The cost of energy is climbing five times faster than household incomes, figures show. Earnings have typically risen by 20 per cent since 2004, but average home energy bills soared by 140 per cent.
Retired people relying on state pensions have slipped into fuel poverty because more than 10 per cent of their annual income is swallowed up by the cost of heating and lighting their home, according to the price comparison website uSwitch. The basic state pension for a couple is £11,175 a year but, at £1,252 a year, the average energy bill accounts for 11 per cent of this.
The Government claimed yesterday that its latest statistics showed fuel poverty in decline, from 5.5 million households in 2009 to 4.75 million in 2010. But average fuel bills have climbed by about £150 since 2010, meaning many more people are likely to be affected by the problem.
Audrey Gallacher, of Consumer Focus, said: "It is a major concern that so many people are struggling to afford their energy bills."
Ann Robinson, of uSwitch, added: "The breakneck speed at which energy prices have sprinted upwards has caught many people unawares."