Long, cold winter for 3 million who can’t pay their energy bills

Fears that 200 people a day could die as temperatures fall and prices rise

Three million elderly people fear they will not be able to stay warm in their own homes this winter, following the recent steep increases in the cost of heating, according to research published today.

The plight of many older householders emerged as the Government faced renewed calls to offer immediate help to lower-income families struggling to pay energy bills. Four of the “Big Six” energy companies have raised their prices before the winter surge in demand, with the average combined electricity and gas bill now standing at £1,267 per year.

Executives from the firms, which have been accused of acting as a cartel, will appear before MPs tomorrow to defend the sharp rises. Yesterday their trade organisation dismissed calls for a windfall tax on the Big Six, insisting their profits were not “particularly big”.

Over the weekend it also emerged that energy companies have been using tax loopholes. Although he declined to comment on individual companies, Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said yesterday: “People are rightly livid about companies and individuals avoiding paying the proper amount of tax. I’m livid about that. It is something which is not acceptable at any time, but particularly at a time when we’re going through tough spending choices.”

He was speaking after The Independent on Sunday reported that three companies – Scotia Gas, UK Power Networks and Electricity Northwest – had saved £140m between them by using legal tax loopholes to minimise their liabilities. With  gas and electricity prices continuing to dominate exchanges between political leaders, a survey for Age UK found that 28 per cent of pensioners said their main concern for the coming cold months was ensuring they could heat their homes. The charity said the figures suggested the problems could affect as many as three million older people across the UK.

Age UK also raised the alarm over the health dangers to the elderly people, warning that cold weather and poorly heated homes increased the risk not only of influenza but also of heart attack and stroke. There are about 24,000 excess deaths in a typical British winter, many of them preventable.

Age UK said more than 40 per cent were caused by heart attack or stroke. Caroline Abrahams, the charity’s director, said: “It’s vital for older people to keep warm, both inside and outside their homes in the winter months. Being cold, even for just a short amount of time, can be very dangerous, as it increases the risk of associated health problems and preventable deaths during the winter.”

Senior executives from the Big Six will be challenged to justify the recent price hikes when they appear before the Commons Energy and Climate Change Select Committee. Simon Hughes, the Deputy Liberal Democrat leader, said Chancellor George Osborne should use the Autumn Statement in December to announce emergency help for families struggling with bills.

“I would like people to have a rebate on energy bills that would help the poorest most and would mean that there would be immediate relief this year, not waiting for the post-election period,” he told BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, has said an incoming Labour government would force energy firms to freeze their prices for 19 months, while the former Tory Prime Minister Sir John Major has called for a levy on their profits.

But Angela Knight, chief executive of Energy UK, which represents the companies, said their profits were not large enough to justify a windfall tax. “The profits here are, what, four to five per cent, four or five pence in the pound. That isn’t particularly big,” she said. She added that the companies were also making large investments in the UK and therefore had to have an “operating margin”.

The Government has invested an extra £500m in A&E services in a bid to avoid another winter crisis on emergency wards. A&E units have been under increased pressure for several months. MPs warned in the summer that the system may struggle to cope in the event of a major winter flu pandemic.

Dr Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at Public Health England (PHE), said: “In colder weather, keeping yourself warm is essential to staying healthy, especially for the very young, older people or those with a chronic condition such as heart disease and asthma. There are a range of health problems associated with cold housing and winter weather, but, in particular, a cold indoor or outdoor environment can make heart and respiratory problems worse and can be fatal.”

PHE said living-room temperatures should ideally be kept at 70F (21C) and above, whereas bedroom temperatures should be kept at a minimum of 64F (18C).

Health leaders have also urged all at-risk groups – including the over-65s – to have a flu vaccination.

PHE will work with the Met Office between 1 November and 31 March 2014. Low temperatures of 2C or less or a spell of heavy snow will trigger cold weather alerts, which require hospitals, social care systems and GP surgeries to ensure they are prepared for spikes in demand.

News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and i...

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories