Many people will be worrying about how they are going to pay, so it’s important to know about the help available to pensioners and those on benefits and low incomes.

Warm Home Discount Scheme

The Warm Home Discount Scheme is a government-backed initiative that provides those who qualify with a £135 discount on their electricity bill. You can find out more about the scheme here.

In short, eligibility depends on your age and your entitlement to the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit. If you are over 75 and receive the Guarantee Credit, you will qualify for the discount, even if you also get Savings Credit.

However, if you are under 75 and receive the Guarantee Credit, you will only be entitled to the discount if you don't qualify to receive Savings Credit.

People with pre-pay or pay-as-you-go electricity meters also receive a payment credit. It might be worth getting in touch with your electricity supplier even if you don't satisfy all the criteria, because many companies extend the discount to other vulnerable groups, such as families on low incomes with young children, or people with disabilities.

If you satisfy the criteria, you’ll normally receive the discount (which will be credited to your energy account) automatically between October and March.

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Winter Fuel Payment

The Winter Fuel Payment is money to put towards your heating bills if you were born on or before January 5th 1952, as long as you normally live in the UK throughout qualifying week, which for winter 2013-2014 was the week of 16 to 22 September 2013.

The actual amount depends on your circumstances during qualifying week, For example, if you were living alone during qualifying week, you would get £200, or £300 if you were aged over 80. But if you were living with someone over 80 who also qualified for the payment, you would receive £100.

Some people do not qualify for the payment. For example, during qualifying week if you were in prison, in hospital getting free treatment for more than 52 weeks or living in a care home for the previous 12 weeks or more and receiving certain benefits, you would not be eligible.

You should get a letter telling you how much you will get, and the likely payment date. The money is usually paid into your bank or building society account between November and December. The payment is tax-free and does not affect your entitlement to other state benefits.

People who receive the State Pension or another social security benefit such as Jobseeker’s Allowance or Incapacity Benefit, should receive the payment automatically. Housing benefit, child benefit and council tax reduction are not classed as social security benefits. So, if you meet the age criteria but receive only housing benefit, you will have to apply for the Winter Fuel Payment.

You can download a claim form from the website http://www.gov.uk/ or call the helpline on 08459 15 15 15. Claims must be sent to the Winter Fuel Payment Centre, Department for Work and Pensions, PO Box 22, Gateshead, NE92 1BX by March 31st 2014.

Cold weather payment

If the weather dips to freezing or below – and stays there for a week – you could be entitled to the Cold Weather Payment.

The money is given to people who receive certain benefits and is paid out when there is a particularly cold snap. Payments are triggered when the local temperature drops - or is forecast by the Meteorological Office to drop - to an average of zero degrees Celsius or below for seven consecutive days.

You get £25 for each seven day period of cold weather between November 1 and March 31. For example, if the temperature in your area fell below freezing for a week in December and a week in January, you would receive £50 in total. The money should arrive within 14 days of the cold spell and is paid into the same account as your other benefits.

You are eligible for Cold Weather Payments if you receive Pension Credit. People on Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance or the Income-related Employment and Support Allowance are usually entitled to the payments if they also have a child under five living at home, a child who is disabled, child tax credit that includes a disability or severe disability element, or a disability or pensioner premium.

If you are not employed or self-employed and receive Universal Credit, you will normally get Cold Weather Payments if a child under five lives with you, you get the disabled child element in your claim, or you get a limited capability for work element, with or without a work related activity element. If you have a disabled child element in your claim, you will get the Cold Weather Payments whether or not you are employed.

Cold Weather Payments are usually made automatically – and don’t affect your other benefits.

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