34 ways to get help with bills before Christmas if you’re struggling financially

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BETWEEN the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the onslaught of the festive season, more of us than ever are struggling to pay the bills.

But if you’ve lost your job due to coronavirus, or are simply feeling the squeeze this year – there’s loads of schemes available that can help you make ends meet.

If you’re struggling to pay the bills there are lots of schemes available to help

From grants and loans to payments holidays and advice, we round up all the ways to cut costs and get help paying the bills before Christmas.

Help with energy bills

  • Winter Fuel Payment

The Winter Fuel Payment is a one-off, tax-free payment designed to help with the cost of heating.

You can get between £100 and £300 depending on your individual circumstances as long as you were born on or before October 5, 1954.

Most people who are eligible get it automatically, for instance if you receive the state pension.

If you meet the criteria but don’t automatically get the payment then you will need to apply here.

  • Cold Weather Payments

The cold weather payment scheme is designed to help low-income households with energy bills in winter.

From November 1 to March 31, eligible Brits get £25 for every seven day period where the weather is below 0C degrees.

You can check if your area has had a cold weather payment on the government’s tool.

You’re eligible for the cold weather payment scheme if you’re in receipt of one of the following benefits and meet certain criteria:

  • Pension credit
  • Income support
  • Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
  • Income-related employment and support allowance
  • Universal Credit
  • Support for mortgage interest

You can find out more about who qualifies for the scheme in our guide.

You don’t need to apply for the cold weather payment as it’s paid automatically.

But, if you don’t get it and think you should, contact the pension centre or Jobcentre Plus office, or call the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644.

  • Warm Home Discount Scheme

Low income households can get up to £140 towards their electricity bills thanks to the government’s warm home discount scheme.

It is usually paid directly to your energy supplier who then applies the discount to your bills.

You may be able to get the discount on your gas bill instead if your supplier provides you with both gas and electricity.

There are two ways to qualify for the Warm Home Discount Scheme:

  • If you get the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit (the ‘core group’)
  • If you’re on a low income and meet your energy supplier’s criteria for the scheme (the ‘broader group’)

If you’re in the core group you should receive a letter telling you what you need to do. If a letter hasn’t come by the end of December – call the helpline on 0800 731 0214.

If you think you’re in the broader group then you need to check with your supplier to see if you meet the criteria and how to apply.

There are plenty of government initiatives to help reduce energy bills

  • Health Through Warmth scheme

This was scheme set up in 2000 by fuel poverty charity National Energy Action and the NHS.

It aims to improve warmth, comfort and quality of life for vulnerable people who have cold-related illnesses and need help with installing heating and insulation, or making repairs to existing systems or appliances which they can’t afford themselves.

HTW is available across England and Wales to vulnerable people who meet the eligibility criteria.

You will need to fill in an online referral form here.

  • Grants to pay off energy debts

If you’re in debt to your energy supplier, you might be able to get a grant from the British Gas Energy Trust to help pay it off.

This scheme is available to anyone – you don’t have to be a customer – and you can find out more and apply here.

Several companies also offer a grant scheme for their customers including:

  • npower Energy Fund
  • Scottish Power Hardship Fund
  • Ovo Debt and energy assistance
  • E.on Energy Fund
  • EDF Energy Customer Support Fund
  • Bulb Energy Fund

The conditions of each scheme vary, so contact your energy provider to find out more.

  • Switching energy supplier

If you’re on the Standard Variable Tariff then you are probably overpaying by hundreds of pounds a year.

Switching is easy, Use a comparison site such as Money Supermarket, uSwitch or EnergyHelpline.com to see what deals are available to you.

The government has estimated that families save around £200 per year when switching from the SVT to a top market deal.

  • Reducing the amount of electricity and gas you use

Reducing your consumption is another great way to reduce costs.

Simple tricks such as switching off the lights in rooms you aren’t using, turning down the heating by one degree and using LED lightbulbs can all make a big difference.

  • Adding insulation

Insulating your home can save you thousands of pounds, and the Green Homes Grant scheme even means you can get money from the government to do it.

For instance, loft insulation can reduce energy bills by £215 per year, according to Which?. Cavity wall insulation can save you £245 every year.

