Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire warns shoppers not to fall into seasonal shopping traps

New figures from Citizens Advice reveal the charity’s national consumer service is contacted by worried shoppers every nine seconds, totalling an average of over 3400 a day.

The service typically sees a spike in calls each January as shoppers seek help after problems with Black Friday, Cyber Monday and festive purchases. The number of complaints received by the charity in January 2023 grew 28% compared with the month before.

Between 1 January and 30 September 2023 Citizens Advice’s consumer service helped with complaints ranging from defective goods  (24% of complaints) – like broken mobile phones or out-of-date skincare products – to late deliveries or ones that didn’t turn up at all (4% of complaints). 

Ahead of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and seasonal spending, Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire is sharing its top tips to empower shoppers with the knowledge to shop confidently. This advice marks the start of its Consumer Awareness campaign (Monday 16 October – Sunday 22 October). The annual campaign is run by Citizens Advice in collaboration with the Consumer Protection Partnership (CPP), which includes Trading Standards and the Department for Business and Trade.

Teresa Archer, Chief Officer of Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire, said:

“We frequently hear of shoppers in running into difficulties with their purchases. As we focus on counting the pennies, unscrupulous sellers turn to using high pressure tactics or misleading promises to make a sale. Coming away with less than we bargained for can happen to anyone, even the savviest shoppers. 

“With the spending season fast approaching and the financial pressures piling on, it’s important we recognise the red flags and have the confidence to know what to do if things go wrong.”

Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire is on hand to help shoppers if they end up with more – or less – than they bargained for this season:

  1. Does it seem too good to be true?

If it seems too good to be true — it probably is. This is especially true for products which are ‘must-haves’ or are sold out in major retailers. 

Be wary of sites offering big discounts, and ensure that you’re buying from the retailer’s official website so that you know it’s a genuine product. You can find out if a company is registered by searching their details on Sole traders (someone who runs their own business) and partnerships (where two or more people run a business together) don’t need to register with, so you’ll need to do further research on their site to make sure they’re a genuine seller

2. Check you’re buying from a trustworthy retailer

Do some background research into the company. Start with an internet search about the retailer and have a look at their official website. Make sure you find their return and refund policies so you can understand your rights if something goes wrong with your purchase. Find out how they can be contacted, where in the world they’re based and whether they’re part of a consumer protection scheme.

Seeing what others say about the retailer can help you find out if it’s a legitimate seller or not. But remember to look into reviews on other websites too, not just their official website. 

3. How do they want you to pay?

Be cautious when a seller asks you to pay by an unusual means such as in iTunes vouchers, crypto currency or via bank transfer. These are harder to track and lack the vital protections that you get when paying by debit or credit card or by a third party app such as PayPal. Whichever way you pay, make sure you check the terms and conditions to understand what you’re paying for. 

4. If something you ordered hasn’t arrived

If you bought something from a business to be delivered, it’s the seller’s responsibility to make sure the item is delivered to you. If the seller used a courier, they should chase the courier to find out what’s happened to your order – it’s not your responsibility.

Check the delivery address you gave the seller. Then contact them and ask where your order is. If the seller claims they’ve delivered it or don’t know where it is, you can ask for a redelivery. You might be able to get a refund in some circumstances.

For information and advice, contact Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire on 0808 278 7908

Halloween is coming up and my children are keen to dress up for trick-or-treat

I’ve read about accidents involving costumes catching fire and I’m worried about buying an outfit that could be highly flammable. I don’t want to spoil their fun but I do want to make sure everyone is safe. How can I check if the costumes would be safe for my children to wear?

It’s not easy being the ‘safety police’ when everyone just wants to have fun – especially when
that fun includes extravagant costumes. Children should always be kept away from naked
flames, but Halloween costumes come with their own set of risks for which extra safety
precautions are needed.

They’re not always subject to the same fire safety checks as normal clothing as they can
often be classed as toys. With Halloween being a time where lots of lit candles in pumpkins
are on the same doorsteps that trick-or-treaters congregate on. As you rightly point out there
have sadly been accidents associated with dressing-up outfits and so checking the garment
complies with UK/EU safety standards should be a top priority.

No one wants an unexpected horror story at Halloween so it’s always best to know what
you’re looking for when buying any costume to make sure the risks are limited as much as
they can be:
● Always buy your Halloween costumes from reputable shops and online retailers. If
you haven’t bought anything from the shop before make sure you check online
● Make sure the costume comes with safety instructions, a UKCA or CE marking and
the manufacturer’s name. The UKCA marking is the post-Brexit British equivalent of
the CE mark which is also still valid.
● Check for any product recalls online — searching for ‘product safety recalls’ will bring
up the Office for Product Safety and Standards list.
And while you might like to let your creative streak run wild and attempt to make your own
bespoke costume, it’s worth keeping in mind that homemade fancy dress costumes may
also come with risks, especially if you use fabrics or decorations not designed to be worn.

