How to get help paying your energy bills this winter – and save £1,000

BRITS who are worried about their bills rising as the temperatures drop could get up to £1,000 in savings when they sign up to different schemes.

The government has a variety of measures in place to help people with their bills during winter time.

One is the winter fuel payment scheme, where over 65s can get between £100 and £300 to offset the cost of keeping their homes warm.

There are various other schemes available, and we’ve rounded them up here.

Talk to your supplier

In the first instance, if you find yourself worried about paying for your bills, ring up your gas and electric supplier, or suppliers if you have two different companies, and ask them for advice.

It’s better to do this before you run out of money or your bills start stacking up as failed payments from a direct debit account could affect your credit score, or repeated missed payments could lead you to having a visit from the bailiffs.

Winter fuel payments – get up to £300

The Winter Fuel Payment is an annual tax-free benefit to help with heating costs.

Most people who are eligible for it get it automatically, for instance if you receive the state pension or other social security benefits (not Housing Benefit, Council Tax Reduction, Child Benefit or Universal Credit).

If you meet the criteria but don't automatically get the payment then you will need to apply.

The deadline for claiming payments for winter 2020 to 2021 is 31 March 2021.

People qualify for a winter fuel payment if both of the following apply:

  • you were born on or before 5 October 1954
  • you lived in the UK for at least one day during the week of 21 to 27 September 2020 – this is called the "qualifying week"

If you did not live in the UK during the qualifying week, you might still get the payment if both the following apply:

  • you live in Switzerland or a EEA country
  • you have a genuine and sufficient link with the UK social security system, such as having lived or worked in the UK and having a family in the UK

But there are exclusions – you can’t get the payment if you live in Cyprus, France, Gibraltar, Greece, Malta, Portugal or Spain.

This is because the average winter temperature is higher than the warmest region of the UK.

You will not qualify if you:

  • are in hospital getting free treatment for more than a year
  • need permission to enter the UK and your granted leave states that you can not claim public funds
  • were in prison for the whole week between 21 to 27 September 2020
  • lived in a care home for the whole time between 29 June to 27 September 2020, and got Pension Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance

Eligible pensioners can receive annual one-off winter fuel payments from the government of between £100 and £300.

To qualify, you need to have been born on or before October 5, 1954 – the dates change every year.

You also need to have lived in the UK for at least one day during the week of September 21 to 27, 2020- this is called the "qualifying week".

How much you get will depend on your circumstances. They are listed below here:

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 winter fuel payments are made automatically, usually in November or December, and you'll be sent a letter telling you how much you'll get and when exactly you can expect it.

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.

Cold weather payments – get £25 a week

When the temperature drops below zero in your area, you could be entitled to £25 a week in cold weather payments.

The temperature will have to stay that low for seven consecutive days before the payment is handed out.

The scheme will start this year on November 1, 2020. You’ll be able to check then if your area is due a payment in November 2020.

You must receive one of a list of specific 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.

Payments should automatically be made into your bank or building society account within 14 days of the cold spell being over.

Warm home discount scheme – get £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. 

It’s not paid to you, instead it’s a discount  it’s a one-off discount on your bill for between September and March.

The 2020 to 2021 scheme will open on October 12 2020.

You may be able to get the discount on your gas bill instead if your supplier provides you with both gas and electricity. 

The best thing to do is contact your supplier and find out.

Not all suppliers participate in the scheme, and even though more providers are being brought into the scheme between 2019 and 2021, you should bear this in mind if you're considering switching.

There are two sets of people who are eligible.

The core group 

If you receive the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit, then you are in the “core group”.

You’ll then qualify for the discount if, from July 5, 2020 your energy supplier is part of the scheme and your name, or your partner’s, is on the bill.

You’ll receive a letter between October and December 2020 telling you how to get the discount if you qualify.

Your letter will say if you need to call a helpline by 26 February 2021 to confirm your details.

Your electricity supplier will apply the discount to your bill by 31 March 2021.

If you think you're eligible but haven't received a letter – phone the warm home discount scheme helpline, from October 12, on 0800 731 0214 to check.

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.

The criteria for this group is:

  • your energy supplier is part of the scheme
  • you’re on a low income
  • you get certain means-tested benefits

To get the discount you’ll need to stay with your supplier until it’s paid.

If you think you meet the broader criteria, you should contact your supplier straight away as the discounts they give are sometimes limited.

Your electricity supplier will apply the discount to your bill by March 31 2021.

Budgeting loans – Get up to £812

The government says you may be eligible for a Budgeting Loan if you’ve been on certain benefits for six months.

To get a Budgeting Loan you must have been getting one or more of these benefits for the past six months:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit

You cannot get a Budgeting Loan if:

  • you are currently claiming Universal Credit. Instead, you should apply for a Budgeting Advance instead
  • you’re involved in industrial action (so a strike)
  • you owe more than £1,500 in total for Crisis Loans and Budgeting Loans

You only have to pay back the amount you borrow, and repayments are taken automatically from your benefits.

Budgeting loans can help pay for a variety of things, including furniture or household items, rent in advance and funeral costs.

But they can also be used for maintenance, improvements or security for your home.

This means that intermittent expenses, such as the cost of installing a prepayment meter or connection charges if you move home, can help be covered.

Payments were temporarily stopped during the coronavirus outbreak, however they have since restarted again.

The lowest amount you can borrow is £100. You could get up to:

  • £348 if you’re single
  • £464 if you have a partner
  • £812 if you or your partner claim Child Benefit

How much you could get depends on whether you:

  • Can pay the loan back
  • Have savings of more than £1,000 (£2,000 if you or your partner are 63 or over)
  • Are paying back an existing Budgeting Loan or Crisis Loan

What to do if you can’t pay your bills

FALLING behind on your energy bills can be extremely stressful.

If you’re struggling to pay what you owe, contact your supplier as soon as possible.

Your provider has to help you come up with a solution, and you should be able to negotiate a deal that works for you both.

One option is to agree a payment plan where you pay off your debts in affordable instalments.

You may be able to pay off your debts directly from your benefits through the Fuel Direct Scheme.

A fixed amount will automatically be taken to cover what you owe plus your usage.

To be eligible, you must be getting one of the following benefits:

  • Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
  • Income support
  • income-related employment and support allowance
  • Pension credit
  • Universal Credit (but only if you’re not working)

If you cannot come to an agreement with your supplier, they may try to force you to get a prepayment meter installed.

In very rare cases, where you refuse to negotiate, your supplier might threaten you with disconnection.

Grants to clear your arrears

There are some suppliers who have charitable trusts that help you pay off any arrears you might have.

British Gas Energy Trust runs a scheme where anyone can apply for a grant, you don’t have to be a customer.

Other places that offer them, just to their customers, include:

  • npower Energy Fund
  • Scottish Power Hardship Fund
  • Ovo Debt and energy assistance
  • E.on Energy Fund
  • EDF Energy Customer Support Fund
  • Bulb Energy Fund

You’ll need to get some debt advice before you apply for a grant as that will make your application more successful.

Charities like Citizens Advice will be able to help you with this.

If you’re having difficulties filling in the application, can help guide you through it.

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

You can save up to £196 by switching suppliers as 67 energy tariffs are cheaper than new Ofgem price cap.

Homeowners are also being give £5,000 in energy saving vouchers to help them insulate their homes – and you can apply now.

Here's how claim back up to £63 in tax on energy bills if you’ve been working from home.

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