Author Archive: southashfordcf

Chair of South Ashford Community Forum

Action Fraud warn of ‘too good to be true’ Black Friday deals

Action Fraud is warning the public to take extra care when shopping online, ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, as shoppers search for bargains and gifts for loved ones in the run up to Christmas.

Action Fraud launched its #FraudFreeXmas campaign with a stark warning about ‘too good to be true’ Black Friday deals. Figures reveal reports of online shopping fraud have surged by 30% over the pandemic as many of us continue to shop online in light of current restrictions.

Figures from Action Fraud show that criminals conned 17,405 shoppers out of almost £13.5 million over the Christmas period last year, an increase of over 20% when compared to the same period in 2018.

Pauline Smith, Head of Action Fraud, said:

“Christmas is an incredibly busy time for us all. Many shoppers get caught up in the excitement of Black Friday, so it can be easy to rush into making a quick purchase online to secure a bargain.

“Unfortunately, criminals will see this as an ideal opportunity to take advantage of shoppers and will tempt them with the promise of cheap deals.

“We advise that you’re cautious of where and who you’re buying from. Our figures show that most scams last year involved mobile phones and electronics, so always shop with official retailers and don’t be enticed by deals that seem too good to be true. Where possible, use a credit card when shopping online as this will offer you more protection if anything goes wrong.

“Follow our simple advice to enjoy shopping online safely and ensure you’re not left empty handed this Christmas.”

During Black Friday and Cyber Monday sale events last year (25th November 2019 – 8th December 2019), over £3 million was lost to criminals as shoppers reported buying mobile phones (15%), vehicles (9%) and electronics (8%), on sites such as Facebook, eBay and Gumtree, only to have the items never arrive.

Over half of victims were male (55%) aged 20 to 29 (19%) residing in cities including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, Leeds and Bristol.

This year, Action Fraud will highlight a different type of fraud, and provide important protect advice, every week during December to prevent people from getting conned out of the Christmas they deserve, starting with online shopping and auction fraud ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

To protect yourself from falling victim to online shopping or auction fraud, remember the following:

Choosing where you shop: If you’re making a purchase from a website or person you don’t know and trust, carry out some research first. Look online for reviews of the website or person you’re buying from. If you’re purchasing an item from an online marketplace, you can view the seller’s feedback history before going ahead with the purchase.

Payment method: Use a payment method that offers buyer protection, such as a credit card if you have one, as most major credit card providers  will help you get your money back if the item is faulty or damaged, or if it never arrives.

Staying secure online: Use a strong, separate password for your email account. Criminals can use your email to access other online accounts, such as those you use for online shopping. You should also enable two-factor authentication (2FA), where possible, which gives your online account additional protection by double checking that you really are the person you claim to be, when logging in. For further information about how to stay secure online, visit www.cyberaware.gov.uk.

Watch out for phishing emails or texts: Some of the emails or texts you receive about amazing offers may contain links to fake websites. If you’re unsure, don’t use the link and visit the website directly instead. If you receive an email you’re not quite sure about, you can report it by forwarding the email to the Suspicious Email Reporting Service at report@phishing.gov.uk. You can report suspicious texts you have received by forwarding the original message to 7726, which spells SPAM on your keypad.

When things go wrong: Anyone can fall victim to fraud. If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud online at actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.

Action Fraud
https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/news/action-fraud-launches-new-campaign-to-fight-back-against-fraud-this-christmas

Christmas Recycling and Refuse Collections

During the festive period your recycling and refuse collection days will be altered. Check out the 2021 Calendar below for the changes.

WeekNormal Collection DayRevised Collection Day
RecyclingMon 21 DecemberMon 21 December
Tue 22 DecemberTue 22 December
Wed 23 DecemberWed 23 December
Thu 24 DecemberThu 24 December
Fri 25 DecemberMon 28 December
RefuseMon 28 DecemberTue 29 December
Tue 29 DecemberWed 30 December
Wed 30 DecemberThu 31 December
Thu 31 DecemberSat 2 January
Fri 1 JanuaryMon 4 January
RecyclingMon 4 JanuaryTue 5 January
Tue 5 JanuaryWed 6 January
Wed 6 JanuaryThu 7 January
Thu 7 JanuaryFri 8 January
Fri 8 JanuarySat 9 January
Mon 11 JanuaryNormal Service resumes

There will be no garden waste collection over the Christmas period.