If you’d like more advice, or to report something to Trading Standards, contact Citizens
Advice consumer service by phone or online.

Awarded 2023 Gold Standard Internship Host

Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire is proud to be recognised for the excellent internship experience, our charity provided to some superb Oxford students through the Oxford University Summer Internship Programme.

We were officially recognised as a 2023 Gold Standard Internship Host and wish to thank the many incredible students we had to support our work this summer. It made a huge difference.

Gold Standard Internship Hosts are judged on the following criteria:  

  • Commitment to the Internship Office programmes  
  • Overall quality of feedback from interns  
  • Consistency of internship provision  
  • Level of responsiveness to communication from students and the Internship Office 
  • Responsiveness to constructive feedback  

Let’s Talk about Gambling, Betting and Gaming

Gambling has become normalised. Almost half our adult population gambles, whether that’s buying a lottery ticket, playing bingo or placing a sports bet. Advances in mobile technology now allow people to gamble at anytime, anywhere, and on anything. Sports like football are saturated by gambling sponsorship and we see advertising on TV and across social media.

What is gambling?

You’re gambling if you take a risk of losing money, or belongings, based on chance. Lots of gambling seems very normal and is easy to access.

What are some of the problems it can cause?

People who come to us for support with gambling may need help with other problems. Often they don’t realise that gambling might be the cause for:

  • Debts
  • Housing problems
  • Mental health
  • Employment or education
  • Family or relationship issues

A gambling problem can mean there isn’t enough money to pay for rent, bills and food. It can mean running up credit card bills and other debts. It can mean relationships breaking down, job losses and homelessness.

These problems don’t just affect the person who is gambling. They can affect their family, friends and people they work with.

Whether you need support with your own gambling, or you want to help someone else, we’re here for you. We can also help if you’ve been affected by someone else’s gambling.

Where to go to find out more about gambling harm

Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire Call our Adviceline on Freephone 0808 2787908 for support.

Home energy efficiency grants

Find out if you are eligible for grant funding to retrofit your home and reduce your energy bills.

Are you concerned about the cost of energy bills and looking for ways to make your home cheaper to heat and more comfortable to live in?The good news is that you may be eligible for energy efficiency upgrades for your home, funded by the Home Upgrade Grant Phase 2 (HUG2). These upgrades, known as ‘retrofitting’, could help to reduce your energy bills and make your home easier to keep warm.

The grant is open to owner-occupiers and private renters living in the worst-performing, off-gas grid homes.  The aim is to tackle fuel poverty by upgrading energy-inefficient homes and make progress towards the UK’s 2050 net zero target.

Find out if you are eligible

A new school year can put pressure on lots of people’s budgets. There is help available.

Family spending time together in the kitchen of their home. The father is ironing while the pregnant mother peels a tangerine for their son who is sitting on the kitchen counter. They are in the Northeast of England.

My children are starting new schools in September, one is in primary school and the other secondary. Between uniforms, PE kit and knowing they’ll need to catch the bus each day the costs are adding up. I’m already pretty stretched, so I’m not sure how to cover these extra outgoings. Is there any help I can get?

A new school year can put pressure on lots of people’s budgets, so you’re not alone in your worries. But there is help available.   A good place to start is the Citizens Advice website where you’ll find lots of information on the support you might be entitled to for school-related costs.  

The help you can get to cover school lunches will vary depending on how old your children are and if you claim benefits. Children in Reception, Year 1 and 2 automatically get free school meals. You can apply for free school meals for older children if you claim certain types of benefits, including Universal Credit, Child Tax Credit and Income Support. The full list is available on the Citizens Advice website.

You mentioned concerns about travel costs. If your child can’t walk to school because of special educational needs or disabilities they should get free school transport. You may be able to get help with transport costs from your Local Education Authority if your children can’t walk because it’s dangerous or too far. Your Local Education Authority is part of your local council that deals with education in your area, you can find yours on GOV.UK. Contact it directly to find out exactly what support it offers.  

If you’re on a low income, your Local Education Authority may also be able to help you with activity and school uniform costs. You’re likely to be considered to be on a low income if you get means-tested benefits like Universal Credit or Housing Benefit.

