IF there’s one thing that can help cheer us up as we muddle through another national lockdown, it’s a freebie.
And there’s plenty of free money up for grabs if you know where to look.
As part of our Consumer Crew Fix Your Finances series, we round up the offers, schemes and benefits you need to know about.
Benefits – families are missing out on £16billion
Families are missing out on £16billion worth of benefits, according to the most recent estimates by charity entitledto.co.uk.
People are failing to claim for several different benefits including: child benefit, child tax credit, working tax credit, pension credit, housing benefit, job seekers allowance, council tax support and income support.
Visit entitledto.co.uk to help you uncover any free money you are missing out on.
The Gov.uk website also has a free benefits calculator to help you work out what you could be owed.
What benefits are available?
THESE are the benefits that are available from the Government, broken down into sections:
The six main means-tested benefits have now been merged with Universal Credit. These are:
- Working tax credit
- Child tax credit
- Housing benefit
- Emplyment and support allowance
- Jobseeker's Allowance
- Income support.
- Family benefits
- Child benefit
- Child tax credits
- Guardian's allowance
- Statutory maternity/paternity/adoption pay
- Marriage allowance
- Maternity grant
- Maternity allowance
- Widowed parent's allowance.
Able to work
- Working tax credit
- Contribution-based jobseeker's allowance (JSA).
- Income support
- Income-based jobseeker's allowance
- Income-based employment and support allowance
- Pension credit
- Housing benefit
- Council tax reduction
- Free school meals, milk or uniforms and healthcare
- Support for mortgage interest
- Budgeting loans and advances
- Funeral payment
- Local council support schemes
- Cold weather payments
Health and disabilities
- Attendance allowance
- Personal independence payment
- Carer's allowance
- Contribution-based employment support allowance
- Statutory sick pay
- State pension
- Bereavement allowance
- Bereavement payment
- Winter fuel payments
Tax-free childcare – get up to £2,000 a year
There’s a boost from the government when working parents save in the tax-free childcare scheme.
For every £8 you save towards childcare costs, the government tops up an extra £2.
The maximum top-up each year is £2,000 per child, although if your children are disabled the maximum rises to £4,000.
If you can afford to set aside £2,000 a year, the government contribution will add £500. If you save £4,000 a year you get a £1,000 boost.
In total, you can use the scheme to pay for up to £10,000 worth of free childcare per year.
You get the top-up instantly, so once you’ve put the money into the account, you can then use it to pay for any registered childcare provider.
The scheme, first introduced in 2017, can also be used by self-employed workers.
It’s also not just the parents who can pay into the account – if grandparents, other family members or employers want to pay in, then they can.
Visit the Gov.uk website for more information.
FIX YOUR FINANCES
THE SUN’S Consumer Crew series is here to help you Fix Your Finances.
We want to help make you richer in 2021 by transforming your finances.
As always, we will fight your corner. Next week our our Consumer Crew panel will also be on hand to help answer your money questions or problems.
Send your questions to: [email protected]
Home improvement voucher schemes – get up to £10,000 a year
With winter in full swing it’s worth checking if you can make your home warmer for free.
Funding from the government’s Green Homes Grant means many homes in England can fit insulation and double glazing for free.
Families can get vouchers worth £5,000 – or £10,000 for low-income households – to spend on energy-saving improvements in their home.
The scheme, originally announced in Chancellor Rishi Sunak's Summer Statement, was extended for a year as people struggled to find approved installers to complete the work within the original deadline of March 31, 2021.
Energy savings grants may be available from homeenergyscotland.org, WelshEnergy.com and NI Energy advice in Northern Ireland at NIDirect.gov.uk.
Cash in on cashback websites – earn £325 a year on average
If you already done so, sign up to a cashback scheme which gives members percentage of their money back for products and services bought via its website.
Once you’re registered, just click through to the brands you need to buy from and money automatically credits your cashback account.
You simply need to transfer it into your current account as and when.
Try Topcashback.com and quidco.com.
Among the best deals at the moment are £150 for signing up to Virgin Media Fibre broadband, TV and calls – but you’d need to be quick as on Sunday it drops to £130.
Topcashback says the average user banks £325 a year.
The Sun previously spoke to one couple who saved £25,000 in 2020 by using cashback websites and making financial swaps.
How do cashback websites work?
They promise to earn you money on your shopping – but how do cashback websites work?
- Cashback sites agree offers with retailers which they pass on to customers
- This can vary from a set amount of money off whatever you are buying, or a percentage of the cost of your purchase
- The sums range from pennies for groceries to more than £100 for some mobile or broadband contracts
- You have to make your purchases by clicking through from the cashback site
- Because the sites drive traffic to retailers, they earn money from brands they support
- Membership of most sites is free – although some offer premium subscriptions which you pay more for.
