Latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures show there were an estimated 28,300 excess deaths in England and Wales during winter 2019-20.
The death toll is 19.6% higher than the previous year with experts suggesting around 8,5001 of the fatalities were due to people living in cold homes.
A leading body in the off-gas grid heating sector says many of these preventable deaths will have occurred in rural areas where incomes are often lower and homes are typically older and less energy efficient, making them harder to affordably heat.
"We know that around 760,000 oil heated properties fall into the lowest EPC Bands E-G2," says Paul Rose, CEO of OFTEC.
"These poorly insulated homes are often owned by those who can least afford to adequately heat them. As a result, too many people are still living in dangerously cold and damp conditions which can lead to serious illness and in some cases, death.
"These latest figures tragically highlight the need for serious government investment in upgrading rural homes, not only to reduce excess winter deaths but to support the UK's transition to net zero."
OFTEC says the 12 month extension to the Green Homes Grant scheme, expansion of the Warm Home Discount and a commitment to fund the Energy Company Obligation to 2026 will help support this aim but do not go far enough and that targeted assistance for all rural homes is urgently needed.
OFTEC welcomes recent recommendations in the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) Sixth Carbon Budget report to ramp up the process but goes on to say that a programme to retrofit the UK's rural homes is likely to prove far more expensive than estimates suggest.
Mr Rose continues: "The CCC states in its report that the average cost per home to upgrade to target Band C is less than £10,0003, but most oil heated homes will require more extensive upgrades.
"BEIS research estimates the cost for Band E homes to achieve this level is £12,300 and for Bands F and G, higher still at £18,9004. For some, these figures will run into thousands of pounds more."
OFTEC says most consumers simply can't afford to fund these improvements themselves which is why so many are still living in cold homes. It is also part of the reason why the UK's progress on emissions reduction is not happening quickly enough.
"It is vital that consumers, especially those living in the hardest to treat homes, get the financial support they need to make these crucial changes," says Mr Rose.
"Future heat decarbonisation policy must be fair, affordable and effective so as not to leave any sector of the population out in the cold.
"This also means providing households with access to cheaper, more practical to install low carbon heating solutions than those currently supported, including renewable liquid fuels as a near drop in replacement for heating oil."
1 National Energy Action 27 November 2020 https://www.nea.org.uk/news/271120-01/?parent=news-insights/
2 BEIS Minister Written Answer, 29/10/2018 based on Analysis of National Housing Model input data, drawing from English Housing Survey 2014, Scottish Housing Condition Survey 2014, Welsh Housing Conditions Survey 2014.
3 The Sixth Carbon Budget – The UK's Path to Net Zero December 20204 BEIS data stated by Minister of State for BEIS during Parliamentary Questions September 2020.