Cold weather combined with the fact many of us are working from home mean that this year’s heating bills could end up burning a bigger hole in our pockets than usual.
According to research by comparison site comparethemarket.com, many households could reach end of the year owing an additional £294 to their energy supplier because of increased consumption. It says nearly a third (31%) us will ration their heating during the coming months to combat rising household bills.
If you’re struggling to pay your energy bills, check whether you might be eligible for help. Here’s our rundown of some of the support that’s available, and ways you can reduce costs if you don’t qualify for them.
Winter fuel allowance
If you were born on or before 5 October 1954 you could get a ‘Winter Fuel Payment’ of between £100 and £300 to help you cover your heating costs. You should be sent this automatically if you receive the State Pension or another social security payment. If you think you’re eligible but haven’t received it, you can fill in an Email enquiry form or telephone 0800 731 0160 for help.
Cold Weather payment
If you’re claiming certain benefits, such as Pension Credit, Universal Credit, Income Support, Income-based Jobseekers Allowance or Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, you might be eligible for a Cold Weather payment. These are payable during periods of freezing weather, and if you qualify you can claim £25 for each seven-day period of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March. To count as ‘very cold weather’ the average temperature in your area must be recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees centigrade or below for seven consecutive days. Cold Weather payments should be paid automatically, but if you think you should have received a payment and haven’t, you’ll need to get in touch with your local Jobcentre Plus Office who’ll be able to check your eligibility.
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Warm Home Discount
The Warm Home Discount is supposed to alleviate fuel poverty by providing low-income households with a £140 discount on their energy bills.
Elderly people on low incomes who receive the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit receive the discount automatically, but those on income support or other benefits must apply to their energy supplier. As there is a fixed amount available, those who apply first are likely to be successful, but many could miss out.
Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at Uswitch.com, said: “Many vulnerable people will have missed out on the Warm Home Discount this year, just because they applied later than the 1.2m people who were quicker to join the queue back in the summer.
“We now estimate that about 2.3m households have fallen through the net this year, and this number is only likely to grow as the economic consequences of the pandemic leave an increasing number of people in fuel poverty.”
Check your tariff
If you’re not eligible for support with your energy bills, you can still keep costs to a minimum but making sure you’re on the best possible energy tariff. According to energy regulator Ofgem, more than half of UK households have never switched energy suppliers or have only switched once, which means they’re on more expensive ‘default’ and ‘standard variable’ tariffs and could be paying hundreds of pounds more a year than they need to.
Stephen Murray, energy expert at MoneySuperMarket, said: “With many households’ finances under increasing pressure, ensuring you’re paying the lowest rate for your energy is a simple step you can take to reduce your bills.”
If you’re struggling to pay
New research from Citizens Advice shows that 2.1m households are behind on their energy bills, 600,000 more than in February. The charity’s research found that a quarter of all energy customers – equivalent to up to seven million households - worry they won’t be able to pay their bill this winter.
If you’re finding it difficult to cover your energy costs, don’t suffer in silence. Let your energy provider know as soon as possible that you can’t pay as they might be able to arrange a payment holiday, or to reduce your payments temporarily.
Tom Lyon, director of energy at energyhelpline.com said: “It’s vital that energy suppliers and Ofgem do all they can to support consumers who are struggling to pay spiralling energy bills. Customers who are worried should ensure they switch to the cheapest tariff and contact their supplier about ways they can help.”