Struggling families are missing out on energy help

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Six million hard-up households will turn off their heating this winter while £50m-worth of government cash earmarked to help vulnerable people cut their bills could go unclaimed.

The news comes as fuel poverty – defined as when paying for heating eats up a tenth of someone's income – is set to hit more families than ever as bills soar. Following the energy supplier SSE's announcement of a 9 per cent increase in bills for its 8.4 million customers from next month, its Big Six rivals are expected to announce their own price rises, which could push the average annual bill up to a record £1,428.

Nearly four out of 10 families say they won't be able to afford energy bills this winter, and seven out of 10 of those will cut back on heating, according to Consumer Focus research. Yet the average home could save up to £600 a year on bills through the Warm Front scheme. The government grants offer home improvement measures worth up to £3,500 – or £6,000 for those who need oil central heating.

And the scheme was widened this week to make more people living on low incomes eligible. It means that even if someone has previously been turned down, they may now be able to get help. As the scheme is in its final year, charities are urging people to find out now if they can claim. Gillian Guy of Citizens Advice said: "We're worried people are struggling with their fuel bills because they live in homes that haemorrhage heat."

Find out about Warm Front by calling 0800 316 2805 or by visiting a local Citizens Advice Bureau or Age UK.