With the cold weather showing no signs of abating and forecasters warning the UK to expect the worst, many people are understandably worried about how they will heat their homes – and be able to pay for it.
However, help is at hand for vulnerable people, while other measures can help to bring down energy bills and ensure that heating the home does not cost the earth.
Cold weather payments
The latest bout of cold weather has brought many people within the remit of cold weather payments, which sees £25 automatically given to people for each seven-day period between November 1st and March 31st in which the temperature remains below zero.
Other criteria exist, with those eligible including people on Pension Credit, Income Support and income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, as well as those on income-related Employment and Support Allowance.
People are generally eligible for cold weather payments if they currently receive a severe or enhanced disability premium, child tax credits, have a child under five or one that is disabled or receive a pensioner premium.
Although this means hundreds of thousands of people are eligible, it is feared many are missing out simply by failing to register for Pension Credit – something the government acknowledges.
Pensions minister Steve Webb said: “I want to ensure the most vulnerable people know about the support that is available. With more cold weather expected in the next week people should not have to worry about turning up the heating when temperatures plummet.”
Winter fuel payments
A benefit that most of the nation’s older people receive, winter fuel payments are given to people who were born on or before 5th July 1951 as a means of tackling the cost of energy bills.
The annual tax free lump sum totals between £100 and £300, dependent on people’s circumstances.
Generally, those aged over 80 receive the higher band payment, unless they live with someone else who receives another state benefit, in which case the total is reduced.
Unlike the cold weather payments, winter fuel payments are not always paid automatically, and so people need to claim if they do not receive the State Pension, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support or Jobseeker’s Allowance, or any other major state benefit.
Information on these, how to claim winter fuel payments and the criteria of the scheme is available by downloading an application form from the Direct Gov website, or calling the Winter Fuel Payment Helpline on 0845 9 15 15 15.
Energy efficiency grants
Being proactive is often the best means of keeping the cold at bay, and this can be achieved through energy efficiency grants, which reduce the cost of installing measures such as insulation, draught-proofing and central heating.
Numerous schemes exist to help tackle the problem of fuel poverty, which exists when a household spends more than ten per cent of its income on energy efficiency.
These include Warm Front, the government’s main grant-funded programme which provides grants towards loft insulation, draught-proofing, cavity wall insulation, thermostats, central heating and even hot water tank insulation.
More information on the Warm Front scheme can be found by calling 0800 316 2805 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other options include the Energy Saving Trust – a not-for-profit company funded by the government and the private sector that provides help and advice on the range of different energy efficiency grants available.
Meanwhile, regional funds are available, including Nest, the Welsh Assembly Government’s New Fuel Poverty Scheme that offers grants to low income households, and the Scottish Executive’s Energy Assistance Package.
Each of these helps homeowners pay for energy efficiency improvements to their homes that ultimately ensure heat stays inside the house and energy bills come down.
Information on the Energy Assistance Package can be obtained by calling 0800 512 012, while details on Nest are available on 0800 512 012 free from a landline or 0300 456 2655 free from a mobile phone.