What help can I get paying fuel bills this winter?

Last updated: 13 January 2022   By Samantha Smith

Energy bills are naturally higher during the winter months, but there is help available for the poorest households.

Three official schemes can help the elderly, vulnerable and those in fuel poverty, although they don't cover everyone.

Some energy providers have grant schemes, mostly available to their own customers, and there may be local assistance through councils or community foundations.

Plus, there are actions energy customers can take to lower their bills such as monitoring their energy usage or getting a smart meter installed.

old lady smiling with bill

Government schemes

There are three Government schemes designed to help customers struggling to heat their homes during the colder months:

  • Winter Fuel Payment
  • Cold Weather Payment
  • Warm Home Discount Scheme

Eligibility is different for each of these schemes, so we'll look at each in turn below.

Before we start, though, it's worth highlighting that vulnerable customers may also benefit from being on the Priority Services Register (PSR).

The PSR ensures customers receive support from their energy company when they need it and, while it isn't a grant or funding source, it's an important resource to be aware of.

Winter Fuel Payment

The Winter Fuel Payment is a payment for people born on or before 26 September 1955. For people born on or before 26 September 1941, the payment is higher.

Most people who are eligible will automatically receive a letter explaining how much they will receive, and it should be paid by 14 January 2022.

If a customer believes they are eligible but haven't received notification of the payment, they should contact the Winter Fuel Payment Centre on 0800 731 0160.

However, it's important to note there is some qualifying criteria that might mean a household isn't eligible - we cover that below.

People who qualify but aren't currently receiving a benefit (or are only receiving Housing Benefit, Council Tax Reduction, Child Benefit or Universal Credit) will need to make a claim directly - find out more about claiming here.

There are four different eligibility levels for the Winter Fuel Payment, and all are subject to qualifying criteria:

Category Born between 27 September 1941 and 26 September 1955 Born on or before 26 September 1941
You live alone (or none of the people you live with qualify) £200 £300
You live with someone under 80 who also qualifies £100 £200
You qualify and live with someone 80 or over who also qualifies £100 £150
You live in a care home and do not get certain benefits £100 £150

There may be different rates if a person or their partner is in receipt of one of the following benefits:

  • Pension Credit
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Income Support

In those circumstances, the payment would be:

Category Born between 27 September 1941 and 26 September 1955 Born on or before 26 September 1941
You get one of the benefits listed and live alone £200 £300
You live with someone who also gets one of the benefits £200 - only one of you will receive the payment £300 - only one of you will receive the payment
You live in a care home and get one of the benefits Nil Nil

To qualify for the payment, a person must have lived in the UK for at least one day during the qualifying week of 20 to 26 September 2021.

People who meet one of the following criteria may also qualify:

  • Live in Switzerland or a country in the European Economic Area (EEA) except Cyprus, France, Gibraltar, Greece, Malta, Portugal or Spain
  • Have a genuine and sufficient link to UK such as having lived/worked here or having family here

There are some circumstances where people won't qualify. A person will not be eligible if they:

  • Are in hospital getting free treatment for more than a year
  • Need permission to enter the UK and their granted leave states that no public funds can be claimed
  • Were in prison for the whole of the qualifying week
  • Lived in a care home for the whole period between 28 June to 26 September and received Pension Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance

Although the qualifying and eligibility criteria can seem complex, most people over 66 in the UK will receive some level of Winter Fuel Payment to help with energy bills.

For all the frequent discussions about means-testing this benefit, it remains universal at the moment.

Cold Weather Payment

The Cold Weather Payment scheme runs between 1 November and 31 March each year and pays money to low-income households when the temperatures drop.

Eligible people will receive £25 for each consecutive 7-day period of very cold weather, classed as zero degrees Celsius or below.

However, the eligibility criteria for this one is even more complicated than the Winter Fuel Payment. Here are the eligible benefits alongside the qualifying criteria:

Benefit Eligibility criteria
Pension Credit Usually all people on Pension Credit are eligible for Cold Weather Payments
Income Support If a person has any of the following:
- A disability or pensioner premium
- A disabled child
- Child Tax Credit including a disability or severe disability element
- A child under 5 living with them
Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) If a person has any of the following:
- A disability or pensioner premium
- A disabled child
- Child Tax Credit including a disability or severe disability element
- A child under 5 living with them
Income-based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) If a person has any of the following:
- A severe or enhanced disability premium
- A pensioner premium
- A disabled child
- Child Tax Credit including a disability or severe disability element
- A child under 5 living with them
Universal Credit Cold Weather Payments are usually received if a person is not employed or self-employment and meets one of the following:
- They have a health condition or disability and have limited capacity for work
- They have a child under 5 living with them
Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) Usually all people who receive SMI are eligible for Cold Weather Payments

Usually, Cold Weather Payments are issued automatically, and people do not have to claim them.

Customers are advised to contact the Pension Service or Jobcentre Plus if they think they should have received a Cold Weather Payment. Universal Credit recipients can also make a note on their online account.

If a child under 5 has recently moved into the household or you've had a baby, Jobcentre Plus will need to be informed and this will ensure Cold Weather Payments are automatically paid.

