THE latest findings by charity National Energy Action have has revealed more than 169,237 households in South East England will not have the cash to meet basic living expenses as winter begins to bite.

Families in fuel poverty are facing an income shortfall of up to £9,331 per year to cover basic essentials, including energy.

The charity also warns 500,000 low-income households nationally could miss out on energy rebates and the proposed new safeguard price cap.

The findings were published as part of its Warm Homes campaign, ‘Bridging the Gap – addressing the cost of living facing UK households this winter’.

Peter Smith, director of policy and research, said: “Our new report highlights the scale of the impossible choices that over 169,237 families in the South East will be making this winter.

“The report illustrates the catastrophic impact universal credit could have on these families who have no savings to insulate them from falling into debt, going hungry and not heating their homes over the waiting period.

“We aren’t talking about needing to cut down on a few luxuries; we’re seeing people switch off the heating for the whole winter and kids only eating one meal a day.

“We know others are adopting unsafe behaviours in an attempt to keep warm, withdrawing entirely from society or building up bigger and bigger debt problems.

“NEA supports the safeguard tariff and welcomes Ofgen’s efforts to take immediate action to protect a sub-set of vulnerable energy customers this winter.

“We estimate however that more than 500,000 households nationally will each miss out on up to £260 of energy bill savings.

“These households are mostly working-age, fall into the lowest income deciles and in some cases are already facing thousand pound gaps between their incomes and the essential cost of living.

“Our five-point plan would help ease this misery. An immediate priority is to stop families, starting a new claim for universal credit today, having to go the entire Christmas period with no income; not heating, not eating just trying to survive.

“The UK Government also needs to reverse the freeze on working-age benefits, energy discounts and tax credits by uprating them in line with inflation.

“We also want smaller suppliers to deliver energy rebates via the warm home discount scheme, helping to extend the planned price cap to other vulnerable customers.

“We have also recently called for the Chancellor to provide emergency assistance for low-income households that are living – sometimes for years – without a functioning heating system.”

•A project helping people in Surrey experiencing, or at risk of, fuel poverty has received a £5,000 boost from the Santander Foundation.

The Warmth Matters project was set up last year by the Surrey Community Action (SCA) charity with a particular focus on supporting young families and those with a disability or long term illness.

The project received funding from Scottish Power Energy People Trust and has already helped more than 1,000 people in Surrey to avoid fuel poverty.

The new Santander Foundation grant will allow SCA to make the Warmth Matters website clearer and easier to read for people with literacy difficulties.

In addition, the grant will help provide bespoke room thermometer cards to help people to make better decisions about when and how long to use their heating.

Warmth Matters project officer Claire Dawson said: “According to government statistics 10 per cent of households live in fuel poverty.

“This grant will help us to engage more people who may otherwise face the tough choice between heating and eating this winter.”