Most people aged over 61 are entitled to up to £300 from the Government to help cover the cost of energy bills this winter.

Under the Government's Winter Fuel Payment scheme, you could get between £100 and £300 tax-free to help pay your heating bills if you were born on or before 5 January 1952 and were living in the UK throughout the week of 16-22 September this year, as explained below (see our Housing and Energy Grants guide to see if you're entitled to extra help).

If you receive certain benefits, regardless of your age, you can also get extra cash via the Government's Cold Weather Payment scheme, each time there's a seven day period of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March.

With energy prices due to rise for Scottish and Southern Energy, British Gas, Npower and Scottish Power customers this winter, many households can do with all the help they can get.

See our Q&A below for everything you need to know about the Winter Fuel Payment and Cold Weather Payment schemes.

How much can I get?

  • Winter fuel payments: If you're eligible, those aged between 61 and 79 will get a lump sum of up to £200 tax-free, while those aged 80 and over get up to £300 tax-free. How much you'll get depends on your circumstances during the qualifying week of 16-22 September this year.

    Most payments are made between November and December, so you should receive your payment by 25 December 2013 if you've claimed Winter Fuel Payments before. If you haven't received winter payments before, they can take up to a few months to arrive, so the earlier you apply, the better. Once you've applied you'll receive a letter telling you how much you'll get and an estimated payment date.

  • Cold weather payments: You get £25 for each seven day period of "very cold" weather between 1 November and 31 March. "Very cold" weather is when your local temperature is either recorded as, or forecast to be, an average of zero degrees Celsius or below over seven consecutive days.
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How do I claim winter fuel payments?

If you haven't had winter fuel payments before and you don't get benefits or the state pension; or you only get housing benefit, council tax reduction or child benefit, you'll need to fill out claim forms for winter 2013-2014. See Gov.uk for the forms.

If you've claimed winter payments before and your circumstances haven't changed, you don't need to do anything. Payments will be made automatically.

If you've claimed winter payments before, but your circumstances have changed – for example, you've deferred your state pension or stopped receiving certain benefits – you'll need to report it via Gov.uk or phone 0845 915 1515, as it could affect how much you get.

All claims must be made before March 2014.

How do I claim cold weather payments?

You may be able to get cold weather payments if you receive pension credit, or certain income-based benefits. See Gov.uk for more details on eligibility.

You don't need to apply for it. If you're eligible, you'll be paid automatically within 14 working days of the cold weather into the same bank or building society account used for your benefit payments.

If you haven't been paid but you think you should have been, contact your pension centre or Jobcentre Plus Office.

Can I get backdated winter fuel payments?

Although you can't make a claim for winters from 2000/01 onwards, you can claim for winters between 1997/98 and 1999/2000 if you were eligible then.

To do this you'll need to fill in a different form. See the Gov.uk website.

Are there any exclusions to getting winter fuel?

You can't get a winter fuel payment if, during the week of 19-22 September 2013:

  • You were in prison.
  • You were in hospital for more than 52 weeks receiving free treatment.
  • You were subject to immigration control and were not eligible for Government help.
  • You were living in a care home or an independent hospital for the previous 12 weeks or more, AND you got an income-related benefit such as pension credit.

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