) as your appeal against their ticket. No doubt you will get a couple of emails trying to get you to give in and pay, ignore them and they will soon give up.

APPEALING FINES, TICKETS AND EVERYTHING ELSE

Another example from Elder is one which could have proved costly.

When we first moved, we barely knew Reading, and, within days, Elder had driven through a Bus Lane.

Now, despite this happening in 2014, we never heard anything about it until late 2015. Despite Elder letting the DVLA know of our address change, when the local council asked them for his address to send a PCN notice to, they gave our address at the time of the contravention. 14 miles away.

In the mean time, the council sold the fine debt to a Private debt agency. These jokers never contacted him until months and months later, by which point they had made the fine a whopping £405!

How much did Elder have to pay due to my savvy use of laws on civil matters? £0.

There were a few points to use on this case.

For starters, the minute they bought this “debt” from our council, it became a civil matter, and thus, enforceable by fear alone.

For another point, these Debt Collectors had our telephone number for the entire time they had the debt- between August 2014 and July 2015. However, it was only after near on a year had passed that they contacted his phone about the debt.

The worst point to my mind though was that, when they did finally call, I answered, and was told they wished to speak to Elder, and on asking who they were, I was told they were “from the council” regards “non payment of council taxes”. Now, I know we owed not a penny, so found that both worrying and annoying, but of course, I handed the phone straight to Elder to deal with as they wanted to speak to the named person on our bill. This is completely against the law. You may not, at any point, impersonate another body to gain access to someone, it is just not acceptable, and, had she said she was a debt collector, I would have asked where her proof was and what it was regarding before giving my email address for her to send details to.

Never admit you are at fault unless you know all the facts. No company can demand money when you are without full facts, so give an email address and never give your own home address.

After he spoke to this awful, lying woman, he put me back on the phone, and I said I would not be paying until we had seen a PCN, and full details of why they had lied about who they were, why they hadn’t contacted us in a year, and why she felt the need to be rude.

I waited for the email, and waited. It took 5 days until she sent it, by which time I had researched this company online and had contacted them myself regards the behavior and practises employed by their call staff.

In the end, they sent it, and it turned out if the council had of been given our correct details, the bus lane is one which constantly has people snapped but which 99% of those who appeal win as the point the normal lane becomes a bus lane is negligible, and the markings on the road are non existent.

Still, this company demanded my address and their £455 (it went up £50 per email). It reached £555 by the time I got rid of them, and it wasn’t too hard to do so.

I simply emailed them an attached letter- it looked very official although I didn’t make up any solicitor names I used lawyer speak and said I was “handling the alleged contravention on behalf of Elder.” I quoted various points of where they had failed in their duty of care. I also pointed out as a Civil Matter, Elder was in his right to take them to court for their demanding money via false representation. I said I considered the matter closed, but would not hesitate to come to court and present the facts to the court if they wished to pursue us further.

All very scary to them and suffice to say we’ve heard nothing since!

Sometimes, all you need is to keep calm, do research, and you can usually wave goodbye to these types of fine.

DEALING WITH PROPER PEOPLE

Of course, even the official folk who can screw you for your car in the longterm can be avoided and dealt with if you use sense.

If you did commit the offence and are bang to rights, then pay- it makes sense to do so as fines will only increase.

If you feel you aren’t at fault- such as with Elder and the Bus Lane markings, or you’ve been ticketed when you didn’t flout rules, then appeal.

Its simple to do, you will be asked to pop into your council building in most cases, and you will be given the chance to put your point across of why you feel you aren’t at fault. If it’s over staying on a public highway when you can prove you didn’t, bring evidence, such as receipts of when you were in a shop, or the original ticket to show how long you paid for compared to when the ticket was issued. If there was no signage or it was unclear that you couldn’t park in a space- or there was a time limit- bring photographic evidence of the area showing the lack of signage.

The independent adjudicator will then ask you to leave the room whilst they decide whether you are at fault or not. If you win, you leave with no costs to pay, and if not, you will have to pay the full fine.

DRIVE SAFE, LOOK FOR SIGNS AND YOU CAN BE FINE FREE!

