THOUSANDS of households applying for benefits, including Universal Credit, will have their energy bills automatically frozen temporarily.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced that it will not increase gas and electricity payments which are automatically deducted from benefits.
This will give approximately 100,000 struggling families the opportunity to discuss their bill payment options with the DWP and suppliers.
The move also means their benefit payments will remain stable as gas and electricity bills soar.
Some people who receive Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, Income Support and Pension Credit have their energy bills deducted from their benefits.
This is called “third party deductions” and sometimes Fuel Direct.
For the next 12 months, only claimants will be able to increase payments and the DWP will deny vendor requests to increase bills.
The change means that even if a claimant’s energy bills go up, their benefit payments will remain stable.
It will give families the opportunity to speak with energy suppliers to discuss alternative payment options or pay rising bills privately.
Alternatively, households can ask the DWP to increase their benefit payment if they prefer.
Despite the freeze on the increase in direct debits, energy bills will continue to rise and claimants will have to find a way to pay the increase.
Deductions will continue to be made at the current level.
David Rutley, Minister for Social Care, said: “Budgetary requirements differ from household to household and this change allows people to maximize their benefit payment based on their needs while capitalizing on other help available.”
The DWP will also not process applications from new energy suppliers for ongoing energy consumption payments where an arrangement is not already in place.
But it will continue to review requests from energy companies for arrears deductions that are lower fixed amounts that prevent further enforcement from being sought.
How can I get help paying my energy bills?
If you are struggling to cope with rising energy prices, help is available.
Contact your energy supplier first, as many have hardship funds or may offer other assistance.
For example, British Gas has a £6m pot to help struggling customers.
It will write off energy debts of up to £750, with 2,450 grants awarded so far.
The average amount paid to date is £524 per customer, with another 1,000 payments expected to be made this month.
You should also check that you receive all the benefits to which you are entitled.
Make sure you don’t miss out on extra cash by using an online benefit calculator.
Make a search for grants could help you find money to pay your gas and electricity bills.
The government announced a household support program earlier this year.
A total of 80% of families are eligible for a £150 council tax rebate which will be paid from this month – although some people have reported delays.
Everyone will receive a £200 energy bill refund in October, but this is a loan and will need to be repaid in instalments.
The Household Support Fund, which helps families cope with the rising cost of living, has been extended.
To find out what support is available in your area, contact your local council.
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