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Social Justice

All the cost of living help available from the government, energy companies, councils and charities

This is all the cost of living help available to struggling households this winter

As Jeremy Hunt announces the Autumn Statement and a plan to get the country through the cost of living crisis this winter, many people will be left disappointed and worried about where to go to get help. 

Energy bills will soar to an average of £3,000 a year when the price cap rises in April, and government support has been massively scaled back. Councils are facing spending cuts and many people will see their taxes rise. Meanwhile, millions are struggling to heat their homes, keep their families fed and afford rent. 

Last year, more than 4.5 million people were living in fuel poverty – with extortionate energy costs pushing them below the breadline. That is set to rise to 6.7 million this winter, according to estimates from National Energy Action. 

If you are worried about paying for heating and all the other spiralling prices this winter in a cost of living crisis, you are far from alone. But there is help out there for people who need it most. 

As part of The Big Issue’s Winter Survival Guide, we want to help our readers get the support they need through the coldest months. We have rounded up some of the options available to households as temperatures plummet. 

Help to claim help from the government this winter

If you are struggling with money, you may be eligible for benefits and welfare support. If you’re not sure where to start, Citizens Advice offers information and services to help people and they can advise you as to what financial support is available from the government to help you. 

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You could be entitled to benefits and tax credits if you are working or unemployed, sick or disabled, a parent, a young person, an older person or a veteran. You can use the charity Turn2Us’ benefits calculator to find out what benefits you are entitled to claim. 

The government’s Help for Households website explains what support you could be eligible for – such as cost of living payments. These are some government schemes which may help if you are struggling:

Cost of living payments

The government will provide additional cost of living payments for vulnerable people, Hunt revealed in the Autumn Statement. It will be £900 for people on means-tested benefits, £300 for pensioners, and £150 for people receiving disability benefits. You can find out whether you are eligible for a cost of living payment and what you have to do if you haven’t received yours yet here.

Warm Home Discount 

This scheme opened again in November and you could get £150 off your energy bills. The money is not paid to you – it’s a one-off discount on your electricity bill. Energy suppliers fund the scheme, and the government decides who is eligible. 

This winter, most eligible households will get the Warm Home Discount automatically where previously you had to claim it from your supplier. Contact your supplier if you think you might be eligible but haven’t received your payment. 

Winter Fuel Payment

If you were born on or before September 25 1956 you could get between £250 and £600 to help you pay your heating bills with the Winter Fuel Payment. You will get it automatically if you get the state pension or another social security benefit. 

Cold Weather Payments

You may get the Cold Weather Payment if you’re getting certain benefits. You’ll get a payment if the average temperature in your area is recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees celsius or below over seven consecutive days. You’ll get £25 for each day of very cold weather between November 1 and March 31.

Scottish Welfare Fund

This is offered in Scotland to provide a safety net for people on low incomes. These include crisis grants and community care grants. You can apply online through your local council’s website. 

Discretionary Assistance Fund

In Wales, there is the Discretionary Assistance Fund. This includes an emergency assistance grant, which helps cover essential costs, such as food, gas, electricity, clothing or emergency travel if you are experiencing extreme financial hardship, have lost your job or are waiting for your first payment. You can apply through the Welsh government’s website.

Finance Support Service

The Finance Support Service supports people who live in Northern Ireland and need short-term financial help. This includes discretionary support to help towards short-term living expenses or household items.

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How to get help from your energy supplier in the cost of living crisis

A number of energy suppliers offer grants to their customers to help them pay their energy bills. Contact your energy supplier if you are struggling and they may be able to help. We’ve listed a few grants available below:

British Gas Energy Support Fund

These grants are available to everyone who has a fuel debt of £250 to £1,500 and you don’t have to be a British Gas customer. You’ll need to seek help from your local money advice centre first and be able to show that you’ve thought about how you will manage your costs in the future. You can apply for a grant and get advice from the British Gas Energy Trust through its website.

Scottish Power Hardship Fund

Scottish Power has a fund to help low-income households get their energy payments under control. It can help by clearing or reducing arrears by crediting a customer’s ScottishPower energy account.

EDF Customer Support Fund

EDF provides support for individuals struggling to manage household energy debt through their customer support fund. You can apply here

E.ON Next Energy Fund

This fund could help you pay your current or final E.ON Next energy bills and potentially replace old appliances. You can apply on E.ON’s website.

Octopus Octo Assist Fund

If you’re an Octopus customer, you can access its financial support form on its website. It asks you a series of questions about your financial situation. The company offers a number of support options including access to existing schemes, monetary support from the Octo Assist Fund, or a loan of a thermal imagery camera to find heat leaks at home.

You can also earn rewards with Octopus for using less at peak times this winter. You need a connected smart electricity meter to be eligible.

