Electricity price hike for Northern Ireland consumers
Watchdog in warning over planned 20% increase in bills
Householders in Northern Ireland will struggle to cope with a hike in the cost of electricity, it has been claimed.
The warning was issued by the Consumer Council 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 Consumer Council's John French said that any price rise will hit people already squeezed financially by rising costs.
He said: "The wholesale price of electricity and oil and gas is rising on the international markets.
"The Consumer Council is very concerned about how this will impact consumers, especially the 44% of people who are in fuel poverty in Northern Ireland and struggling to pay for their electricity bills."
Although the Utility Regulator has not yet approved the final price hike, a rise of up to 20% would be more than four times the rate of inflation, which is 4.4%.
The bad news for hard-pressed homeowners comes after the consumer price index (CPI) found that the cost of living has continued to soar.
Despite efforts by the Government to stem inflation by keeping interest rates at 0.5%, the rising cost of everyday essentials seems unstoppable.
Indeed, food and utility bills are posing an enormous burden on consumers whose budgets have been squeezed relentlessly in recent times. As yet, there are no details as to how competitor Airtricity intends to respond to the proposed hike, but sources say it will continue to offer a discount of up to 14% on Power NI's rate.
SDLP Enterprise, Trade and Investment spokesman Dr Alasdair McDonnell MP said the rise is "totally unconscionable."
"The excessive increase in tariffs is to be introduced in autumn as we enter the cold, dark months, a time when the majority of householders are left with no option but to use more electricity."
A company spokeswoman said that Power NI is one of the last energy suppliers in the UK and Ireland to announce a price change.
"We're currently working through the tariffs timetable as drawn up by the regulator and will be making an announcement on tariffs soon," she said.
"Our prices have been frozen since 2009 and that followed a cut in prices by more than 15%."
Electricity prices will rise by up to 20% from October 1. The hike will cost the average household an extra £100 a year and push bills over the £500 mark. The Utility Regulator hasn't yet approved the increase, but 20% would be more than four times the 4.4% rate of inflation. The bad news comes as the cost of living has continued to soar. Alcohol and tobacco were up 10.3%, while footwear and clothing saw a 3.1% hike. Despite efforts to stem inflation by keeping interest rates at 0.5%, the cost of everyday essentials, such as food, continues to soar.