Where to get help with paying your energy bills
With gas and electricity bills rocketing make sure you're claiming everything you can!
Centrica and npower's recent bumper profit announcements (after raising energy prices back in November) may have endeared them to their shareholders, but perhaps less so to their domestic customers.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
What's more, with the Chief Executive of the energy regulator Ofgem admitting we are facing a price "rollercoaster" and to expect our bills to continue to rise, the future looks pretty bleak – especially for those of us already struggling to pay.
Help is available, but finding out what we're eligible for can be a minefield.
Take a look at some of the grants and subsidies you (or your friends/family members) should be claiming.
Winter Fuel Payment – £100-£300
If you were born before 5th July 1951 and claim the State Pension, you should have automatically received a Winter Fuel Payment of between £100-£300.
If you don't claim the State Pension and believe you qualify, you can put in a claim by filling out this form if you reside in the UK, and this form if you live/are planning to live in the EEA (Economic European Area) or Switzerland.
Those eligible can even claim for past winters (1998-1999, 2000-2001).
But you'll need to be quick – claims must be in by 31st March 2013.
Cold Weather Payment – £25 per week
An extra payment will be paid out if your local temperature is recorded or forecast to be an average of zero degrees Celsius, or below, for seven consecutive days. To be eligible, you usually have to be receiving some form of means-tested benefit such as Pension Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance, usually related to age and/or disability. You can see if you're eligible on the GOV.UK website.
Eligible claimants are entitled to £25 for every seven-day period of very cold weather between 1st November and 31st March. You don't need to claim this, you should automatically be sent it.
Warm Home Discount Scheme – £130 off your electricity bill
This lesser-known scheme automatically provides eligible applicants claiming Pension Credit with £130 off their electricity bills.
You only need to be claiming the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit if you're under 80 (over-80s can be claiming Savings Credit, too) and your energy supplier needs to be listed here.
Eligible claimants should have received a letter telling them about the scheme already (but if you haven't, call their helpline on 0845 603 9439).
The scheme is currently closed to new applicants for this year but will reopen in the summer.
ECO (Energy Company Obligation) – free insulation and boiler replacement
British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, npower, Scottish Power and SSE, collectively known as the 'Big Six' energy companies, supply gas and electricity to over 50 million homes and businesses in the UK.
The Government has given them an obligation to supply low income and vulnerable households with heating and insulation improvements, and insulation measures to those living in the bottom 15% of the UK's most deprived areas.
Here are the links to pages explaining what four of the companies are offering as part of ECO and how to get in touch with them:
They must also provide funding to insulate solid-walled properties and those with 'hard to treat' cavity walls (which can be done in conjunction with the Green Deal and isn't means tested).
Additionally, individual companies tend to offer energy-saving measures to all of their customers from time to time, so it is well worth giving your supplier a call to see what you're entitled to.
Other energy company schemes
Two companies, EDF and E.On, are also providing dedicated customer support to vulnerable households and struggling to pay their bills. You can find out more about EDF's Priority Services and E.On's CaringEnergy scheme at their respective websites.
Other grants and benefits
Ask about the grants and benefits available to you by calling the Energy Saving Trust, on 0300 123 1234 or Nothern Ireland's Warm Homes Scheme on 0800 988 0559. And if you're really struggling to pay those bills, call the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 336699.
Customers in Scotland and Wales who are struggling to pay their bills may find they have more financial help available. Contact the Energy Saving Trust Scotland on 0800 512 012, or the Welsh government's fuel poverty scheme Nest on 0808 808 2244
Finally, reduce your bills by following these energy saving tips around the home and find out if switching supplier could save you money.