Heating bills are a worry for low-income families, elderly, the disabled and the unemployed. Assistance is available for people who find themselves unable to pay their heating bill. Energy assistance funds are available through government programs, charitable organisations and often times through local utility companies. If you are unable to pay your heating bill, the first thing you should do is call your utility company. It may have programs available that will extend or reduce your payments.
Types of Assistance
Financial assistance to help offset the cost of heating, free or discounted heating oil and home weatherization programs are types of help you can receive to pay and lower your heating bill. Utility companies may also give you additional time to pay, offer you a balanced pay plan that will prevent higher bills in the winter, or structure a repayment plan that will help you get caught up if you are experiencing a temporary financial crisis.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a block grant funded by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. This program provides financial assistance to low-income households who meet eligibility requirements. Low-income households can apply for financial assistance to prevent termination of service or reinstate service, as well as apply for assistance to lower their regular monthly heating bill. Benefit levels, eligibility and disconnect policies of the LIHEAP are determined at the state level.
States are required to set the eligibility limits for LIHEAP at no more than 150 per cent and no less than 110 per cent of federal poverty guidelines. Priority may be given to households with higher energy costs in relation to their income. The exception to this rule is in states where 60 per cent of the median income is higher. Federal law allows states to define households that are automatically eligible because they receive government food assistance or cash aid. States are not required to offer automatic eligibility. Eleven states currently use an asset test in addition to income requirements to determine eligibility. Allowable assets range in value from £975 to £10,075 in these states.
The Salvation Army Heat Share program helps low-income seniors, disabled individuals and people with unexpected emergencies that cannot pay their heating bill with emergency financial assistance. Recipients can use these funds to pay for natural gas, heating oil, propane, wood and furnace repairs. The United Way, Catholic Charities and the American Red Cross also provide emergence energy assistance.
Citizens Energy Oil Heat program delivers free and discounted heating oil to low income and elderly households in cold weather states. Households must have their applications in prior to the cut-off date to qualify for assistance each year. This program helps households on LIHEAP as well as families that do not qualify for low-income assistance from the government.
Weatherization Assistance Program
The U.S. Department of Energy provides funds to states, U.S. territories and Indian tribal governments which, in turn, fund agencies and local governments that provide weatherization services to low income families. This program is designed to permanently lower utility bills through increasing the energy efficiency of homes and apartments. According to the Department of Energy, the average household that receives this assistance saves about £284 a year on utility bills. Contact your state weatherization agency or local utility for more information about this program and to find out if you qualify.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: LIHEAP Client Eligibility
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: State Percent of Poverty Guidelines for LIHEAP Components
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: LIHEAP Expedited or Automatic Eligibility
- Salvation Army: Heat Share
- Citizens Energy: Oil Heat Program