Side waste, ie textiles, small electricals or batteries still cannot be collected.

Urgent treatment centre open

The urgent treatment centre at the William Harvey Hospital is now open.

Urgent treatment centres provide treatment for minor injuries and illnesses that are urgent but not life threatening.

Urgent treatment centres are GP-led, open at least 12 hours a day (24 hours at the main hospital sites), and are equipped to diagnose and deal with many of the most common ailments people attend A&E for. 

Call NHS 111 or visit www.111.nhs.uk  to find out which service is best for you.

NHS 111 can signpost you to the nearest service and, where appropriate, can book you an appointment at the Urgent Treatment Centre.

The Urgent Treatment Centre can treat:

  • sprains and strains
  • suspected broken limbs
  • minor head injuries
  • cuts and grazes
  • bites and stings
  • minor scalds and burns
  • ear and throat infections
  • skin infections and rashes
  • eye problems
  • coughs and colds
  • feverish illness in adults
  • feverish illness in children
  • abdominal pain
  • vomiting and diarrhoea
  • emergency contraception

Urgent Treatment Centres need to comply with government guidelines on social distancing and provide safe environments for both patients and staff.

NHS are encouraging people to call NHS 111 to book an appointment ahead of visiting. This means you won’t have to wait at a centre for an appointment and it will help ensure the safety of everyone.  

Coronavirus National Restrictions

5 November to 2 December

National restrictions apply to England

Meeting IndoorsMeeting OutdoorsWeddings and Funerals
You cannot meet anybody socially Indoors unless they are in your household or support bubbleYou can meet with 1 person from another household in outdoor public spaces, following social distancing.
Children under 5 and anyone dependent on continuous care do not count towards the 2 person limit.
Weddings and Civil partnership ceremonies can only take place where one of those getting married is seriously ill and not expected to recover.
Funerals can take place with up to 30 people in attendance.
Working from homeEssential ShopsNon-essential Retail
You must work from home if you can. If you cannot work from home you should continue to go to work (unless you are clinically extremely vulnerable).Open. Essential shops should follow COVID secure guidelines.Closed. Can only open for click-and-collect and delivery services.
ExerciseLeisure and GymsHospitality
You can exercise outside on your own or with your household; your support bubble or one person from another househoid.Closed. Except for allotments and outdoor playgrounds.Closed except for takeaway, click-and-collect, drive through and delivery sevvices. Takeaway not permitted after 22:00.
EducationHealthcare ServicesResidential Care
Early years, schools and FE colleges open. Universities must reflect wider restrictions.You can leave home for any medical reason.Care homes are encouraged to provide safe, COVID-secure visiting opportunities. See the guidance for detaiis on how to keep visits safe.
TravelPublic TransportOvernight Stays
You must not travel in the UK or overseas other than for permitted reasons, including work, eduration, medical reasons, caring responsibilities or for essential retail.You may still use public transport, but should only travel for permitted reasons and should look to reduce the number of journeys you make, avoid travelling at peak times and walk or cycle where you can.Overnight stays and holidays away from primary residences are not allowed, except for work and other exempt purposes.
Entertainment and tourismVulnerable PeopleWorship
Entertainment venues are closed. Public gardens at visitor attractions are open.If you are 60+ or clinically vulnerable be especially carefui to follow the rules and minimise contacts with others. If you are ciinicaliy extremely vulnerable you are advised to stay at home as much as possible, except to go outdoors for exercise or to attend essenliai health appoinlments.Closed. Except for:
funerals.
broadcasting acts of worship, and
individual prayer.
ChildcareYouth Clubs and Activities
Registered childcare and childcare activities open to enable parents to work, or for respite care. Parents can form a childcare bubble with another household For informal childcare, where the child is 13 or under.Some youth services are able to continue, such as 1-1 youth work and support groups, but most youth clubs and groups will need to cease for this period.

For more information and detailed guidance visit gov.uk/voronavirus

UK government

Pension Scams

How pension scams work

Scammers usually contact people out of the blue via phone, email or text, or even advertise online. Or they may be introduced to you by a friend or family member who is also unknowingly being scammed.

Scammers will make false claims to gain your trust. For example:

  • claiming they are authorised by the FCA or that they don’t have to be FCA authorised because they aren’t providing the advice themselves
  • claiming to be acting on the behalf of the FCA or the government service Pension Wise.

