Struggling to pay bills: Claim pension credit to qualify for the next £324 cost-of-living payment and unlock further support
Elderly people on low incomes are being urged to claim pension credit to qualify for the next £324 cost-of-living payment – amid fears some are too afraid of higher bills to turn on their heating.
Age UK says it is important to get an application in by 18 December at the latest, so that if it is successful the claim can be backdated by three months and make them eligible for the extra Government payout.
The recent backlog of pension credit claims shouldn’t put people off, says the charity, which will help people ringing its free advice line (0800 169 6565) to get all the support they are entitled to with bills.
It has revealed some of the comments received from elderly callers, who say they are only using the heating for an hour each day, or ‘it’s so cold you can see my breath in the house when I speak’ – see below.
Temperatures are plummeting and severe weather, including snow, is forecast in the UK in the next few days.
To people worried about turning the heating on, Gareth Kloet, energy spokesperson for comparison website Go.Compare, says: ‘The message I want to get across is that you must think about your personal safety.
‘Cold is a killer. You need to stay warm enough to ensure you are good health.’
Scroll down to read Kloet’s tips for elderly and vulnerable people concerned about heating costs.
What help is available if you are struggling with bills?
If you are elderly and not well off, pension credit tops up weekly income to a minimum of £182.60 for single people and £278.70 for couples.
Like the state pension, it will be hiked by 10.1 per cent next April.
Age UK says getting in an application by Sunday 18 December at the latest means that if it is accepted you will qualify for an extra £324 cost-of-living payment for the elderly from the Government.
Pension credit also opens to door to a lot of additional support, including a one-off £150 from the Warm Home Discount Scheme to help pay energy bills, a further cold weather payment of £25 if the average temperature is zero degrees or below for a week straight, and other household bill reductions.
The charity says that despite the benefits, an estimated 770,000 eligible pensioner housholds are missing out.
A Government drive earlier this year to sign them up has resulted in a backlog of claims. But Age UK says even if your payment is delayed, the date of the initial claim is important.
Are you elderly and anxious about bills?
Age UK is urging older people to call its free national advice line on 0800 169 65 65.
Its staff will check you are receiving everything you are entitled to, including pension credit and attendance allowance.
Find out more here about pension credit, or call Age UK which will help.
You can apply yourself by phone, online or by post, or a friend or family member can do this on behalf of an elderly person.
You can call 0800 99 1234, claim pension credit online here, or find out how to apply by post here.
Age UK adds that energy providers have a duty to offer support if people are struggling with bills or debt, and you can ask about an affordable repayment plan.
‘It is concerning to hear about pension credit delays which mean that low-income pensioners could be waiting to receive much needed extra money just when they are worrying about rising bills,’ says charity director Caroline Abrahams.
‘However, this shouldn’t put people off putting in a claim now.
‘Clearly, more needs to be done to put money back into the pockets of those struggling to meet the rapid rise in cost of living, and we urge the Department for Work and Pensions to take all the necessary steps needed to get through any backlog and speed up the application process.
‘The DWP must intensify its efforts to reach those affected and ensure everyone receives their correct entitlement as soon as possible.
‘A successful claim – worth an average of £1,900 a year per household in addition to the cost of living payment – could be life-changing, giving people the confidence to eat well and keep their heating on over the coming months.’
A DWP spokesperson says: ‘We want to ensure pensioners receive all the support to which they are entitled, which could include an extra £324 cost of living payment for those who apply for pension credit by 18 December.
‘With the success of our recent pension credit campaign helping drive the volume of claims being submitted to an all-time high, additional resources are being deployed to ensure we deal with the increase as quickly as possible.
‘Successful claims and arrears will be paid accordingly to ensure those who are entitled do not miss out.’
Meanwhile, Age UK also urges people who pay for their electricity by pre-payment meter to check they have either received a credit on it or a voucher.
Under its Energy Bills Support Scheme, the Government has promised £400 over six months for all households, and most people will have it credited to electricity accounts directly.
However, those on a pre-payment meter – generally people on the lowest incomes and paying higher tariffs – will either receive it on their meter each month, or get a voucher that they must redeem within three months.
Age UK says that Government figures show 41 per cent of the two million customers sent a voucher have still not redeemed it, and if you think you should have one then contact your energy supplier urgently.
The charity says older people finding it hard to keep up with energy payments can also speak to their local council about getting extra help through the Household Support Fund.
What do pensioners say about heating bills?
Age UK has spoken to older people about their experiences trying to stay warm this winter, and highlights their concerns.
Carol: ‘Not putting heating on unless really cold. I’m having a hip replacement op in three weeks and worried about keeping warm with not being as mobile.’
There are so many things that add to the cost of existing. I wish I could say living, but we don’t, we simply exist now
Kim: ‘I have cut back on showering/bathing to twice a week. Half my radiators are turned off. I am going to bed very early with my electric blanket on.’
Anon: ‘We are already only using the heating for one hour each day while we get washed and dressed. The extra help for energy costs is very much appreciated but it doesn’t cover the rise in price from a year ago.
‘We have to find the balance from somewhere, and there isn’t much room to manoeuvre. Eat less, minimum or no heating are the options.
‘Failing health costs more as well. There are so many things that add to the cost of existing. I wish I could say living, but we don’t, we simply exist now.’
Anon: ‘I am worried about putting the heating on. I’m 74 and have just lost my husband. It’s so cold you can see my breath in the house when I speak. The cost of living is crippling us.’
Worried about heating costs? Five tips from an energy expert
Gareth Kloet of Go.Compare offers the following advice for elderly and vulnerable people.
1. Call your energy supplier: Tell them about your circumstances, and ask to go on the Priority Services Register.
If there are pre-planned power cuts, you will be warned in advance and taken to a safe place if necessary, for example if you are on dialysis. If there is an unplanned cut, getting your energy restored will be prioritised.
Getting on the register might also be important if there are blackouts or rationing due to energy shortages this winter.
2. Prioritise your safety: You must keep warm and there are efficient ways to do this, like occupying a smaller space in your home so you don’t have to heat it all.
At a minimum you need a warm place to sleep, and to keep the place where you live most of your time warm. You can also use a microwave to cook, boil a half-full not a full kettle, and take other energy saving measures. Read a This is Money guide to energy saving here, and Age UK has advice here.
Prevent your pipes from freezing: Water freezes at zero degrees, and expands and can burst or crack pipes
3. Contact your supplier: If you are concerned you won’t be able to pay your bill, contact your energy supplier in advance and tell them.
You want to avoid the debt recovery route, and if necessary get on a debt repayment plan, where for example you might be able to pay off arrears from the winter while your bills are lower in the summer.
4. Prevent your pipes from freezing: Water freezes at zero degrees, so at that temperature or below inside your home your pipes could freeze. Frozen water expands and can burst or crack pipes, which you might only discover when the water in them thaws again.
You should insulate pipes, including for example in the loft space of older houses, and keep your home heated to at least a minimum temperature above freezing.
Your thermostat might allow you to set a minimum temperature of 5 degrees, but that is very cold and it should really be 10-15 degrees minimum, or 18 degrees if possible.
5. Beware carbon monoxide: Get your boiler serviced, buy a carbon monoxide detector, and do not block necessary ventilation in an attempt to keep the cold out.
A symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning is lips turning blue, which is also a symptom of being cold.