Pensioners protest
Demonstrators about to head to the headquarters of energy company Npower during a protest against energy pricesReuters

With the Met Office forecasting freezing conditions in the UK over the coming days, a study just released shows that nearly five million pensioners cannot afford their heating bills.

The figures outline how nearly half of those over 65 will have to turn down the heat in the cold spell, putting their health in danger, in revelations that will put pressure on energy companies to cut their prices.

The study by comparethemarket.com found that over the past two years, wholesale energy prices fell by almost 50 per cent, but the average household bill of more than £1,300 a year has come down by only 14 per cent. Since May 2015, wholesale prices have fallen by a fifth but only one company, British Gas, has cut bills — by five per cent and only on gas.

It comes amid frustration within the Government over the failure of the big six energy companies to reduce prices despite two years of falling wholesale costs.

"Older people will be feeling anxious about the cold snap because high heating costs are prohibitive for many. Large numbers will find it virtually impossible to stay adequately warm," Caroline Abrahams of Age UK told The Times.

"The UK has an appalling record on cold-related deaths, with one older person dying every seven minutes from the winter cold. Even "normal cold" temperatures of around 6 degrees significantly raise the risk of life-changing health problems such as heart attacks and strokes," she said.

Last year, a report by the Competition Commission found that pensioners could save an average of 16 per cent by switching but that many did not know how to move provider or found the process too difficult.

The study of pensioners found that more than half were worried about being able to afford their heating if temperatures fell, with a fifth saying that they would have to use their savings or credit to cover the cost of a cold winter. Two in five said that they would cut down on other costs, such as food.

The cheapest dual fuel deal currently available for a normal household is offered by GB Energy at £787 a year, more than £300 cheaper than the average standard tariff of the big six suppliers — British Gas, EDF Energy, npower, E.ON UK, Scottish Power and SSE — according to GoCompare.com, another comparison website.