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Advice Column – Help with Heating Costs

I live in a rented house with inadequate insulation. I have received heating grants in the past, but my energy supplier had told me I am no longer eligible. My landlord has promised to do something about it, but has done nothing for getting on for two years. I have health problems, and really need the house to be warm, but because it is so expensive to heat, I have now got into arrears with my electricity bills.

If you’re struggling to afford your energy bills, you might be able to take advantage of certain benefits, grants and help offered by the government and energy suppliers, such as the Winter Fuel Payment; Cold Weather payments; and the Warm Home Discount Scheme.

The Winter Fuel Payment is an annual one-off payment to help you pay for heating during the winter. You could get between £100 and £300 tax-free to help pay your heating bills. Anyone born on or before 5 January 1953 can get it, if you live in the UK. Most payments are made automatically between November and December each year. You should get a Winter Fuel Payment automatically if you get the State Pension or another social security benefit (excluding Housing Benefit, Council Tax Reduction, Child Benefit or Universal Credit). If you qualify but don’t get paid automatically, you’ll need to make a claim. Any money you get won’t affect your other benefits.

Cold Weather Payments are one-off payments to help you pay for extra heating costs when it’s very cold. You’ll get a payment each time the temperature drops below a specific temperature for a set period of time. You’ll only be eligible if you already get one of: Pension Credit; Income Support; Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance; Income-related Employment and Support Allowance; or Universal Credit.

You might be able to get £140 off your electricity bill under the Warm Home Discount. Check with your supplier to see if they offer the Warm Home Discount, as not all suppliers are part of the scheme. You may be eligible through either the ‘core’ or ‘broader’ group. If you are eligible for the core group you will be automatically identified. You will get a letter from the Government to confirm this and will get the rebate by the end of March of the relevant year. In a few cases, you may get a letter asking you to confirm your eligibility. If you want to get the rebate you should provide your supplier with the requested information. Suppliers themselves set the eligibility criteria for the broader group, so the criteria may vary between suppliers. In the first instance you should contact your supplier to determine if you meet their specific eligibility rules. If you apply and are accepted to the broader group by your supplier you will get the rebate at the end of March of the relevant year. Suppliers can offer the discount to other vulnerable people, such as those on a low income, and can also help customers in other ways, for instance by providing energy advice or offering debt relief.

If you are a prepayment customer, suppliers will have arrangements in place for you to receive the rebate. You will get a letter from your supplier detailing that the rebate has been received as part of the Warm Home Discount. If you don’t qualify for either of these groups you should ask your supplier what other help may be available to you. They may provide other support outside of the scheme.

If you’re in debt to your energy supplier, you might be able to get a grant from a charitable trust to help pay it off. The following energy companies offer grants and schemes that are open to anyone, you don’t have to be a customer: British Gas Energy Trust; EDF Energy Trust; and EOn Energy Fund.

There are also companies which offer grants specifically for their customers: NPower Energy Fund; Scottish Power Hardship Fund; Ovo Energy Fund; SSE (Southern Electric) Priority Assistance Fund.

The organisation Auriga Services has a list of grants and schemes from energy and also water companies across the UK.

When you apply for a grant, you’ll have to provide detailed information about your financial situation in your application. It could take a while to complete. Before you apply, charitable trusts like you to show that you have received debt advice. Debt advice can help you manage your debts and increase your chances of making a successful application. You can get help with all of this from an adviser at Citizens Advice.

If you’re a pensioner, disabled, or sick, you might also be able to get extra help and support from your energy supplier through their Priority Services Register. The Priority Services Register (PSR) is a free service provided by suppliers and network operators to customers in need. Each energy supplier and network operator maintains its own register. You simply need to contact your energy supplier. You can find their contact details on your energy bill. You can ask your supplier to pass your details on to your network operator, especially if you are dependent on your supply for medical reasons.

You can receive the services available if you: are of pensionable age; are disabled or chronically sick; have a long-term medical condition; have a hearing or visual impairment or additional communication needs; or are in a vulnerable situation. A wide range of circumstances could be deemed vulnerable situations when determining PSR eligibility. Examples include: customers with certain mental health conditions which impact on them understanding their bill; customers who cannot top up their pre-payment meter due to injury; temporary circumstances where a customer needs extra support for a limited amount of time.

They would be able to help you with things like: reading your energy meter; moving your energy meter free of charge; getting your bills sent or copied to someone else, eg a carer. If you’re trying to cut your spending, or are having problems with your outgoings, you could get help with bills.

If you live with a child aged under five, network operators also offer priority services relevant to your needs.

If you have a different supplier for your gas and electricity, you need to contact them both to register for their PSR. Also, if you switch supplier, you’ll need to register for the service again with your n new supplier.

If you have arrears or need help to access any of these schemes, you can contact Citizens Advice Carlisle and Eden (CACE). CACE can also help you to switch your energy supplier – call 03300 563037 for an appointment.