'Heat or eat' fears over electricity price hike
More householders in Northern Ireland will be plunged into fuel poverty as a result of electricity price hikes, it has been warned.
Members of the Fuel Poverty Coalition (FPC) voiced concern after it emerged that prices will go up by between 17% and 20% in October.
Power NI is expected to confirm the rise next week - increasing the average annual bill by almost £100 to more than £500 a year.
The news has prompted the FPC to issue a warning that current energy prices are already too high for people on low incomes.
Pat Austin, CEO of the National Energy Association, said something must to be done to prevent the situation from getting worse.
She said: "The Northern Ireland Executive has a responsibility to ensure that it places the eradication of fuel poverty as its central energy policy development in order to protect the most vulnerable consumers in society."
Fuel poverty - which occurs when homeowners spend more than 10% of their disposable incomes on heat and power - is a continuing problem.
Research from Save the Children showed that in Ulster, for every 1% increase in domestic energy prices, an additional 2,800 households become fuel poor.
Households already spend more than twice as much of their disposable income on energy than in London - and around 60% more than the UK average.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin economy spokesman Conor Murphy has called on the Utility Regulator to reject any suggestion of a 20% electricity price increase.
"The suggestion that Power NI is even considering a price increase more than four times inflation is unacceptable.
"The Utility Regulator should make it clear that if such a proposal is brought forward it will be rejected.
"Already households are straining under the pressure of the British Government's austerity measures and this extra burden could put very vulnerable people, particularly the elderly and single parents, further into poverty.
"The choice of heat or eat could became the reality for many."
To sign up to the Fuel Poverty Coalition visit www.fuelpovertycoalition.org.uk
The last time electricity prices fell was back in 2008.
Since then, there has been a steady climb in price hikes, with customers in Northern Ireland paying more than anywhere else in the UK.
When Airtricity entered the market in 2010, ending NIE's monopoly, there were hopes that competition could bring a price drop. However, cost cutting never materialised and prices continue to rise.