Eight pensioners will die from a cold-related illness every hour this winter, a total of 20,000 by the time the season is over in March, Age Concern has warned.

Britain has one of the highest rates of winter deaths in Europe, with older people at greater risk of illnesses such as pneumonia than in colder countries such as Finland or Austria, it said, blaming high heating costs, poor housing standards and low incomes.

Its director general, Gordon Lishman, said: "It's a national scandal that so many older people over 65 are put at risk every winter. Almost 2.4 million older people in Britain live in homes cold enough to cause illness.

"More needs to be done for older people during the winter months so that they can heat their homes adequately without worrying about the cost. It is essential that older people keep warm during the winter.

"We would urge that older people make sure that their home is heated properly. Dressing well and keeping active is another way to keep warm, and eating good meals will provide energy throughout the day."

Age Concern has called on the Government to increase the basic state pension to at least £109 a week to allow pensioners to provide heat for their homes.