Cold Weather Payments aren't something to rely on as they are dependent on the weather, but those who are eligible will receive a small financial boost when the temperature drops below zero for a week or more.

Warm Home Discount Scheme

The Warm Home Discount Scheme is slightly different to the others mentioned above as it is a one-off discount applied to a customer's electricity bill.

For 2021 to 2022, the Warm Home Discount is worth £140 and there are two ways to qualify:

  • If you receive the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit (core group)
  • If you're on a low income and meet your energy supplier's criteria (broader group)

In the core group, customers must have an energy supplier who is part of the scheme (see below) and their name or their partner's must be on the bill.

Those who qualify should receive a letter from their energy supplier telling them how to obtain the discount between October and December 2021.

The discount will then be applied to their electricity bill no later than 31 March 2022.

There's a Warm Home Discount helpline for members of the core group who think they're eligible but haven't received a letter: 0800 731 0214.

Customers in the broader group (i.e. those on low incomes) are reliant on their electricity supplier deciding which customers to offer the discount to - and suppliers only have a limited number of discounts annually.

So, contact your energy supplier directly as soon as possible if you think the Warm Homes Discount applies to you.

All energy suppliers with more than 150,000 customers are obliged to offer the discount, although some only offer it to the core group.

Participating suppliers include:

  • British Gas
  • EDF
  • E.ON
  • OVO Energy
  • Scottish Power
  • Octopus Energy
  • Bulb Energy
  • Shell Energy
  • Utilita
  • Utility Warehouse

If your supplier isn't listed here, check their website for the Warm Home Discount (sometimes referred to as the WHD) to see if they offer it.

Note: customers applying for the Warm Home Discount with a specific energy supplier will have to stay with that supplier until the discount is completed or apply afresh with their new supplier (who may have different rules on eligibility).

Energy grants

Along with Government schemes to help low-earners and the vulnerable, energy grants may also be able to help if customers are struggling to pay their bills and are in energy debt.

The only company open to applications from customers of all energy providers is British Gas Energy Trust, although their criteria is focused on a member of the household suffering from a severe health or life-changing condition along with income ceilings.

It may help some customers, but many won't be able to access it.

There are some suppliers with their own grant schemes. These are the current active ones:

  • E.ON Energy Fund
  • E.ON Next Energy Fund
  • OVO Energy Fund
  • Scottish Power Hardship Fund
  • EDF Energy Customer Support Fund
  • Bulb Energy Fund

As you might have noticed, these are all larger energy suppliers compelled to support customers in hardship. Grants are only available to their own customers and the criteria varies from scheme to scheme.

We've got more information on grants to help energy debt customers here.

Local fuel poverty schemes

Some councils and local community foundations offer fuel poverty schemes in their areas during the winter months.

It's worth contacting your local council to see if they offer any of this type of support or whether they can signpost services that might be able to help.

Ways to reduce energy bills

While some households will be eligible for the schemes we've discussed above, the reality for many is that there is little support currently available to help with the rocketing price of energy in the UK.

However, there are some options to consider to try and keep bills as low as possible.

Switch energy provider

The first piece of advice we usually give energy customers is to compare deals and switch energy supplier if there's a better deal available.

At the time of writing, though, the ongoing energy crisis has meant that many customers are already on the best deals available, even if they are on a standard variable tariff (SVT) or default tariff.

Comparison between energy deals should become more useful again in the future as the energy market stabilises.

When it does, we'd recommend reading about the Energy Switch Guarantee (ESG) and energy switching compensation designed to protect customers from errors during their switches.

There are different rules and processes if your energy supplier collapses and customers are advised not to switch under those circumstances.

Work out where your money is going

Reducing our bills is one obvious way of saving money during the winter, but nobody should skimp on the essentials like heating and cooking.

So, figuring out where energy is used in our homes can help us discover the little devices that sap our money and switch them off.

We've got a guide on the best energy monitors to help you find those energy-sapping devices. This is fairly cheap investment that could pay for itself fairly quickly.

Ask for a smart meter installation

According to data from ElectraLink, 17 million smart meters had been installed in homes as of December 2021 and it's still the Government's ambition to have them installed in at least 95% of homes.

Customers can request an installation from most energy suppliers, although the queues can be lengthy and installation dates may be some time in the future rather than quickly enough to help you manage your energy this winter.

Nevertheless, they could be useful for next year.

Read about the pros and cons of smart meters.

Insulate your home

Government schemes can sometimes help customers insulate their homes to ensure less energy is lost through the walls and roofs.

The current incarnation of this is ECO3, and it's designed to help those living in poorly insulated homes to improve them.

Read more about ECO3 and other insulation options.

Conclusion: focus on energy efficiency

Many people simply won't be eligible for the Government schemes designed to help vulnerable people with their energy costs during cold weather, and grant schemes are often targeted at those most likely to slip through the safety net.

This can leave some customers frustrated and worried about how to pay their bills.

If debt issues are an immediate problem, seek help before things get worse.

Taking steps now to lower bills and improve the energy efficiency of your home may help you save on bills over the winter and beyond. Our full guide to energy efficiency improvements may help.

How much could you save on your energy bill?

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