Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Pensioner: My heating bill rose 600% after switching to gas

Plight prompts minister to quiz Phoenix Gas

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds is to write to Phoenix Gas asking them to examine sharp increases in customers bills after it emerged an elderly couple were paying almost £200 per month.

David and Evelyn Jenkins thought that when they converted their home to natural gas they would be halving their heating costs.

Little did they know that more than four years on they would be paying six times as much.

The pensioners used to spend around £400 per year on oil to heat their two-bedroom north Belfast bungalow and was told, following an energy efficiency inspection, that they could cut down this cost significantly if they switched to gas.

Mrs Jenkins had just had her right kidney removed and was suffering the onset of Parkinson’s disease, so Mr Jenkins decided to take the advice and had gas installed.

At first they were paying as little as £35 per month — the amount recommended for a home of that size — however, four years later that price has rocketed to almost £200 per month.

On top of that, the Jenkins have had numerous problems with their gas boiler — which has had to be fixed three times in the past year — and are scared that if prices continue to rise they will no longer be able to afford to keep the house warm.

Mr Jenkins said because of his wife’s condition, the home has to be heated for several hours during the day, otherwise she gets cold.

He explained the timer is set to come on for a few hours in the morning, two hours during the day and a few hours at night and accepts that this may use “a bit of gas”, but could not understand why it was so much.

“We live in a two bedroom bungalow, we only use the gas for heating we don’t even use it for cooking,” the pensioner explained.

“We used to have oil and we never had a problem with it. We thought by having gas it would be better, but it’s not.

“I can’t understand why it is so much.

“When we first got it in it was only £35, then it went up to £40 then to £60 and now it’s £200.

“We have also had so many problems with the boiler.

“Everytime someone from Phoenix comes out to fix it they charge us £55.

“They have been out three times over the past year.

“It is just so much. There must be hundreds of people like me out there who cannot believe how much it is.

“That’s why I am doing this, not just for me but for others out there.”

Mr Dodds said he has received many complaints from constituents about the sharp increases in gas prices in recent years and was alarmed to discover the Jenkins were paying almost £200 per month.

“When Phoenix Gas came into Northern Ireland less than 10 years ago, it was with the promise of reducing customers’ heating bills,” he said.

“Mr and Mrs Jenkins are typical of those who expected cheaper and more convenient heating when they switched to piped gas.

“To now find that they are paying almost £200 a month for their heating all year round is a huge financial burden and can only be described as outrageous.

“I will be asking Phoenix Gas to examine their particular case, to check if some error has been made.”

A spokesman from Phoenix Supply said monthly payments were calculated based on the customer’s consumption level and the prevailing price of natural gas.

He also said, according to their records, the Jenkins were burning “around twice the consumption level of an average Phoenix customer”.

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