SNOW and freezing temperatures have swept the country and that means reaching for the thermostat.
Heating your home during a winter cold snap can increase energy bills – but there's help available if you're struggling or worried about costs.
Snow hit London today and forecasters say the big freeze could last until Wednesday.
Here are the schemes and support out there to help you cover energy costs and how to get them.
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 and March 31, 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.
The payment has already been triggered in more than 100 postcodes this winter – find out which ones here.
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 – it's paid automatically into your bank or building society account within 14 days of the cold spell ending.
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 21 and 27 2020
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.
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.
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 discount is a one-off £140 payment which is designed to help with the cost of your electricity bill through winter.
Not all energy 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.
In theory, you should be identified by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and should not have to apply for it yourself.
You'll receive a letter between October and December 2020 informing you that you're on the scheme.
You will have been asked to confirm your details by calling the helpline before February 26, 2021.
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.
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.
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 directly straight away.
The number of discounts suppliers can give out are limited and some have already closed for applications
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 and help from energy companies
If you’re in debt to your energy supplier, you might be able to get a grant from the British Gas Energy Trust to help pay it off.
This scheme is available to anyone – you don't have to be a customer – and you can find out more and apply here.
Several companies also offer a grant scheme for their customers including:
- npower Energy Fund
- Scottish Power Hardship Fund
- Ovo Debt and energy assistance
- E.on Energy Fund
- EDF Energy Customer Support Fund
- Bulb Energy Fund
The conditions of each scheme vary, so contact your energy provider to find out more.
If you are struggling due to the pandemic, most energy suppliers have schemes to help you too.
Gas and electricity customers struggling to pay will be offered "realistic and sustainable repayment plan", according to the watchdog Ofgem.
If you need help, make sure you speak to your provider to see what they can do.
If you have a prepayment meter and you can’t top up – either because you are isolating or because you can’t afford to – your energy provider must help you.
For instance, it can let someone else top up for you, send you a pre-loaded top-up card, or increase your emergency credit limit.
Contact your supplier if you think you will need help.
How to cut your bills
IF you’re struggling financially, you might be able to cut the cost of your bills to help you get out of the red.
Council tax: You can apply for a council tax reduction on the Gov.uk website but you'll need to meet certain criteria. Your bill could be cut by as much as 100 per cent if you’re on a low income or claim benefits. Carers who look after someone in the household for at least 35 hours a week are also exempt from paying.
Water: Households might be able to save money by getting a water meter but it all depends on how much you're using. To check if it's finacially worthwhile, use the Consumer Council for Water's free ater meter calculator.
Rent: If you have the space available and your landlord or local authority says it's ok to do so, you might want to consider getting a flatmate. Not only will you split the cost of the rent, but also the other bills.
Hire purchase: If you're struggling to make your repayments on your hire purchase, you can usually end the contract by returning the goods. You will have to pay all the instalments due up to the time you end the agreement but this will limit the amount you owe. Contact Citizens Advice for free for more help with this.
Gas and electricty: MoneySavingExpert says families can save £330 on average by switching from Standard Variable Tariffs (SVTs) to a better rate. Use a comparison site such as MoneySuperMarket or Energyhelpline to see what deals are available.
Mortgage: If you get into debt with your mortgage payments, don't wait for your lender to chase you. Work out what you can afford using the Citizens Advice budgeting tool so you can discuss your payment options moving forward with your mortgage provider.
Secured Loan: Your secured loan might be covered by the Consumer Credit Act and if it is, you may be able to apply for a Time Order. This is a special agreement by the courts allowing you more time to make payments. Secured loans not covered by the Consumer Credit Act include gas, electricity or water meters, payments that need to be written off in full, mortgages, credit union loans, loans from an employer and some short term trade agreements.
County Court Judgements: If you receive a County Court claim form talk to a free debt advice service straight away. This includes Citizens Advice (0808 800 9060), StepChange (0800 138 1111) and the National Debtline (0808 808 4000).
TV licence: Some households are eligible for a reduced fee or free TV Licence. Check here to see if you are entitled to a reduced or free rate.
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.
Covid winter grant scheme
The government has given more money to local authorities to help those struggling pay for bills and food because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the Covid Winter Grant Scheme, councils can use cash in a number of ways to help people cover the cost of heating their home.
You can ask your local authority directly what help is available as it depends where you live, as will the eligibility for it.
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.
Read our UK weather live blog for the very latest news and forecasts.
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