Its freezing! Literally... right across the UK. The big freeze means that many people on low incomes will struggle to stay warm and pay their energy bills.

It is a nightmare for many, and this was highlighted today when I was asked to appear on BBC Radio Kent to talk about this issue. Mary, a disabled lady I spoke to, was really struggling to keep her house, herself and her family warm. It was quite literally a case of needing to wear extra jumpers and wrap up in warm blankets. It is fair to say that Mary was having a nightmare time of it and to add insult to injury, she wasn't getting anywhere with help to make her home warm, either from the council or from any type of advice service.

In Mary's case I have offered to help, to see what can be done and I'm grateful to the BBC for highlighting the story.

There is clearly still a lot to be done in relation to fuel poverty and the decent homes agenda, especially in the case of private sector homes. It is something I have been involved in for a while, with my key partners DABD and London Warm Zone.

So what can be done to help?

Financially

Do make sure you are not missing out on benefits and tax credits you could be entitled to.

Cold Weather Payments of £25 will be triggered automatically for certain client groups. The Direct.Gov website has details on this.

The Winter Fuel Payment for the over 60's has, for most people, already been paid - remember this is money to help you pay your fuel bills, which will obviously be much higher in the winter. The Direct.Gov website has info on the Winter Fuel Payment, including info for those that need to claim it if it hasn't been paid to you automatically already.

Get a full entitlement check carried out to make sure you are not missing out anything else - e.g. Council Tax Benefit, Pension Credit, disability benefits such as Disability Living Allowance or Attendance Allowance and of course, Tax Credits. If you maximise your income you will have more money to pay your energy bills.

Your home

Fuel efficiency schemes do exist in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In England for example, there is Warm Front, but this is a Grant Scheme, not an emergency service, so although schemes like this can help with things like central heating, there will invariably be a waiting list. Not good if you are already without central heating. There is also qualifying criteria.

Local Authorities will often have their own schemes to help with fuel efficiency. Contact your local authority to find out exactly what they have available. Look on their website or call the relevant department - it might come under Housing or Environment for example.

The Energy Saving Trust has lots of information on its website, including information on grants available to people and the recently announced boiler scrappage scheme.

Emergencies

Please seek advice on your situation if you having real difficulties staying warm. Contact your local social services department or your local advice service. Or perhaps talk to a close relative or friend so that they can seek some help for you. It is so important to stay warm this winter - but as already highlighted, this is easier said than done when you are on a low income.

Lee H