Cost of heating home rose by 70% in October, MLAs told
The price for heating a home in Northern Ireland rose by 70% last month, MLAs have been told.
Members of the Economy Committee were also warned that the high prices for gas, electricity and oil are likely to last for several months.
The spiralling energy costs led to calls for the Stormont Executive to introduce emergency legislation to protect families who are struggling to pay their fuel bills.
The committee heard evidence from representatives from the Consumer Council and the Utility Regulator about the increases in costs across all forms of energy.
Peter McClenaghan from the Consumer Council told MLAs: “The Consumer Council track home heating oil, gas and electricity prices as they impact the consumer.
“In the month of October prices to consumers for heating their homes has increased by 70%; that is a really significant figure and it is going to continue to increase.”
Kevin Shiels from the office of the Utility Regulator added: “It is really important that the committee recognise that this isn’t just a short term blip that is going to last a few weeks or a month or two.
“These prices are now forecast to be locked down for the rest of this winter and indeed into the next spring.
“Once all of these price rises come through they are going to stay at high levels for some time and there won’t be any short term respite.”
Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd asked what Stormont could do to help families who are struggling to cope.
He said: “What we have to do is do something in the short term to protect those families, low and middle income families, from these once in a lifetime price rises.
“During the Covid pandemic we introduced emergency legislation to protect tenants from eviction, we introduced emergency legislation to protect businesses from going bankrupt.
“Do we require emergency legislation to protect gas customers, electricity customers and oil customers from being turned off this winter?”
Mr Shiels said: “I think if we are going to do something for consumers it needs to be urgent and it needs to be this winter because the price rises have happened and will continue to happen.
“If there is money available in government circles for urgent interventions then we need to move quickly as a jurisdiction and do something quickly.
“This is a once-in-a-generation price crisis that warrants a very real discussion about urgent intervention to help people.”
Mr O’Dowd said: “I think we could do it this winter. I see young families around me, both of the parents are working, who are not going to be able to afford these price rises.”
The committee also expressed concerns that the home heating oil sector, which supplies almost two-thirds of homes in Northern Ireland, is not regulated like the gas and electricity markets.
SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole: “Can someone give me a reason why the home heating oil sector hasn’t been regulated thus far? It seems extremely bizarre that 70% of our market for home heating isn’t regulated.”
Noyona Chundur, chief executive of the Consumer Council, referenced a survey into the home heating oil market which was carried out in June 2019. She said the research showed that 40% of customers struggled to pay their oil bills.
Mr O’Toole said: “It points to what could be hidden crisis in terms of the lack of any regulation in how consumers are being treated in this market.
“At the minute nearly three quarters of our entire energy market isn’t being regulated at all.”
Mr O’Dowd added: “It is quite obvious that home heating oil market needs regulation. We are having a conversation now in which 60% of the population are not being represented in terms of their home heating.”