Thousands of households in Northern Ireland are to be hit with energy price hikes, as the two gas providers supplying the region have announced forthcoming price changes.
From 31 March, about 80,000 Firmus customers will see gas prices rise by 12.2%.
About 30,000 customers in the so-called ‘Ten Towns’ area whose gas is supplied by Firmus, will see gas prices rise by an average of £61 per year. These towns include Antrim, Armagh, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Banbridge, Coleraine, Craigavon (including Lurgan and Portadown), Limavady, Derry-Londonderry, Newry, and more than 20 other towns and villages in the surrounding areas.
Meanwhile 50,000 Firmus customers in the Greater Belfast area will see prices rise by an average of £56 per year. These towns include Belfast, Lisburn, Bangor, Holywood, Donaghadee, Groomsport, Millisle, Newtownards, Carryduff, Comber, Newtownabbey, Carrickfergus and Larne.
The price increase affects prepayment and small business customers too. Firmus doesn’t supply electricity.
In addition, around 141,000 (household and small business) SSE Airtricity customers in the Greater Belfast area will see gas prices rise by 7.6% - or £36 per year - from 31 March. The move includes prepayment customers, although electricity prices are unaffected.
The forthcoming price changes follow an ongoing tariff review process that is carried out by both suppliers and the Utility Regulator in consultation with the Department for the Economy and the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland.
Why are the providers upping prices?
Both providers balme rising wholesale gas prices – the price providers pay for energy – for the increase to household bills.
Michael Scott, managing director of Firmus Energy says: “We understand the importance of price stability for customers and apologise for having to increase prices. Over the past three years we have been able to reduce or maintain our prices. We appreciate that this is not good news for customers, however, this tariff change is driven by the rising wholesale natural gas commodity market.
SSE Airtricity, meanwhile, says the increase is its first since April 2013, and follows a four-year period during which it has either held or reduced its standard prices. Andrew Greer, general manager of SSE Airtricity Gas, adds: “We’re sorry we have to increase gas prices at this time. However, in the past year wholesale natural gas prices on global markets have increased by more than 50%.
“Despite the scale of these external cost increases we’ve been able to use our expertise and buying power on wholesale energy markets to help reduce the impact of these global cost changes on our customers’ bills.”
Should I switch provider?
The gas market in Northern Ireland isn’t as competitive as the rest of the UK, as the only two suppliers to households in the Greater Belfast area are SSE Airtricity and Firmus, according to the Utility Regulator. Firmus is the only domestic gas supplier in the ‘Ten Towns’ area.
However, when it comes to electricity there are five providers to switch between.
Richard Williams, head of energy at the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland explains: “In theory, there is competition in domestic natural gas supply in Belfast. However, domestic customers have not switched supplier in the last couple of years because there are currently no savings to be made between suppliers. This contrasts with the domestic electricity market in Northern Ireland where switching supplier can provide savings to the average household of up to £134 per year for consumers.”
Despite this, Mr Williams adds: “The Consumer Council would encourage all natural gas customers in Greater Belfast to check to see that they are getting the best overall deal. The Consumer Council website provides an energy price comparison tool, which helps consumers compare tariffs and a step by step guide to switching their supplier so that consumers can get the best possible deal when paying for their natural gas.”