The spike in energy prices caused by the invasion of Ukraine could push a record 8.5m UK households into fuel poverty this winter, according to leading campaigners.
The End Fuel Poverty Coalition say that if average bills are pushed to £3,000 a year - as forecast by energy analysts at Investec and elsewhere - then one in three households could find themselves having to choose between "heating and eating".
The coalition says that "cold homes cost lives" and that more frail and elderly people are likely to die unless they get help with their bills.
Just how many are at risk depends on how cold the winter is but World Health Organisation modelling has suggested that the deaths of around 80 frail or elderly people a day are hastened by fuel poverty in the UK in a typical winter.
The number of households in fuel poverty was estimated to be 4m last October, but the energy price cap rise (up to £2,000 a year) in April will push that up to 6.5m. Should bills top £3,000 and fuel poverty reach 8.5m homes then it would have more than doubled in 12 months.
What is fuel poverty?
Campaigners, and the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, define fuel poverty as being when a household spends 10% of its income on energy.
There is a slightly different definition in England which also seeks to include the quality of home insulation.
A government spokesman said: "It is hard to predict what longer term impacts the current situation in Ukraine will have on energy costs. However, the energy price cap will continue to insulate millions of customers from volatile global gas prices."
The next normal review point for the price cap will be in October although the energy regulator OFGEM now has the power to raise the cap before then in "extraordinary circumstances".
On top of the price cap the chancellor had also announced a reduction in council tax for some households and a temporary £200 reduction in bills (which will eventually be paid back). These measures were brought in to alleviate the impact of April’s price rise and campaigners say they did not do enough to help the very poorest and do not account for the latest price spike.
Adam Scorer of National Energy Action said: “Government must address the scale of the problem and use the upcoming Economic Statement in March to cut energy bills much further for the poorest. It must act now, to protect the most vulnerable, and to save lives.”