Snow and ice has begun to blanket the UK in recent days, as storm warnings have been issued and the Met Office confirms temperatures may plummet to near freezing levels. An ongoing energy supply crisis is set to make this situation more difficult but fortunately, help may be available through Universal Credit.
Universal Credit is designed to cover essential costs for struggling Britons. This means claimants will be issued with a standard allowance along with extra payments for childcare and rent.
However, additional support may be available to those who need help with their energy bills. Claimants will be able to have some of their bills paid directly out of their benefit payment if they’re having some difficulties.
These are known as third party deductions and can also be applied to income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support and Pension Credit.
To apply for this additional support, claimants will need to contact the Jobcentre Plus and provide the details of who they owe and how much, their reference number for the bills and their National Insurance number.
The Government will then arrange for some of their benefits to be paid directly each month to the person or company owed.
It should be noted Universal Credit payments will face deductions until the bills are paid off. Payments will face deductions of five percent for gas, electricity and water bills.
On top of this support, Universal Credit claimants may be able to benefit from Cold Weather Payments, the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) Affordable Warmth scheme and the WaterSure scheme, which caps bills for those with water meters.
Where claimants are unfortunate enough to face emergency costs, Budgeting Advances may be available. Budgeting Advances are loans which can help claimants cover emergency household costs such as replacing a broken cooker.
How much a person gets from a Budgeting Advance will depend on what’s needed. The smallest amount a person could borrow is £100 but single claimants can get up to £348, while those in couples can get £464 while those with children may be paid £812.
These advances must eventually be paid back to the state and future Universal Credit payments will face deductions until the debt is repaid.
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Energy price hikes
The cost of winter will be on many people’s minds at the moment. Indeed, eachnight.com recently examined Google search data which showed searches for “can’t pay bills” jumped over 1300 percent in the UK on November 24, two days after energy provider Bulb went bust.
Eachnight.com also confirmed searches for “electric bill help” spiked 2,400 percent and searches for cheaper heating alternatives including “electric heater” saw a spike of 112 percent in recent days.
Britons are understandably concerned given that household gas bills rose by 28.1 percent and electricity bills 18.8 percent in the year to October, according to the ONS.
A spokesperson for Eachnight.com commented on the findings: “Gas and electricity bills are skyrocketing to unprecedented levels in the UK due to soaring wholesale prices across the globe. Since Bulb went bust this week, yet another two energy suppliers have crashed out of the market, unable to cope with rising market costs.
“The jump in searches for ‘can’t pay bills’ and ‘electric bill help’ are a sign of just how much rising wholesale prices are affecting consumers, who are being charged more by their suppliers to cope with the higher costs.
“Grants and schemes do exist to help people on a low income or Universal Credit with their energy bills, such as Cold Weather Payments and the Warm Home Discount scheme – where you may be able to get £140 off your electricity bill.
“You may also be able to get a grant from your energy supplier or a national grant to support you with payments, so it’s a good idea to check with your local Citizens Advice Bureau to see if you might qualify.”
On top of Citizens Advice, impartial guidance can be sought from Money Helper, the public advisory service.
Money Helper reassured Britons that the Government has launched an emergency package with energy suppliers to make sure families can heat and light their homes.
However, it did note it’s important to get in touch with a supplier to ask for help before they (potentially) miss a payment.
Where consumers are struggling with money or repaying a debt, energy themed or otherwise, Money Helper identified the following options people could explore with their providers:
- Reviewing bill payment plans, including debt you might be repaying in instalments
- Payment breaks, or reductions in how much you pay
- Having longer to repay what you owe
- Access to hardship funds – this is only in exceptional cases.