PRESS ASSOCIATION -- Rising gas and electricity prices pushed another million households across the UK into fuel poverty in 2009, according to figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) .
The number of households suffering from fuel poverty - judged as spending more than 10% of income on keeping homes warm - reached 5.5 million in 2009, the latest year for which figures are available. In England, there were four million fuel-poor households, up from 3.3 million in 2008, the data show.
The department said the latest rise in fuel poverty levels, which have been increasing since 2004, was largely due to rising fuel prices which saw gas costs jump by 14 that year.
The majority of fuel poor households across the UK were considered to be vulnerable - those with elderly, disabled or long-term sick people or children. There were 4.5 million vulnerable UK households spending more than a 10th of their income on heating their homes in 2009, a rise of 750,000 from 2008 figures. In England the number had jumped half a million to 3.2 million homes, the official figures showed.
The latest data on the struggle people are facing over fuel bills comes just days after British Gas announced another price hike, citing rises in wholesale gas costs, which will see gas and electricity bills jump by 18 on average. Last month, Scottish Power announced a similar hike in bills and the rest of the "big six" suppliers are expected to follow suit in coming weeks.
Decc said figures for the levels of fuel poverty for 2010 and 2011 would only be known in the next couple of years - and the effect of the latest rises in household energy bills would not be fully felt until 2012. The department estimates that in 2010, there were still 4 million homes in England in fuel poverty, a figure which was expected to rise slightly to 4.1 million homes in 2011.
Officials said that rising incomes, improvements in energy efficiency of housing and social and discounted tariffs had prevented some people from falling into fuel poverty, and had even lifted some homes out of the situation.
But Climate Change minister Greg Barker said: "I know rising energy prices are hitting households hard. These new figures show the old policies to help the most vulnerable were not working.
"That's why, this year, we've introduced the Warm Home Discount which will require the Big Six energy companies to provide discounts of at least £120 to about 600,000 of the poorest pensioners.
"We're also pushing for stronger competition to keep price rises as low as possible.In the longer term, we'll be helping people use less energy with the Green Deal which will provide extra support for the poorest and most vulnerable to benefit from energy efficiency measures."