We hope our issues with our previous landlord are now resolved.  At least, we hope that the electric company will honour their word and not come after us for the unpaid bill, which all, except the landlord, have agreed is the landlord’s responsibility.

We have dealt with so many people throughout the course of our dispute, and each one seems to give different advice.  It was extremely confusing and every time we talked to a new person, we had to describe everything from start to finish.  “Frustrating” is an understatement.

But, in the process, we have learned a few lessons.  Lesson number one: we need to be more aggressive.  It wasn’t that we just let everyone walk all over us.  We tried not to be a pain, so we didn’t whine and complain about everything.  We reported problems when we needed to and left it up to the agents and landlord to work out what needed to be done.  Unfortunately, neither showed any inclination to fix any problems.  They blamed each other when it came down to figuring out what went wrong where.  Lesson number two: due diligence.  Don’t rely on someone else’s word for it, do it yourself.  Lesson number three: the Brits have an “I don’t want to get involved” attitude.  We get the sense that most Brits don’t want to give third party advice unless they are in alliance with you for some personal gain.  For example, we considered getting someone close to the landlord to reason with him, but felt that we would be given the cold shoulder.  Lesson number four: know who to turn to.

This last one could be tricky.  Everyone tells you to go to the CAB for advice.  We had gone to them several times during the course of our stay, but nothing useful was forthcoming.  They can be helpful in many areas, but in our case, it seemed they were at a loss.  It wasn’t until our account came up to the Live Debt department at the electric company that someone came up with a solution (though we cannot be certain that the issue is resolved yet).  They’ve decided to proceed with a power shut-off to force the landlord’s hand.  (Apparently, they wouldn’t do it if we were still living there.)  So, the higher up the ladder you move, the more ideas you can come up with.

But, in the midst of all this, we found out through the RAC Legal Aid that we should have reported our landlord to the council.  Apparently, it is not just for social housing landlords.  Had we done so, we could have had an independent appraisal of the situation, and we could have had a refund on our rent.  Perhaps, that would have also helped us to deal with the electric issue.  Lesson learned.  Hopefully, we won’t go there again.

It is great to know that as a foreigner, there are places to go for advice. Of course, there is always the American Embassy for some big issues, but you don’t want to have to go to London every time you need advice on everyday matters. In Britain, that’s what the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) is for.

There is a CAB in every town and it is essentially run by volunteers trained to give information to ordinary everyday folks. The CABs serve only residents within their county boundaries. Some places require appointments, while others are exclusively run on a “first come, first served” walk-in basis. You can get information about how and where to find a doctor, what you need to know about getting your license, how to resolve disputes, issues with your landlord, etc.

In recent years, with the increased rate in immigration, the CAB has turned into a stopping point for immigrants to get information on how to get benefits and other issues related to living and working in the UK. From the leaflets, posters and other advice on view, it seems the CAB deal a lot with immigration issues. The other big area that the CAB seem to focus on is discrimination – of all kinds, sexual, racial, sexual orientation, etc.

I don’t think there is an equivalent institution in the US, although you can get some information through your Town Hall. The CAB is distinct from the Town Hall as it can provide semi-legal advice. If the volunteer does not have the answers readily, he/she can look in their database for the relevant information or point you in the right direction. It is a wonderful and reliable service, even if you might have to wait for an hour before being seen. Any newcomer to England should be aware of this invaluable institution.