Of course, the best thing to do is always be aware of your speed as speed kills even at 10mph over 30. So, if you keep your speed in check you shouldn’t have any fines to pay.

If parking, check for signs saying if you can park and for how long, and keep an eye on the time. Don’t park in bays you aren’t entitled to, and keep your tickets in case you don’t face a parking charge notice.

Happy motoring everyone!

#LifeSchool: Dealing with All Things Health Related

Its that time again, and next on the agenda for shit they don’t teach you at school is all things health. From knowing your rights regards appointments, to getting the best treatment, #LifeSchool will give you the tips your Teacher never did.

HEALTH IS IMPORTANT! STAND UP FOR IT!

Looking after the health of you and your family is so important, and to be honest that’s the biggest thing you ever need to remember when trying to get things sorted out.

Even if your ailment is minor, your GP should be respectful- if it’s something that’s a cause for concern to you, it should be a cause for concern for them too.

Of course, we all hope that we will get the best care out there, and that we will have a long and friendly acquaintance with our chosen GP.

GP NEEDING A CHECK ON THEIR BEDSIDE MANNER? WHAT CAN YOU DO?

With Doctors- be they your common and garden GP, to your surgeon and Consultant, no matter how many letters they have after their names, its never a foregone conclusion that you will gel with them.

The same can be said for Midwives, Health Visitors, and Nurses too.

In life you will always find someone that you just cannot work with positively for whatever reason, and, of course, in that situation you would do your best to avoid them. With a Healthcare professional, that’s not so simple.

If you do find you are missing out on healthcare and relying on the oh so available, but not ever so reliable, Doctor Google, then you need to take action as soon as possible.

Be polite, but contact your surgery or the Hospital and explain that, despite being respectful of the opinion and experience of the person you have currently, you feel that perhaps you are not best suited to their style of practicing medicine. Explain that whilst you understand moving people around the lists is not always easy but you have been ignoring symptoms such is your want to not seek an appointment.

Don’t be scared, people ask for second opinions all the time, so don’t be made to feel guilty for doing the same.

I found that a Midwife who looked after (although I say that loosely) my care when I was pregnant with Littlest was appalling. When I had Mini, I had a wonderful Midwife called Pat, I could phone her over the slightest niggle and she’d be happy to talk and sort me out.

This was not the case with Midwife 1 of 3 during my 28 week pregnancy.

For starters, she told me she would see me in the early days once a fortnight, but she would call me for an appointment. Then, she promptly forgot about me for over a month.

I started to get quite concerned at the month later stage and phoned the surgery myself, who booked me in.

I turned up, and the Midwife asked me if I was a new booking. I explained we’d met and I had my notes book she’d given me. She had no shame in admitting she had forgotten me, even asking if I was sure I’d had her.

Undaunted- after all, NHS Staff are under paid and overworked- I asked her to sort out an appointment with a Consultant as I had had complications with Mini. I also asked if she had my notes from that pregnancy, which she said they didn’t need.

Weeks went by, and no appointments arrived, so I called her direct. She had no idea once again who I was, denied ever having seen me, saying she had a list of current ladies and I wasn’t on it.

That day, I contacted the Midwife team and explained that I really had no faith in someone who couldn’t recall me, and they happily let me swap.

It took another go again before I got a nice lady, by which time of course I went into early labour and then had to start all over again before I got someone who I felt confidence in.

However, it shows no matter how many times I called to change, as I was polite and put my points against across, I was given someone new.

APPOINTMENTS- DON’T JUST WAIT FOR THEM TO APPEAR

Appointments systems are an utter farce at most hospitals now, not due to staff for the most part but due to Hospitals being huge and taking in patients from far and wide. As a result of this, it can be simple for a referral to go awry.

All hospitals have a certain length of time they suggest you will need to wait for an appointment to be sent out, so when your GP is making the referral, ask if they know the wait time.

Make a note on your phone diary or calendar when this referral was made, and who by, and then a reminder for this wait time.

If the time passes, contact the GP first.

Now, GP receptionists are notorious, and I have had run ins with a fair few miserable old cows in my time. I like to think that they do this on purpose, as then no one will ring and query their work.

