Stacking coins

The end of British Summer Time signals the start of the winter season.

For those living in older and draughtier homes, your fingers have probably already been hovering over the on switch for the heating.

Well, the good news is that energy prices are cheaper this winter compared to last year thanks to the Energy Price Cap being lowered.

There are also ways to get extra financial support if you need it, and some of these have increased too.

Here are some of the annual schemes offering help to those struggling with their energy bill.

Warm Home Discount Scheme

A number of energy suppliers operate a Warm Home Discount Scheme where you can get a one-off discount applied to your electricity bill between October and March.

For the 2023/2024 winter season, this is £150.

If you use the same energy supplier for your gas and electricity, you might be able to get the discount applied to your gas bill instead – you’ll need to check this with your supplier.

To be eligible for the discount, you must get either the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit or are on a low income and meet your energy supplier’s criteria for the scheme on 13 August 2023.

Unlike previous years, this discount is now automatically applied for most of the UK, which means you won’t usually have to apply for it.

The only exception is if you’re on a low income and live in Scotland, in which case you will have to contact your energy supplier to apply.

You should get a letter stating your eligibility by early January 2024.

But if you don’t get the letter and think you are eligible, you have to get in touch with the Warm Home Discount Scheme by 29 February 2024, by calling 0800 030 9322. 

Winter Fuel Payment

Those who were born on or before 25 September 1957 and live in the UK should automatically get help with heating bills as part of a scheme known as Winter Fuel Payment.

It’s an annual one-off payment made in November or December for those who have reached the State Pension age.

For the 2023/2024 winter season, the amount you get is between £250 and £600 – this depends on your circumstances, such as whether you’re living alone.

The figure also includes between £150 and £300 of Pensioner Cost of Living Payment, which is an additional amount applied due to the cost of living crisis.

There are also certain circumstances where you can apply for it even if you live outside the UK, assuming you fit the other eligibility criteria.

If you think you’re eligible but haven’t received a letter by the end of November, you can apply by calling the Winter Fuel Payment Centre on 0800 731 0160.

Cold Weather Payment

When there’s persistent cold weather, the government gives out a Cold Weather Payment.

For the 2023/2024 winter season, this doesn’t start until 1 November 2023.

After that, and until 31 March 2024, you get £25 for every seven days when the average temperature in your area is recorded as, or forecasted to be, 0C or below over seven consecutive days. 

Those who receive pension credit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, Universal Credit or support for mortgage interest are generally eligible to receive the payments.

It should be automatically applied to your usual payments, and there’s no need to make a separate application.

The rules are slightly different for Scotland, where you’ll get a one-off £50 Winter Heating Payment regardless of the weather conditions.

Tax relief and expenses

Whether you’re an employee or are self-employed, you can offset some of the costs of working from home.

If you’re an employee, things have changed since the last tax year so it’s worth checking if the allowances still apply to you.

Now you can only claim relief for working from home if your job requires you to live far away from your office or if your employer does not have an office.

You can claim £6 a week without having to keep any receipts – it’s a flat rate whether you’ve only worked a day at home or are home all week. Or if you have receipts covering your exact additional costs, you can claim these instead.

For those who are self employed, how much you can claim will depend on how much time you spend working at home.

The flat rate, which must be claimed as an expense, ranges from £10 to £26 a month.

Local council support

Local councils sometimes have support schemes that are separate from the national government ones.

These might include discount vouchers, or items to help you stay warm or save electricity.

Last year for example some councils handed out electric blankets, slow cookers and air fryers.

Help from your energy supplier

If you’re struggling to pay your bills, it’s worth speaking to your energy supplier first.

They may be able to restructure your payments to make it more affordable per month – although do double check whether this increases what you’re paying overall.

They could also check whether you’re on the best tariff available. Economy 7 tariffs may work out cheaper for example, if you use most of your energy at night.

Some suppliers, such as Shell Energy* also have charitable funds that are used to help those in need.