I just got my blog stats and found that a lot of people have been turning up here looking for information about help with heating bills.
So, I thought I'd do a recap with information and useful links double-checked for 2010.
There are two types of help with winter heating. One is the Winter Fuel Allowance, the other is the Cold Weather Payment.
The Winter Fuel Allowance is a one-off tax free payment of between £250 and £400 per household. It is paid to everybody over the age of 60 who is normally resident in the UK. It is not means-tested and payment is automatic (Peter Stringfellow got some cheap headlines by offering to give his back). Recipients don't even have to be living in the UK during the winter - it will still be paid automatically even if the recipient is a millionaire who decides to go on an extended holiday in warmer climes for the next few months.
Winter Fuel Allowance is NOT paid to anybody under the age of 60 in any circumstances.
The Cold Weather Payment is a bit more complicated. It is a payment of £25 paid out to eligible people if there is a "period of very cold weather", which is defined as when the local temperature is recorded as below 0 degrees Celsius for seven consecutive days.
If there are six days where the temperature is below freezing, and then one day where it creeps up to one or two degrees above, and then another six days of freezing - no payment will be made. People do not need extra heating in this circumstance as this is not considered by the government to be a period of very cold weather.
You can find out whether the government thinks your local weather has been Very Cold by using this handy DirectGov tool. Just type in your postcode and then click on the orange "Submit" button that is down and to the right.
My postcode is deemed to have had one period of Very Cold Weather during November. However I'm not eligible for any payment. You see, eligibility is rather more complicated as well.
The over-60s on pension credit get it, on top of their Winter Fuel Allowance. From there on in, it's breadline only. People on Income Support or Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance may be eligible if they also have a disability or pension premium, a disabled child, or a child under five years old. It is also available to most disabled people on Income-based Employment Support Allowance.
It is NOT paid to people on contributions-based benefits, nor is it paid to people on benefits like Disability Living Allowance or Working Tax Credits of any kind, unless they are also on those named income-based benefits and they meet the additional conditions described above.
Both types of payment are automatic - if you are eligible for it, it will be paid. The unfortunate news is that unless you're over 60, you're probably not eligible for anything.