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Guide to Winter Fuel Payment

With a harsh winter well underway, many of us will be turning up the heating a few notches higher than usual. Of course, the extra fuel means extra cost - and unless you've planned well in advance, the bills could be difficult to keep up with.

However, if you're over the age of 60, there is help available. The Winter Fuel Payment from the government is designed to help people pay to heat their home in the winter. It could be between £125 and £400, and it could make a big difference to the overall cost of your bills.

Do you qua­lify for Winter Fuel Payment?

According to the government's official Winter Fuel Payment page ( tsInRetirement/DG_10018657?CID=furl-winterfuel), you may qualify for a Winter Fuel Payment for 2010/2011 if:

* You were born on or before 5th July 1950

* You normally live in Britain or Northern Ireland.

However, not everybody qualifies. A few circumstances in which you may not be able to get Winter Fuel Payment include:

* You live in a care home or independent hospital

* You have been in hospital receiving free in-patient treatment for more than 52 weeks

* You are in custody and serving a court sentence.

How to apply

If you think you qualify, your claim must reach the Winter Fuel Payment centre by 30th March following the winter you are claiming for. (This means if you forget to apply now, you have until March to do so.)

To get a claim form, call the government's Winter Fuel Payment helpline on 08459 15 15 15 (08459 15 15 13 for text phone users). You can also download a form from The Pension Service ( its/BenefitsInRetirement/DG_10018657).

If you have received Winter Fuel Payment before, you should continue to receive it automatically, so you shouldn't need to do anything.

When will I receive my payment?

Automatic Winter Fuel Payments (i.e. if you've received it before) should all be made by Christmas. If not, you can call the Winter Fuel Payment helpline (08459 15 15 15).

What if I still struggle with my bill­s?

Winter Fuel Payments can help make bills more affordable, but that won't necessarily help people who are already struggling with their money. If you think you're still going to struggle, get in touch with an expert.

Think Money offers expert debt advice alongside a range of financial solutions that could help you.