ALMOST half of households in Wales cannot afford to heat their homes, with those on the lowest incomes paying a “poverty premium” for energy, the Senedd heard.

Sioned Williams, for Plaid Cymru, told the chamber that latest estimates show maintaining a warm home is unaffordable for 614,000 households in Wales.

The South Wales West MS raised concerns about “frightening, shameful” statistics which show that nearly 100 per cent of low-income households are in fuel poverty.

Ms Williams criticised the Welsh Government over delays to the Warm Homes programme, its main lever for tackling fuel poverty, which may not be up and running by winter.

She also raised concerns about the energy price cap increasing by £100 from January.

Ms Williams said: “Fuel poverty was a problem in Wales long before the current energy and cost-of-living crisis.

“These recent crises have demonstrated how defenceless communities in Wales are when it comes to energy costs.”

Mark Isherwood, for the Conservatives, backed calls for ministers to implement the Warm Homes programme with urgency.

He also echoed Marie Curie’s calls for the Welsh Government to add people with 12 months or less to live to the programme’s eligibility criteria.

The North Wales MS highlighted a report, by Care & Repair Cymru, which found that older people are paying nearly 20 per cent of their income on utilities.

Delyth Jewell, Plaid Cymru’s deputy leader, said: “Keeping warm, keeping the lights on should never be seen as a luxury. It is a basic necessity, and our society is failing in its moral duty to protect people from harm.”

Jane Hutt, responding for the Welsh Government, said vulnerable and low-income households are facing a particularly bleak winter.

She told MSs that ministers are determined to protect frontline services and support those most in need despite an “extremely challenging” financial settlement from Westminster.

Ms Hutt said the Welsh Government’s discretionary assistance fund has supported more than 100,000 individuals with £15.6 million in grants between April and September this year.

She added that £4.5 million has been allocated to the Fuel Bank Foundation to introduce a national fuel voucher scheme for households in Wales.

The social justice minister stressed that many of the powers that can make the biggest difference lie with the UK Government.