An interim independent report predicts that 2,700 people will die this winter as a consequence of fuel poverty, a figure greater than the number killed in traffic accidents each year.
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The Hills Fuel Poverty Review, commissioned by the government, found that between 2004 and 2009 more than 10 per cent of the 27,000 excess winter deaths in England and Wales could be due to people being unable to afford the cost of heating their homes.
It said: "Recent analysis attributes about a fifth of excess winter deaths to living in cold homes.
"Even if only half of this in 2009 is due to fuel poverty, that would still mean 2,700 deaths - more than die on the roads - each year."
Professor John Hills, who is director of the centre for analysis of social exclusion at the London School of Economics, said: "We think that people dying on the roads is a very big problem so this is a very big problem.
There's also evidence of people having to face the heat-or-eat trade-off, Professor John Hills
"Of course behind all of that there are many more incidents of poor health, sickness of different kinds, respiratory problems and as a consequence many more calls on the NHS.
"There's also evidence of people having to face the heat-or-eat trade-off."
A household is deemed to be facing fuel poverty if it needs to spend more than 10 per cent of its income on heating. Four million households were considered to be fuel poor in 2009, a figure that has is likely to have risen by 100,000 by the end of 2011.
The causes of fuel poverty
Professor Hills said the main causes of fuel poverty are low income, energy inefficiency and rising fuel prices.
"All three of those things come together in a way that is very well described by the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, which defines a person as to be regarded as living in fuel poverty if he is a member of a household living on a lower income in a home which cannot be kept warm at reasonable cost," Professor Hills outlined.
"I think that is a very good description of the problem as it emerges from this report. That is the focus of the problem," he continued.
The Hills report found that in 2004, fuel-poor households faced a shortfall of £256 to heat their homes and avoid poverty, but in 2009 that had risen to £402.
Recent bill increases may make the problem worse this year, the report concluded.
Read more: The full interim Hills Fuel Poverty Review.