Be polite, as is the golden rule, and just ask them to confirm when the referral was made. If this hasn’t been done, ask them to get the GP to contact you, and, when they do, explain that their Secretary has yet to send the referral. Ask them to send it as urgent as a result.

If it has been sent, then again, phone the Appointments line for the specific hospital and, if possible, department that you are due to see. They will ask your name and a few other details and should be able to let you know the status of your referral.

If, of course, they’ve never heard of you, phone the GP again, ask to speak to them by telephone and explain what the hospital has said.

The annoying thing is, if we could only make the damn referrals ourselves, it would be a simpler world. Unfortunately, simple is something the NHS Managers don’t quite believe in, so whilst it’s frustrating to you, its actually pretty frustrating to both the GP and Hospital Appointments staff and Consultant’s Secretaries who have to bear the brunt of angry folk on their telephone lines.

IF IT ALL GOES SERIOUSLY WRONG, GO TO THE TOP

In a Hospital, you have PALS, the Patient Advice Liaison Service, who are independent and who are there to give you help and advice if something, however big or small, goes wrong.

You can find them online or in the Hospital itself, and they can act on your behalf with Consultants if you have a query, or handle a complaint through a complaints procedure, if you feel that’s necessary too.

If that doesn’t work, you can also go direct to the Hospital Managers and make a complaint directly.

All complaints take time to process though so it may not provide a quick, or even a satisfactory conclusion. I waited nearly 18 months for a complaint I made regards the standard of treatment I received whilst pregnant with Littlest, and then his treatment beyond birth to receive a response, and to be honest, all they did was say “lessons had been learned”, “policy would be addressed” but ultimately concluded I was at fault and not the poor Consultants no sirree.

Yes, I could quite possibly have taken the Hospital to court, but be careful with litigation. It can prove costly, time consuming and may just add to stress and make your health worsen. It can also be easy to fall into the trap of No Win, No Fee companies who will rip you off whether you win or not, especially now that Legal Aid has been all but abolished in Medical Negligence litigation.

If you really have suffered a great deal of suffering down to shockingly poor healthcare which leaves you without work, or living a poor quality of life, then without a doubt the litigation route is right for you.

However, if it’s just a case of an appointment being at 2.15pm and you not being called until 3pm, its best just to grin and bear it.

If it’s a lack of respect that has you cross, take this up with the Ward Sister or Practice Manager- all patients, if they are showing respect and decency to staff deserve the same back, so don’t be spoken to rudely.

ALL IN ALL, WE’RE LUCKY TO HAVE THE NHS

Crisis of funding and staff or not, we are lucky to have folk like my sis in law in our country who, no matter whether it’s a cough or a coma, will care for us, for free, whatever time of day it is.

This gang of trained superheroes is seriously under appreciated, get all forms of bodily fluid and abuse every day, and still turns up to work no matter how many hours they worked the day (and night) before.

So, always try and be nice, appreciate them, and give them a word of thanks when things are going right.

If you do, you’ll find you get the same courtesy back.

Not all staff are arseholes, so don’t immediately assume they will be and act like an arse yourself.

And that way, the road to good health should be an easy, bump free experience.

 

 

 

#LifeSchool: Dealing with Bills, Fair or Otherwise

I hope all who come here to my little slice of the interwebs are enjoying #LifeSchool, my series on dealing with all crap that life chucks our way which we don’t learn about in school.

This weeks School topic is dealing with bills, be they energy, TV licence or otherwise.

BILLS, BILLS, BILLS

A rather shitty fact of life which will instantly make you feel like a fully signed up member of the Adult majority comes in the form of Bills.

These little quarterly or monthly letters or joy (not) are an inescapable part of life which may fill us with dread. But with the right budgeting, and the know how on loop holes or otherwise, they don’t always need to be.

Unless you wish to go off grid and self sufficient (and if so, good luck to you my eco-friendly little chum), you will receive bills for electricity and gas.

While there’s no real way to get away with it, you can find a great deal online using the many well known comparison websites available. Be aware though, that sometimes getting a good deal can be as simple as phoning your supplier and asking for one.

No, really.

All companies want our ongoing business. It’s now so simple to switch supplier for any utilities, as well as things such as phone lines or broadband, that simply asking to speak to someone in cancellations, or if that’s not available asking to discuss your current deal, can get you money off.

