If you're aged over 74, you could be entitled to backdated cash from the Government to help cover the cost of energy bills. But you need to be quick, as you'll need to post your claim form by Saturday at the very latest.

Under the Government's winter fuel payment scheme, most people aged over 62 can get between £100 and £300 tax-free around Christmas to help pay their heating bills (see our Winter Fuel Payment MSE News story for the full details on the current scheme).

But some people, as long as they meet certain criteria, could be eligible to claim winter fuel payments for the winters of 1997/98, 1998/99 and 1999/2000 if they haven't already received the money for these years.

The deadline to claim is Monday, meaning you'll need to post a claim form by Saturday.

Am I eligible to claim?

To qualify for winter fuel payments for the winters of 1997/98, 1998/99 and 1999/2000, you need to have been aged 60 or over in the qualifying week for those years and living in the UK.

The qualifying weeks for those years are:

  • In 1997/98, the qualifying week was 5-11 January 1998.
  • In 1998/99, the qualifying week was 9-15 November 1998.
  • In 1999/2000, the qualifying week was 20-26 September 1999.

But you can't get a backdated winter fuel payment if, during that qualifying week, you:

  • Were in prison.
  • Were in hospital for more than 52 weeks receiving free treatment.
  • Were subject to immigration control and were not eligible for Government help.
  • Were living in a care home or similar residence, AND you got income support or income-based jobseeker's allowance (JSA).

The Government says if you were 60 or over during the qualifying weeks and in receipt of State Pension, you should have automatically received the winter fuel payment then. If you're unsure whether you're eligible, call the winter fuel helpline on 08459 151515.

How much can I get?

Here's how much you can claim:

  • 1997/98: £20/household if you received state pension during the qualifying week. £50/household if you received an income-related benefit, eg, Income Support or income-based JSA, during the qualifying week for that year.
  • 1998/99: £20/household if you received state pension during the qualifying week. £50/household if you received an income-related benefit during that week.
  • 1999/2000: £100/household.

You can claim backdated payments for all three missing years if you're eligible, meaning up to £200/household is available.

How do I claim?

To claim, you need to download a claims form from Gov.uk.

As the Government needs to receive your completed claim form on or before 31 March, the last day you can post it via first class to arrive on time is Saturday.

When will I get the money?

Successful claims will be paid approximately five to 10 working days after being processed.

Why can people claim retrospectively?

When winter fuel payments were introduced in the winter of 1997/98, it was linked to the then-state pension ages for men and women of 65 and 60 respectively, and to whether people were getting state benefits.

But in December 1999, the scheme was extended to all those aged 60 and over, regardless of whether they were getting a social security benefit. This followed a European Court of Justice ruling.

So the facility to claim for the first three years of the scheme was left open to allow people who became eligible under the judgment to claim.