With cold weather forecast for the coming weekend, the advice to older people from all official government agencies is to ‘keep warm and keep well’.
As well as eating a healthy diet, staying as active as you can and wearing lots of layers to keep warm, the Government advises older people and those with mobility issues or longstanding health conditions to keep their homes heated to at least 18°C (65°F).
In practice this might not be as simple as it sounds, as some people struggle to pay their winter fuel bills, especially in older homes with poor insulation which “leak” a lot of their heat. However, there are various types of help available, both to cover the cost of heating your home throughout the winter months and with making your home more energy-efficient.
The Winter Fuel Payment is a tax-free benefit to help pay for heating during winter. If you were born before May 5th, 1953, and normally live in the UK, you should be eligible for a winter fuel payment. In households with someone who qualifies and who is aged up to 79, the payment is up to £200. In households with someone who qualifies and is 80 or over, it is up to £300.
The exact amount you will receive depends on your circumstances, such as your age, whether you live alone and whether you are receiving any other benefits, such as Pension Credit or income-related Employment and Support Allowance. Most payments are made over a number of weeks, beginning in November, and you should get the payment automatically if you have previously received it and you still qualify.
If you haven’t had a Winter Fuel Payment and you think you qualify for one, you can call 03459 151515 (Mon-Fri, 8am-6 pm) or visit www.gov.uk/winter-fuel-payment
In addition, Cold Weather Payments are made during periods of very cold weather to help people pay for the extra heating costs. To qualify for a Cold Weather Payment, the average temperature where you live must be recorded as (or forecast to be) 0°C or below for seven days in a row.
A Cold Weather Payment is £25 for each period of very cold weather and you may be able to get one if you are receiving Pension Credit or various other types of state benefit. For more details about Cold Weather Payments and how to claim them, contact your local Pension Centre or visit www.gov.uk/cold-weather-payment
The Warm Home Discount Scheme also helps low-income and vulnerable households to meet their energy costs. Participating companies, which include most of the big energy companies in the UK, will provide a discount of £140 on the electricity bills of qualifying customers this winter. You will qualify for the discount if you were a customer of a participating supplier and you (or your spouse’s) name was on the bill on July 12th, 2016, and if you are receiving the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit.
If you are eligible for the Warm Home Discount Scheme you should already have received a letter from the Government and should receive the discount on you bill automatically. More information about the scheme is available online at www.gov.uk/the-warm-home-discount/what-youll-get
You might also qualify for help to make your home more energy-efficient under the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), which will also reduce your energy bills. Under the scheme, the UK’s largest domestic energy suppliers are obligated to fund energy efficiency improvements in the homes of certain customers. For homeowners or people in privately rented accommodation who are in receipt of certain benefits and/or tax credits, there could be support available to repair or replace boilers and for a range of insulation improvements, such as cavity wall or loft insulation.
To find out if you are eligible, and what type of help you could get under the ECO, contact the Energy Saving Advice Service on 0300 1231234 (Mon-Fri 9am-8pm, Sat 10am-2pm) if you live in England or Wales. Those living in Scotland should call Home Energy Scotland on 0808 8082282 and in Northern Ireland visit www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/energy-wise
If you are struggling to pay your energy bills, it is always worth contacting your energy supplier in the first instance. They might be able to offer you a special tariff or payment plan. You might also be able to get a better deal by switching your energy supplier. A good place to start for free, impartial advice and information is the Ofgem website www.goenergyshopping.co.uk
For more information about all of the above, the Government has produced a leaflet called ‘Keep Warm Keep Well’, packed with information for over-60s, people living with a disability and low-income families. You can see and download or print a copy by clicking here.