Millions spending winter in cold damp homes

New figures reveal that 16% of UK adults (8.3m people) live in cold damp homes, exposed to the health complications that come from living in fuel poverty. [1]

This includes over 1.7 million of the UK’s most vulnerable, according to the latest data from the Warm This Winter campaign.

As well as the most vulnerable being more affected – such as those aged over 75, living with an under 6 year old, or having a preexisting health condition or disability – there are stark differences based on the type of energy bill households have and where they live.

A third of smart meter customers who have a prepayment meter setting (32%) say they live in a cold damp home with 27% of those on traditional PPMs saying the same. Almost a quarter (22%) of standard credit customers are in cold damp homes, yet just 11% of direct debit customers live in such conditions. [2]

Households in London are most likely to be living in cold damp homes, with a quarter (23%) of the capital exposed to such conditions. Londoners are closely followed by people in Yorkshire & Humber (22%), the West Midlands (18%) and the North West (17%) as having the most exposure to dangerous living conditions. 

The NHS warns that people with damp and mould in their homes are more likely to have respiratory problems, respiratory infections, allergies or asthma. 

Damp and mould can also affect the immune system while living in such conditions can also increase the risk of heart disease, heart attacks or strokes.

Cold homes can cause and worsen respiratory conditions, cardiovascular diseases, poor mental health, dementia and hypothermia as well as cause and slow recovery from injury.

Petitions with over 800,000 signatures have been handed into the Prime Minister calling for more action to bring down bills now, end energy debt and to help end the cold damp homes crisis now facing the country. [3]

Fiona Waters, spokesperson for the Warm This Winter campaign, commented:

“It is no wonder that the public are now signing petitions in droves and pointing the finger of blame for the crisis on Ministers who have failed to act to protect the public from this crisis.

Instead of help in the form of an Emergency Energy Tariff for vulnerable households and a Help To Repay scheme for those in energy debt, the public will instead be faced with increasing energy bills on 1 January 2024.” 

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“The Government needs to get a grip on the cold damp homes crisis now facing the country, with people spending the festive period in Dickensian conditions and unable to stay warm this winter. 

“Without immediate action, the cost of this crisis will be felt by increased demand on the already overstretched NHS. 

“Ultimately, a failure to protect people from living in cold damp homes will cost lives.”

Dr Isobel Braithwaite, a health and housing researcher at UCL, said: 

“This data shows a shockingly high prevalence of cold and damp homes in the UK, which poses a grave risk to the public’s health. These conditions are severely harming the health of the most vulnerable in society: from young children; people with heart and lung conditions; to older people, and this situation is unconscionable in 2023.

“These impacts are being driven by political choices, and action is urgently needed to address the causes of this health crisis, both to protect vulnerable households with the campaign’s proposed emergency measures, as well as longer-term action with home retrofit schemes.”

Kay Ballard from Debt Justice who was part of the petition hand in said: 

“Lack of government support and energy company profiteering means that this Christmas I have a choice between going into debt or living in a cold damp home. It is an impossible choice and only government action can solve the crisis.”

Raymond Bradley a 38 Degrees Supporter who was part of the petition hand in said:

“I feel let down by this Government. Each year I am colder, struggling more and with less support. I am blind and the devices I use to help me get through life daily take a lot of electricity to charge. My partner has health issues that means we HAVE to be warm and we’re choosing between heating, charging the devices that help me live my life and eating. It’s no way to live. All I ask from Rishi Sunak and his Government is to fix this broken energy system.”

Stuart Bretherton from Fuel Poverty Action said: 

“Over 660,000 people have endorsed our demand to ensure everyone’s essential energy needs are met, it’s not radical. There’s more than enough money in energy firm profits and subsidies to guarantee an adequate level of Energy For All to keep everyone warm and safe.”


Image of petitioners outside 10 Downing Street © Jess Hurd

[1] Methodology note: Opinium conducted a nationally representative survey among 2,000 UK Adults from the 24th – 28th November 2023. Results were weighted to be nationally representative. Population estimates based on ONS projections of adults aged 18+ for mid-2021 (the latest figures available), i.e. UK 18+ population 53,188,204.

[2]  Small sample sizes were available for district heating (34% in cold damp homes) and off grid (23%) customers.

[3] Petition information

38 degrees  – Over 88,000 signatures asking for support on energy bills this Winter. 

Debt Justice – Over 17,000 signatures demanding the government urgently act by bringing down bills and help families get out of debt.  

