Millions of people across the UK continue to struggle with soaring bills as the cost of living crisis goes on.
From the Energy Support Scheme to the Warm Home Discount, there is help available.
But it can be difficult to keep track of the various initiatives and how long they last for. Below we look at what support households can claim and the key dates to watch out for to make sure you’re not missing out.
ENERGY PRICE GUARANTEE
There was some good news for consumers in Jeremy Hunt’s Budget on 15 March, with the chancellor announcing that the energy price guarantee (EPG) – introduced by Liz Truss last September to ensure households paid no more than £2,500 for their electricity and gas, with the government subsidising the remainder permitted by Ofgem’s energy price cap – would be extended for a further three months.
Mr Hunt had been tempted to increase the EPG to £3,000 from 1 April, a considerably less generous offer that would have eased the burden on the state, but ultimately thought better of it.
“High energy bills are one of the biggest worries for families, which is why we’re maintaining the energy price guarantee at its current level,” the chancellor told parliament.
“With energy bills set to fall from July onwards, this temporary change will bridge the gap and ease the pressure on families, while also helping to lower inflation too.”
Without that help in place, the average household would have been paying an annualised bill of £4,279 between January and April but, because of the EPG, that was reduced to £2,500 with the government picking up the remaining £1,779.
Ofgem has since dropped the cap by 23 per cent to £3,280 for the second quarter of the year, with Mr Hunt’s decision meaning the public will continue to be shielded rather than pay that full amount while the state will be paying considerably less, more like £780 per household.
ENERGY BILL SUPPORT SCHEME
While that might sound like a positive development, the Energy Bill Support Scheme introduced by Rishi Sunak a year ago during his time in 11 Downing Street expires at the end of March when the final £67 installment of the £400 total hits bank accounts.
Campaigners like Citizens Advice chief executive Dame Clare Moriarty have warned that this change means many families could actually end up paying more despite the upturn in the national fortunes.
“The withdrawal of the Energy Bill Support Scheme will still mean the average monthly bill rises by £67 from April,” she said. “With millions already unable to afford their bills and energy prices set to remain high in the years ahead, the government must now look at long-term solutions to this problem.
“Many people, especially those on low incomes, will need ongoing support not only to pay their bills but to make their homes safer and warmer through improved energy efficiency.”
Sarah Coles, head of personal finance at Hargreaves Lansdown, agreed, commenting: “Unfortunately, we’re not out of the woods yet. The loss of the monthly discount from April is still going to hit hard as we’ll need to find an extra £67 each month from somewhere.
“Already 48 per cent of people are finding it difficult to pay their energy bills – rising to 54 per cent among those in their 30s and 40s. Meanwhile, more than one-in-20 have fallen behind on their bills (6 per cent). This rises to one-in-seven of the fifth lowest earners.
“For these people, the removal of the £67-a-month discount is going to mean even bigger bill nightmares.”
WINTER SUPPORT MEASURES RUN OUT SOON
In addition, two more schemes that have provided financial help to low-income families this winter are also expiring at the end of March: both the Warm Home Discount and the Cold Weather Payment scheme will cease to apply.
On top of that, the UK rate of inflation remains in double figures at 10.1 per cent, keeping the cost of goods on supermarket shelves high, while the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee has raised interest rates to 4 per cent.
KEY DATES FOR BENEFITS OVER EASTER
Despite that gloomy context, the usual state support in the shape of benefits and pensions will be going out as usual in April, although it is worth bearing in mind that the arrival of the Easter weekend does complicate matters somewhat.
As Good Friday (7 April) and Easter Monday (10 April) are both bank holidays, anyone expecting to receive any of the following payments from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on either of those dates will instead receive their money early on Thursday 6 April instead:
- Universal credit
- State pension
- Pension credit
- Disability living allowance
- Personal independence payment
- Attendance allowance
- Carer’s allowance
- Employment support allowance
- Income support
- Jobseeker’s allowance
If you are not expecting payment on either of those dates, you should be paid as normally and be unaffected by the slight disruption.
For more information on how and when state benefits are paid, please visit the government’s website.
WHEN TO CLAIM EXTRA £1,350 OF SUPPORT
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the DWP has announced that millions of households on low incomes will receive further cost of living support worth up to £1,350 this year.
Eight million eligible means-tested benefits claimants, including people on universal credit, pension credit and tax credits, will receive £900 in instalments from this spring, with the money going directly to bank accounts in three payments, the DWP has said.
There will also be a separate £150 payment for more than six million people with disabilities and an extra £300 for over eight million pensioners.
Here are the payment windows that have been announced:
- £301 – First cost of living payment – during spring 2023
- £150 – Disability payment – during summer 2023
- £300 – Second cost of living payment – during autumn 2023
- £300 – Pensioner payment – during winter 2023/4
- £299 – Third cost of living payment – during spring 2024
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