Winter Fuel Payment
Energy bills can be a huge burden, especially for older people relying on limited retirement income.
Average energy costs are typically around £1,000 a year, but help is available if you're over the age of 60 and qualify for the Winter Fuel Payment.
The Winter Fuel scheme was set up to help elderly people pay their heating bills, and is worth between £100 and £300 every year.
Who qualifies for the Winter Fuel Payment?
If you were born on or before July 5, 1952, then you will be eligible for the Winter Fuel Payment for the winter of 2014-15. This date changes every year, so even though you might not be eligible this year, you may qualify next year.
To be claim the Winter Fuel Payment you must be living in the UK throughout the week of September 15-21, 2014.
There are some exceptions.
You won't be eligible for the Winter Fuel Payment if you are in hospital throughout the week of September 15-21 and you've been receiving free treatment there for more than 52 weeks previously. And you cannot claim if you were in custody or subject to immigration control during the qualifying week in September.
If you're a resident of a care home and have lived there for the previous 12 weeks or more and you claim Pension Credit, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance, you also won't qualify.
What if I live abroad?
You can still claim the Winter Fuel Payment if you receive a State Pension and you live in another EEA country or Switzerland.
Under new rules which come into effect from 2015, the Winter Fuel Payment will be scrapped for expats who live in countries where the average winter temperature is higher than the warmest part of the UK. This is 5.6 degrees centigrade in South-West England.
As a result, expats in Spain, France, Greece, Portugal, Cyprus and Gibraltar will no longer receive the Winter Fuel Payment.
If you are making a claim for the Winter Fuel Payment from abroad, send it to:
Winter Fuel Payment Centre
Mail Handling Site A
How much is the Winter Fuel Payment?
How much Winter Fuel Payment you receive depends on your individual circumstances during the September 15-21 qualifying week.
For example, if you live on your own, or you are the only person in the household who qualifies, you'll receive £200, or £300 if you were 80 or over in the qualifying week.
If you live with another person who qualifies, the payments are usually shared, so you'll each get £100, or £150 if you're aged 80 or over, making the combined total for the household £200 or £300, depending on your ages.
Payments are tax-free, so they won't have any impact on any other benefits you might be claiming.
For full details of the payments, visit https://www.gov.uk/winter-fuel-payment/what-youll-get.
When will I receive the money?
You should receive your payment between November and December, but you should receive a letter giving you an estimated payment date and the exact amount you'll get before that.
The money is usually paid directly into your bank account, but you can ask for a cheque if you prefer.
Do I have to claim the Winter Fuel Payment?
If you already receive one of the following benefits, you don't have to make a claim as the Winter Fuel Payment should be made automatically. These include the State Pension. Pension Credit, Income Support, Incapacity Benefit or Widow's Benefit.
If you don't receive any of these benefits, but still qualify for the Winter Fuel Payment, then you'll need to submit a claim.
You can download a form to claim a Winter Fuel Payment for the winter 2014-15 from www.gov.uk. You should send this to:
Winter Fuel Payment Centre
Mail Handling Site A
Alternatively, you can ask for a claim form to be sent to you if you call the Winter Fuel Payment Helpline on 08459 151515.
Is there a deadline for claims?
The deadline for claims for 2014-15 is March 31, 2015, but you should try and submit your claim long before then so that your payment is in place in time for winter.
If you make your claim form before September 23, then you should receive your payment before Christmas. If you submit it after Christmas, then your claim will be paid in 2015.
Once you have made a claim, you do not need to apply again the following year - unless you've had a change in circumstances, such as a house move.
Can I claim for past winters?
It is possible to claim for past payments for the winters of 1997-98 to 1999-2000, as long as you were aged 60 or over in the qualifying week for those years. You can't make a late claim for winters from 2000-1 onwards.
Is there any other help with heating costs?
When the weather is particularly cold - zero degrees Celsius or below for seven consecutive days - the government makes cold weather payments to people on certain income-related benefits.
You'll receive £25 for each seven day period of very cold weather. The 2014 to 2015 Cold Weather Payment scheme begins on November 2014 and ends on March 31, 2015.
There is no need to apply for a cold weather payment, it will be sent out automatically if the conditions are met.
Are there any other ways to bring down my heating bills?
You could save up to £180 on your annual energy bill simply by switching your supplier - and it's quick and easy to compare tariffs from using MoneySuperMarket's free independent comparison service.
*51% consumers, MoneySuperMarket data, December 2014