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Blow for customers after SSE Airtricity announces hike in gas prices of 7.6%

By Margaret Canning

Domestic gas customers of Belfast's biggest supplier have been hit by a price increase of nearly 8% - with its competitor expected to follow suit next week.

The Consumer Council said the rise of 7.6% by SSE Airtricity for 140,000 gas users was "disappointing".

With 73% of the market, SSE Airtricity Gas is the city's main player. Rival Firmus has a 27% share.

Firmus confirmed that it would be making an announcement to its customers next week, and is expected to hike prices by up to 10%.

SSE's increase comes into force at the end of the month and will push the average bill to £501 a year, up £36.

It said the move followed a surge of more than 50% in the wholesale price of gas over the last year.

Richard Williams, head of energy at the Consumer Council, said: "Consumers consistently tell us the cost of energy is their top concern, so it is disappointing to see prices increase."

Andrew Greer, general manager of SSE Airtricity Gas, said: "We're sorry we have to increase gas prices at this time.

"However, in the last year wholesale natural gas prices on global markets have increased by more than 50%.

"Despite the scale of these external cost increases we've been able to use our expertise and buying power on wholesale energy markets to help reduce the impact of these global cost changes on our customers' bills.

"In addition, we're passing back over-recovered costs to customers in line with the regulatory mechanism that applies, helping to further reduce the impact of this price change."

The increase has been approved by the Consumer Council, the Department for the Economy and the Utlitity Regulator, the body that scrutinises energy pricing in Northern Ireland.

Kevin Shiels, the Utility Regulator's director of retail and consumer protection, said: "Increases in energy prices are never welcome. We therefore only approve a tariff increase after extensive scrutiny.

"The main reason for this tariff change is due to the increase in international wholesale energy, which has resulted in significant cost increases for SSE Airtricity."

He added the rise in wholesale costs had led to price hikes for petrol and home heating oil.

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