This month many in the UK will still be staring anxiously at their energy bills and thinking twice about turning on the heating.
Ofgem has announced that the cap on the amount suppliers can charge for energy for average dual-fuel and direct charge customers will drop by 23% for the three months from April 1 to £3,280, down from £4,279 for the January quarter until March. But campaigners warn that impending changes to the government’s support measures, introduced last year to tackle rising domestic energy costs, mean many could actually end up paying more.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced that the Energy Price Guarantee – introduced by Liz Truss last September to ensure households pay no more than £2,500 for their electricity and gas, with the Government subsidizing the balance allowed from the cap – it will rise to £3,000 from next month.
This is a much less generous offer and coincides with a £400 rebate introduced by Rishi Sunak a year ago that has been allowed to lapse. This could leave households £900 out of pocket in total.
Meanwhile, UK inflation is at 10.1%, keeping the cost of goods on supermarket shelves high, while the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee raised interest rates to 4%.
However, despite this bleak backdrop, more government support will be paid out to help tackle the cost of living crisis during the month.
Here’s a guide to what you can expect and who’s eligible.
Government benefits and pensions
These payments will be made directly on their usual dates this March, with no public holidays to complicate the process:
- Universal credit
- State pension
- Pension credit
- Disability Living Allowance
- Personal Independence Payment
- Attendance Allowance
- Carer’s Allowance
- Work support allowance
- Income support
- Job search allowance
For more information about how and when government benefits are paid, visit the government website.
In addition, some cost-of-living support payments announced by the state last year are still active, at least for now.
Energy discount payment
One of the headline gestures Mr Sunak announced during his time as chancellor last spring was that every household would receive a £400 discount on their energy bill to cushion the blow of rising bills stemming from the European energy crisis.
This replaced a planned universal loan of £200 that he announced in February 2022, doubling that amount and turning it into a grant that does not have to be paid back.
The first installment of £66 was paid in October, followed by another installment in November and £67 in December, January and February.
This month has the final installment of £67 in progress before, as explained above, it is allowed to expire with no immediate promise of renewal.
Those who pay their bills by direct debit get the discount automatically – either as a discount on their monthly payments or as a refund to their bank accounts.
Those who pay on receipt of an invoice see the discount applied as a credit to their energy bill each month.
Prepaid smart meter customers also receive the discount automatically each month, while prepaid customers are sent discount coupons by text, email or post that they will have to redeem manually.
Cold weather payment plan
This government scheme reopened on November 1 and runs until March 31, giving people on low incomes £25 for each seven-day period of sub-zero temperatures.
The frosts we experienced in the second week of December and mid-January didn’t last long enough to trigger it, but who knows how long the spell widely predicted for the middle of this month might last?
If a big freeze arrives and a cold weather payment is signed, the money will be paid to anyone registered with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to receive qualifying payments such as: pension credit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance or universal credit.
Warm house discount program
The Government’s Winter Heating Support scheme was also revived on 14 November and also runs until 31 March, awarding eligible recipients £150 to see them through the colder period, money taken from their energy bills directly by their supplier.
The money will be paid to help with high energy costs to anyone receiving the following benefits: pension credit, income-related employment and support allowance, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income support, universal credit, housing benefit or child tax credits and employment tax credits.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the DWP has announced that millions of households on low incomes will receive further living costs support worth up to £1,350 from the spring.
The new £900 cash support for more than eight million means-tested benefit recipients, including people with universal credit, pension credit and tax credits, starts in the spring and will go straight into bank accounts in three payments, the DWP said.
There will also be a separate payment of £150 to more than six million disabled people and £300 to over eight million pensioners on top of their winter fuel payments.
Here are the additional payment windows announced:
- £301 – First cost of living payment – spring 2023
- £150 – Disability Allowance – in summer 2023
- £300 – Second cost of living payment – in autumn 2023
- £300 – Pensioner Payment – during winter 2023/4
- £299 – Third cost of living payment – Spring 2024