One in eight households in Cornwall are suffering from fuel poverty, new figures suggest.

Charity National Energy Action says 10,000 people in the UK lose their lives to a cold home each year, and that "we should be more alert than ever" to the problem's health impact amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Data from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy shows that 13 per cent of the 252,948 households in Cornwall faced energy bills that pushed them into poverty in 2018 – the most recent year for which figures are available.

It means 31,826 of households in the area were fuel poor. Across the South West, nine per cent of households could not afford their bills in 2018.

A household is considered to be fuel poor if their energy costs are above the national median, and if meeting those costs would push them below the poverty line.

The 234,000 fuel poor households in the south west were, on average, £369 short of being able to afford their energy bills each year, according to BEIS figures.

Around 2.4 million households were suffering from fuel poverty across England in 2018 – 10.3 per cent of homes.

Although that was down from 11 per cent in 2017, the average gap between the bills fuel-poor households faced and what they could afford to pay increased from £328 in 2017 to £334 in 2018.

Projections show the gap was likely to have been even higher in 2019, at £354, with 10.4 per cent of homes in fuel poverty last year.

The Government has set targets to improve the energy efficiency of buildings that households in fuel poverty live in.

It aims to ensure that "as many fuel-poor households as reasonably practicable" achieve a minimum efficiency rating of Band C by 2030, with interim goals of Band E by 2020 and Band D in 2025.

Emergency measures to protect the energy supply of at-risk people during Covid-19 disruption were agreed by the Government and the energy industry in March.

Adam Scorer, chief executive of National Energy Action, said the Government should take further steps to avoid a "deadly collision" between the virus and fuel poverty-related mortality amid a possible second outbreak this winter.

He added: "Every year around 10,000 people die directly as a result of a cold home. Many thousands more who cannot afford to keep their homes warm are hospitalised, suffer from a severe respiratory condition or just shiver in damp, cold homes.

“The impact of Covid-19 is truly horrific. But we have been fortunate that, so far, the virus has struck hard during warmer weather.

“Cold homes create underlying medical conditions. They take thousands of lives. Deaths and suffering from fuel poverty are not novel, unimaginable or unprecedented. It is an annual catalogue of failure to protect the most vulnerable.

"We know the solutions. At this precise moment we should be more alert to these issues than ever before.”

A BEIS spokeswoman said: "No-one should be cold in their own home. That is why we are protecting all households from rip-off deals with our energy price cap, improving the energy efficiency of low-income households and giving extra money to pensioners during the winter."