MORE than 100 elderly and vulnerable people could die needlessly in Reading this winter - prompting an attack on the Government for not acting swiftly enough to help protect them from harsh conditions.

Reading Borough Council says on average there have been 112 'excess' winter deaths in the borough a year since 2009 - more than double those for neighbouring Wokingham and West Berkshire and, with the excess winter death index at 35, one of the highest in the country.

The bid for �130,000 "warm homes healthy people" funding also highlights a 33% increase in households in fuel poverty since 2006.

But council leader, Jo Lovelock, said the borough is unlikely to hear from Whitehall before the end of the month. She said: "Clearly when you are talking about providing help to elderly or vulnerable people in this way it is important for the council to be able to plan properly.

"It would therefore be useful if we were given any idea about what financial assistance will be available at some point in the summer, rather than in the winter.

"Earlier notice would help us make the best and most effective use of any money made available for what is a vital piece of work."

Last year the council waited until the third week in December for the cash and it is lobbying the Government to bring the decision forward.

A cabinet report said "inevitably effective planning was very limited" as a result of the delay.

National Energy Action's director of external affairs, Maria Wardrobe, said: "Living in a cold home can cause or exacerbate a number of serious health conditions, such as heart attacks, strokes and bronchitis, and yet with more than 7,000 Reading households estimated to be in fuel poverty and energy bills continuing to rise, many people are unable to afford to heat their home to the level needed to maintain health and comfort."

The cash is earmarked for �10,000 grants to community groups assisting the vulnerable, a �7,000 emergency fund to cover "serious need", an emergency phone line for 16 weeks and giving �30,000 to landlords Ridgeway to improve "thermal comfort" in 300 more homes.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Bidders will find out if they have been successful or unsuccessful shortly.

*Excess winter deaths are calculated by comparing the number of deaths occurring in December to March to the average during the preceding and subsequent four months. The index is number of excess winter deaths divided by the average non-winter deaths and expressed as a percentage.