With utilities, if you currently have a dual fuel account- whereby you are powered for both gas and electric from the same provider, you can ask about cheaper deals, such as economy 7.  Its always a good idea to take the time to contact your provider and discuss your needs, they will know what deal is right for you so never be afraid to ask.

Research is always a good idea- does a competitor have a deal running currently which is better than your deal? Make a point of quoting this deal, and ask your provider to match, or even better it. You may be surprised by what you get offered.

NO DEAL ON OFFER? SWITCH!

Most companies now offer very good deals for new customers for a fixed amount of time, and switching may at first seem like a faff, but actually can be quite simple.

With utilities, providing you don’t owe money on your accounts, most companies when you switch handle this for you, and you can carry on paying as before.

As for direct debits, the Switch Guarantee scheme now makes it far simpler than ever before when you need to switch bank accounts on the High Street or online, and, with a simple form, will switch these across for you.

ASKING FOR A DEAL: TIPS FOR GETTING CASH OFF

When speaking to a company and asking for a deal, be polite. If you sound off with them, they wont care if you do leave!

A few months back, my lovely new deal with Sky for TV and broadband was coming to an end. We had been paying a flat, before phone line calls, rate of £27.84 a month, due to Elder having a friend who works for them (there’s a tip- make friends with a Sky fitter!).

We were sent a letter telling us, with a few weeks notice, that our bill would shoot up to just under £60 a month. Eek!

Now, we don’t watch much TV in our house, the kids watch it on weekends in the winter, but Elder and I generally aren’t fussed. Hence, there was no bloody way I was paying that a month.

I rang, and, politely, asked could I speak to someone in cancellations. I was put through, and, explained I was unhappy with the sharp rise, especially with very little notice.

First off, they apologised for the short notice, and then, they began asking me what it would take for me to stay.

Now, be clever, don’t immediately say, well, I’d like X,Y,Z and a small holiday please. Make sure they think you’re off. A lot of call centre folk on these cancellation lines are given feedback, and bonuses for those they get to stay, make them work for it, and get kudos from their boss for bringing you back in.

I said I had seen a much better deal with a competitor, and was happy to switch. At which point I was given an idea of what Sky would offer for me to stay.

They asked me what channels or services we liked, and what we didn’t, and from that, we discussed various options. At first this came to £45 a month, so again, I told them I was off, and then, the magic words were spoken by the lovely guy on the phone- “What do you want to pay?”

In the end, I got a great deal at £30 a month, and only lost the kids channels- which I had locked most of them out or else my pair get lazy and wont do homework, or go and play.I can still record, I can still pause, I still have net (in fact, I got that upgraded) and my phone line was reduced too.

All by being polite and making them believe I would leave.

LOPPHOLES FOR SAVING MONEY

If you aren’t at the end of a contract, there are still ways to save.

Do you claim any form of benefit such as DLA or PIP? If so, you can apply each year for the Warm Home Discount, which gives you an automatic £140 a year off your electric or gas. Its easy to apply, you can find the forms online, or ask your supplier to send you one.

If you still have paper bills, most companies now charge you a fee for this service, so if you can, switch to online bill management services, and that’s money off. The same can be said if you still pay your bills at the Post Office- switching to Direct Debit if possible is cheaper, as the company will charge you what they get charged for handling money at the Post Office.

If you use Pre-Payment meters, these are a nightmare, but if you struggle to pay bills, they may feel like your only option. Not so. If you call your provider, you can ask about pay weekly, fortnightly or monthly schemes, where you pay a fixed amount which is manageable for you towards your bills. This can be done on a card at most Pay Points or Post Office counters, or by Direct Debit.

My biggest bug bear is the TV Licence, but again, this can be paid monthly too in installments. Or, if you don’t watch Live TV, at the moment you don’t actually have to pay for the licence at all, and can simply go to their website and register that you don’t need a licence- although they will, in some cases, check.

BILL INCORRECT? DON’T IGNORE IT!

Like everything, mistakes do happen, and you can and should get these errors, big or small, dealt with.

