Airtricity follows Power NI's lead with 18% hike in prices
Northern Ireland householders will see a £90 hike in annual electricity bills after Airtricity said it was putting up prices by almost 18% from next month.
It follows a recent announcement by rival firm Power NI which is raising its prices by the same amount (17.8%), also from July 1.
The news will come as a severe blow to hard-pressed consumers who have witnessed a relentless rise in the cost of living against a backdrop of unemployment and wage freezes, especially over the past year.
Budget Energy, the only other domestic electricity supplier here, has said it hasn't yet decided whether to put up tariffs.
But with both Airtricity and Power NI citing wholesale costs as the reason behind the impending hikes, experts believe that Budget Energy customers will also see bills increase.
Money advice programme manager Rachael Cray, from Citizens Advice, said that bigger bills will hit thousands of consumers hard.
"The news that Power NI and now Airtricity have had to put their prices up is disappointing and an added worry for consumers as it will mean cutting back even further on already very strained budgets," she said.
"Gas, home heating oil, rates, petrol, diesel and some mortgage interest rates have all gone up in price at a time when household incomes are not increasing, or are even decreasing, as a result of the economic crisis.
"At Citizens Advice we would urge people to shop around for an electricity provider, be more aware of your electricity usage and implement energy efficiencies such as turning off electric equipment, lights and plugs to attempt to negate the impact of this increase as much as possible.
"If you are concerned about the impact this rise will have on your budget, or you are struggling to pay your bills, please contact your local Citizens Advice as soon as possible."
Airtricity said it could not continue to absorb the significant increase in wholesale costs.
"We very much regret the need to increase our prices," the company's managing director Stephen Wheeler said.
"We recognise that this type of electricity price volatility presents difficulty for customers in managing their household budget and we would welcome greater stability in the management of regulated tariffs."
The Consumer Council said it was "disappointed" with the price hike, but pointed out that consumers "still have options to make savings".
"Airtricity's announcement is very unwelcome for struggling consumers and businesses. However, savings are still possible," said chief executive Antoinette McKeown.
"The biggest savings can be made by switching supplier and switching your method of payment. So, if you are with supplier 'x' and currently pay by cash or cheque, and you switch to supplier 'y' but also set up a direct debit, you can make the biggest savings."
The Consumer Council said it has worked hard to provide the information consumers need to find out if they could save money and take them through the switching process. It added: "We have a price comparison table on our website as well as step-by-step guides to switching supplier. The Consumer Council encourages electricity customers to check our information and see what they can save." Consumers can contact the council on 0800 121 6022 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.