Some 300,000 more homes are likely to have been pushed into "fuel poverty" by Christmas amid soaring energy prices, an advisory body has warned.
The Fuel Poverty Advisory Group (FPAG) urged Prime Minister David Cameron to take stronger action to ensure there is a more widespread and ambitious effort to tackle "spiralling" fuel poverty levels. It said the latest round of energy price rises has increased the average annual energy bill by 7%, taking it to £1,247 for direct debit customers and £1,336 for cash and cheque customers.
These increases are likely to have pushed a further 300,000 households into fuel poverty and estimates have already shown that over nine million households could be living in fuel poverty by 2016, the FPAG said.
The FPAG said the Government should create a cross-departmental group on fuel poverty to ensure a joined-up approach as well as creating a new duty for local authorities to meet fuel poverty targets. It said the Government should also carry out an urgent impact assessment of welfare reforms on fuel poverty.
Derek Lickorish, chairman of the FPAG, said: "Millions are living in misery due to high energy bills. Yet time is running out for the Government to fuel poverty-proof the homes of those on the lowest incomes. A toxic cocktail of rising wholesale prices, the high cost of energy reforms and cuts in incomes for many households means fuel poverty levels are set to sky rocket without radical action."
Families are considered to be in fuel poverty when they have to spend more than 10% of their incomes on keeping their homes warm. The FPAG said that nearly half of the UK's fuel poor households are pensioners, a third contain people with some sort of disability or illness, a fifth contain a child aged five or under and one in 10 house someone aged 75 or over.
The Government recently announced proposals to require energy firms to provide just four tariffs for each fuel and to place all customers on the cheapest price available for their chosen tariff. But critics have warned that the plans could see an end to cheap deals, stop consumers switching suppliers, reduce competition and push up bills in the long run.
The FPAG is an advisory non-departmental public body, which is sponsored by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and includes representatives from the industry, charities and consumer bodies.
Mike O'Connor, chief executive of Consumer Focus, said: "Over the next 15 years the Government will collect an average of £4 billion per year in carbon taxes. Using a proportion of that revenue to fund a much more ambitious energy efficiency programme could start to tackle fuel poverty."
A spokesman for the Environment Department said: "Two million households will get help under the Warm Home Discount Scheme this year, including more than one million low income pensioners who will receive £130 off their bill. We have also already announced our intention to launch a new fuel poverty strategy next year to make sure we are targeting help at those who need it most."