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Winter is fast approaching and it’s time to turn up the thermostat. Freezing temperatures and snow in the coming weeks, along with flu and cold season, make it necessary to keep you and your family warm.

However, when the cold weather is combined with rising energy prices, it can be difficult for people to pay their bills. According to the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, as many as 3.66 million households in the UK are having a difficult time paying their energy bills. About one in five households are being forced below the poverty line just to pay their energy bills. Some families are forced to do without other things just to pay for the heat.

However, there are supports put in place and sources you can turn to if you’re having a hard time paying your energy bills.

 

Grants, Schemes and Discounts for Help with Energy Bills

There are some grants, schemes and discounts you can access if you need help paying your energy bill.

Warm Home Discount

This scheme offers £140 for a discount on your electricity bill during the winter. Here is how you qualify:

  • Have a low income and meet your supplier’s criteria for the scheme known as the ‘broader group’
  • Receive the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit known as the ‘core group,’ and are named on the bill
  • Receive the guarantee element of pension credit
  • Your energy supply must have been part of the scheme on July 7, 2019.

Core Group: This is a one-off discount on your electric bill between the months of September and March. The money is not paid directly to you but will be applied to your bill.

It’s also possible to get the discount applied to your gas bill instead, if your energy supplier provides both gas and electricity. Be sure to contact your supplier to find out.

One more note—this discount will not affect your Cold Weather Payment or Winter Fuel Payment.

Not all energy suppliers participate in the scheme, so if you’re thinking about switching, be sure to see if the supplier you’re switching to is a participant in this plan.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should identify that you’re eligible for this scheme, so you may not have to apply. In this case, you will receive a letter sometime between October and December 2019 informing you that you’re a part of the scheme. You’ll need to confirm your details by calling the helpline before February 28, 2020.

If you haven’t received a letter, but believe you’re eligible for the discount, then don’t hesitate to call the Warm Home Discount scheme helpline at 0800 731 0214 to see if you can be on the scheme.

Broader Group: even if you don’t fit the ‘core group’ qualifications, you may still be eligible for this discount under your energy supplier’s “broader group rules.” Keep in mind that each supplier has their own rules, so you’ll have to see if your supplier’s rules apply to you or not.

Standard criteria may include if you have a low income and if you receive certain benefits such as income-related employment or support allowance.

Budgeting Loans

Budgeting loans are available to help with intermittent expenses, including energy bills. You may be eligible if you receive pension credit, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income support or income-related employment and support allowance.

These loans are provided to help with expenses—those that are difficult to budget for, such as the cost of connecting service to your home when you move or the cost of installing a prepayment meter.

To be qualified for this program, you’ll need to have been receiving benefits for more than six months before applying.

Universal Credit claimants can also take advantage of this program. All you have to do is apply for a budgeting advance. This is an interest free loan, which you’ll have to pay back.

Grants

Grants are another possible way to receive help for your energy bills this winter. Your local authority may be able to help you through the “housing renewal insurance” scheme or the local welfare provisions scheme. Grants can help with things such as heating costs or issues such as your boiler breaking down.

All you have to do is see what schemes your local authority provides. Be sure to check if the scheme is a loan or a grant before you apply.

Another place you might be able to get help is through the Home Improve Agency. They might be able to help you obtain a grant from their charitable branch, which is the Foundation Independent Living Trust.

Don’t hesitate to check with your energy supplier to see if they offer any form of charitable assistance. Some have charitable trusts or other schemes to help when you need it. While some suppliers only offer this type of aide to their own customers, some suppliers have assistance that’s open to anyone, such as British Gas.

 

Payment Plans from Energy Suppliers

Another option to consider are payments plans from your energy supplier. You can check to see if your supplier uses the Fuel Direct scheme, where energy payments are made directly from state benefits. Under this program, payments are taken directly from benefits you receive. To qualify for this scheme, you have to be receiving one of these benefits:

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

If you’re not able to come to an agreement with the energy supplier, they may threaten to disconnect service. So, it’s a good idea to contact your energy provider as soon as possible and show them you want to work with them to find a payment solution that works for you both.

Another issue to check is inaccurate or erratic billing from your energy company. This is another way people fall behind on their energy bills. For this reason, it’s a good idea to review your bills each month. If you have a bill that seems unusually high, then be sure to contact your energy supplier as soon as possible to see what’s going on.

It can also be helpful to try to do what you can to reduce the amount of energy you use each month. This can be difficult when it’s cold, but you may be able to save money and lower your bill at the same time.

Be proactive when it comes to your energy bills, rather than waiting for the energy company to contact you.

 

Winter Fuel Payment

When temperatures drop below zero for seven days in a row, between November and March, there’s a scheme called the Winter Fuel Payment that can help you pay your energy bills. You can receive a one-off discount between £100 and £300 if you meet the eligibility requirements.

You’re eligible for the payment if you receive one of these benefits and fit the qualifications:

  • Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
  • Income-related employment and support allowance
  • Universal credit
  • Support for mortgage interest
  • Pension credit
  • Income support
  • Have lived in the UK at least one day during the week of September 16 to 22, 2019 (called the qualifying week)

Here are some additional requirements you may need to meet, depending on your circumstances:

  • Have a child under 5 living with you
  • Have a severe or enhanced disability premium
  • Receive the child tax credit, which includes a disability or sever disability element
  • Have a disabled child
  • Receive a disability or pension premium

If you receive Universal Credit and are not employed or are self-employed, you must also have one of the following to receive to apply:

  • A health condition or disability and have limited capability for work
  • You have a child under 5 living with you

 

 

Health Through Warmth Scheme

Set up back in 2000, this scheme works with the National Energy Action and the NHS. The goal is to help improved the comfort, warmth and quality of life for those who are vulnerable to the cold due to illness. The scheme helps to install heating and insultation, making repairs to systems already installed or to appliances, all for people who can’t afford these expenses on their own. The scheme can even help if you have any debts that are piling up.

The Health Through Warmth Scheme is available in England and Wales to people who qualify.

To apply, you can fill out an online form here, on the Npower website. You don’t have to be a customer of Npower, and you’ll be required to provide evidence of your illness, along with income and savings details.

 

Additional Aid

Don’t despair if you don’t qualify for the schemes listed here. You can also find help from these additional sources:

On these pages, you’ll find some of the same schemes we’ve listed, but you’ll also find some other advice and guidance on how to seek help for your energy bills.

 

What to Do if You’re Already Behind on Your Energy Bills

Struggling with energy bills is a huge stress, especially when it’s getting cold outside. If you’re falling behind on your energy bills, it’s best to contact your energy supplier as soon as possible. They should work with you to establish a payment plan that helps you pay off your debt, with payments you can afford.

Stop debt from building up and take measures to find help and deal with it now, rather than later. If you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out and seek assistance to keep you and your family warm during the winter months.

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