Winter is almost here and with it the likelihood for cold days and nights. While recent winters have been mild, the Met Office contingency forecast for the first half of winter 2016/17 has indicated that colder conditions are more likely than during the previous three. If you are old, infirm or on a low income, then heating your home and staying warm through the colder months can be both challenging and dispiriting. But there are some government schemes designed to help you cut your winter fuel costs. And even if these are not as generous as you might like, every little helps as they say.

winter fuel costs

How you can get help with winter fuel costs

  1. Budgeting loans

If you are in receipt of pension credit, the income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income support of the Employment and Support Allowance, then you may be eligible for a Budgeting Loan from the Social Fund. People who are in receipt of Universal Credit can apply for a Budgeting Advance.

If you’ve been receiving one of these benefits for six months or more, then you can apply for a Budgeting Loan. This is an interest free loan to help with intermittent expenses, like winter fuel costs, which are difficult to plan for. The loan has to be paid back and you can apply for it at your local Jobcentre Plus. An alternative is a payday loan, but this is more costly and needs to be repaid much more quickly.

  1. Cold Weather Payments

This year’s Cold Weather Payment Scheme started on November 1 and will run through until next spring. Payments are made automatically to those who are signed up when the average temperature in a particular area has been or is expected to be 0 degrees centigrade or below for seven consecutive days.

You are eligible to apply for Cold Winter Payments to help with your winter fuel costs if you are in receipt of:

  • Pension Credit
  • Income Support and income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance if you have a disability or pensioner premium or have a child who is disabled, Child Tax Credits including a disability or severe disability element, or have a child under five who lives with you
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if you get this through a work-related or support component, a severe or enhanced disability premium or a pensioner premium, have a disabled child living with you, receive Child Tax Credits or have a child under the age of five living with you
  • Universal Credit if you get a limited capability for work element, you get the disabled child element or have a child under five living with you
  1. Winter Fuel Payments

These are single, annual payments of between £100 and £300 paid to pensioner households and are not dependent upon the temperature falling below a certain figure.

These are paid to women if they were at or over the minimum state pension age between September 19 and 25 this year. If you were born before May 5, 1953 and live in the UK throughout the qualifying week then you will receive the payment. It is not means tested and the payment is not taxable.

There are some categories of pensioners who are not eligible for the payment:

  • Care home residents receiving Pension Credit, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or the income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • People in hospital who have received free treatment for more than 52 weeks
  • People subject to immigration control
  • Prisoners

The amount that you will receive will vary depending on your circumstances. You should automatically be eligible for the payment and will receive a letter telling you when you should get it: payments are made directly into bank or building society accounts before Christmas. Most people will have received their payment by the middle of December.

  1. The Warm Home Discount

The Warm Home Discount is a single, one-off payment of £140 which is applied to eligible customers’ electricity bills to help pay for energy over the winter. It is sometimes applied to gas bills for people who are dual fuel customers.

Not all electricity companies participate in this scheme so bear this in mind if you are thinking of changing supplier.

Those eligible fall into two groups:

  • The core croup – people whose supplier is part of the scheme, have their name or that of their partner on the bill and are in receipt of the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit.
  • The broader group – These are people who are in receipt of income-related Employment and Support Allowance with a pensioner premium and whose supplier participants in the scheme. Contact your electricity company to find out if you are eligible.

There may also be grants available, from Government or third parities, to help you improve the energy efficiency of your home – and the benefit of this, of course, is that you’ll get lower energy costs every year thereafter.

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