Home heating oil prices hit a six-year low
Price for a 900-litre fill falls to average of £290
Home heating oil prices have hit a six-year low, new research has found.
On average, 900 litres now costs £290, while 500 litres will set householders back £170, according to a survey by the Consumer Council.
The watchdog's weekly market analysis also revealed 300 litres of home heating oil is currently averaging around £119.
However, it emerged prices can vary considerably across the region with the cheapest often falling below the average cost - and by up to almost £30 for 900 litres in some cases.
Similarly, the differential between most and least expensive can be as much as £74.
Richard Williams, head of energy policy at the Consumer Council, said the price drop was great news for local householders - 68% of whom are dependent on home heating oil.
"The cost of a 500-litre fill has dropped by almost half since prices peaked in February 2013," he said. "This decrease is good news for many consumers as oil is used to heat the majority of homes in Northern Ireland."
Mr Williams said the Consumer Council monitors home heating oil prices on a weekly basis and publishes the information on its website. "We encourage consumers to shop around for their home heating oil and the information on our website enables consumers to judge whether they are getting a good deal when buying their fuel," he said.
The home heating oil industry here is not regulated and there are therefore no statutory powers to oversee what consumers pay.
That means prices vary depending on market conditions; namely the price of crude oil, the cost of refining the product, marketing and distribution costs and the profits of refiners and wholesalers.
Prices are often also more expensive in winter because of higher levels of demand. Competition among suppliers, of which there are 270 in Northern Ireland, also determines the cost of heating oil to a large extent.
Francis Hughes from Age Sector Platform said keeping warm in winter is the top concern for older people in Northern Ireland.
"Last year, we uncovered that pensioner households relying on oil were paying, on average, £405 per year more than those relying on gas," he said. "Even starker was the revelation that one in two older people said the cost of heating their home meant they had to cut down on essentials like food."
Which? magazine recently advised heating oil consumers to buy now for cheaper prices. It is now around 40p a litre - down from 46p in January 2015. This summer prices are even lower than they've been previously, as the price of crude oil has dropped.