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Householders face a huge squeeze on energy budgets... and there may be no end in sight

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The Utility Regulator is warning that the prices are likely to last for the rest of this year and potentially through the whole of next winter. Stock image. Credit: Matthias Lindner

The Utility Regulator is warning that the prices are likely to last for the rest of this year and potentially through the whole of next winter. Stock image. Credit: Matthias Lindner

The Utility Regulator is warning that the prices are likely to last for the rest of this year and potentially through the whole of next winter. Stock image. Credit: Matthias Lindner

Gas suppliers will announce price hikes of 30% or more in the next few weeks. Home heating is likely to break the £300 mark for 500 litres. Petrol prices, at the highest level since 2013, could go higher.

And this could be the new normal, at least for the foreseeable future, according to John French, the chief executive of the Utility Regulator.

Citizens, particularly those on low income, and small businesses are going to be badly squeezed.

Bryson Charitable Group, which manages a £2m fuel fund for 20,000 people in dire need, revealed yesterday it received 280,000 requests for help.

The possibly only bright spot in what is rapidly turning into a crisis, attributed in large part in Europe to the turmoil around Ukraine but exacerbated by global pent up post pandemic demand for oil, is that winter will be largely over before consumers are hit by the even higher prices.

But the Utility Regulator is warning that the prices are likely to last for the rest of this year and potentially through the whole of next winter.

And there is no government support here for those who will face the higher bills throughout the winter next year.

A £55m scheme announced by the Executive is an emergency response.

GB has an ongoing “warm home” scheme where those struggling to apply for grants of approximately £140 a year.

Gas suppliers here are regulated, along with Power NI, but the regulator can only make sure the companies are managed correctly and abiding by rules over how the tariff is made up.

Margins, or profits, are capped at 2% with the bulk of any charge to consumers spent on wholesale gas. SSE Airtricity’s spend on wholesale gas is 50% while Firmus is 67%.

Wholesale gas, as low as less than 40p per therm within the last year, is now at over £2.

It peaked at £4.71 in December. But it is the projected price over the next year or even two that has led to Utility Regulator to warn that this is no blip, that it is going to last.

None of the projections put the price back to around 50p a therm, the normal over the last decade.

Home heating oil, not regulated, has risen more slowly but the average price per 500 litres is now £277.

It was £182 this time last year and £250 in January 2020.

Those returning to work will at least be able to save some money going back into the office over the next few weeks; they will be spending less money on heating and lighting their homes during the day.

The announcement of further price hikes has provoked concern from politicians, with the SDLP noting that £100m was left unallocated in the last funding round in January.

SDLP communities spokesman Mark Durkan said: “I was incredulous to learn that at a time when many families across the North are struggling to heat their homes and put food on the table that the Executive had £100m unallocated in its January monitoring round."

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said: “Right across the UK people are facing a cost of living crisis."

He added: “In Northern Ireland, however, the Protocol imposes even greater costs upon families struggling to keep their heads above water.”


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