Start off at the company level, be polite, show why you feel your bill is incorrect, and hopefully, this will be credited to your account.

If it’s not dealt with, and you reach a stalemate, then it’s back to our old friend the Ombudsman Service.

They will ask to see your evidence, what you have done to try and resolve the issue, and why you feel they need to look at the situation again. They can- and have- fined companies previously for cock ups, so its good to know they are on your side, and are free to approach and use.

BUDGET, AND KEEP A RECORD OF WHAT NEEDS PAYING, WHEN

The easiest way to slip into debt is to lose track of what needs to be paid when.

Use your phone calendar and reminder, or a note book, and make sure you know that your outgoings match your incoming. If it doesn’t, don’t ignore it.

The best thing you can do is contact the companies involved and explain your financial situation. Most companies now have a dedicated team to deal with those in Fuel Poverty, or having issues with bills, and may give you an extension or allow you to pay installments.

Its all about deciding what you actually need and what is a luxury- do you really need lots of channels you don’t watch or packages you didn’t use? If not, ring and cancel them asap, although most companies require 30 days notice it will be one less cost to your budget.

Do you really need a store card, or Bright House? These, to me are the biggest rip off going. Its much more cost effective to forego the latest phone or TV if you can’t afford to heat your home. Try signing up for schemes like Freecycle.org, Freegle, or Freely Wheely, where local people will advertise their unwanted items for free.

If all else fails, visit your local Citizens Advice for more.

 

#LifeSchool: Picking a School, Getting In, and What To Do If It All Goes Tits Up.

Its that time again, and I hope you enjoyed last week’s renting related #LifeSchool. Once again, if you would like me to feature a topic, feel free to get in touch via Facebook or Twitter.

This week’s #LifeSchool covers everything playground related, from working out the best school (or otherwise) for your cherubs, to appealing if you can’t get in, the tips below have you covered. This is a two part #LifeSchool, as we’ll cover Bullying and other issues next time.

PICKING A SCHOOL- KNOW YOUR DEADLINES IF YOU DONT WANT TO BE LEFT BEHIND

Back when I was a child, picking a school was simple. You just went to the one nearest- I certainly did.

However, we now have the wonders of Ofsted, which has meant of course that the school’s voted Outstanding and Good fill up to bursting quickly and the one’s in the lower ranks have to basically beg parent’s to send their child there.

Then, there is the added stress of catchment, and whether there are, in fact, enough school places for children in your town.

The key to getting the right school doesn’t need to be grey hair inducing as long as you keep up to date with when to get your forms in.

Most school’s now have great websites, so finding out when open days are happening is simply a case of looking online. If you can’t make a date for a school though, its always worth giving them a ring as some will work round your availability. I actually preferred seeing a school without all the pre-arranged (and often utterly bollocks and just put on to look smarmy to parents) fanfare of the official open days. Its often far more enlightening to go in on a normal day and see the school on the hop as it usually is (when they haven’t hidden the naughty kids away for the day).

Make sure to ask questions- school’s are prepared for this so don’t be shy. Does your child have a health issue or are they classed as having Special Education Needs (SEN)? If so, does the school have policy in place to cover these children, and if so, what is it? What sizes are classes? Do they offer after school care? You get the idea- if it’s something you don’t know, then ask if it’s something which could be a deal breaker.

Make use of the calendar on your mobile phone, and get your forms in for school allocation before the deadline. They do say this makes no difference, but it doesn’t hurt if your chosen school is popular to get in early.

Make sure to read the form properly too. If your chosen school is a religious school, and you happen to be religious and in their parish, then mention it (do not make this up- they can and will ask for proof). Is it set up specifically for children with SEN, hence you choosing it? Again, add this to your form. If you have siblings in the school, this is also worth making sure you include as some authorities will automatically add a child to the school list if they already have brothers or sisters in attendance.

NOT GOT THE SCHOOL FOR YOU? DON’T GIVE UP!

Its becoming more and more the case that, come Easter when school places are allocated, kids aren’t getting any of their chosen schools. That’s no reflection on your child, it’s more a case of factors including Ofsted ratings and demand outweighing supply.

Some kids have even been given places miles from home, which causes it’s own issues.

It can be the same should you move areas and need to secure new schools too.

