Belfast Telegraph

Gas exodus: Over 400 customers switch from Phoenix within 24 hours of price hike announcement

Hundreds of householders in Northern Ireland have signed up to switch gas suppliers to avoid an imminent 40% price hike.

Phoenix Supply confirmed its increased tariff would come into effect on May 1, pushing up average annual bills from £430 to £603.

Already over 400 cost-conscious consumers have opted to change to Firmus Energy since the announcement was made.

Of the 65,000 natural gas users who are eligible to swap supplier, some can expect to benefit from savings of up to £252 over two years.

Mark Prentice, managing director of Firmus, said that demand has been growing consistently over the last 24 hours.

“More than 400 consumers have indicated that they want to switch,” he said.

“At a time when budgets are stretched it makes sense to save around a third on your natural gas bill if you can.”

The price increase will apply to Phoenix Supply domestic and small business customers in the greater Belfast and Larne areas, with the company blaming the rise on wholesale fuel costs.

Instability in Libya and the Japanese earthquake have also hit prices in the last two months.

The Utility Regulator chief executive Shane Lynch said he was conscious of the impact on household budgets in Northern Ireland.

“We scrutinise all price rises to ensure that the maximum tariff Phoenix can charge is justified,” |he said.

Firmus Energy, Phoenix Supply’s principal competitor, has said it will be holding consumer prices until the end of September.

It has also made a commitment to keep prices below Phoenix’s for at least two years after a customer switches — although Firmus will also have to review its prices in six months.

The Consumer Council said the hike was a “massive blow” and |it recommended that all gas |customers check to see if they could get a better deal by changing supplier.

Its chief executive Antoinette McKeown said that from today the switching system is being upgraded to accommodate 1,550 customer switches per week.

“Customers that can switch could make savings of up to 36.8% or £18.91 a month from May 1, depending on how they pay their bills,” she said.

“Switching your gas supplier may seem daunting but it should be a simple process for consumers.

“There is no need to change your meter or pipes and the customer will notice no difference in their gas supply.”

Around 55,000 customers on Pay As You Go meters cannot switch until the end of August.

Leading economist John Simpson said Firmus is able to undercut Phoenix for a period of time because of the way the gas industry is regulated.

Managing director of Phoenix David Strachan said he understood the hike — which will add £3.28 a week to average household bills — was “unwelcome news”.

He said their competitor’s low prices were unsustainable and would not be enough to make most people switch.

“Their offer isn’t sustainable in the long-term,” Mr Strachan said.

“We’re all buying energy from the same marketplace so it’s inevitable that their prices will rise.

“I don’t think this is like buying a pint of milk.”

F actfile

The switch itself will take between five and eight weeks. This time is required for suppliers to compare meter readings and process the switch.

It also includes a 10-day cooling-off period for consumers to change their mind. However, full details of what the switching process involves can be found in the Consumer Council leaflet — ‘Switching Domestic Gas Supplier’, which is available at www.consumercouncil.org.uk, or by calling 0800 121 6022.

The Consumer Council has also produced a price comparison tool which can be found on its website.

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