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Annual gas bill now one of the largest on record in Belfast after latest 43% increase from SSE Airtricity

Average household annual gas bill will exceed £1,200 in the Greater Belfast network area


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SSE Airtricity has announced the cost of its gas will increase by almost 43% by July 1 with around 187,000 households in Northern Ireland will be affected.

The company said the 42.7% rise will impact those customers in their Greater Belfast network area.

The Utility Regulator confirmed on Wednesday that the latest price hike means customers in the area are now facing one of the largest annual gas bills on record. 

One analyst said there was a period in 2008 during the financial crisis then, when the costs may have been bigger, but at that time the price per unit was measured differently so it is difficult to compare.

Wednesday’s announcement marks the fourth increase in gas prices by SSE within the last year and comes on the same day a previously announced 33% increase in electricity prices officially took effect.

According to the Consumer Council in Northern Ireland, the rise will result in an increase of £372 per year to the gas bill of a household with a credit meter and customers with a prepayment gas meter (PAYG) will see their costs increase by £367 per year, taking the overall average household yearly gas bill to over £1,200.

SSE Airtricity cited the “ongoing strain” of the energy crisis and said wholesale gas prices have trended at “record levels” in recent months.

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They also said the war in Ukraine has “intensified” the energy crisis.

The company announced they would be donating £1 million to a charity in order to support people who are struggling with the cost of living.

Andrew Greer, from SSE Airtricity said he understands the latest announcement is “not the news our customers want to hear”.

“The cost of purchasing natural gas has remained at its highest level in over a decade and at times in recent months, it has hit record highs,” he said.

"Following our last price announcement, we had hoped for some market improvements; however, the war in Ukraine has intensified the energy crisis and compounded the issues facing all energy suppliers today.”

The Utility Regulator, who accepted the submission by SSE Airtricity to increase their regulated tariff, said they “regret the scale of this increase”.

They stressed that a reduction of wholesale costs in the future will be “passed to consumers as quickly as possible”.

"The number one reason for this increase is the extremely high global wholesale energy costs. As wholesale energy costs makes up around 74% of the average consumer bill, any change will impact the final price customers pay,” said chief executive John French.

“Over the past 12 months, we have seen extreme price increases and volatility. However, wholesale prices have more recently been trending below the extreme peak we saw just before Christmas.

"Since, unlike in Great Britain and Ireland, we have full visibility on regulated supplier costs, we know that the tariffs these suppliers charge closely reflect their current wholesale cost positions.

"We are therefore cautiously hopeful that, if there are no further shocks affecting wholesale costs, we will likely see a period of stability in regulated tariffs. Should these tariffs stabilise, it is important to understand that it will be at levels considerably higher than previous normals.

“However, if wholesale costs do begin to reduce, our system of regulation in Northern Ireland allows us to act to make sure that reductions are fully passed to consumers as quickly as possible.”

He added: “Help is available if you are struggling with your electricity or gas bill. I would encourage you to contact your energy supplier as soon as possible to discuss the options available to you.

"Further information on the support available to energy customers is available at www.nidirect.gov.uk/covid-19-energy-debt-advice and on the Utility Regulator’s website.”

Raymond Gormley, Head of Energy Policy at the Consumer Council said: “The enormity of this SSE Airtricity tariff increase in the Greater Belfast gas network is shocking but sadly it is not unusual; heating oil consumers, electricity consumers, and gas consumers outside Belfast are already living with extremely high prices.

“We know the biggest challenge for many consumers right now is having enough money for food and energy. Our research shows fuel poverty in Northern Ireland stood at 34% in March.

"This means even before today’s announcements one in three households were feeling their purse strings stretched near breaking point. It’s clear that without the introduction of significant support for consumers the coming winter will be miserable for many and life threatening for some.

“The Consumer Council is working to protect consumers by encouraging Government to introduce financial support ahead of the coming winter and clarity is needed about if, how, and when the Chancellor’s energy support package will be made available to people here.

“We are also talking with SSE Airtricity regarding their billing practice processes, customer communications, and support for vulnerable customers.

"We urge anyone who is struggling to pay their energy bills or to top-up their meter, to contact their supplier directly for help and support. We also encourage consumers to think about ways they can reduce their energy costs through energy efficiency and if possible, try to save money over the summer months to cover energy costs during the coming winter.

“In the longer term, this situation shows the importance of the Department for the Economy’s Energy Strategy Action Plan, that aims to tackle affordability and move Northern Ireland away from its dependence on fossil fuels.”

Consumers can get in touch with the Consumer Council for free independent advice by calling freephone 0800 121 6022 or by emailing contact@consumercouncil.org.uk.

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