Thousands of families can get help with energy bills and food vouchers worth £50 this winter

FAMILIES can apply for up to £50 in food vouchers and could even get a free slow cooker to help them with meeting essential costs this winter.

The help is being provided through the £500million Household Support Fund, which local councils are handing out to struggling families.

With energy prices soaring and the cost of food also going up, many people are struggling to make ends meet.

So councils have been tasked with dishing out one-off payments this winter to help.

For example in Hampshire, households with or without children will be able to access financial support to pay gas, water and electricity bills, including any arrears.

Hampshire County Council has not said how much it will pay out, but said the amount will depend on “individual circumstances”.

The council also said it will potentially help with paying rent where people are really struggling, but again did not say how much money was available.

It plans to hand out £50 food vouchers to any care leavers not attending college, who will be able to claim financial support for their bills too.

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During February half term, there is also up to £15 per week available for each child to help parents with the cost of food during school holidays.

These vouchers can be used in all the big supermarkets, as well as at community pantries – charities that sell food to local families at discounted prices.

As well as money, families can also ask for a slow cooker. The council has provided 20 to enable people with children to cook food cheaply and keep energy costs down.

In order to qualify for any of the help you must live in Hampshire, and will need to prove that you are genuinely in need. 

If you do, you should contact your local borough or district council, or your nearest Citizens Advice centre, for more information and to apply.

What to do if you can’t pay your bills

FALLING behind on your energy bills can be extremely stressful.

If you’re struggling to pay what you owe, contact your supplier as soon as possible.

Your provider has to help you come up with a solution, and you should be able to negotiate a deal that works for you both.

One option is to agree a payment plan where you pay off your debts in affordable instalments.

You may be able to pay off your debts directly from your benefits through the Fuel Direct Scheme.

A fixed amount will automatically be taken to cover what you owe plus your usage.

To be eligible, you must be getting one of the following benefits:

  • Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
  • Income support
  • income-related employment and support allowance
  • Pension credit
  • Universal Credit (but only if you’re not working)

If you cannot come to an agreement with your supplier, they may try to force you to get a prepayment meter installed.

In very rare cases, where you refuse to negotiate, your supplier might threaten you with disconnection.

Under the Household Support Fund, each council is able to decide what help to provide in its own area.

So what you can get depends on where you live and your personal circumstances.

In the Isle of Wight, for example, residents can get help with energy bills and rent by visiting their local Citizen's Advice service.

Like Hampshire, the Isle of Wight Council is also handing out £50 food vouchers for care leavers not in college this month, and there will be £15 vouchers during February half term for children who would normally receive free school meals.

Again, you must live on the island to qualify, and you will need to be able to prove that you really need the money.

How much you get will depend on your circumstances, and the Household Support Fund only runs until the end of March so the sooner you apply for the money the more likely you are to get it.

In both places, the councils have decided that at least half of the total pot of money will go to households with children, with the remaining funding going to other households in need of support this winter.

Both councils have also decided that in order to get these grants, you don’t have to receive state benefits. It is aimed at any vulnerable families and people on low incomes.

You can either visit your local Citizens Advice service, or contact your local council directly to apply.

A whole host of other councils are offering similar support.

In Greenwich, families with pre-school kids can get two £50 payments, one in January and one in March, to help with buying groceries and paying bills.

During half term, kids in school who would otherwise get free school meals will also receive £15.

And in Wealden in East Sussex, residents can apply for a one-off payment of £250 to pay off energy and water bill debts.

If you want to look for help yourself, you should ask your local council about what is available in your area, and who might qualify. You can find out what council you need to contact via the gov.uk website.

The Household Support Fund is a limited pot of cash, so might run out if there is high demand.

It is also worth checking when the deadline is for applying, as although the scheme runs until the end of March, some areas have set earlier cut-off points.

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