The government will provide an extra £30m to help keep homes warm during winter, the health secretary announced today.

Existing schemes for those at risk of fuel poverty will be boosted by £10m, while a new fund for local authorities and charities to tackle cold housing will be given £20m.

Andrew Lansley said the money would “protect those most in need” while Age UK described the plan as a “very important step in the right direction”.

According to the Department of Health, more than £850m is spent by the NHS each year as a result of the impact of cold housing on people’s health.

Officials claim that if £10m is put towards Warm Front - one of the current schemes to support people in fuel poverty - it could provide around 5,000 low-income households with improvements to insulation and heating worth £3,500.

Meanwhile the Warm Housing, Healthy People fund will invite bids from local authorities and charities for innovative ways of helping vulnerable elderly people, families with young children and people with disabilities who are not suitable for existing support to warm their homes.

It is estimated the £20m-scheme could help around 10,000 households.

Mr Lansley also launched a Cold Weather Plan, which will be jointly run by the Met Office and the Health Protection Agency to advise people how to stay healthy during the winter, in a bid to relieve the pressure on the NHS.

The health secretary said: “Older people and those with long-term illnesses are particularly vulnerable to the cold and we need to be aware - within families, in communities and across the NHS - of how we can help others when the winter temperatures drop.

“Every year there is a 20 per cent increase in deaths in the winter in England. By working together, this coordinated plan will help protect those most in need.”

Age UK charity director Michelle Mitchell said: “The coalition government has set a new emphasis on public health as one of its key objectives, and this Cold Weather Plan is a very important step in the right direction.”