In the case of not getting a chosen place, don’t give up.

It’s time to get smart!

All school’s have appeals processes, whereby you are required to submit either a letter or form to them within a specified amount of time from the allocation of your child’s place. Its usually 30 days but some can be 14 so make sure you check.

The Appeal’s process can be a minefield, and, of course, whilst it goes on the Local Authority (LA) will expect your child to be in some form of education if it’s not the school holidays.

The first thing you need to do is again, add mitigating reasons for why not getting your child in to the school is going to be simply unworkable for your family. We’re not talking “Ofsted said the other school is shit and I don’t want my child to go to a shit school” as despite the Government thinking Ofsted is important, we aren’t meant to use this to our advantage, appeal wise.

One reason could be a commute- do you work and the school is the opposite direction from your home and work? Does your child have SEN and long travels by bus or walking are just not possible? Do you have other children at your chosen school and the allocation means having to be in two different sides of the town at the same time twice a day? All these can be added.

If the school is out of your catchment, the above reasons can be very important. I know, from experience when we moved from Maidenhead to Reading, we got Mini into our chosen school but not Littlest, who was expected to go to a catchment school a good ten minute walk from Mini’s non catchment one. The kick in the teeth was that the catchment school was actually a bigger distance from our new home than the non-catchment one. I would not have been able to get both dropped off at once,  either.

This all went into my form, along with details of Littlest’s illnesses and that, to be fair, Mini had acted as un-official helper when he had been unwell in school before we moved, helping to calm him down as she was used to his ill health and quite often could be calmer than the staff at the old school.

Make sure you add as much evidence as possible, then, make sure you google your LA’s Appeals rules. These are fully available online, and yes, they are boring as hell, and full of jargon, but they just may make the difference if things go wrong.

In our case, we found the Diocese (who is our school’s Authority) had not played by their own set rules and timetables, and, even worse, they allowed one expert to submit new information within the Appeal Panel Hearing- a great big no no rules of appeals wise.

Yes, you read that right- you will have to attend an Appeal Hearing, with three independent LA people, a Governor or Headteacher to represent your chosen school, and a Panel Host who is supposed to be well versed on rules. The school representative will have the chance to give reason’s why the school can’t fit your child, then you will be asked to give your reason’s for being unhappy with this. You can make notes, and you can ask questions, so if they say something you know to be wrong then always voice it.

The Panel then gets to ask questions too, so keep calm, be polite and respectful at all times. At the end of the hearing, you will be told to expect a decision shortly. This can be a few hours, or a few days.

If your appeal is successful, great, but if not, this is not the time to get upset and give up either.

THERE’S SOMEONE FOR FREE ON YOUR SIDE SO USE THEM!

Think back to the Hearing. Did the Panel stick to the Appeal rules? If not, as was the case with our appeal, your next step is the Ombudsmen service.

This is a free service available online, and each Ombudsmen service covers everything from schools, to gas and electric and GP surgeries too (more on those another time).

There is a long form to fill in, so, again, make sure you get as much relevant information in as possible. It will ask you to submit any proof, so, as always, my biggest advice is to try and get as much done in writing as possible to refer back to.

The Ombudsmen Service will then contact the other party involved and ask for their response, and will come to a decision based on the information you’ve submitted so make sure you are 100% factual and polite too.

In our case, the Diocese admitted their error, and within a few weeks a school place magically appeared. Yes, you do feel a little awkward to begin with when you’ve had to do all the above, but, always keep in mind that this is your child and you are acting in their best interest.

STILL NO PLACE? WHAT NEXT?

If the above fails, you can, of course, place your child on the school’s waiting list, but this can take time to get to the top of and, if a child enters the list who is in the Catchment, has relatives in school or has other, bigger mitigating factors than yours, you can slip a few places.

It may be worth looking again at the school you were given.

To my mind, I pay no attention to Ofsted rating. Our last school did nothing, educationally outstanding, for either of my children, and had no interest in dealing with bullying. It was rated, whilst we were there and despite several parent’s filling in anonymous feedback forms from Ofsted raising serious concerns, as Outstanding.

