DESPERATE families are living in homes without gas or electricity because they can't afford the bills, it has been revealed.

The shocking extent of so-called 'fuel poverty' in Keighley has been highlighted by the Salvation Army, which has seen demand for its services spiral.

Major Alison Gardner, of the Keighley corps, accuses the energy companies of "daylight robbery".

She said some householders in the town had no power supplies at all.

And many who do only use hobs or microwaves to cook because it's too expensive to run a conventional oven.

"When giving out food parcels we always ask people if they have fuel," she said. "If they cannot afford to buy food, chances are they can't afford fuel either.

"A lot of people do not have any cooking facility, and to light their homes rely on candles or even lighters.

"About 98 per cent of those who do have power supplies don't have the money to use an ordinary oven and we tailor the foodstuffs accordingly.

"Fuel poverty is a massive issue and a scandal."

Major Gardner said most people on low incomes had to use tokens to pay for their fuel, and were being "penalised" by suppliers.

"Tokens are a more expensive way of paying yet most people on benefits can't afford to set-up direct debits and qualify for cheaper tariffs," she said.

"It's daylight robbery."

Between 80 and 90 food parcels a week are being distributed on a drop-in basis at the Salvation Army centre, in High Street, Keighley.

And since changes to welfare benefits came into force last year, the charity has seen referrals virtually triple to about 40 each week.

"These are people who have had their benefits stopped or delayed or have been sanctioned," said Major Gardner.

Figures show that nationally there has been a slight fall in fuel poverty.

But the number is expected to rise again to 2.33 million households this year, largely due to increases in energy costs, according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The latest figures come as the 'big six' energy companies have been urged to explain to customers what impact falling wholesale energy prices will have on bills

Sophie Neuburg, Friends of the Earth fuel poverty campaigner, said: “It’s completely unacceptable that millions of people across Britain are still struggling to pay their bills."

Keighley MP Kris Hopkins said tackling fuel poverty was a priority for him and the government.

“Fuel poverty is something that no one should have to endure," he added.

"Following an independent review, a new definition of fuel poverty has been set out to ensure support is focused on those who need it most.

"Green levies are being reduced in consumers’ energy bills, which will save an average of £50 per household, and the government’s warm home discount scheme helps around two million low income and vulnerable households with their energy costs each year."

Energy UK, which provides a voice for the industry, says companies offer a range of payment options for customers and only charge more for particular methods when they are expensive to implement.

A spokesman added: "We hope smart meters will reduce the cost of pre-payment plans for customers and companies alike, but if anyone is worried they should talk to their supplier which can usually sort out a payment plan when people are struggling."

“No one should have to worry about putting the heating or the lights on. If a customer is having difficulty they should contact their supplier immediately or call the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 336699 for free, impartial advice.”