Scammers design attractive offers to persuade you to transfer your pension pot to them (or to release funds from it). It is then often invested in unusual and high-risk investments like overseas property, renewable energy bonds, forestry, storage units, or simply stolen outright.

Scam offers often include:

  • free pension reviews
  • higher returns – guarantees they can get you better returns on your pension savings
  • help to release cash from your pension even though you’re under 55 (an offer to release funds before age 55 is highly likely to be a scam)
  • high-pressure sales tactics – the scammers may try to pressure you with ‘time-limited offers’ or even send a courier to your door to wait while you sign documents
  • unusual investments – which tend to be unregulated and high risk, and may be difficult to sell if you need access to your money
  • complicated structures where it isn’t clear where your money will end up
  • arrangements where there are several parties involved (some of which may be based overseas) all taking a fee, which means that the total amount deducted from your pension is significant
  • long-term pension investments – which mean it could be several years before you realise something is wrong

4 simple steps to protect yourself from pension scams

Step 1 – reject unexpected offers

  • If you’re contacted out of the blue about a pension opportunity, chances are it’s high risk or a scam.
  • If you get a cold call about your pension, the safest thing to do is to hang up – it’s illegal and probably a scam. Report pension cold calls to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) (link is external).
  • Be wary if you’re contacted about any financial product or opportunity and they mention using your pension.
  • If you get unsolicited offers via email or text you should simply ignore them. Fortunately, most people do reject unsolicited offers – FCA research suggests that 95% of unexpected pension offers are rejected.
  • Be wary of offers of free pension reviews. Professional advice on pensions is not free – a free offer out of the blue (from a company you have not dealt with before) is probably a scam.
  • And don’t be talked into something by someone you know. They could be getting scammed, so check everything yourself.

Step 2 – check who you’re dealing with

  • Check the FCA Register to make sure that anyone offering you advice or other financial services is FCA authorised.
  • If you don’t use an FCA-authorised firm, you also won’t have access to the Financial Ombudsman Service or Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) so you’re unlikely to get your money back if things go wrong. If the firm is on our Register, call our Consumer Helpline on 0800 111 6768 to check the firm is permitted to give pension advice.
  • Check they are not a clone – a common scam is to pretend to be a genuine FCA-authorised firm (called a ‘clone firm’). Always use the contact details on our Register, not the details the firm gives you.
  • Check to see if they are registered with Companies House and for the names of the directors. Search the company name and the names of the directors online to see if others have posted any concerns.
  • Check the FCA Warning List – use this tool to check the risks of a potential pension or investment opportunity. You can also search to see if the firm is known to be operating without our authorisation.

Step 3 – don’t be rushed or pressured

Take your time to make all the checks you need – even if this means turning down an ‘amazing deal’. Be wary of promised returns that sound too good to be true and don’t be rushed or pressured into making a decision. 

Step 4 – get impartial information or advice

You should seriously consider seeking financial guidance or advice before changing your pension arrangements.

  • The Pensions Advisory Service provides free independent and impartial information and guidance.  
  • If you’re over 50 and have a defined contribution pension, Pension Wise offers pre-booked appointments to talk through your retirement options.
  • You can also use a financial adviser to help you make the best decision for your own personal circumstances. If you do opt for an adviser, make sure they are regulated by the FCA and never take investment advice from the company that contacted you, as this may be part of the scam. Find out more about getting financial advice

If you suspect a scam, report it

If you have been a victim of this type of fraud, report it to Action Fraud by calling us on 0300 123 2040 or by using our online reporting tool.

  • Report to the FCA – you can report an unauthorised firm or scam to the FCA by contacting their Consumer Helpline on 0800 111 6768 or using our reporting form. 
  • You can report nuisance calls and messages to the Information Commissioner’s Office using their online reporting tool or by calling 0303 123 1113.
  • If you’ve agreed to transfer your pension and now suspect a scam, contact your pension provider straight away. They may be able to stop a transfer that hasn’t taken place yet. If you are unsure of what to do contact the Pensions Advisory Service) for help. 
  • If you have already invested in a scam, fraudsters are likely to target you again or sell your details to other criminals. The follow-up scam may be completely separate or related to the previous fraud, such as an offer to get your money back or to buy back the investment after you pay a fee.
References:

Pension Scams, Action Fraud,
https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/a-z-of-fraud/pension-scams

Avoid pension scams, The Pensions Regulator, https://www.thepensionsregulator.gov.uk/en/pension-scams

How to avoid pension scams, The Financial Conduct Authority, https://www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart/how-avoid-pension-scams

How to avoid a pension scam, The Pensions Advisory Service, https://www.pensionwise.gov.uk/en/scams

Appeal against HMO refusal dismissed

An appeal against a refusal by Ashford Borough Council (ABC) to issue a Lawful Development Certificate for the existing use of a house in Bond Road as a large House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) has been dismissed.

