"One in six British households is living in fuel poverty, the highest for almost a decade, according to new figures that threaten the government's target to eradicate the problem in England by the end of the decade.
Fuel poverty is defined as when a household spends more than a tenth of its income on utility bills. The consumer group Energywatch said yesterday there are now about 4.4 million of these in the UK, with just over 3 million in England alone.
Charities and other groups, led by the Association for the Conservation of Energy, are preparing a legal challenge in the next few weeks to force the government to meet the 2010 target, to which it is committed by law.
The figures came at the end of a week in which the UK's largest energy supplier, British Gas, said it was increasing bills by 15 per cent. This month EDF Energy and Npower raised prices by up to 27 per cent, and two-thirds of British households will have to pay higher tariffs. Other suppliers are likely to follow suit soon.
The Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act was passed in 2000 committing the government to the legally binding targets of eradicating fuel poverty in England among the vulnerable - pensioners, the disabled and long-term ill - by 2010. By 2016-18, the government is committed to eradicating fuel poverty entirely across the UK.
Despite the likelihood of meeting the 2010 target becoming ever more remote, last month the government was accused of underfunding its 'Warm Front' programme, which provides grants for poor households to insulate their homes."