Now we have the prospect of sustained cold weather, which brings the very real prospect of discomfort and distress for some householders.
Many people dread the winter months because they simply cannot afford to keep warm, especially with the rising cost of energy bills. But if the weather dips to freezing or below - and stays there for a week - you could be entitled to what's known as a Cold Weather Payment.
The money is given to people who receive certain benefits and is paid out when there is a particularly vicious 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.
How much you get
The Cold Weather Payment is not a fortune: you get £25 for each seven day period of extremely cold weather between November 1 and March 31. But it's certainly worth having, as it can ease the financial anxiety caused by having the heating for longer than normal.
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.
Who is entitled to the payments?
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.
You don't have to worry about complicated applications forms as Cold Weather Payments are usually made automatically - and they don't affect your other benefits. If you think you are entitled to the payment but don't receive the money you should contact your pension centre or Jobcentre Plus office.
You should also inform the relevant office if you go into hospital for any length of time as it could affect your payments.
Winter Fuel Payment
The Cold Weather Payment is not the same as the Winter Fuel Payment - and you might be entitled to both. The Winter Fuel Payment is not linked to the temperature and is paid every year to those who are eligible, primarily pensioners on low incomes.
* Up to 10% can save at least £244.64, MoneySupermarket data based on sales. June 2013