The Planning Inspector has agreed with ABC that the applicant has failed to provide sufficient evidence that the house in question has been used as a large HMO continuously for ten years.

The request for a Lawful Development Certificate followed an earlier application for planning permission for change of use of the property to a Large HMO. That application was refused because “The proposed change of use, due to insufficient onsite parking, would result in an unacceptable impact in on-street parking to the detriment of existing nearby residents and the surrounding road network. Further, any vehicles attempting to park at the front would result in vehicles overhanging the footpath to the detriment of pedestrian safety.” contrary to Policy HOU11 of the Ashford Local Plan.

Under the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 the Local Planning Authority (LPA) cannot take enforcement action against a breach of planning control after defined time limits. In the case of a change of use to an HMO the limit is ten years; after which the use becomes lawful.

Green Homes Grant

If you’re a homeowner or residential landlord you can apply for a Green Homes Grant voucher towards the cost of installing energy efficient improvements to your home.

Improvements could include insulating your home to reduce your energy use or installing low-carbon heating to lower the amount of carbon dioxide your home produces.

You must redeem the voucher and ensure improvements are completed by 31 March 2021.

How much you can get

Vouchers will cover two-thirds of the cost of eligible improvements, up to a maximum government contribution of £5,000.

If you, or someone in your household, receive certain benefits you may be eligible for a voucher covering 100% of the cost of the improvements. The maximum value of the voucher is £10,000. Check if you’re eligible for the low income support scheme.

Landlords are not eligible for low income support.

Read more about the scheme on the Simple Energy Advice website

Check if you are eligible for a voucher and find home improvements that you can carry out on the Simple Energy Advice website

Then apply for a voucher via gov.uk

Find an Installer

The voucher can only be used for work carried out by an installer registered under the scheme, for the work that is being undertaken.

Find an installer on the Simple Energy Advice website

We recommend that you do not take advice from cold callers, whether by phone or door to door salesmen nor respond to social media adverts or emails. we have learnt of examples of potential scammers and rogue traders taking advantage of the announcement of this scheme.

#ScamAware

NHS Covid-19 App

Download the NHS Covid-19 App to

  • Get alerted if you’ve been near other app users who have tested positive for coronavirus.
  • Find the level of coronavirus risk in your postcode district.
  • Get alerted if you have visited a venue where you may have come into contact with coronavirus.
  • Check if you have coronavirus symptoms and see if you need to order a free test.
  • Book a test and get your result.
  • Keep track of your self-isolation countdown and access relevant advice.

Download for iphone:
https://apps.apple.com/gb/app/nhs-covid-19/id1520427663

Download for Android:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=uk.nhs.covid19.production

The NHS COVID-19 app protects your privacy and identity from other app users, and their privacy and identity from you. The app uses random IDs that cannot be used by the NHS or the government to identify who you are, or who you’ve spent time with.

The app cannot:

  • use your GPS location or track where you have been
  • be used to check or monitor if you’re self-isolating
  • be used by law enforcement to identify or track you
  • see personal information on your phone, such as your messages, address book or your phone contacts

More information: https://covid19.nhs.uk/

Consultation on planning system reforms

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is consulting on two sets of reforms to the planning system.

The first, Changes to the current planning system, includes:

  • changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need
  • securing of First Homes through developer contributions
  • temporarily lifting the small sites threshold
  • extending the current Permission in Principle to major development

This is likely to increase the assessed need for housing in Ashford.

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/changes-to-the-current-planning-system

The second, Planning for the future, relates to the wider changes that have been announced by the government. The Government press release states that the proposals include:

  • plans to overhaul outdated planning system and reform the way the country builds
  • Plans to streamline process, cut red tape and harness technology to deliver homes faster
  • Valued green spaces protected for future generations, with more building on brownfield land
  • Building beautiful homes with communities at heart of new planning system
  • 30% discount through First Homes, with an emphasis on key workers

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/launch-of-planning-for-the-future-consultation-to-reform-the-planning-system