Over 350,000 households across Northern Ireland could be left in fuel poverty when Power NI increases prices by almost 20%, it has been warned.
With over 300,000 homes in Northern Ireland already struggling to pay for fuel, a leading consumer organisation said the price hike planned for October could spell disaster for an additional 50,000 homes across the province.
With 721,100 households in Northern Ireland, this means almost one in two homes will be in fuel poverty this winter.
At least 1,000 people die in Northern Ireland every winter from cold-related conditions, such as pneumonia, and the 18.6% increase is likely to make it even harder for people across the province to heat their homes.
Chief executive of the Consumer Council Antoinette McKeown said customers of Power NI will see their bills rise £92 a year to £588.
"Overall it will mean that the majority of households in Northern Ireland will have an energy bill of £2,114 per year," she said.
"This is around £900 a year more than households in Great Britain - most of which rely on gas for heating."
Heather Monteverde, Macmillan Cancer Support General Manager for Northern Ireland, said paying fuel bills is one of the biggest concerns for people fighting the disease.
She said the latest rise will be a source of great concern for cancer patients who feel the cold more, spend long periods of time at home and may also have reduced income as a result of being unwell.
"We would urge all electricity providers to work with Macmillan to find ways to reduce costs for cancer patients."
Age NI has called for strong political leadership to support vulnerable older people facing a hefty rise in their electricity bill as a result of the Power NI price increase.
Anne O'Reilly, Age NI chief executive said, while she understands the volatile economic climate that is impacting on energy prices, more has to be done to protect vulnerable customers.
"We call on DSD and DETI to work together to drive forward proposals on the social price support that could become available in Northern Ireland," she said.
The Consumer Council has also called for action from Stormont to address the developing situation, including setting a timescale to address fuel poverty.
The Consumer Council defines fuel poverty as when a household spends more than 10% of its income on fuel to obtain a satisfactory level of heating - 20ºC in the living room and 18ºC in other occupied rooms.