How to get help paying your energy bills this winter – and save over £1,000 – The Sun
IF you're reaching for the thermostat now that temperatures have dropped, you may be worrying about increased energy bills.
Snow has covered much of the country over the past 12 hours and experts are warning of three more days of weather chaos.
But rising fuel bills are part of the reason that 3.66million households in the UK are trapped in fuel poverty, according to the End Fuel Poverty Coalition.
That means one in five households in the UK is forced below the poverty line by expensive energy bills.
And what's more, new figures from Compare The Market suggest that the poorest families fork out £60 a year more on energy bills.
Everyone should be able to afford to keep their house warm, which is why there are plenty of sources of support available to help you make ends meet.
Here are the main ways that you can get help this winter:
Cold weather payments – up to £25 a week
You could be entitled to £25 a week if the temperature drops below zero in your area between November 1, to help you pay for the increased energy costs.
The temperature will have to stay that low for seven consecutive days before the cold weather payment is handed out.
You must already be getting certain benefits to qualify, including pension credit, income support, jobseeker's allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, and Universal Credit.
You won't qualify if you are in a care home or subject to immigration control.
You don't need to apply for the extra payment as it will be paid automatically be made into your bank or building society account within 14 days of the cold spell being over.
Winter fuel payments – up to £300
Pensioners can receive annual one-off winter fuel payments from the government of between £100 and £300.
You'll qualify for the payout, you'll need to have been born before April 5 1954 – the date changes every year.
You must also have lived in the UK for at least one day during the "qualifying week". This year, it fell between September 16 and 22 2019
The money is tax-free and won't affect any other benefits that you get, such as Universal Credit.
How much you get depends on your circumstances, such as whether or not you live alone.
Your payment may be different if you or your partner get one of the following benefits:
- Pension credit
- Income-based jobseeker’s allowance (JSA)
- Income-related employment and support allowance (ESA)
- Income support
The payments are made automatically, usually between November and December.
If you claim any other benefits, you'll get your Winter Fuel Payment at the same time as your regular benefits at this time of year.
If you're entitled to the payout but didn't receive the cash by January 13 2020 then you should contact the helpline on 0800 7310160 from England, Scotland and Wales.
You have until March 31 to make a claim for the missed payment.
You'll also need to apply if you qualify and you are not getting a social security benefit, such as the state pension, you will need to make a claim.
You can apply by visiting the winter fuel payment website.
You'll need your national insurance number, the date of your marriage or civil partnership and your bank details to hand.
Warm home discount – up to £140 a year
The warm home payment is a one-off £140 payment which is designed to help with the cost of your electricity bill through winter.
Not all suppliers participate in the scheme so you should bear this in mind if and when you're considering switching.
The money isn't paid to you but automatically applied to your electricity bill between September and March.
You may be able to put the cash towards your gas bill too if your supplier provides you with both gas and electricity.
There are two sets of people who are eligible.
The core group – Anyone who gets the guarantee credit element of pension credit and is named on the bill should automatically qualify for this benefit.
The energy supply must also have been part of the scheme on July 7, 2019.
In theory, you should be identified by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and should not have to apply.
You'll receive a letter between October and December 2019 informing you that you're on the scheme.
What to do if you can't pay your bills
Falling behind on your energy bills can be extremely stressful.
Your energy bills are a priority debt – that means you should pay them off before other bills like your credit card as your supplier could threaten to cut your supply-off completely.
But don't bury your head in the sand. Contact your energy firm as soon as you can and discuss your situation.
It has to help you reach a solution, likely through a payment plan.
This is where you pay a fixed-amount which you can afford over a set period of time.
The plan will cover the debt you owe and the energy you are using now.
If you can't reach an agreement, your supplier might insist on installing a pre-payment meter but this is only as a last resort.
You will have been asked to confirm your details by calling the helpline before February 28, 2020.
If you think you're eligible but never received a letter – phone the warm home discount scheme helpline on 0800 731 0214 to check.
You should do this as soon as possible, as the DWP may not be able to help if a claim is submitted too late.
Before you phone, check to see if your supplier is a participant of the scheme.
Broader group – If you don't meet the "core group" criteria, you may still be eligible for this benefit under your supplier's "broader group" rules.
Each provider has different criteria, so you should check carefully to see if it applies to you.
All suppliers must include some standard criteria, such as if you're on a low-income and you get certain means-tested benefits like income-related employment and support allowance.
If you think you meet the broader criteria, you should contact your supplier straight away.
Health Through Warmth scheme
You may be able to get help through the Health Through Warmth (HTW) scheme, run by National Energy Action and the NHS.
Set up in 2000, it aims to improve warmth, comfort and quality of life for vulnerable people who have cold-related illnesses.
You can get help with the cost of installing heating and insulation, or making repairs to existing systems or appliances which you can’t afford yourself.
It can also help tackle any debts you may have built up.
HTW is available across England and Wales to vulnerable people who meet the eligibility criteria.
You will need to fill in an online referral form, which is on the Npower website here.
You do not have to be an Npower customer to qualify, but you will be asked to provide evidence of a long-term illness, and details about your income and savings.
You may be able to get a budgeting loan from the Social Fund to help with intermittent expenses.
You're more likely to be eligible if you receive pension credit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance or income-related employment and support allowance.
Universal Credit claimants will need to apply for a budgeting advance – these are interest free loans, but must be paid back.
Can you claim compensation if your gas or electricity is cut off due to snow?
HOUSEHOLDS who've had power cut off due to the snow could be due compensation from firms.
How much you can claim depends on how long the disruption lasts – and how severe the weather is.
According to Citizens Advice, if a power cut is caused by bad weather, you’ll be entitled to £70 compensation if you’re without power for 24 hours, with another £70 paid for each of the following 12 hours up to a maximum cap of £700.
In really bad weather, the time-limit is 48 hours before compensation kicks-in – a severe storm is defined by regulator Ofgem as causing more than 12 times the average daily number of faults.
We explain your rights in full and how payments are made in our guide.
You will need to have been receiving benefits for more than six months before applying.
The payments are designed to help with intermittent expenses which are difficult to budget for, such as the cost of installing a prepayment meter or connection charges if you move home.
Grants – to clear your arrears
You might be able to get help from your local authority through "housing renewal insurance" or through local welfare provision schemes.
Some might be able to help with heating costs or emergencies, such as a boiler breakdown.
Check to see what support your local authority provides and check whether it is a loan or a grant before you accept anything.
If there is a Home Improvement Agency, it may be able to apply to its charitable arm, the Foundations Independent Living Trust, for grants to help make your home warmer.
Some suppliers have charitable trusts or funding schemes to help when things go wrong.
Some only offer grants to their customers, while others such as British Gas have schemes that are open to anyone.
To apply you'll have to give details of your financial situation and Citizens' Advice recommends getting help from charity Charisgrants.com.
Additionally, the Energy Saving Trust website has detailed information on how to save energy at home.
If you live in Scotland, visit the Energy Saving Trust Scotland website.
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