MORE than one in five people in Renfrewshire are living in fuel poverty, latest figures reveal.

The data, released by Energy Action Scotland, shows that 22 per cent of local households are struggling to pay their energy bills.

Fuel poverty is defined by the Scottish Government as any household spending more than 10% of its income on energy, after housing costs have been deducted.

And there are concerns that further hikes in gas and electricity bills this year will push many more local families into hardship.

Industry analysts have warned that continued volatility in wholesale energy markets could push the average household’s annual bills up by as much as £2,000.

Energy Action Scotland is urging the UK Government to cut VAT on energy bills, redistribute the VAT windfall already received to help those with the lowest incomes and consider radical reforms to ensure that vulnerable “fuel poor households” are protected.

Frazer Scott, the charity’s chief executive, described the extent of fuel poverty as “alarming.”

He told The Gazette: “This is not a problem that is going away. It is only likely to get worse.

“We urgently need more government action to improve the energy efficiency of homes but particularly targeted at households that suffer the greatest rates of fuel poverty.

“Continued inaction will cost lives.”

A spokesman for the UK Government said protecting consumers is a “top priority” and pledged that an energy price cap will remain in place.

He added: “We are also supporting vulnerable and low-income households further through initiatives such as the £500million Household Support Fund, Warm Home Discount, Winter Fuel Payments and Cold Weather Payments.

“Domestic fuels such as gas and electricity are also already subject to the reduced rate of five per cent of VAT.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Powers related to the energy market are reserved. However, this year, we are spending £114million to tackle fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency, taking the total allocated since 2009 to more than £1billion.

“We continue to fund Home Energy Scotland to provide free and impartial advice on how to reduce bills.”