Help with the Cost of Living

The cost of living crisis isn’t going away anytime soon and many of us are feeling the squeeze on our finances. As winter approaches, costs like heating, energy and food may go up causing financial difficulties for many households.

Sadly, those hit hardest by the increased energy, fuel and food prices are those on the lowest incomes.

There are specific payments for those on means tested benefits, for pensioners and those on disability benefits.

There is also helpful information about further support available on the Cost of Living website.

Easy Read guide to Cost of Living Payments

Woman opens empty purse

Cost of Living Payments

Millions of people on means-tested benefits will receive the third of three Cost of Living Payments, which taken together, could total up to £900 over this financial year 2023-24.

The first 2023 payment of £301 was paid between 25 April and 17 May, the second payment of £300 was paid between 31 October and 19 November and the third payment of £299 will be paid between 6 and 22 February 2024.

The payment is for people on a qualifying means-tested benefit, who were entitled to payment during the qualifying period 13 November to 12 December 2023, or a payment for an assessment period ending within the qualifying period.

The qualifying benefits include:

  • Universal Credit
  • Pension Credit
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Income Support
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit.

The Cost of Living Payment will be paid automatically, meaning those eligible do not need to apply or contact DWP or HMRC. It will be paid separately to benefit payments and the reference will appear in accounts with the account holder’s National Insurance number and ‘DWP COL’.

For tax credit-only customers, the reference will appear in accounts as ‘HMRC COLS’, referencing Cost of Living Support.

To be eligible for this payment, you must have been entitled to a payment (or later found to be entitled to a payment) of either:

• Universal Credit for an assessment period that ended on or within the period 13 November to 12 December 2023.
• Income based JSA, income related ESA, Income Support, or Pension Credit, for any day in the period 13 November to 12 December 2023.
• For tax credit-only customers, they must have received a payment of tax credits any day in the period 13 November to 12 December 2023.

Find out more about the range of government support with the cost of living at

Winter Fuel Payment

If you’re entitled to a Winter Fuel Payment for winter 2023 to 2024, you will get an extra £150 or £300 paid with your normal payment from November 2023.

The full amount of Winter Fuel Payment (including the Pensioner Cost of Living Payment) you will get for winter 2023 to 2024 depends on when you were born and your circumstances during the qualifying dates.

You can get a Winter Fuel Payment for winter 2023 to 2024 if you were born before 24 September 1957.

This guidance will be updated with the qualifying dates for the payment when they are published.

You will be sent a letter in October or November telling you how much Winter Fuel Payment you’ll get if you’re eligible.

Other help

Find out what other benefits and financial support you might be able to get to help with your living costs.

Use an independent benefits calculator to find out what benefits you could get.

Budgeting loans

You may be eligible for a Budgeting Loan if you’ve been on certain benefits for 6 months. This can be used for household items, rent in advance and travelling costs.

Check if you are eligible for a budgeting loan.

Fuel vouchers

If you can’t afford to top up your prepayment meter you might be able to get a fuel voucher. This is a code given to you in a letter or in a text message or email. You can use it to add credit to your gas card or electricity key. If you don’t have one of these, contact your supplier to get one.

If you’re still not sure if you can get a voucher, ask a Family Adviser for help.

You can use a fuel voucher at:

  • a shop signed up to PayPoint – find a shop near you on the PayPoint website
  • a Post Office or shop signed up to Payzone – find a Post Office or shop near you on the Payzone website

To use your voucher, you’ll need to take:

  • the code and instructions
  • some form of ID – for example, your passport or a bill with your name and address
  • smart phones are needed to access the voucher electronically
  • You must use your fuel voucher within 3 months after you get it.

If you have problems using your voucher, contact the organisation that gave it to you. You should be able to find their contact information on the instructions.

Cold Weather Payments

Cold Weather Payments are one-off payments to help you pay for extra heating costs when it’s very cold. You’ll get a payment each time the temperature drops below a specific temperature for a set period of time. You’ll only be eligible for a Cold Weather Payment if you already get:

  • Pension Credit
  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Universal Credit.

If you are eligible, you’ll get paid automatically. Find out more about Cold Weather Payments.


Help with Water Bills

Thames Water offers low-income households who qualify a 50% discount on their whole water bill. This amount may change in the future.

They consider households earning below £16,480 to be on a low income. In order to qualify, Thames Water will check your details and verify your income. Information about how they look at your income is on the back of the application form.

