MILLIONS on Universal Credit or other benefits can get help through over 20 support schemes this winter.
Struggling households can receive free school meals, cold weather payments and more.
It comes as the cost of living surges for millions across the UK, with year-on-year rises in energy bills, pricier food and increased mortgage and rental rates.
What help you can get in the run up to Christmas depends on your personal circumstances though.
Below, we list all the help you can get over the next few months.
100% off your council tax
Households on a low income can get a deduction on their council tax, and sometimes have it wiped completely.
You’ll have to contact your local authority to find out what discount you’re entitled to though and you might still have to pay a small amount.
You can do that via the government’s website.
In all cases, to get the discount you’ll have to provide details of your household income, the number of children you have and the number of adults and children you live with.
Plus, you’ll have to state what benefits you’re receiving and how long you’ve lived in the UK for.
One key thing to note is that the help is only available to people in England and Wales.
Free school meals
In England, if you have children at a state school in reception, year 1 or year 2 they are entitled to free school meals regardless of your household income.
However, if you’re claiming certain benefits, including Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Child Tax Credits, you can get free school meals for older children.
How you apply will depend on your personal circumstances – some may be able to via their local council and others might have to speak to their children’s school direct.
You can type your postcode into the government’s website to see who to contact and how to apply.
If you’re eligible for free school meals, you’ll also be eligible for help through the government’s Holiday Activities and Food Programme (HAF).
It provides grant funding to local councils to offer free holiday clubs and food to vulnerable children over the Christmas school break.
If you’ve got a disability, you can travel on buses for free, and get 30% off train tickets.
You’ll have to apply for a disabled person’s bus pass or railcard though.
You can apply if you’ve got learning disabilities – it doesn’t have to be just a physical health problem.
You can apply for a disabled person’s bus pass or railcard on the government’s website.
Londoners over 66 can get free travel on Transport for London buses and trains too.
Universal Credit claimants can also get 50% off their bus and train fares with the Jobcentre Plus travel card.
However, it’s only available if you’re unemployed but looking for work and are on Jobseeker’s Allowance.
You’ll also have needed to have claimed Universal Credit for three to nine months if you’re aged between 18 and 24 years old.
For those aged 25 or older, you must have claimed the benefit for three to 12 months to be eligible for a discount.
There’s no guarantee you’ll get the discount though – it’s up to your local JobCentre Plus branch to decide.
We’ve listed all the help you can get with free school transport here.
Capped water bills
You may be eligible for a cap on your water bills through the WaterSure scheme, which could see them drop by £270.
To qualify for the scheme you need to have a water meter already installed and you’ll have to prove you use a lot of water.
You also need to be receiving one of a number of benefits including Universal Credit, Income Support and Housing Benefit.
If you live in England, you need to apply for the scheme directly through your water supplier.
If you live in Wales, you need to contact WaterSure Wales.
Free or discounted gym membership
Some councils offer discounted gym memberships to people on benefits, although discounts vary depending on where you live.
To apply, you’ll need to go through your local leisure centre, but first you should check whether they offer a discount.
Some chains like YMCA, Nuffield and GLL offer concessionary memberships.
The exact application process varies depending on where you live but generally you’ll be asked to fill out a form as well as provide proof you’re on benefits.
You can check out our guide on gym membership discounts here.
Help with job costs
The Flexible Support Fund (FSF) is available to anyone who receives help from a job centre.
The money is issued on top of other benefits and can be used for childcare, uniforms, or even work tools, so long as they help you get a job.
You can get help paying for travel to get to a job interview too.
There’s no set amount you can get as it will vary from case to case, but you should get in touch with your nearest Jobcentre for more details.
However, not all claimants have an automatic right to receive the help and it’s based on the discretion of the adviser.
Warm home discount scheme
Struggling families on a low income can get up to £150 towards electricity bills through the warm home discount scheme.
It is a one-off payment that goes towards your heating costs.
The money is not paid to you but is a one-off discount on your electricity bill between October and March.
If you are eligible for money through the scheme, you don’t have to apply as your supplier will apply the discount automatically.
But if you want to know whether you qualify so you can budget ahead, you can call the warm home discount phone line on 0800 731 0214.
Cold weather payments
You can get a £25 discount on their energy bill over the winter through the cold weather payment.
It’s is dished out when temperatures are recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees or below, on average, for seven consecutive days between November 1 and March 31.
You get £25 for each seven-day period where the weather is below zero Celsius on average during this time frame.
Again, the payment is made automatically, but if you want to see if you’re eligible, you can use the government’s postcode tool.
If you’re getting Universal Credit, you can also sign in to your account and add a note to your journal.
You can check out our guide on cold weather payments here.
Free or cheap broadband
A number of broadband providers offer cheap deals for those on certain benefits called social tariffs.
The discount you’ll get will depend on your provider of course, but Sky offers customers a package for £20 a month on an 18-month contract.
It’s definitely worth shopping around for the best deals on price comparison websites like Uswitch or Money Supermarket though.
All the providers offer something slightly different.
How you can apply will varies, but it can usually be done online or over the phone.
You could be in line for free prescriptions if you meet certain criteria.
This includes if you or your partner receive certain benefits or you’re under 20 and dependent on someone claiming certain benefits including Income Support and Universal Credit.
You can easily see if you can get free prescriptions using the government’s eligibility checker.
