Telephone Advice Service

How to make the most of your telephone advice call

We have a huge amount of help and advice on the Renters Guide, but sometimes you need a bit of extra help. You need someone who understands the law to look at your situation and tell you where you stand and what you need to do.

This is why we have our ‘one to one’ telephone service.

But it is not cheap, particularly if you are just an ‘ordinary person’ and cannot (for example) offset the cost against your tax.

It’s just a fact of life that lawyers are expensive – it’s not because they are particularly greedy. But it is expensive to run a law firm and inevitably those costs get passed down to you, the client.

Lawyers charge for their time, and with the telephone advice service, you only get 1/2 hour. So you need to make that 1/2 hour count.

You want the lawyer to spend the whole time considering your case and advising you, rather than asking you questions and trying to get a grip on what your problem actually is. So here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your advice call.

The fee for this service is £115 payable in advance.

Before you start

Sort out your paperwork

It is always a good idea to sort out your paperwork and put it in chronological order.

This will not only be enormously helpful to your solicitor – you may also find that by doing this you are able to work out the answer for yourself without needing to pay for advice!

Always, always put your paperwork in proper order.

Work out what your problem is

This is not always easy and often working out the legal problem is something that the lawyer does!

But be clear in your own mind what the issue is that you want answering.

Don’t just chuck everything at the adviser and expect them to be able to answer everything in half an hour.

Do a bit of research and thinking first – you can find out a lot from the information on the Renters Guide.

If you have several problems - decide which is the most important

What often happens is that the caller asks about something relatively trivial (but which annoys them) at the start of the call, and only get around to asking about the real issue about 20 minutes in.

Which does not leave a lot of time for the solicitor to discuss your real problem!

Don’t waste your precious advice call time on trivialities. And don’t expect your adviser to extend the call beyond the 1/2 hour. That’s not fair on them. You have only paid for 1/2 hour.

Completing the advice form

Most of the form is self-explanatory. However probably the most important part is the text box where you tell the adviser about your problem.

This needs to be really clear.

You want your advisor to come to the call with a clear idea of what the problem is and what you want them to advise on. Remember that they know nothing about you or your problem. You have to tell them.

So maybe start off with a bit of general background such as:

I rented a flat in Manchester two years ago with my best friend Rachel. We both share the rent equally and up until now, the arrangement has worked very well.

Then introduce the problem:

Two months ago Rachel met Alex, the man of her dreams. She now wants to move in with him, whereas I want to stay in the flat. However, I cannot afford to live in the flat on my own.

Then give some detail:

We have spoken to the agents about this and they tell us that we will be liable for the rent until the end of the fixed term which is five months away. However, Rachel does not want to wait that long.

My friend Susan is looking for somewhere to live. Can she not just take Rachel’s place? The agents indicated that it would be quite expensive to do this and gave a list of expenses we would have to pay. For example

However, I thought that a law had been passed saying that agents were no longer able to charge fees to tenants?

If you can put things in bullet points this makes it much easier for your adviser to read.
Make sure all your bullet points are relevant. If you are not sure whether something is relevant or not – mention it but do not go into a huge amount of detail.

Confine yourself to facts and do not go into a lot of detail about how you felt about it.

Tell the adviser what advice you need

For example, in our imaginary case, it could be:

What are our rights to ask for a change in the tenancy agreement and what fees are the agents entitled to charge us?

Tips on presentation

Solicitors and barristers are human beings (yes really!) and will respond better if you make it easy for them. So make sure your narrative is clear and easy to read:

  • Don’t put everything in one big block of text – this is hard for anyone to read, particularly on screen.
  • Use short paragraphs – one paragraph per point – and make sure there is white space between them.
  • Wherever possible use bullet points
  • NEVER TYPE IN CAPITALS – this looks dreadful and is harder to read. In ‘netiquette’ using capitals in this way is considered to be like shouting. So make sure your ‘caps lock’ is turned off. (It’s OK to occasionally capitalise one or two words though to emphasise something.)

Your documents

You can submit up to three documents with your advice form. These need to be relevant to your case – sometimes there may be no relevant documents.

However

  • the adviser will need to see your tenancy agreement
  • If you are asking about eviction, the adviser will also want to see any eviction notices served by your landlord

And so on.

If you are sending correspondence, only send the most relevant items and put them in chronological order. Try not to send a jumble of emails – although this is difficult due to the way emails work.

Maybe prepare a composite document with just the email text e.g.

Email sent by [landlords name] to me on [date]
[email text]
Reply sent by me to [landlord’s name] on [date]
[email text]

Summing up​

The form

It’s best to spend some time on your instruction form. Write your narrative up in advance, maybe in your word processing software.

We also recommend that you do not send it off immediately – wait a while (preferably overnight) and then read it again. You will usually find things you want to change.

For example, you may spot ambiguities – things that mean one thing to you but which could mean another to the adviser!

If writing is not your ‘thing’ get someone else to help you. Even if you are a good writer there is no harm in getting someone else to read it over before you send it off.

Just to make sure that they understand it in the way you will want the adviser to.

Examine

The advice call itself

If you have completed the instruction form properly your advisor will already know what the issues are. Don’t waste time explaining it all to them again.

Let the adviser lead the conversation. There may be some things they need to ask you which you should answer clearly and succinctly (make sure you have your file of documents with you during the call).

But you will want the major part of your 30-minute call to be about the ADVICE that is being given to you and making sure you understand it properly.

You also want to make sure you remember it all – so during the advice call you should TAKE NOTES!

You should write your notes either at the time or immediately afterwards. Write as detailed a note as you can of all adviser’s advice.

Don’t expect to remember – you may remember some of it but inevitably you will forget other things – things which may be important.

To get the best value from your call you need to have a proper written record of it. You may want to refer to it in several years time.

And finally

Provided you have followed the advice in this guidance document:

  • Given clear instructions (and don’t expect your adviser to be a mind reader),
  • Focused on just one or two important issues so your adviser can advise fully on them, and
  • Taken detailed notes of the call

You should get good value from your advice call.

Good luck!

Tessa & Harriet
The Renters Guide

Harriet Thomas