HALF of Wales could struggle to pay heating bills and warm their homes this year, following the latest hikes in energy prices.

People are "afraid to turn the heating on" and "face the awful choice between heating and eating", a minister has warned.

New figures on so-called "fuel poverty" suggest up to 45 per cent of households could struggle after the UK regulator lifted the price cap on April 1, allowing energy firms to pass the burden of rising costs onto customers.

Nearly 200,000 homes in Wales - 14 per cent - were already in fuel poverty when the last price hike took hold last autumn.

'Worst is yet to come'

"These figures are stark and worrying," said Jane Hutt, the Welsh Government's social justice minister, warning the figures did not include the 54 per cent price cap rise announced earlier this month.

"Sadly, we know the worst is yet to come," she added. "We are in the midst of an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis, which is being driven by runaway energy prices. The war in Ukraine has deepened this crisis."

Both the Welsh and UK governments have introduced some measures to tackle fuel poverty, but the message from Cardiff Bay is that the action announced by Westminster to date is "too little".

Things like taxation and benefits are not devolved to Wales, and are the responsibility of the UK Government.

The Welsh Government has called on Westminster to introduce a lower price cap for low-income households, and increase rebate schemes that are already in place. The UK Government should also hit energy firms with a windfall tax and reinstate the £20 weekly uplift to Universal Credit, Ms Hutt said.