You can also get help if you’re on a low income through the NHS low income scheme.
How much you’ll be entitled to depends on financial factors including outgoings and the amount of savings you have in the bank.
You can also get free wigs and fabric support through the scheme and travel to health appointments.
Want to know more? We’ve done an explainer.
Free dental treatment
You could be in line for free dental care if you’re on Universal Credit or other benefits.
If you’re on Universal Credit, you can claim support by showing your dental surgery a copy of your Universal Credit award.
However, you won’t be able to claim on health costs before you started receiving the benefit.
If you’re on a low income you can also get help with dental treatment, again through the NHS low income scheme.
Eye tests and discounted glasses
Depending on what benefits you’re on, you could be entitled to free eye tests and discounted glasses.
But you’ll need to take proof of what benefit you’re on along with you to the opticians.
Free education and childcare for two-year-olds
If you have a two-year-old you can get free childcare – but you must be receiving one a number of benefits, including Income Support and Universal Credit.
But two-year-olds can also get free childcare if they’re looked after by the local authority, are on an education, health and care (EHC) plan or get Disability Living Allowance.
They’ll also be eligible if they’ve left care under an adoption order, special guardianship order or a child arrangements order.
Bear in mind, the free support might not cover extra costs like meals, nappies or trips.
To apply you should contact your childcare provider or local council to see if you could be in line for help.
£1,200 free cash through help to save scheme
Millions could be missing out on £1,200 through the government’s help to save scheme.
The scheme is available to those on Working Tax Credit or Universal Credit.
You get a bonus of 50p for every £1 you save each month over a four-year period.
You can put away £50 maximum each month.
If you added £50 month for four years you would get £1,200 in free cash from the government in total.
You can apply for the scheme by setting up an account via Gov.uk but you’ll need a gateway user ID and password.
If you don’t have a user ID, you can create one when you apply.
For those who don’t have access to the internet, you can still get an account – just call 0300 322 7093.
We offer more information on the help to save scheme in our explainer.
Healthy start scheme
The healthy start scheme could see parents get up to £442 of free food per year.
The state-backed scheme helps low-income families with small children pay for milk, vegetables, fruit, pulses and vitamins by providing them with a pre-paid card.
To apply, you just need to download an application form from the Healthy Start website, print it off, fill it in and send it to:
Freepost RRTR-SYAE-JKCR, Healthy Start Issuing Unit, PO Box 1067, Warrington, WA55 1EG.
If you don’t have a printer, you can call the Healthy Start helpline on 0345 607 6823 and get a form sent to you.
See how you can get more help with the healthy start scheme in our guide.
Maternity grant – up to £500
Thousands of new parents on Universal Credit can get a £500 grant to help with childcare costs through the Sure Start grant.
The one-off payment doesn’t need to be paid back and it won’t reduce your monthly Universal Credit payment or tax credits.
To apply, you’ll need to print out and fill in a claim form, providing personal details such as your name, address and partner’s details if applicable.
To get a Sure Start Maternity Grant you must have no other children under 16.
Disabled Facilities Grant
You could get up to £30,000 a year if you’re on a means-tested grant because you have a permanent disability of any sort and live in England.
The money can be used to pay for works such as installing a walk-in shower, stairlift or converting a downstairs room into an accessible toilet or bathroom.
To apply, you’ll have to go through your local council.
You can apply if you live in Wales and Northern Ireland too.
You can get a maximum grant of £36,000 in Wales and £26,000 in Northern Ireland.
Winter fuel payments
The winter fuel payment is made once a year to elderly people with a limited income to help with heating bills.
You’ll be eligible for the payment if you were born on or before September 25, 1956, and you could get between £250 and £600 this year.
That’s because the government is topping up normal payments with a £300 cost of living payment per household.
You can claim the payment by phone or post. For more details, you can visit the government’s website.
Help with housing costs
If you’re on certain benefits or Universal Credit you can get help with your housing costs through a discretionary housing payment.
Each local authority hands out the money on a case-by-case basis though, so it’s best to check in with yours to see if you’re eligible.
Learn more about the discretionary housing payment in our guide.
Help with funeral costs
You can get a funeral expenses payment if you meet certain criteria, including being on certain benefits or tax credits.
You also have to meet certain rules on the relationship you had with the deceased person and the funeral must be held in the UK, European Economic Area or Switzerland.
You must apply within six months of the funeral and meet other criteria.
To make a claim by calling the Bereavement Service helpline on 0800 151 2012.
Bereavement support payments
Grieving parties can claim as much as £10,000 in backdated benefits under bereavement support benefits.
It comes following a legal change to a government policy.
You could be eligible if your partner either:
- paid National Insurance contributions for at least 25 weeks in one tax year since 6 April 1975
- died because of an accident at work or a disease caused by work
When they died you must have been:
- under State Pension age
- living in the UK or a country that pays bereavement benefits
You may be able to get the payment if your husband, wife or civil partner died in the last 21 months.
However, you must claim within three months of your partner’s death to get the full amount.
To make a claim, you can the Bereavement Service Helpline as above on 0800 151 2012.
Reduced court fees
You could get help paying court and tribunal fees if you’re receivin certain benefits or have a low income.
Whether you’re eligible depends on what savings you have, what benefits you’re on and your income.
You can apply on the government’s website.