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Fuel poverty – What you can do to get help
With winter fast approaching and severe cold weather predicted, are you worrying about how you’ll pay your energy bills? The continuing rise in energy prices is putting more of us than ever under pressure, and if fuel poverty is becoming a very real problem for you then now is the time to act. We’ll show you where you can go to get help and how to cut the cost of heating your home.
- Get a grant of up to £3,500 to heat your home this winter
- Get a one off payment from the government to help you with your bills
- Get help from your energy provider
- Bring down your own bills
- Useful helplines
6.4 million UK homes already experience fuel poverty, and rising prices could push a further 1.9 million homes over the edge. That will mean that nearly one third of UK households will be facing fuel poverty – where more than 10% of household income is spent on energy bills.
Don’t despair however – there is help out there for you, and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about getting it.
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Combat energy inefficiency
One of the main causes of fuel poverty is the low energy efficiency of homes. The more energy you waste, the more you’re needlessly paying for. And it’s inefficiency that new government plans aim to tackle in an attempt to beat fuel poverty.
This does mean that their help may not be the cash handouts many hoped for, but whether you’re facing fuel poverty or just big bills, you should take advantage of what’s on offer.
This is a government-funded scheme that offers grants for work to increase the energy efficiency of your home. They offer everything from energy efficient light bulbs to insulation and central heating.
There are various criteria you need to fulfill in order to qualify for a grant. The Affordable Warmth scheme is available only in England, but similar schemes exist for the rest of the UK (Scotland – Energy Efficiency Programmes, Wales – Energy Efficiency Schemes, N. Ireland – Warm Homes).
- Community energy-saving programme
This is a new service that will be provided by local councils, voluntary organisations and energy companies. They will target some of the most deprived areas of the UK, carrying out house-to-house calls to offer help. It is funded by energy firms, including electricity generating companies.
New legislation will make them come up with £910m to pay for the schemes. Again, you will need to call the government helpline on 0800 512 012 to find out if you are eligible for this scheme.
- Warm home discount scheme
For winter 2013 to 2014, you could get a £135 discount on your electricity bill through the Warm Home Discount Scheme. Click here to see if you qualify for the discount. Some suppliers can offer the discount to vulnerable people (eg those on a low income) and the discount won’t affect your Cold Weather Payment or Winter Fuel Payment. Click here to find out more about the Warm Home Discount Scheme.
Remember, there is help out there. Even if one agency can’t help, there are lots of other places you can try. Keep asking!
Increasing the energy efficiency of your home is a good long term solution to your fuel bills. But lots of people need help short-term. So the government also offers some more direct assistance in the form of two annual lump sum payments – the Winter Fuel Payment and the Cold Weather Payment.
- Winter Fuel Payment
If you’re over 60 and normally live in the UK then you may be entitled to Winter Fuel Payments from the government. Depending on your specific circumstances you’ll be entitled to anything from £100 to £300, and if you qualify you should be paid automatically between November and December 2011. For more information, and to find out if you are eligible see the Pension Service website or Directgov.
- Cold Weather Payment
This is a one-off payment of £25 made if the temperature is recorded, or predicted to be, an avergage of 0°C for seven consecutive days during the period between 1 November 2011 and 31 March 2012. You may qualify if you receive Pension credit, income support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance. If you qualify you should receive your payment automatically, but if you don’t, you can contact your nearest pension centre or your Jobcentre Plus. More information about eligibility is available at Directgov.
Of course, the government isn’t the only place you can get help. Most energy companies also run their own schemes to help people who may not be eligible for government grants.
- E.ON Caring Energy Fund
The E.ON CaringEnergy fund offers payments to E.ON customers financial help with, or to cover entirely, the costs of insulation, repairing or installing heating systems and even the cost of household appliances. To qualify, you need to be receiving means-tested benefits or have a household income of less than £16,190, plus savings of less than £8,000. You can call 0800 051 1480 to request an application form and have a look at all the information on the E.ON website.
- British Gas Energy Trust
Customers of British Gas and Scottish Gas can receive help with their gas and electricity costs as well as other household debts from the British Gas Energy Trust. The trust generally receives a huge amount of requests so we recommend getting a move on with your application! However, if you apply now but your application is not successful, you can make another one in six months. Any money awarded will be paid directly to your energy provider – or if you’re after help with other bills you’ll get a cheque made out to the appropriate company. Have a look at the Grants to Individuals section of the Trust website for loads more information and to make an application.
- EDF Energy Trust Fund
If you’re an EDF energy customer and are having trouble paying your bills, you could receive a grant to help with gas, electricity and other household debts. In the same way as the British Gas Trust, successful applicants can expect a payment for gas or electricity to be made directly to EDF. Submit your application online here.
- Scottish Power Energy People Trust
This trust is for non-for-profit organisations and groups to apply for funding to support projects or schemes which help people who’s lives are affected by fuel poverty. You can find out about this trust and whether you, or your scheme, qualify by ringing 0141 568 2000. Alternatively, you can submit an online application here.
You can also reduce your costs just by changing the way in which you pay your bills. Discounts are often available if you pay your bill by direct debit rather than by cheque, since this enables the provider to save money on administration fees.
You can save even more if you take your own meter readings and enter these online. Instead of being sent your bill in the post, you’ll just get an email! Even if you currently have a pre-payment meter there are still ways you can make your bills cheaper – have a look at our article here for more information.
If you don’t qualify for grants from the government or your energy provider, paying to upgrade your insulation yourself will still save you money in the long run. Here are some examples of improvements you can make and how much they’ll save you:
|Improvement||Initial Cost||Fuel bill Saving per Year||Time to pay off initial cost|
|Loft Insulation||£290||£200||< 2 years|
|Floor Insulation||£100||£45||> 2 years|
|Energy Efficient Light Bulbs||£15||£15||1 year|
|Hot Water Insulation||£10||£20||< 1 year|
|Draught Stripping||£45||£20||> 2 years|
|Cavity-wall Insulation||£260||£130||2 years|
Figures from Nationwide
If you’re confident with DIY, things like insulating your loft, your hot water pipes and hot water tank are pretty easy jobs to do yourself – and better still they’re pretty cheap. Find out how to go about DIY insulation here.
There are also lots of things you can do to reduce your energy bill without any initial investment – just a little effort!
- Keeping your freezer full will make it more efficient – you can fill it with bread and empty tupperware.
- Switch off TVs and stereos as they can still use up to 60% as much power on standby as they do when turned on.
- Keep your thermostat between 18 and 21°C – turning it down by 1°C can cut your bills by 10%.
- Have your hot water cylinder thermostat no higher than 60°C.
For loads more ideas about how to save energy in your home have a look at our article – Heating: easy ways to cut your bills.
Government helpline – 0800 512 012
Home Heat helpline – 0800 33 66 99
Energywatch helpline – 08459 06 07 08