OVER 350 people in the North-East died due to cold homes last winter and the risk is even greater this year, according to a fuel poverty charity, with Covid intensifying problems for those on the lowest incomes.

National fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) has today, November 27, highlighted that millions of people in cold homes are at greater risk this winter, as coronavirus intensifies seasonal stresses for those on lowest incomes and in the least efficient homes.

The charity is speaking out after ONS figures revealed 8,500 people died in England and Wales last winter due to cold homes – 360 in the North-East alone. 

The warning comes as hundreds of organisations take part in Fuel Poverty Awareness Day to raise awareness of the risks of cold homes this winter.

Adam Scorer, chief executive, NEA said: "In our last ‘normal’ winter 360 lives were lost in the North-East because of cold homes. Low incomes, high energy costs and poor heating and insulation all combined to leave them in conditions which were unfit to help them survive the cold weather.

"This winter that lethal cocktail will be made many times worse by the impact of Covid-19. Millions of households on low incomes will be spending more time at home with an impossible decision to make.

"Will they keep themselves and their families warm and probably fall into debt; or will they ration their heating and resign themselves to life in a dangerously cold home at greater risk of the very health conditions that follow Covid-19."

During the first wave of Covid, NEA put out a call for evidence to organisations supporting people in fuel poverty to understand how the virus and accompanying lockdown had impacted on vulnerable and low-income households.

Three quarters said they were concerned that there is a high risk of the increased building up of fuel debt this winter, as a direct result of the pandemic.

A new report from the Resolution Foundation also found that the last 15 years have been the worst on record for real household disposable incomes, and that half (54 per cent) of adults from families in the lowest income quintile have borrowed in recent months to cover everyday costs such as housing and food. This has compounded problems with utility debt.

Those struggling to heat their homes in Tier 3 areas, like the North-East, will be particularly hard hit as places of warm refuge, like libraries, cafes and neighbours’ houses will be close by but out of reach.

Mr Scorer said: "Ultimately, the best solution is a strategic one. To turn cold and dangerous properties into warm and safe homes, easy and cheap to heat.

"It is well understood that delivering good, warm homes creates jobs, reduces carbon emissions, eases pressures on the NHS as well as allowing people to live better lives. 

"But that vital project is for the decades. Fuel poverty will cost lives this winter. Those at risk desperately need an immediate as well as a strategic response. If not the consequences do not bear thinking about."

The elderly and those living alone are also at risk. 

Data from Quotezone.co.uk shows that 42 per cent of unemployed people are currently living alone, which it says is creating huge challenges in heating homes adequately through the festive season.

In the North-East, 62 per cent of the 80 plus population are currently living alone – compared with the national average of 55 per cent. Yorkshire follows closely behind with 58 per cent of elderly people living alone.

The findings are based on a sample of over 350,000 home insurance policies collated over the last two years.

The comparison platform, which is donating £15,000 to three UK charities including Age UK to support efforts tackling fuel poverty in elderly groups, is urging everyone to check their energy tariff.

Chief executive Greg Wilson said:  “Fuel poverty is a very real risk for millions of households this winter, but heating your home really isn’t optional.

"A surprisingly large number of households are paying more to heat their homes than they have to, particularly if they’re stuck on a standard energy tariff. 

“Some providers have been known to automatically upgrade you to a more expensive tariff as soon as your contract expires, so it’s important to check your bills and put key dates in your diary. If switching proves to be your best option it is easily done."