The price of home heating oil has fallen by 12% in less than a month, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.
The good news comes after the global price of oil went crashing to below $100 a barrel last week for the first time since April, and it offers an indication that hard-pressed households in Northern Ireland may receive some respite from rising bills as winter approaches.
It also represents a glimmer of light at the end of a dark tunnel as hikes in the cost of gas and electricity look likely to burden families from the start of October.
A snap survey of oil distributors carried out by the Belfast Telegraph on Friday found the cost of filling a tank of home heating oil has dropped by nearly £60 in just 21 days. Among the cheapest online suppliers was Boilerjuice, for example, where customers were being charged £457.85 for 900 litres and £254.36 for 500 litres.
That represents a drop in price of £52.36 (for 900 ltrs) and £30.40 (500 ltrs) between August 28 and September 18, according to a leading comparison website.
The Belfast Telegraph visited www.cheapestoil.co.uk, which compares heating oil prices in Northern Ireland, to find the best deals across the province.
The survey looked at the ten cheapest suppliers online and identified a potential saving of £34.50 on 900 litres of oil, and £28.09 on 500 litres – just by comparing prices offered by the leading suppliers.
Emo Oil, Fuel Services and Kane Fuel offered their customers the biggest price reduction of £56.70 in just three weeks, for instance, after the cost of 900 litres fell from £529.20 to £472.50 between August 28 and September 18. Hayes Fuels slashed £51 off its August price of £525 for 900 litres, to offer householders the same amount of home heating oil for £474, while Thompson Fuels cut £40 off the cost of 900 litres, bringing it from £510 to £470.
Lisburn Fuels and Meekin were also offering £35.02 and £36 off their respective tariffs for 900 litres, as well as a saving of £17 and £24.99 respectively on 500 litres.
A subsequent telephone survey, also carried out by this newspaper on Friday, discovered that even more savings were possible, just by ringing around.
Castlereagh Fuels, for example, which was offering 900 litres at an online price of £492.35, was prepared to shave off a further £22.50 — presenting its customer with a bill for £470.
Similarly, Bangor Fuels gave a price of £458 for 900 litres over the phone, £14 less than its online price of £472. Hayes Fuels, meanwhile, said it was prepared to match the lowest price on offer from their competitors.
Thompson Fuels, on the other hand, gave an online quote which was LOWER than the actual price charged by the company, as it does not include a £10 fee which must be paid to the driver on receipt of the oil delivery.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, David Blevings, from the Northern Ireland Oil Federation, said the price of home heating oil has fallen by £100 for 900 litres since the beginning of July, due to a weakening demand globally for oil and the general slowdown in the economy.
“The good news is that prices are retreating because of a moderation in demand, especially in the USA. There will probably be more fluctuations going forwards but consumers can benefit from this reduction prior to winter, which is good news,” he said.
“Distributors can set their own retail prices in line with competitive pressures and their particular supply cost profile, but they have no control over the wholesale price which has increased significantly over the past year.
“Distributors locally operate in an extremely competitive market and these competitive pressures ensure that price movements on the international market are offered quickly to consumers in order to retain their custom.”
He added: “Consumers in Northern Ireland buy their home heating oil below the average price for both Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland markets, reinforcing the competitive nature of the local oil market.”
The recent fall in the price of home heating oil is good news for beleaguered families, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet in the economic downturn. But it remains to be seen if this downward trend will continue — and when petrol and diesel prices will follow suit.
The price of crude oil fell below $100 a barrel last week for the first time since April — having fallen from its mid-July high of $147.
Some UK retailers reacted by slashing 3p a litre off the price of fuel on Friday, including Asda which is charging 106.9p for petrol and 118.9p for diesel, but other players have yet to follow suit.