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Firmus gas bills set for whopping £182 a year rise

Firmus energy gas customers in Northern Ireland are facing an increase in their bills of more than 35 per cent from next month
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THOUSANDS of gas-using homes and businesses in the north, extending from Derry to Newry, are set to see their biggest-ever single increase in bills - right at the start of the colder weather biting.

Firmus energy has confirmed that natural gas tariffs in its so-called 'Ten Towns' network area will jump by more than 35 per cent from October 1.

That will put £182 a year on the the average bill, or nearly £3.50 a week, and will bring prices back to 2018 levels.

Indeed the company had wanted to impose a 40 per cent increase, which would have meant customers paying an additional £20, but this was vetoed by the Utility Regulator.

The timing will hit hardest at struggling families, who already face losing an extra £20 a week from Universal Credit at the same time as the bigger bills start dropping through their letterboxes. It also follows rises in electricity, grocery, and fuel costs.

Substantial rises in global wholesale gas prices (since the start of April gas commodity prices have soared by 170 per cent) had been widely flagged by utilities across the UK and Ireland.

But this whopping 35.15 hike - which will take the average Ten Towns bill from £518 to £701 - has taken many by surprise.

Peter McClenaghan, director of infrastructure and sustainability at the Consumer Council said: “The size of the firmus energy price increase will shock consumers, make household budgeting more challenging.”

Some 55,000 customers will be affected in the firmus network, which includes Derry, Limavady, Coleraine (including Portstewart and Bushmills), Ballymoney, Ballymena (Broughshane), Antrim (including Ballyclare and Templepatrick), Craigavon (including Portadown and Lurgan), Banbridge, Newry (Warrenpoint), Armagh (Tandragee) and more than 25 other towns and villages in the surrounding area.

Firmus says while the new standard tariff will be 11.86 per cent above that in Britain, it will be 10.33 per cent lower than the Bord Gais standard gas tariff in the Republic.

“We're sorry about this, as the last thing we ever want is to do is increase prices,” firmus energy managing director Michael Scott said.

“But given the massive increases in the cost of purchasing natural gas on the global markets, it's simply unavoidable, as these costs are totally beyond our control.

“With the world reopening again after Covid, the increased demand for natural gas has been driving up prices alarmingly, but as normality returns, we expect prices to stabilise again.”

The increase was approved by the Utility Regulator, whose chief executive John French said: “While we have no power to compel a company to sell energy for less than it costs, we have fully scrutinised the firmus submission and brought forward a review of their network tariffs, which has enabled a 4.5 per cent reduction in its original application.”

The rise in the cost of natural gas reflects similar movements seen in other other forms of fuels, such as home heating oil.

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