ELDERLY people and young children in the region are at risk because of inadequate heating, say experts.

Now a Warm Homes campaign has been launched with the warning that 161,850 North-East households are living in fuel poverty.

The annual campaign, which will take place throughout this month, is organised by energy efficient charity National Energy Action (NEA) in association with energy supplier Powergen.

Its aim is to raise awareness of the plight of three million UK households who cannot afford to heat their homes adequately and promote the availability of grant aid to low-income homes.

It also aims to show how reducing the number of fuel poor households will be beneficial in saving energy countrywide.

About 15 per cent of households in the region meet the definition of fuel poverty because they need to spend more than ten per cent of their income on keeping their homes warm.

The NEA says there are an average of 1,898 deaths linked to cold homes every year in the North-East and in the last severe winter of 1995/6 there were 2,080 deaths.

William Gillis, NEA executive, said: "For millions of families and individuals winter brings poor health, isolation, debt and worry. We believe this is unacceptable.

"Many people simply don't realise there is help available and see their only option as struggling through each winter trying to keep their home as warm as possible and juggle expensive fuel bills.

"I would urge anyone who is worried about keeping warm to contact the campaign helpline."

The campaign helpline is 0800 085 7000.