If you're aged 62 or over, you could be due up to £300 from the Government to help cover the cost of your energy bills this winter.

Under the Government's winter fuel payment scheme that started this month, you could receive between £100 and £300 tax-free to help pay for your heating bills if you were born on or before 5 July 1952 and lived in the UK throughout the week of 15-21 September this year. (Visit our Housing and Energy Grants guide to see if you're entitled to extra help).

Those who receive a state pension or other social security benefits will get the one-off payment automatically between November and Christmas, but those on other benefits will need to apply to get the sum.

Those claiming certain benefits, regardless of age, can also get extra cash via the Government’s cold weather payment scheme. This is paid each time there's a week of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March 2015.

Although the amount paid is the same as last year, most industry experts predict that this winter will be the first in five years without energy price hikes, so recipients should be no worse off than last year.

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 62 and 79 will get a lump sum of up to £200, 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 15-21 September this year (the dates change annually).
  • Most payments are made between November and December, so you should receive it by 25 December if you've claimed winter fuel payments before. If you haven't received the 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.

How do I claim winter fuel payments?

If you haven't had winter fuel payments before and if you qualify but you don't get benefits or a state pension or you only get housing benefit, council tax reduction or child benefit, you'll need to fill out a claim form for winter 2014-2015. 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 stopped receiving certain benefits, you've moved or gone into care – 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 31 March 2015. If you apply on this date, payments could be with you as late as June 2015 so it's best to apply as soon as you can.

Are there any exclusions to getting the winter fuel payment?

You can't get the payment if during the week of 15-21 September 2014:

  • You were in prison.
  • You had been in hospital for more than 52 weeks receiving free treatment.
  • You needed permission to enter the UK and don't qualify for help from the Department of Work and Pensions.
  • You had been living in a care home for the previous 12 weeks or more, and you got pension credit, income-based jobseeker's allowance or income-related employment and support allowance.

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 snap straight 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.