In some places there are also local charitable schemes that can help. A good place to find out about these is the school itself or Parent Teacher Association (PTA) both will usually know if these kinds of schemes exist.   A lot of people are feeling the squeeze at the moment, but it’s important to remember that help is available with starting school costs and you’re not alone. For more information visit the Citizens Advice website.

Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire opens monthly advice service in Chipping Norton

Commencing on the 11th July, Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire (CAWO) will provide outreach advice for the people of Chipping Norton. The service will operate initially once a month on Tuesday afternoons (2nd Tuesday of the month) from the Parish Rooms in Chipping Norton, located opposite St. Marys Church.

The aim of the service is to ensure people who struggle to travel to an appointment in Witney or have difficulty accessing telephone advice can benefit from face-to-face initial advice.  Initial advice will cover all sorts of issues including; debt, understanding benefits, housing, employment issues, consumer rights and relationship problems. 

Three 45-minute appointments will be offered at 12.30pm, 1.30pm and 2.30pm.

Appointments need to be booked in advance by calling Adviceline on freephone 0808 2787908 or by emailing

Scams – how aware are you?

It’s important to always keep an eye out for scams – they can and do affect anyone. Take a look at our advice pages below for more information and support.

If you think someone might be trying to scam you, it’s important to act straight away. If you need further advice and support you can call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133

Take a look at our Scams advice

Cate shares her rewarding experience as a new volunteer on Adviceline

Six weeks of reassuringly thorough training both in person and online, plus sessions observing the team in action but here I was, the Adviceline phone was ringing and it was now my turn to answer it. 

I admit I was scared, I had no idea who was on the other end of the line or what their query might be, and I had a sudden fear that everything I’ve learnt would vanish when put to the test!

I needn’t have worried, firstly because the training did kick in but more so because the client on the other end of the call has contacted us for a reason, they want to talk and invariably have a query that wants an answer, so the stilted, scripted conversation I feared became very human and personal.

I would relate the volunteer advisor role to that of a well-trained GP receptionist, we are not being asked to diagnose or preform complex treatment but we do need to ask all the right questions to truly understand the issue and then seek the best course of action with the help of the supervisors.  I am in awe of the encyclopaedic knowledge of the people around me. It is like human Google in action!

I’m still very new and I have a lingering nervousness every time the phone rings but I am assured that this is part of the process and it’s just about getting some ‘miles on the clock’ but I’m enjoying it. 

I love learning more about the community I am part of and it is a great feeling to know you have helped someone in someway when you end the call. A moment’s satisfaction before the phone rings again.  

Find out more about volunteering at Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire.

Citizens Advice across Oxfordshire celebrates its volunteers for their vital support during the cost-of-living crisis

Citizens Advice across Oxfordshire has received a huge number of enquiries from local people struggling to stay on top of household bills as the cost-of-living crisis continues to make life incredibly difficult. The national charity has helped a record 94,000 people with food bank referrals and access to emergency charitable grants in the first four months of this year. That’s a 178% increase on the same period in 2020. 

Thanks to the tireless dedication of its volunteers and staff, the local charity has continued to give essential advice and crisis support to help people find a way forward.

In the last year, Citizens Advice across Oxfordshire has helped 25,244 people with 70,763 problems, including debt advice, housing, benefits and employment issues. This amounted to a value of £9.5 million worth of financial outcomes.

Now, as part of Volunteers’ Week from June 1 to 7, Citizens Advice across Oxfordshire is taking the time to highlight the incredible work its volunteers do. And, thank them for their exceptional contribution to the charity and community at large.

Over 300 volunteers across Citizens Advice Oxfordshire contribute over 2000 hours each week. 

Gillian, Volunteer Adviser at Citizens Advice North Oxfordshire said: “I love volunteering as I enjoy meeting new people and being part of a team. No two days are the same because no two clients are the same. The satisfaction of helping someone in need to move forward is huge. You never stop learning and you are always supported by your colleagues.”

Chris O’Hare, Chief Office at Citizens Advice Oxford said: “We’re forever grateful to our wonderful team of volunteers who willingly give up their time and skills to ensure people in Oxfordshirecan get the support they need. “I’m particularly proud of the dedication they’ve shown during the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, when demand for our help is so high. “Their hard work, dedication and commitment is incredible. We simply couldn’t do it without them.”

If you’re interested in finding out more about volunteering at:

To find out more email West Oxfordshire:

For more information about the types of roles we offer visit the national Citizens Advice website.

No experience is required, full training and support is provided for volunteer roles.

We give people the knowledge and confidence they need to find their way forward – whoever they are, and whatever their problem.