‘Energy price hike will leave many in the cold’

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The decision to hike prices following a period of severe cold weather will leave many, particularly older and vulnerable people in distress, a local MLA has warned.

SDLP MLA Pat Catney was repsonding to the announcement that Firmus Energy is to put up gas prices in the Ten Towns area by 6.8% from April 5, and in the Greater Belfast market by 8.8% from April 16.

Firmus Energy is the second gas supplier to announce a tariff increase recently, following SSE Airtricity’s announcement of a 7.8% increase in Greater Belfast.

Catney said: “The decision by Firmus and SSE to raise domestic energy prices by over 7% on average will leave many people, particularly older people and the vulnerable, in distress about how they’ll afford to heat their homes.

“In the immediate wake of severe cold weather, and with more predicted in the weeks ahead, the news that the average bill will increase by around £40 will force people to evaluate how they keep their homes and their families warm.

“Household budgets are stretched. In this context, one of the best investments that can be made is in home energy efficiency. Unfortunately, as a result of the paralysis at Stormont, the affordable warmth scheme, which provides grant support to people suffering from fuel poverty, can’t be amended to broaden the number of people who can benefit. These grants can be used for cavity wall insulation, roof insulation, boiler upgrades or other energy efficiency measures. The SDLP has previously made the case for the threshold to be made wider so that all those in need can benefit.

“I would encourage anyone with gas heating to begin the process of comparing their suppliers with others in the market. People need to be sure they’re getting the best deal available.

“For people who rely on oil, I’d encourage them to look into any local oil buying clubs that can reduce the price you pay by placing bulk orders with local providers.”

Meanwhile The Consumer Council is urging Firmus Energy gas customers in the Ten Towns and Greater Belfast areas to consider ways to save on their household energy bills.

Speaking about the price increase, Richard Williams, Head of Energy at The Consumer Council, said: “This is unwelcome news, however we know that the Ten Towns tariff is analysed by the Utility Regulator, and in Greater Belfast Firmus Energy competes with SSE Airtricity’s ‘regulated’ tariff.

“Following the price increase, the typical Firmus Energy annual bill in Ten Towns will increase by £39 per year to £619. This compares to £534 for regulated SSE Airtricity customers in Greater Belfast. This difference is mainly due to Firmus Energy recovering a previous discount on the tariff which was designed to encourage the take up of natural gas in the early days of its roll out in the Ten Towns. The Utility Regulator has determined that this additional cost will be paid off by consumers by December 2019.

“Firmus Energy is the sole supplier of gas in the Ten Towns, however switching payment and billing method, or implementing simple energy efficiency measures, can help save these customers money. Firmus Energy customers in Greater Belfast will see a typical bill increase by £45. We would encourage these customers to shop around and get the best possible deal. The Consumer Council’s free online price comparison tool will help consumers check if they are on the best deal”