The Utility Regulator said that the average annual Firmus Energy bill in October last year was £440.
But with an 18% rise in April, a 35% spike in October and now a further 38.18% rise coming next month, customers’ average annual bills are estimated to rise to £968 within six weeks.
The rise will impact the Ten Towns network area, which will see the latest price rise on December 3, a move that will add £4.89 per week to the average household bill.
The price increase will affect around 55,000 customers.
The company apologised for the increase but said it was an unavoidable consequence of surging global gas prices, which have risen by 430% from a year ago.
The Ten Towns affected include Antrim, Armagh, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Banbridge, Coleraine, Craigavon, Limavady, Londonderry, Newry, and more than 25 other towns and villages in the surrounding areas.
Explaining the latest rise, Dr David Dobbin, chairman of Firmus Energy, said: “We very much regret having to increase our tariff, however steep increases in global wholesale gas prices have forced our hand.
“This is not a Firmus issue, but a challenge faced by every local and national supplier of gas and electricity all of whom, sooner or later, will have to further increase their prices to meet the huge upsurges which have taken place in wholesale energy costs,” he added.
“We know this is an unwelcome increase which will have a disproportionate effect on those of our customers who are the most vulnerable.
“We have been consulting with key stakeholders and will be introducing a support scheme to be delivered through a local charity which will offer targeted help to those most in need, especially over the winter period.”
Raymond Gormley, head of energy policy at the Consumer Council, warned of a rise in fuel poverty.
“While the Utility Regulator forewarned that a price rise of this nature was coming because of exceptionally high global wholesale gas prices, it is going to be very challenging for many households to afford these costs,” he said.
“With the cost of energy continuing to increase, the Consumer Council is concerned about a potential rise in fuel poverty as some families may struggle to find the extra money they will now need to pay for heating.
“We welcome Firmus Energy’s commitment to assist some of our most vulnerable consumers with the introduction of a financial support scheme and we encourage other energy suppliers to have support measures in place to help those customers in need.”
Utility Regulator chief executive John French said market analysts are talking about higher wholesale gas prices for the next 18 months to three years.
Firmus Energy also supplies gas to the greater Belfast area which saw tariffs rise 32.98% last month. Another supplier, SSE Airtricity, previously announced a 21.8% increase in gas prices for household and business customers in NI.
Giving evidence to a Stormont committee last week, the Consumer Council said the price for heating a home in Northern Ireland rose by 70% in October.
Members of the economy committee were also warned that the high prices for gas, electricity and oil are likely to last for several months.
Kevin Higgins, head of policy with Advice NI, said we are facing “a winter cost of living crisis” which will hit low income households hardest.
The Consumer Council’s website has free resources such as ‘Switch On: A Guide for Home Energy Users’ which helps consumers save money. It advises that consumers struggling with bills or meters should contact their supplier directly for support.
Consumers can also call the Consumer Council for free, independent advice on Freephone 0800 121 6022 or by emailing [email protected]
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