Refer a friend – earn hundreds a year
Rewards for referring friends to retailers are a very simple way to earn money.
Many offer credit off your next spend but there are some websites that pay actual cash.
Savings app Plum pays £15 in cash for each three successful referrals.
The app is free but your friend needs to connect it to their bank account to complete sign up for you to get your bonus.
Topcashback.co.uk pays out for referring mates.
Members get £25 referral bonus once the friend has earned more than £10 cashback, plus they get a £5 cashback bonus themselves.
Sky offers a £75 prepaid Mastercard for you and a friend when they sign up, Virgin Media gives up to £50 off for both parties when a friend joins a cable plan.
Among the brands that pay credit for referrals, florist Bloom & Wild offer £10 to refer a friend, interiors firm Cox & Cox credits £25 to you and the friend and fashion retailer Hush will credit £20 to you both.
Costa Coffee fans can get free drinks and food by sign up to its app through its Refer A Friend scheme.
The app generates a code and you can bag 200 points – worth £2 – for friends who register on the app using a code and make a purchase.
The credit is given to both parties, and there’s no limit to how many friends you can refer.
New Coffee Club members also automatically get 100 bonus points for joining the scheme.
Energy rebate – Get back £108 on average
There’s a good chance you are one of the 13 million homes in the UK are owed £1.7 billion by energy suppliers – a 13.5% increase from last year.
According to recent research, the average person who pays by direct debit is £108 in credit with their energy provider.
Some providers don’t automatically issue refunds, so it’s up to you to ask.
Check your account balance online or speak to customer services about if you are in credit.
If you are in credit, you simply need to ask customer services to refund that credit.
While your previous supplier should have repaid any credit, many fail to do so.
Contact them direct to check – have your old account details handy.
If your energy company does not refund credit readily, or within eight weeks of the request, you can lodge a complaint with the Energy Ombudsman.
What to do if you can’t pay your bills
FALLING behind on your energy bills can be extremely stressful.
If you’re struggling to pay what you owe, contact your supplier as soon as possible.
Your provider has to help you come up with a solution, and you should be able to negotiate a deal that works for you both.
One option is to agree a payment plan where you pay off your debts in affordable instalments.
You may be able to pay off your debts directly from your benefits through the Fuel Direct Scheme.
A fixed amount will automatically be taken to cover what you owe plus your usage.
To be eligible, you must be getting one of the following benefits:
- Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
- Income support
- income-related employment and support allowance
- Pension credit
- Universal Credit (but only if you’re not working)
If you cannot come to an agreement with your supplier, they may try to force you to get a prepayment meter installed.
In very rare cases, where you refuse to negotiate, your supplier might threaten you with disconnection.
Claim NS&I winnings
There are currently more than 1.8 million unclaimed Premium Bond prizes worth more than £67 million waiting to be claimed.
But it's easy to check if you've won without realising on the NS&I website.
You'll need to know the numbers of your Premium Bonds which can be found on your Bond record or through your online account.
If you've lost track of your numbers you can ask NS&I for them.
Reunite with lost £££ – there is millions left unclaimed
There’s an estimated £850million lying unclaimed in lost bank accounts that could belong to you.
Check using a free service dedicated to reuniting people with forgotten cash – mylostaccount.org.uk.
You can even take pot luck and order a search if you’re not sure which bank or building society your account is with – or even if you’re not sure if an account exists at all.
An estimated £400million is also sitting in lost or forgotten pension pots.
With people changing jobs so often it’s common to have a trail of several different pension schemes.
To trace an old scheme visit Gov.uk or call 0845 600 2537.
Switching bank bribes
Usually banks hand out cash to new current account customers.
For example, from September to November HSBC had been offering £125 to anyone opening an Advance or Premier account.
While there are no cash offers around for switching, you can bag a 12-bottle case of wine from Virgin Money worth £180 by switching to its current account.
It also pays 2.02% on the first £1,000 paid in.
Santander offers cashback on its 123 Lite account such as 3% on water bills, 2% of energy and the bank’s own home and life insurance and 1% on a number of bills including phone, broadband and Santander mortgages.
There is, however, a £2 monthly fee which eats into the cashback perks.
There’s every possibility that banks will start offering cash for new customers again later in the year so watch this space if you’re thinking of switching.
Swapping current accounts is straightforward thanks to the Current Account Switch Service, which moves all your payments, direct debits and standing orders within seven working days.
For more money-saving advice, we've got a full guide on how to fix your finances in 2021 including savings and paying off debt.
The Sun spoke to one couple who paid off their mortgage and retire early by cutting their bills by £7,000.
If you’re in debt then it can feel overwhelming to know where to start, which is why we've put together a guide to the tried and tested techniques to tackle it.
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