Winter Fuel Payment
The average energy bill is now more than £1,000 a year - and that's a high price to pay to keep warm. If you are worried about heating your home this winter, it's worth finding out if you qualify for the Winter Fuel Payment.
The scheme was set up to help elderly people pay towards the cost of fuel bills and could be as much as £300.
Who qualifies for the Winter Fuel Payment?
To qualify for the payment in the winter of 2012-13, you must over 60. Or, to be more precise, your birth date must be on or before July 5 1951. You must also normally live in the UK, though in some circumstances you can receive the payment if you have moved abroad. Looking ahead, you will be eligible for the Winter Fuel Payment in 2013-14 if you were born on or before 5 January 1952, or 5 July 1952 for 2014-15.
There are some exceptions. You will not be entitled to the Winter Fuel Payment if you are in hospital throughout the week of 17-23 September and 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.
Residents of a care home, an independent hospital or Ilford Park Polish Resettlement Home who have been living there for the previous 12 weeks or more - and who claim Pension Credit, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance - are also exempt.
How much is the Winter Fuel Payment?
The Winter Fuel Payment is tax-free and is not means tested, so it doesn't matter whether you are working or claiming benefits. However, the amount you receive varies according to your personal circumstances.
For example, if you live alone or you are the only person in the household who qualifies, the payment last year was £200, or £300 if you were 80 or over on or before 25 September 2011.
If you live with another person who qualifies, the payments are usually shared, so the combined total for the household is either £200 or £300, depending on your ages.
For full details of the payments, visit www.direct.gov.uk.
The government has not yet announced the payments for 2012, but they are expected to be broadly similar.
When will I receive the money?
The payments are made between November and December, but you should receive a letter with more details nearer the time.
The money is usually paid directly into your bank account, but you can request a cheque if you prefer.
Do I have to claim the Winter Fuel Payment?
You don't have to claim the Winter Fuel Payment if you receive the State Pension or at least one of a number of other benefits, including Pension Credit, Income Support, Incapacity Benefit or Widow's Benefit during the week of 17-23 September 2012.
The money will simply be paid automatically. It also does not affect your entitlement to any means-tested state support.
If you qualify for the Winter Fuel payment but you do not receive any of the relevant benefits, you will have to put in a claim. You can submit an online application at www.direct.gov.uk or you can download the form and send the completed paperwork to:
Winter Fuel Payment Team
Department for Work and Pensions
PO Box 10142
If you don't have access to the internet, call the Winter Fuel Payment Helpline on 08459 151515.
Is there a deadline for claims?
The deadline for claims for 2012 is the end of March 2013, but you should sort out the paperwork as soon as possible. If the Department for Work and Pensions receives the form on or before 21 September, you should get paid before Christmas. Any later, and the payment will arrive next year.
Once you have made a claim, you do not need to apply again the following year - unless your circumstances change. So, you would need to contact the payments office if you move house, go to live in a care home, or change your bank account.
What if I emigrate?
If you move abroad, you might still be eligible for the Winter Fuel Payment - but only if you already qualified before you left the UK and if you move to either Switzerland or a country in the so-called European Economic Area.
If for example, you moved to an EEA country when you were 58 and so did not qualify for the payment, you will not be entitled to claim the Winter Fuel Payment when you reach 60.
The International Pension Centre handles all payments outside the UK. The address is:
International Pension Centre
Newcastle Upon Tyne
Can I claim for past winters?
It is possible to claim for past payments, as long as you were eligible at the time. However, you can only claim for the winters of 1997-98 to 1999-2000. A time limit was then introduced, so no late claims are permitted from 2000-1 onwards.
You can download the relevant documents from the direct.gov website and send the completed forms to:
Winter Fuel Payment Centre
Department for Work and Pensions
PO Box 22
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.
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 £200 on your annual energy bill simply by switching your supplier - and it's quick and easy to compare tariffs from the country's leading energy firms using MoneySupermarket's free independent comparison service.