Break the cycle of poverty for good
Big Futures is calling on the Government to put in place a plan and policies to break this cycle of poverty for good. We are calling for long-term solutions to meet the biggest issues faced in the UK today – the housing crisis, low wages and the climate crisis. Dealing with these issues will help the UK to protect the environmental, social, economic and cultural wellbeing of future generations. So that young people and future generations have a fair shot at life. Join us and demand a better future.

How to get charitable grants in the cost of living crisis

People who are struggling financially may be eligible for charitable grants. You can find out what grants might be available to you using Turn2Us’ grant search on the charity’s website. There are a huge range of grants available for different people – including those who are bereaved, disabled, unemployed, redundant, ill, a carer, veteran, young person or old person.

Grants are also usually available to people who have no recourse to public funds and cannot claim welfare benefits. Turn2Us helps people to access grants and support services if they’re in financial difficulty. If you contact the team, they’ll check what’s available to you. 

Glasspool gives small grants for things like white goods, beds, bedding, children’s clothing and baby needs. For most charitable grants, you need to get a referral from a professional like a social worker, health professional, school or advice service. 

Family Action provides practical, emotional and financial support to those who are experiencing poverty, disadvantage and social isolation across the country.

How to get help from your council

If you are unable to pay your bills, your local council may have a scheme that can help you. Local councils may be able to give you debt advice, help you get hold of furniture and support you through food and fuel poverty. Your council may also have a local welfare assistance scheme, also known as crisis support. 

Councils across the country are organising measures to help residents this winter. Some have announced they will be opening ‘warm banks’, with libraries, museums and public spaces opening to people who cannot afford to turn their heating on. 

Through this virtual map from the campaign group Warm Welcome, you can find a warm space near you run by councils and other organisations.

You can also find out what support your council offers through End Furniture Poverty’s local welfare assistance finder or by contacting your local authority directly.

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How to get help finding a job in the cost of living crisis

At The Big Issue, we have launched a specialist recruitment service to open up job opportunities for people across the country. Big Issue Recruit is dedicated to supporting people, particularly those who traditionally face barriers to joining the workforce into sustainable employment. 

It is free to candidates, supporting individuals before, during and post-employment. You can search our database for thousands of jobs or you can become a candidate. Big Issue Recruit can match employers committed to recruiting a diverse workforce with candidates looking for rewarding careers.

You can also search and apply for jobs across a range of industries across the UK through the government’s Find a job website. You can use this to search for and find a job or apprenticeship opportunity. 

You can apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), worth up to £77 a week, to help you when you’re looking for work. You can also claim tax relief on money you’ve spent on things like work uniforms and clothing, tools, subscriptions or business travel. 

How to get help with transport costs this winter

With fuel prices high, you might want to choose public transport instead of driving a car in the cost of living crisis. In England you can get a bus pass for free travel when you reach the State Pension age, and disabled people may be eligible for a disabled person’s pass. 

You can get up to a third off train fares with a railcard. These help young people, pensioners, families, couples, disabled people and veterans. You can find these on Railcard’s website.

How to get help from a food bank

If you are struggling to buy food in the cost of living crisis, you can get help from a local food bank. You will need a referral from a support service or professional, such as Citizens Advice, your children’s school or a charity. If you’re not sure where to get a referral, your local council should be able to advise you.

You can find your local food bank through the Trussell Trust’s website or the IFAN’s member’s map. You can also call the Trussell Trust’s free helplines and talk to a trained adviser. It’s 0808 208 2138 if you live in England or Wales, and 0800 915 4604 if you live in Northern Ireland. You should contact your local council if you live in Scotland.

Find out more about getting help from your local food bank here. 

How to get help with your mortgage

Homeowners can get help towards interest payments on their mortgage, or any loans taken out on certain repairs and home improvements. Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) is paid as a loan, so you’ll need to repay it with interest when you sell your home or give it to someone else. That means you’ll pay back more than you borrowed.

You usually need to be getting a qualifying benefit, such as universal credit or jobseeker’s allowance, to get the extra help. There’s no guarantee you’ll get SMI for your mortgage or any loans you take out. For example, if you get universal credit and any money from work, you won’t be offered SMI. You can ask your local Citizens Advice service if you’re not sure if you’d be eligible.

Ways to make extra money

There are plenty of ways to make extra money in the cost of living crisis. They might only be a sticking plaster, but people are always looking for simple ways to get some extra cash. 

This includes downloading a cashback app like Airtime Rewards, which will help you save money off your mobile bill with O2, EE, Vodafone and others. All you need to do is link your bank card and then you just shop as normal at more than 150 retailers both in-store and online. 

You could also take part in online surveys, rent out your car parking space or get a credit card that pays you. Find out more ways to make extra money here. 

Big Issue Group’s #BigFutures is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future. 

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Every copy counts this Christmas

Your local vendor is at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis this Christmas. Prices of energy and food are rising rapidly. As is the cost of rent. All at their highest rate in 40 years. Vendors are amongst the most vulnerable people affected. Support our vendors to earn as much as they can and give them a fighting chance this Christmas.

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