Fuel Poverty Action – over 660,000 signatures demanding #EnergyForAll – Everyone has a right to the energy needed for heating, cooking and light

Warm This Winter – Over 41,000 signatures demanding the Treasury introduce an Emergency Energy Tariff to keep people warm this winter. Also hosted on 

Brits back renewables as fuel poverty petition handed in

The British public is decisively in favour of a swift transition away from fossil fuels in order to ensure a reliable and affordable supply of energy, according to new research released today.

Over half of adults in Great Britain (54%) believe the country should aim to get off oil and gas as quickly as possible by ramping up efforts to improve energy efficiency and developing significantly more renewable energy. Less than a third (29%) support a more gradual transition away from oil and gas.

Just one in ten respondents to the poll conducted on behalf of the Warm This Winter campaign felt that the UK should aim to continue to meet its energy demand primarily with oil and gas for as long as is necessary. [1]

The news came as the campaign group, which includes over 40 of the UK’s leading charities, delivered a 400,000-strong petition to Number 10 Downing Street. The petition calls on the government to take decisive action now to solve the energy price crisis, which has left seven million UK households in fuel poverty this winter. 

The petition, which has attracted celebrity backers including business woman Deborah Meaden, anatomist Professor Alice Roberts and writer Emma Kennedy, has four key demands of the government:

  • Emergency support now: Providing additional financial support to people who without urgent action will be on the front-line of poverty every winter.‍
  • Help to upgrade homes: Launching a new, properly-funded programme of home upgrades and insulation across the UK to bring down bills and prevent energy waste.
  • Cheap energy:  More than triple the amount of renewable energy in the UK by 2030, including wind and solar generated in harmony with nature, in order to permanently lower bills.
  • Free the UK from oil and gas: Stop approving new oil and gas fields so that the UK can escape its dependence on volatile fossil fuels.

Dragons’ Den star and environmental campaigner, Deborah Meaden, is keen to see a restructuring of the UK energy market to allow the country to take advantage of the lower cost of renewable energy. Deborah said:

There is simply no excuse in one of the richest countries in the world for people to be having to make the choice between heating and eating or being forced into public spaces simply to keep warm.

The UK’s reliance on costly fossil fuels has left this country vulnerable to oil and gas price fluctuations – an absolute catastrophe for energy bills in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It’s time we overhauled the current energy system, decoupled renewable prices from the global gas market and prioritised harnessing our abundant natural resources, including wind, wave and solar power in order to secure energy supply and bring prices down in the long-term.

Jess Stone, 27, from Essex, handed in the petition on behalf of the 400,000 members of the public who signed it. She said: 

You try so hard to make everything stretch, but there’s only so much stretching you can do, and once you’ve cut out every single thing that isn’t essential, you’re still left having to cut out essentials.

It’s not just the physical toll, it’s not just the financial toll, it’s the mental toll that is getting harder and harder. Every single day I’m having to decide ‘what will we go without today?’.

I’m having to put my four-year-old to bed every night in a home that is too cold. He has asthma and the cold is bad for his lungs, but I just can’t afford to put the heating on, so we’ll go to sleep in the same bed for warmth, under two duvets, with him sleeping in his dressing gown.

I turn to places like food banks and baby banks for help. I’m grateful for these places, but they shouldn’t have to exist. Today I went to a baby bank to pick up a jumper for my son – he grows so quickly and I can’t afford to keep up, and he needs warm clothes when we can’t afford to heat the house.

I’ve donated his old clothes for other parents, we’re all helping each other out, but you think to yourself, why isn’t the Government doing something to actually solve this?

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition which backed the petition commented:

Across the UK, the message to decision makers is clear: we need reform to our broken energy system and no return to the dirty fossil fuels of the past.

An end to fuel poverty which also meets net zero targets is possible, it just needs the political will to make it happen.

Every so often the Government wakes up to the reality of life in energy crisis Britain and takes action. The latest u-turn is that it now looks set to keep the average energy bill capped at current levels for another three months. But in reality, this will still feel like a 19% increase in bills for people from 1 April as the Energy Bill Support Scheme is coming to an end and new support for vulnerable households is insufficient.

Tessa Khan, executive director of Uplift added:

This shows the public is way ahead of the government on how to solve the UK’s energy crisis and lower energy bills permanently. Fix the leaks in our buildings to keep the heat in, crack on with developing cheap renewable energy, and move the UK off unaffordable fossil fuels.

