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HELPING HAND

I’m a benefits expert – apply for these four help schemes NOW and get £1,000s

MILLIONS are feeling the squeeze as bills soar - but these four help schemes could give you thousands in cash, vouchers and more.

To beat the squeeze, you can apply for financial assistance from your local council, energy company and more, Stepchange debt advice policy officer Andy Shaw said.

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Here's how you can get thousands of pounds in help if you're struggling

Families will be £1,000 worse off due as the worst cost of living crisis the nation has seen in decades is hitting budgets hard.

It's because wages aren't keeping up with the rocketing rate of inflation, which is driving prices up from energy to food and fuel.

Big bill rises are causing thousands to slide into debt - but hard-up households can get hundreds of pounds in help from their council.

Mr Shaw has decades of experience helping struggling households sliding into the red - here's his tips for getting the support you need.

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Welfare assistance scheme - up to £1,000

Most local councils run their own welfare assistance schemes.

They are available to people on low incomes who have run into financial difficulties - or have had to deal with a crisis.

"The precise support offered by each authority varies, but you could get grants for essential bills or one-off costs, food or fuel vouchers," Mr Shaw said.

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Exactly what help you can get varies depending on who your council is - each one runs its own scheme.

That means some households may be able to claim more than others, depending on what help your authority is willing to dish out.

Research from The Sun revealed households could get up to £1,000 in free cash in some areas to help pay for rent, bills, food and furniture.

While other councils don't have a welfare assistance scheme in place at all.

Who can apply for the help will vary as well, Mr Shaw said.

"Eligibility varies according to your local area, so you’d need to check locally what support you might be entitled to."

You can find who your local authority is by using the gov.uk's online tool.

Write off your council tax debt - up to £3,200

The number of households falling into council tax debt is rising.

The Sun revealed that the number of people owing money to their local council shot up 35% over the Covid crisis.

Households owed £65.5million in 2019/20, which soared to £87.2million over 2020/21.

Taxpayers are under even more pressure to pay the levy, as thousands saw their council tax bill increase by up to 5% from last month.

But there's a way to get your local council to wipe your debt, or lower it, if you are eligible.

"All councils are obliged under section 13A of the
Local Government Finance Act 1992 to consider reducing or writing off council tax bills on request," Mr Shaw said.

It means that you can apply, by filling out a Section 13A application form, to wipe your bill if your home has been damaged in a flood or a fire.

"Most local authorities will only do this for households in severe
financial hardship; they should have a published policy that outlines the criteria for their scheme," he said.

Apply for cheaper tariffs on bills - £100s off

Households on low incomes might be paying hundreds of pounds more for their bills than they actually need to, Mr Shaw said.

"For utilities like gas, electricity and water, as well as telephone and
internet services, providers offer social tariffs that provide these services at discounted rates," he said.

"These are available to households on low incomes or in receipt of
means-tested benefits. Check with your supplier to see if you qualify."

Broadband - save £144

Around four million households could slash their broadband bill by £144 a year by applying for special discounted broadband packages.

Currently six broadband providers – BT, Community Fibre, G.Network, Hyperoptic, KCOM and Virgin Media O2 – offer at least one of these specially discounted deals.

These packages are priced at between £10-£20 a month for broadband speeds ranging from 10Mbit/s to 67Mbit/s.

That's compared to the cost of a standard commercial broadband package, which is £27 a month.

They are often open to people on Universal Credit or other benefits - check with your broadband provider to see if you are eligible.

Water - save up to £500

Low-income households and those on benefits may be able to reduce their water bills or cap costs under the WaterSure scheme.

To qualify for the scheme you need to already have a water meter installed, and prove you need to use a lot of water.

You also need to have three or more children under the age of 19 living in the house, and receive child benefit for them.

Alternatively, someone living in the house must have a medical condition that means you need lots of water, such as weeping skin diseases like psoriasis, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

The Consumer Council for Water estimates that bills are reduced by £270 on average through the scheme.

But Yorkshire Water says its low income customers can save £534 per year on average using WaterSure.

Help for energy schemes - £100s

Struggling households can apply for grants and help from their energy supplier.

Energy companies run funds that dish out cash to those falling behind on their bills.

"All of the trust funds work in the same way – if you give them details of your financial position and energy debt, they’ll decide if you qualify, and if successful they’ll give you a grant to go towards your energy costs," he said.

For instance British Gas is giving out up to £750 through its hardship fund.

But the amount can vary according to your supplier and your circumstances.

Ask your supplier what's on offer and how to apply, or check here:

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You might also be able to claim the £150 Warm Home Discount later this year.

Check your supplier's website over the next few months to see when applications will open for winter 2022.

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