Editor's Viewpoint: Fuel price hikes add to winter woe
Thousands of householders throughout Northern Ireland are experiencing a festive damper as home heating oil prices soar, crashing through the £500 for 900 litres barrier. And with temperatures continuing to stay stubbornly below zero in most areas, fuel consumption is at an all-time high.
That is an expensive problem for families on low or fixed incomes, especially pensioners. Having to fork out large sums for heating oil at what is an already expensive time of the year, will stretch their budgets to the limit.
There will be a natural inclination to attempt to cut down on heating bills but this could lead to even more expensive problems with frozen and burst water pipes.
However, even the cost of oil is not the only problem facing consumers. Those living in areas which have been worst hit by the snowfalls and subsequent icy conditions may not be able to get deliveries. Understandably, oil companies have the safety and welfare of their drivers at the forefront of their minds and are having to disappoint some customers.
The cost of fuel and the delivery difficulties constitute a serious problem in the province due to our heavy reliance on oil for home heating. It is estimated that some 70% of homes here use the fuel, way above the average in the rest of the UK where there is a greater reliance on gas. The only good news is that stocks of oil are high at local terminals, so there is no danger of supplies running out even if the cold weather continues as predicted.
For those homes lucky enough to have open fireplaces, this Christmas could see a return to the traditional festive scene of the family gathered round a real roaring fire. It may look good, but will be poor compensation for modern households used to all the comfort of central heating. However it will be a heating option many people will be forced to consider if oil prices continue to rise at the current alarming rate.