Yet, because of the constant whispering of fossil fuel lobbyists, this government is dithering, while wasting public money subsidising new oil and gas drilling that will make zero difference to our energy security or bills. If it approves the huge Rosebank field, the UK public will effectively be over half a billion pounds poorer because of the subsidies, and the oil will most likely end up abroad.

Unaffordable energy prices are at the root of so many of the problems we are currently experiencing, needlessly. Other countries are successfully bringing down bills by upgrading homes with insulation and heat pumps and by accelerating renewables, so why can’t we? This government just needs to get on with it.


[1] When it comes to UK energy security (ensuring access to reliable and affordable sources of energy), which of the following statements is closest to your view?

  • The UK should aim to get off oil and gas as quickly as possible by ramping up efforts to improve energy efficiency and developing lots more renewable energy – 54%
  • The UK should aim to continue to meet its energy demand primarily with oil and gas while making some effort to improve energy efficiency and build more renewable energy – 29%
  • The UK should aim to continue to meet its energy demand primarily with oil and gas for as long as is necessary – 10%
  • None of the above – 7%

Online poll of 2000 adults aged 18+ in Great Britain between 1st and 2nd February 2023. The figures are weighted and representative of the GB population.

Hundreds of thousands set to be forced into fuel poverty

Over 200,000 households are set to fall into fuel poverty as the economy struggles to recover from lockdown, according to new estimates. [1]

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition is warning that as the numbers in fuel poverty soar, a future wave of COVID-19 striking during colder weather could be catastrophic for individuals and health services.

Public Health England have declared that there is “clear evidence on the links between cold temperatures and respiratory problems. Resistance to respiratory infections is lowered by cool temperatures and can increase the risk of respiratory illness.” [2]

The Coalition has launched a petition calling on the government to build on announcements in the Economic Statement and take urgent action to save lives and help address the financial impact of the current crisis.

Fuel poverty is caused by low income, high fuel prices, poor energy efficiency, unaffordable housing and poor quality private rental housing. At least 2.4m households in England are already in fuel poverty, affecting 10% of the population. [3]

William Baker, from Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty and member of the Coalition, commented:

It has never been more important for the government to fix the roof while the sun is shining.

While it is summer now, colder temperatures are on the way and hundreds of thousands more people will feel the harsh reality of fuel poverty. In just a few months we could see a perfect storm of cold homes, high winter fuel bills and a future wave of COVID-19 hitting the NHS during winter – a period when it always struggles to maintain services.

The Coalition wrote to the Prime Minister on 23 June setting out four steps for the government to take to tackle fuel poverty before the winter.

The Chancellor’s Economic Statement of 8 July introduced partial measures to help improve energy efficiency, but the Coalition argues that the government must go further.

Jacky Peacock, from Advice4Renters, said:

Ending fuel poverty is a public health priority, but it can only be solved through economic measures.

The government must deliver its full manifesto pledge to invest £9.2 billion in building energy efficiency, extend the Warm Home Discount and introduce wider Home Upgrade Grants. It must also take further steps to improve energy standards in the private rented sector, alongside improved security and affordability for private tenants.

Finally, we must see a Fuel Poverty Debt Relief, not deferral of payment, programme introduced to ensure fewer people will have to choose between heating and eating.

Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action added:

The Chancellor’s £2 billion for energy efficiency retrofits could have done wonders to relieve fuel poverty.  Instead, targeted at homeowners and landlords, it will do very little for renters. And without clear protections, homeowners will be at the mercy of high-pressure sales teams and unskilled retrofitters, who can leave them colder, and poorer, than before.

The public have been asked to show their support for steps to tackle fuel poverty by signing the petition

[1] End Fuel Poverty Coalition calculations. Unemployment is predicted to rocket from 1.29m to 3.08m people by late 2020, with the OECD predicting even higher figures. 3.08m people equates to 1.17m households. 148,000 or 30% of households with an unemployed HRP were fuel poor in 2018 (Government data). This will increase to 351,000 households in late 2020, assuming the fuel poverty rate for the unemployed is still 30% – a growth of over 200,000 households. Furthermore, many more households are likely to be forced into fuel poverty due to both reduced income and higher fuel bills arising from fewer working hours and spending more time in the home. 

[2] PHE, 2014. Warm homes enable immune systems to better fight off viruses, improve the likelihood of people with viruses only suffering ‘mild’ symptoms and help improve the recovery process. See: Baker, Ambrose et. al.