National Energy Action is championing Fuel Poverty Awareness Day, on 11 February 2011, and it aims to raise public awareness of households who spend a significant proportion of their income on keeping warm. It is all very well talking about fuel poverty, and getting people to understand the harm it can cause, but what can you do directly to help? Let's look at it from the perspective of somebody struggling to keep warm.
Help with fuel bills
Clearly the main discriminant in the fuel poverty trap is how - and how often - you buy your fuel. Is it a regular monthly payment (such as a direct debit for gas), or is it an occasional large payment (such as refilling an oil tank)? Budgeting loans
are available for the situation where large bills come along at irregular intervals, so this is an ideal option to consider if you get your fuel off-grid (heating oil, coal, etc). Crisis loans
are available to anyone with an immediate short-term need or crisis, and can include shortfalls with fuel bills - gas, oil or whatever.
If you are on a gas supply then your supplier is obligated to assist you when you tell them that you are struggling to find the money. Your heating oil or coal supplier is under no such obligation, and you may well find that your only option is a budgeting loan or crisis loan. On-grid energy suppliers on the other hand offer special payment plans to help those in debt, often with on favourable repayment terms. The worst thing you can do is to keep quiet about your problems; make sure your energy supplier knows that you are struggling, and that goes for off-grid suppliers too!
All of these hardship requests are handled by the Department for Work and Pensions. You can go to your local Jobcentre Plus office, or find an online Jobcentre Plus contact.
You may also find yourself in fuel poverty because of an antiquated - and highly inefficient - boiler. You may be able to get a Community care grant
to cover the cost of a replacement, but bear in mind that the point of the grant is to ease exceptional pressure on families, or to enable someone to stay/resettle in the community.
Ask your local energy advice centre (call 0800 512012 or see the Energy Savings Trust for more details) about grants for insulating your home. Improved insulation - including double glazing, wall insulation and loft insultation, plus pipe lagging - is the best way to get fuel bills down, and the sooner you do it the better. You may be able to recover most or all of the costs, depending on your circumstances. However, note that Warm Front - the scheme in England/Wales - is closed at present and will only re-open in April 2011 and with new eligibility criteria and less funding.
You may be eligible for a Winter Fuel Payment
or even a Cold Weather Payment
. All over-60's can claim the winter fuel payment, as a single payment each year, to help with costs of keeping warm over winter; call 08459 151515 to check if you qualify. Eligible households are able to claim the cold weather payment, provided that exceptionally cold weather has occurred (or may occur); payments should happen automatically through the benefits system.
To read more about National Energy Action and fuel poverty day, visit their news item: Fuel Poverty Awareness Day 2011.
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