Families can get vouchers worth £5,000 – or £10,000 for low-income households – to spend on energy-saving improvements in their home.

You can find out more and apply on the government website.

It’s also worth checking with your provider as many offer free insulation or schemes and funding to help you pay. Check out our guide to see who offers what.

  • Extra help from your supplier

If you are struggling due to the pandemic, most energy suppliers have schemes to help you.

Gas and electricity customers struggling to pay will be offered “realistic and sustainable repayment plan”, according to the watchdog Ofgem.

If you need help, make sure you speak to your provider to see what they can do.

  • Help for meter users

If you have a prepayment meter and you can’t top up – either because you are isolating or because you can’t afford to – your energy provider must help you.

For instance, it can let someone else top up for you, send you a pre-loaded top-up card, or increase your emergency credit limit.

Contact your supplier if you think you will need help.

Getting a water meter is one way to bring costs down

Help with water bills

  • Social tariffs

Lots of water suppliers have social tariffs designed to slash bills for customers with lower incomes.

Different companies have different eligibility criteria and rules on how much you can save.

You can see what your water company offers and how to apply here.

  • Apply for Watersure

Watersure is an independent scheme that can help low-income families by capping their water bills.

To apply for the scheme you’ll have to prove you need a lot of water, for instance if you:

  • have more than three school-age children living in the house
  • have a medical condition that means you need lots of water, such as weeping skin diseases, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

You can apply through your water company.

  • Install a water meter

Installing a water meter can help you save money and get back on track with your bills.

It also means you can cut costs by reducing the amount of water you use in the house, for instance by shortening showers by five minutes.

If you own your own home, you can apply to have a water meter installed through your supplier. If you rent you may also be able to get one, but you might need your landlord’s permission.

You can use this online calculator to work out if you will be better off.

  • Help due to the pandemic

If you’re struggling with your bills because of coronavirus, you must speak to your provider.

The type of help will vary depending on which water company you are with, but options include a payment holiday, changing your payment plan or being moved to a cheaper tariff.

  • Hardship schemes

If you owe a lot of money you might be able to get help through a hardship scheme or charitable trust.

You can contact your water supplier or visit their homepage to see what services are available.

To check who your provider is you can enter your postcode here.

Help with phone, broadband and TV bills

  • Shop around

Make sure you’re shopping around to get the best deal across your broadband, phone line and TV packages.

On average, households that switch save £69 per year according to the Money Advice Service.

Make sure you use comparison sites and you match the deal to what you actually need.

  • Discounts if you’re on benefits

Households on benefits such as Universal Credit can get access to cheaper broadband deals through BT’s social tariff.

The telecom provider’s Basic package costs £5.16 a month for home phone or £10.07 a month if you want unlimited broadband included.

You’ll need to order an application form from BT by calling 0800 800 864 – and you’ll have 14 days to return it after receiving it.

  • Help due to the pandemic

Again, any customers that have been impacted by coronavirus and can’t afford their bills must let their provider know.

All the main broadband and mobile phone companies have confirmed that they will support customers.

If you can’t pay your broadband you won’t be disconnected.

Help with your rent or mortgage

Shopping around for a mortgage deal can save you thousands

  • Housing element – universal credit

You can get help paying for your rent or mortgage if you’re eligible for Universal Credit. This is called your housing element.

Your housing payment can help you pay:

  • your rent to a private landlord
  • your rent and some service charges if you rent from a housing association or local authority
  • interest payments on your mortgage and some service charges if you or your partner own the property you live in.

How much you’ll get depends on your specific circumstances. You can find out more and how to apply here.

  • Mortgage interest help if on benefits

If you’re a homeowner, you might be able to get help towards interest payments on your mortgage or loans you’ve taken out for certain repairs and improvements to your home.

This help is called Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI). It’s paid as a loan, which you’ll need to repay with interest when you sell or transfer ownership of your home.

Those claiming Universal Credit, Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, and Pension Credit can apply.

You can’t use it for your mortgage repayments or any money you owe in arrears.

You can find out more and how to apply on the government’s website.

  • Switch mortgage supplier

If you are a homeowner, you need to check when your mortgage is up for renewal and make sure you are getting the best deal.

The Money Advice Service estimates that you can save thousands of pounds by shopping around.