Our new school is rated as Adequate at the moment (although it’s being reviewed soon). I chose it after speaking to people in the local area when we moved to the area, all of whom said the school seen as Outstanding (where they wanted to place Littlest) was not great and our current school was a very good, old fashioned, community school.

I spoke to both school’s about Littlest’s SEN- the Outstanding school went quiet and said they’d get back to me (and didn’t), our current school knew what was in place the moment I spoke to them.

Go back, re-look, and if you really can’t stomach it, think about Home Schooling.

Home Schooling is on the rise, popularity wise, no doubt in part due to the lack of school places. It does have issues of it’s own though, and it’s not simply a case of removing your child from the education system and taking them to the park or Museum.

You will have to register with your LA as being a Home Educator, and you will be asked to submit termly lesson plans. You will be subject to home visits, telephone calls and emails, and the LA can take you to court if they don’t feel your Home Education is acceptable, and this can mean them placing your child in whichever school they can find with places in the LA’s region.

Home Education can be rewarding, there is a wealth of support on line both local and national for Home Educators, with local meet ups, money off or free visits to educational places, and resources online which are free or cost a few pounds to subscribe to.

Its not for everyone though- if you work, then you can’t very well give up your job, and some children- Littlest included- find the line between teacher and parent is too big. It was very hard work for us, and I was very pleased when he finally won his school place!

GOOD LUCK AND REMEMBER, DON’T STRESS!

Hopefully, all will be fine and you will find your place and everyone will be happy.

For every parent who has to plead for a place, there are many more who never even have to worry.

Do your research, get your forms in promptly, and keep calm and all should be well for your child starting in their top choice of school.

Next time in part 2, what to do when things go wrong within school- Bullying, Falling Behind and how not to piss off your teachers.

#LifeSchool: All You Need to Know About Renting

I like helping you guys out, and following from my usual tongue in cheek #BlogSchool series, I thought I’d bring you #LifeSchool too.

My intention with #LifeSchool is to give my hard come by advice from experience of dealing with the type of crap they don’t teach you in school. Yes, we get told about teen pregnancy, drugs and the like, but how many times were you taught about your rights when renting, or who to complain to about Appeals or School issues, or crap Doctors?

Exactly.

As I am a moaning bastard, who hates being ripped off or having my nearest and dearest treated like rubbish, I have long since gained a few tips and tricks on dealing with the stuff liable to make you turn grey.

Starting off today with Renting.

I’ve rented since I was 17, and have had a cavalcade of every type of Landlord and home in different areas you can find. The good, bad and money grabbing fuckwit, if you will.

If you know your rights though, you will, like me, become every dodgy Agent or Landlords worst nightmare.

MOVING IN

Moving in is stressful enough- there’s the packing, the unpacking, the breaking your back moving thousands of sodding vinyl when you could just have a sodding iPod (oh, wait, that’s just our house), but there are things to remember straight away.

Even before you pick up the keys, make sure you get a full and frank run down of all fees and expenses you are expected to fork out upfront. So, if your Landlord or Agent asks for £1,200 as a deposit, ask if there are any non refundable fees such as a key fee, a holding fee, or a credit check fee. Yes, all of these can and will possibly apply, as sadly no rules are in place to stop Agents or Landlords charging whatever they like. There is nothing worse than finding a home you love, only to find out that there is an extra £800-£1000+ to pay which you will never get back.

Be aware of the state of the property too. If possible, before you move even a rug in, go around your new home, with a trusty camera or phone, and take pictures of all the fixtures and fittings which aren’t your own. Damp patch on the wall? Log it. Marks on the carpet or lino? Write it down and take photos.

Some Agents will already have taken an Inventory, which they will send you a copy of to sign and agree, but always, always read everything before you sign. Add in any notes of items or breakages you can find, however minor. In our old house, we were told the walls in one bedroom were green and the carpet, cooker and fridge freezer were all as new, but actually the walls were cream and the other bits far from new.

It may seem petty, but at some point you will need to leave, and again, that free reign to charge what they like comes into play again.

If you  have wrecked a carpet, then make inquiries on how much like for like carpet will cost, get a quote and receipt. Think that will never happen? In one home in Maidenhead, we were told to remove a carpet by the owner, and did so, varnishing the floor. All fine right? NOPE.

