SLIDING temperatures are sign that the winter months are drawing in and many of us will be reaching for the thermostats.
And with severe weather warnings issued for tomorrow, keeping warm and dry is a priority.
But rising fuel bills are part of the reason that 2.53million households in the UK are trapped in fuel poverty, according to the End Fuel Poverty Coalition.
That means more than one in 10 households in the UK are forced below the poverty line by expensive energy bills.
But if you're worried you won't be able to afford to keep your house warm this winter – don't panic.
There are plenty of sources of support available. Here are the main ways you can get help:
Winter fuel payments – get up to £300
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 April 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 16 to 22, 2019 – this is called the "qualifying week".
How much you get will depend on your circumstances.
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 cold weather payment scheme for 2019-20 starts on November 1, 2019 and ends on March 31, 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.
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.
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.
You will also need to confirm your details by calling the helpline before February 28, 2020.
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 installments.
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.
If you think you're eligible but haven't received a letter – phone the warm home discount scheme helpline on 0800 731 0214 to check.
Do this as soon as possible, as the DWP may be unable 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.
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.
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 and EDF 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.
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