‘I’m really worried about making ends meet after the Chancellor’s Spring Statement didn’t offer much support. But what’s the Household Support Fund and how can I apply?’
That’s the question many of us have been asking this week on the back of Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement.
The Spring Statement is where the Chancellor sets out how the economy is doing, along with proposals and initiatives to take action where necessary.
This year, as the UK faces the biggest cost-of- living crisis in memory, many were hoping that there would be some measures introduced to help people with the rise in bills, tax and cost of living versus inflation. They were largely disappointed.
The Chancellor did announce that the Household Support Fund would be doubled from £500 million to £1billion. But what is it and what does it mean to you? Here’s an overview.
What is the Household Support Fund?
The Household Support Fund was created last year to provide help for people struggling with their bills or who might fall in a ‘vulnerable’ category.
You apply for a grant from the fund from your local council. The money is provided on a ‘discretionary’ basis, meaning the councils decide who gets what (and how) depending on your circumstance. That means quite a bit of variance around the UK over who gets what.
You might find that you are offered vouchers instead of cash – presumably because councils can get a better deal block buying these from participating retailers.
Will the fund help me clear my bills?
Not necessarily. The way the funds are distributed means your council calls the shots about how the money is handed out – and payments aren’t likely to be huge.
Many of the councils I’ve spoken to are talking about payments of up to £200, with mixtures of cash and vouchers offered in many cases.
The payments are designed to help those in need make a dent in key bills like food and energy.
Who qualifies for a payment?
Because the separate councils will be setting criteria depending on the needs within their own catchment areas, there’s a bit of variance here, but you start the process by going through your local council’s website.
Just type ‘Household Support Fund’ in to the search engine.
Because of all the variances, it’s only possible to say who might qualify in very general terms. But as a starting point, if you’re struggling to pay your bills now, classify as ‘vulnerable’ or have kids and money is tight you may be able to claim.
Some councils are only allowing people over 18 to claim though I’m informed that others are allowing people to apply from 16. So in short, don’t assume you’ll be excluded, give it a go.
Get help with all your bills for free at www.resolver.co.uk.
What about my energy bill?
The scheme is on top of the energy rebate announced already by the Government.
That gets you £200 off your bill in October. However, this is not something you can opt out of and you can’t ‘gift the money’ to someone more in need. Oh, and it’s a loan, so we’ll all pay it back for five years from April 2023.
There’s also a £150 discount on your Council Tax bill that will be applied from April. That is a rebate and isn’t repayable.
What about Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales?
The funding is largely being distributed to English councils, though of the first £500million, just under £80million was set aside for the devolved nations.
What other help can I get with money difficulties?
Of course, for many people, this simply isn’t going to be enough. Bear in mind that all regulated businesses in the UK have an obligation to help you if you are struggling financially and should come up with plans to help you avoid debt or get some breathing space.
Ask if they have an ombudsman or dispute resolution service if they don’t help you enough.
There are lots of great free organisations out there that can help you – though be wary of general searches online as many firms that charge you money pretend to be ‘official’ free services to lure you in.
Money Helper is a new, free service set up to make it quicker and easier to find the right help.
It brings together three long-standing government-backed financial guidance providers: the Money Advice Service, the Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise. There’s loads of tips, help and yes, you can speak to people too.
StepChange is the UK’s most comprehensive free debt advice service. They help you take control of your finances and your lives. Don’t pay for debt services when StepChange is free and for you.
What energy schemes are there?
Winter Fuel Payment
The Winter Fuel Payment could give you between £100 and £300 in winter to help cover the cost of your heating bills.
To qualify your date of birth must be on or before 26 September 1955 and you also need to have lived in the UK for at least one day of the ‘qualifying week’ – this year that’s between 20th and 26th September 2021.
If you meet the above eligibility criteria then you automatically get the Winter Fuel Payment if either:
- You get another social security benefit (but not Housing Benefit, Council Tax Reduction, Child Benefit or Universal Credit).
- You get the state pension; or
- If you get neither of these, you’ll need to make a claim for the payment. For winter 2021/2022 you need to have done this by the end of March 2022.
Cold Weather Payment
If you’re receiving certain benefits, including pension benefit, income support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit or Support for Mortgage Interest, then you may be entitled to a Cold Weather Payment.
This is a payment of £25 for every seven consecutive days of very cold weather – defined as being or forecast to be zero degrees Celsius or below – between 1 November 2021 and 31 March 2022.
You shouldn’t need to claim for a Cold Weather Payment; if you’re eligible as it should be paid automatically, and you can check on the Government’s website to see if your postcode qualifies.
Warm Home Discount
The Warm Home Discount could, if you are eligible, give you £140 off your electricity bill this winter – or possibly your gas bill instead if your supplier is your provider for both. The discount is a one-off reduction on your bill between October 2021 and March 2022.
You need to be part of either the ‘core group’ or the ‘broader group’ to be potentially eligible and there are different routes to apply for each.
The ‘core group’: This is for those who on 4 July 2021 all of the following apply:
Your energy supplier is part of the scheme You (or your partner’s) name is on the electricity bill
- You or your partner is getting the guarantee credit element of pension credit
- This year the Warm Home Discount scheme opened on 18 October 2021 and if you qualify to get it you should have received a letter from their supplier. Your discount will be applied to your bill by 31 March 2022.
If you don’t get this by 31 December 2021 and you think you are eligible based on all the criteria above, contact the Warm Home Discount scheme helpline.
The ‘broader group’ applies for those who do not get the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit but are on a low income or get certain means-tested benefits.
However, your energy supplier must be a part of the scheme and you must stay with your supplier until the discount has been applied.
In these cases you will need to apply to your energy supplier directly. There’s a limit on the number of discounts your supplier can give, but if you do feel you are eligible, get in touch as soon as possible to confirm this and find out how to apply.
Your energy supplier can also help
Under regulator Ofgem’s rules, energy suppliers must work with you to agree a payment plan you can afford if you’re worried about paying your energy bills.
As part of this, options you can ask for include a review of your payments or repayments, payment breaks or reductions, more time to pay or access to hardship funds.
You may find your energy supplier is one of those that operates a scheme or grants to help with energy costs – contact your supplier directly to ask and see if you can apply. Some of these schemes are actually open to all, meaning you don’t have to be a customer to receive it.
Finally, there are a number of small things you can do to reduce your energy consumption and cut your bills – our helpful guide gives you the tips you can try.