I’m a benefits expert – common mistakes could mean you’re losing out on HUNDREDS

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GETTING all the help you need is crucial as a cost of living crisis bites – but common benefits mistakes could mean you’re losing out on hundreds.

Households have been warned that they face a £1,000 drop in income as finances are being ravaged by soaring bills and prices.

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Benefits expert Anna Stevenson explains how to avoid missing out on thousands of pounds

And as wages have failed to keep pace with the rising rate of inflation – which has hit 7% – thousands of people’s incomes simply aren’t covering essential bills.

It means that many people are relying on extra help from benefit payments to help them get by.

But a number of simple mistakes that are easy to make could be costing you thousands of pounds, Turn2Us benefits expert Anna Stevenson said.

She is one of the experts on The Sun’s Squeeze Team panel, here to help you manage your money during these tight times.

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If you’re worried about how to make ends meet, are struggling to pay off your debts or don’t know how best to manage your cash, get in touch by emailing Squeezeteam@thesun.co.uk.

Check what benefits you are entitled to

Millions of people are missing out on money they are entitled to.

Turn2Us’ latest research shows that seven million people in the UK are missing out on £15billion in unclaimed benefits.

The biggest pot of cash that was left unclaimed last year was housing benefit, with £3.3billion up for grabs.

While around 1million people are missing out on a total £2.9billion in Universal Credit.

“At a time where the rising cost-of-living is squeezing the incomes of millions of people across the UK, more people than ever will be forced to make impossible decisions to get by – this isn’t right,” Ms Stevenson said.

“Use our quick, easy, free and confidential online Benefits Calculator to see if there are any benefits you could be claiming.”

Believing benefit myths

You might think that you are not eligible for extra help if you’re working, or have some savings in the bank.

But that’s a common mistake people who can get help are making, Ms Stevenson said.

“Don’t assume if you are working or have some savings you can’t claim benefits,” she said.

“Around half of all people claiming Universal Credit are in work, for example.”

For example, you can get Universal Credit if you are over 18, out of work, or on a low income with less than £16,000 in savings.

And if you have savings of £10,000 or less, it won’t affect how much pension credit you can get – Turn2Us estimates 958,000 people lost out on £1.8billion last year.

Again, you can use Turn2Us’ benefits entitlement calculator to double check you’re not missing out on any help.

Missing out on benefit perks

You might not know that you can get bill discounts and freebies if you claim certain benefits.

“By being in receipt of benefits, you could access extra help – examples include low-cost water or broadband tariffs, free school meals or healthy start vouchers for your children,” Ms Stevenson said.

Here’s how you can apply for each discount.

Money off water bills

Low income households can save up to £500 a year on their water bill.

You could be able to qualify for the WaterSure scheme and get you bills capped.

To qualify for the scheme you need to already have a water meter installed, and prove you need to use a lot of water.

You also need to have three or more children under the age of 19 living in the house, and receive child benefit for them.

The Consumer Council for Water estimates that bills are reduced by £270 on average through the scheme.

While individual water suppliers also offer social tariffs – so its worth checking in with yours to see what is on offer and if you can apply for it.

You need to apply directly to the company to get the tariff.

For example, Affinity Water offers a cap of £103.70 to low-income households in areas such as Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire on its Lift tariff.

You will need a household income below £16,385 excluding benefits.

Portsmouth Water’s Helping Hand tariff offers low income households or those on benefits earning below £16,480 per year a £77.76 cap on their bills.

Broadband tariffs

You could save up to £144 a year on cheap broadband tariffs if you are in receipt of certain benefits.

For example, Voxi, which is part of Vodafone, is offering its half a million customers unlimited 5G data, calls and texts for £10 a month for up to six months if they are getting certain benefits.

It means they’ll be saving £150 over six months compared to if they were on full price tariffs.

Sky has also launched a cheaper broadband tariff – the new £20 a month deal is called Sky Broadband Basics and is for existing Sky customers who are getting Universal Credit or Pension Credit.

The new tariff will offer 36M/bs broadband for 18 months, and usually that costs £25 a month – so you could save £90 over that time.

While it’s estimated that up to 4.2million households could be eligible for cheap broadband deals, regular Ofcom says only around 55,000 homes have taken advantage of the offers.

Free school meals and vouchers

You could also qualify for free school meals or Healthy Start vouchers to help you pay for food.

If you claim certain benefits – which you can check here – you’ll be eligible for the help.

The help usually continues over the school holidays – typically parents can claim from £15 to £30 worth of vouchers, but it can vary depending on where you live.

You have to apply for free school meals through your local council – you should contact them for more information.

You can also apply for the Healthy Start vouchers scheme – under which you can get up to £442 worth of food.

The scheme gives money to parents and pregnant women to help with the cost of buying healthy food.

You money will be put on a digital pre-paid card.

There’s eligibility criteria you need to hit – which you can read here – but if you get Universal Credit, for example, and your monthly pay from employment is £408 or less, you’re able to claim.

If you’re eligible, you’ll get £4.25 each week of your pregnancy from the 10th week.

After your child is born, you’ll get £8.50 a week until they turn one.

From then, families get a £4.25 a week payment until the child reaches four years’ old.

You can apply for the Healthy Start Scheme online and your prepayment card should be sent to you in the post.

Failing to update personal info

If your personal circumstances change, you must update the benefits office.

If you don’t alert them of any updates – such as name, gender, job or address changes – the benefits office could put your payments on pause.

It could mean you could miss out on hundreds of pounds worth of payments.

Keep in mind that you will need to get in contact with multiple departments separately if you claim different benefits, Ms Stevenson said.

“It is pretty common that people will be getting benefits that are paid and administered by different departments of the government.

“If something changes in your life, you need to update all the offices that pay your benefits – you cannot rely on just telling one of them and trusting that they will update the other benefits’ systems.”

For example, Universal Credit claimants should report changes using their online account or by ringing the helpline.

While people who claim Pension Credit should contact the Pension Service helpline or report changes by post.

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Another simple mistake you could make includes failing to inform the benefit office if you’re planning to go abroad for any length of time.

To check all the changes you need to report to avoid your benefits payments being paused, reduced or overpaid, visit the government website.

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