LATEST COLUMN IN THE EVENING POST
By Steve Webb MP
Now that Winter has well-and-truly arrived in the West, many people on a tight budget will be thinking about the cost of keeping their homes warm, especially following the price rises recently announced by the big energy companies. It is therefore vital that everyone knows what help is available both to pay their bills this winter and to make their home more energy efficient for future winters.
There are three main sources of cash support for people with their fuel bills. One is the Winter Fuel Payment, paid in most cases at £200 per household for the under 80s and £300 per household for those aged 80 or over. These payments are generally made without the need for a claim and almost everyone entitled should get their money by Christmas.
The second source of cash support applies when the temperature drops below freezing. For most of our area, the temperature is measured at the Filton weather station and a £25 payment is made to those on a low income if the temperature is below zero for seven consecutive days. Payments are made automatically to low income pensioners on pension credit and also to households on a low-income benefit who have a pre-school age child or are getting additions for disability. There is no need for a separate claim.
A third form of cash support is the Warm Home Discount scheme. Certain pensioners who receive pension credit (the exact rules depend on age) will find a credit on their electricity bill of £130 this Winter. The scheme will help nearly a million pensioners this winter and is being gradually expanded year-by-year. Again, no separate claim is necessary.
As well as getting cash help now, the best long-term solution for high fuel bills is making sure that homes are as energy efficient as possible. The energy companies have a range of schemes to help lower income households with home insulation measures, and it is always worth talking to your supplier to see what is available. It is also always worth shopping around between energy suppliers to make sure that you are getting the best price possible as many people have made significant savings by switching supplier.
Paying for energy efficiency measures can be costly, even though the savings on bills can be considerable, and that is why the Government has just introduced a new scheme called the ‘Green Deal’. Under this scheme, householders are effectively lent money up front to pay for things like loft insulation and the repayments come out of the energy bill savings that result. The householder doesn’t have to find the cash up front which can remove a big barrier to getting work done.
Fuel bills are an understandable worry for many households, but I am determined to make sure that people get all the help to which they are entitled, especially to make sure that their homes are made properly energy-efficient.