On moving out, they wanted to take our entire deposit to replace the carpet. We had nothing in writing saying we could remove it and our Landlord had sudden amnesia. We visited our local carpet fitters, found the same very cheap carpet and got a quote, minus a percentage due to “Fair Wear and Tear” We only had to pay a tiny amount as we could prove the amount they wanted to scam us for was by far too much.

THE BEST ADVICE FOR ALL THINGS RENTING OR OTHERWISE

That’s another thing to always remember, no matter who you are dealing with- GET IT IN WRITING.

Its so easy to contact most people we deal with these days via email. You can then have a file system and drop all emails in it, however minor the issue.

This helped when we moved from our last property two weeks back. We had a dispute over our deposit and, as it was in a DPS (Deposit Protection Service- a government initiative to stop unscrupulous Landlords from holding your deposit themselves and holding it to ransom), we were facing months of arguments before it was released- something we couldn’t stand for as we had to hand our deposit to our new Agent. Now, Landlords know this, so they will hope you cave rather than lose a home you’ve found.

Hell no.

Our (stupid white and not new on moving in) upstairs carpet was bollocked. Not by us. We paid money to clean it, but, when we first moved in, dodgy workmen fixed our roof and dust and dirt of some 30 year vintage was able to get indoors with gay abandon. Luckily, I still had my email where I told the Agents this, and could quote this to them along with their Tenancy. Funnily enough, within 24 hours they gave the full deposit back and shelved their £90 check out fee too!

IF YOU SIGNED IT, MAKE SURE YOU READ IT FIRST

That’s another biggie which may seem dull and annoying but is worth it in the long run- make yourself aware of the major points of your Tenancy.

Has it got a break clause? These are handy for you if you hate your new home and want to move as it gives you the right to give two months notice within a Tenancy. However, as just happened to us, even if you paid £90 to resign a new Tenancy and this doesn’t run out until the end of May, if your Landlord decides, as with ours, to sell up all his properties, he can give you the same two months regardless.

Look for clauses on extra fees- like the resign fee, or maintenance fees. Got a problem that needs fixing? Many tenancies include a fair fixing period which, should your problem not be sorted in this time frame can save you money (as with the three months we waited for a new door, which gave me a £30 reduction on the aforementioned resign fee). You can also withhold rent, but this will not be popular, and its worth knowing that if a Landlord can prove you are in debt with rent, they can have your removal from their home happen in 14 days rather than taking months.

MASSIVE COCK UPS AND HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM

What can you do if things go very wrong?

Got a house that’s really unsafe? Then if you’ve spoken to the Landlord or Agent (over email, of course), and they still wont do anything, you can go to your local Environmental Health team at the local council. They can, and will, for free, inspect a property and can if need be take a Landlord to court and give out fines if they don’t do work to make a home safe. This costs you nothing, but bear in mind the Landlord will possibly not be best pleased and could give you notice.

HOMELESSNESS DOESN’T HAVE TO HAPPEN IF YOU’RE SMART

If you are facing homelessness, contact your local council straight away with any paperwork you have, including your eviction notice. If you have been good tenants and don’r have rent arrears, then they will give you advice, and can help with the cost of a deposit to secure a new home.

That’s a big thing to remember- keep up with rent and get receipts to prove you’ve paid. If you act responsibly, you will get more help than those who don’t pay up or wreck a home- if this is the case you will be classed as “Intentionally Homeless” and will not even be given Temporary Housing in a B&B, let alone allowed to join a Housing List.

Don’t let me worry you! Not every Agent or Landlord is a scam artist, but if things do go wrong, be polite, quote law and your rights, and you should do fine.

WHERE TO GO FOR ADVICE

If you do get stuck though, you can always contact agencies such as The Citizens Advice Bureau, the DPS Service, or Shelter- not to mention your local Housing team- for free, impartial and up to date advice.

Got a question for #LifeSchool? Get in touch, if it’s not something I’ve come up against, I will know someone who has and am always happy to learn new ways to not get scammed so will find out for you!

Next on #LifeSchool, dealing with Appeals and School related issues. How not to get your little darling turfed out of a place.