What’s WaterSure?

If you’re on a water meter but finding it hard to save water because you have a large family or water-dependent medical condition, Thames Water may be able to cap your bills through WaterSure.

Find out more about the WaterSure scheme.

Easy read guide to the Priority Services Register.


A cardboard box full of tins of food, bottles and a packet of pasta


Help with Food

If you’re at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under 4 years old, you might be able to get free vitamins and Healthy Start vouchers for milk, fruit and vegetables and infant formula milk.

To get the free vitamins and Healthy Start vouchers you must also be claiming either:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance – but only if you’re pregnant
  • Child Tax Credit – and your household earns £16,190 a year or less
  • Pension Credit
  • Universal Credit – and your household earns £408 a month or less

If you get Child Tax Credit you can’t get the vitamins and vouchers if you also get Working Tax Credit, unless you get the ‘run-on’ payment. Working Tax Credit run-on is the payment you get for 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit.

If you’re under 18 and pregnant, you can still get vitamins and food vouchers even if you don’t get any of these benefits.

Ask your midwife or health visitor for an application form. You can also call the Healthy Start helpline on 0345 607 6823 and ask them to send you a form.

Calls cost up to 9p a minute from landlines and up to 55p a minute from mobiles. It should be free if you call from your mobile and have landline calls included in your contract.

Ask a Family Adviser if you need a food parcel. Reading’s food bank, ReadiFood, is a ‘by referral only’ service. You cannot order a parcel for yourself. You can someone at Reading Borough Council, Social Services, the Job Centre, your GP, School, or indeed any professional body/agency who will be able to vouch for your need.

Reading Food Bank:

Broadband on benefits

Easier for Sky customers to get cheaper internet thanks to DWP scheme

Sky is the first national provider to help their customers access cheaper broadband by signing up to the Department for Work and Pensions scheme for benefit claimants.

Switching to a social tariff – cheaper broadband and phone packages for people claiming Universal Credit, Pension Credit and some other benefits – could save claimants up to £180 a year.

The government scheme lets internet service providers – with claimants’ permission – ask the DWP to automatically verify their customers’ benefit entitlement.

This means people do not need to actively prove they claim benefits whilst on a tariff designed for those on low incomes, as they did previously, often as frequently as every month.

Sky and its subsidiary brand NOW join a growing list of providers signing up to the government initiative to help millions access cut price broadband, with WightFibre already signed up to the scheme.

The availability of social tariffs has been strengthened recently thanks to a drive by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to encourage telecommunicators to expand their range of cheaper deals.

Broadband social tariff take-up more than doubled in 2022 to 136,000 households.

Those in receipt of benefits interested in exploring broadband tariff options should visit Ofcom’s website to view the full list of options on offer from providers.

There are a number of social tariffs on offer for those receiving Universal Credit and other means tested benefits, and DWP is encouraging claimants to check their entitlement to the growing list of important services accessible at lower rates. Other examples include help with health costs and Healthy Start vouchers for pregnant women and young children.

Anyone who thinks they could be eligible for a social tariff is urged to use an online benefit calculator, which can help people access support.

Broadband is a modern day essential, but it can be difficult to find the money to pay for it if you’re on benefits or universal credit.

However, there are packages available designed to keep those on a low income connected. Below is everything you need to know about them.

Whatever your income, it’s always worth checking out deals:

New or existing BT customers on one of these benefits can apply:

  • Universal Credit (all claimants)
  • Pension Credit (Guarantee Credit)
  • Employment and Support Allowance (Eligibility rules apply)
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance. (Eligibility rules apply)
  • Income Support
  • The deal offers either phone only for £10 per month or with broadband for £15 per month. This gives you unlimited data. Eligibility is given for one year at a time and checked every 12 months. No early exit fees, so you’re not tied in if your circumstances change.

If you are with Virgin Media and claim Universal Credit you may qualify for their Essential Broadband package. This offer is for broadband and is £15 per month, with speed restrictions of 15Mpbs download and 2Mbps upload attached. Please note that if you receive a TV package through Virgin Media and apply for this discounted broadband, you will lose your TV package.

A woman is working at home using a modem router, connecting the Internet to her laptop.


TV Licence fee freeze

The TV licence fee has been frozen at £159 until 2024. This means households will not see any change to the licence fee until 1 April 2024.

Find out more information on free TV Licences for the over 75s.