Cost-of-living payments: What are they, who gets them and are they fair?

Cost-of-living payments: What are they, who gets them and are they fair?
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Eight million people on means-tested benefits will receive a final instalment of cost-of-living payments imminently.

Those on benefits such as universal credit will be paid directly, without the need to make a claim, between 6 February and 22 February.

It is the last of three instalments that total £900.

But an influential committee of MPs has said these payments have been insufficient to tackle the extent of the financial problem many people face.

What cost-of-living payments are available?

Some groups are receiving payments to help with higher bills, including:

  • £900 in total in three instalments. One was paid in spring, one in November and the third is being paid in February to households on means-tested benefits
  • £300 for pensioner households paid over the winter
  • £150 to people on certain disability benefits has been paid

All are paid directly into eligible recipients’ bank accounts, and people are being warned about scammers using the situation to try to trick people into handing over personal information.

Who is eligible for the £900 payment?

The payment, which has come in three instalments of £301, £300 and £299, is available to households who receive the following benefits:

  • Universal credit
  • Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
  • Income-related employment and support allowance
  • Income support
  • Working tax credit
  • Child tax credit
  • Pension credit

The payment reference on a recipient’s bank account is their national insurance number, followed by DWP COL.

The 1.1 million people who receive only working tax credit or child tax credit, rather than any of the other benefits have the reference HMRC COLS.

People are not eligible for these payments if they receive the new-style employment and support allowance, contributory employment and support allowance, or the new-style jobseeker’s allowance – unless they get universal credit.

Anyone who thinks they should have received the help but did not should contact the office that pays their benefit or tax credits, or report it here.

To qualify for the next instalment, people need to have claimed a benefits payment between 13 November and 12 December, or received a payment for an assessment period ending between these dates. Pensioner households may be able to have a new pension credit claim backdated.

An estimated 850,000 pensioner households do not claim pension credit, which is a gateway to these extra payments.

None of these cost-of-living payments affect the tax you pay, or the benefits or tax credits you receive.

What help are disabled people getting?

Up to six million people on the following disability benefits received another £150:

  • Disability living allowance
  • Personal independence payment
  • Attendance allowance
  • Scottish disability payments
  • Armed Forces independence payment
  • Constant attendance allowance
  • War pension mobility supplement

Those payments were made between 20 June and 4 July.

What help are pensioners getting?

Households that receive the winter fuel payment – which is worth £200-£300 and is paid to nearly all homes with at least one person of pension age – received an extra £300 during the winter.

Lower-income pensioners who claim pension credit get the money in addition to the support provided for those on benefits.

What cost-of-living payments have people already received?

Two payments totalling £650 were made in 2022 to more than eight million low-income households.

Payments of £300 were also paid to pensioners during last winter, and a £150 payment was also made to those with disabilities.

Some people would have received all of those payments, if they were eligible.

What other support have people had?

A £150 rebate, often through people’s council tax bill, was made in 2022. The Household Support Fund, which is distributed by local councils, helped vulnerable people, including giving fuel vouchers to those in need.

All household energy bills were cut by at least £400 between October 2022 and March 2023.

The discount was made automatically by energy suppliers in England, Scotland and Wales. However, that was not repeated a year later.

They received a single payment of £600 starting in January 2023, which was more than in the rest of the UK because a higher proportion of households use heating oil.

Direct debit customers in Northern Ireland had the money paid into their bank accounts. Other customers were sent a voucher.

Cost of living: Tackling it together


What have MPs said about the system of payments?

Following an inquiry, the Commons Work and Pensions Committee published a report in November which said payments were not enough for many people, given the scale of the problem. The report said the money only provided a temporary reprieve for some.

It said payments were insufficient for those with extra costs associated with their disabilities and there was particular concern for some larger families. Disability charity Scope says some people cannot afford to power vital equipment.

The report said the payments have had an important impact, but the system was relatively unsophisticated, meaning some of those in need slipped through the net.

Significantly, it argues that, in the future, the government should consider increasing benefits rather than giving ad-hoc payments.

The government’s response is that cost-of-living payments have provided “a significant financial boost to millions of households” and that the best long-term approach to financial security is to get people into work and boost their skills.

What else is the government doing to tackle energy prices?

The government launched an Energy Price Guarantee in October 2022, which limited a typical dual-fuel household’s annual energy bill to £2,500 throughout last winter.

The scheme, which applied to England, Wales and Scotland, has not been required since July.

That’s because a typical bill fell below this level under regulator Ofgem’s energy price cap in the summer, and fell further in October.

However, it went up by 5% to £1,928 in January, but is expected to fall again in April.

What about help for businesses?

A government scheme to cut energy bills for businesses finished at the end of March 2023.

Under a new scheme that began in April, firms get a discount on wholesale prices rather than costs being capped as under the previous deal.

Heavy energy-using sectors, like glass, ceramics and steelmakers, get a larger discount than others.

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By David Ryckman