Current track

Title

Artist

Current show

The Quiet Storm

22:00 24:00


‘I can do without dinner’: Fuel poverty expected to get worse in NI with imminent gas price increase

Written by on 27/09/2021

There’s a warning that “there are dark days ahead” in Northern Ireland, with energy bills set to rise sharply this winter.

In some areas, gas prices will go up by as much as 35% from next month, prompting warnings that people will simply self-disconnect.

Both gas companies that supply homes have put up prices for customers in response to soaring global gas prices.

 Victoria McClements has had to choose between her having dinner and heating her home in the past
Image: Victoria McClements has had to choose between her having dinner and heating her home in the past

The increase coincides with the end of the furlough scheme and the end of the £20-a-week uplift in Universal Credit, with charities warning families are facing “the perfect storm”.

National Energy Action Northern Ireland says more than half of gas customers use pay-as-you-go meters. Among them is Victoria McClements, 40, a mother-of-two who works in a special needs school in Belfast.

“I’m scared, scared how I’m going to be able to heat my house,” she told Sky News.

More on Energy

Her youngest daughter, Emily, is six. “Her room would be the coldest room in our house,” Ms McClements says.

“She goes to bed with hot water bottles and fleecy blankets.

“There are times I’ve done without food to heat the house. The kids are fed, I can do without a dinner.”

People have been topping up their pay as you go gas meters before the price increase kicks in on 1 October
Image: People have been topping up their pay as you go gas meters before the price increase kicks in on 1 October

Even before the price goes up, they’ve had times when the money in the meter has run out.

“It’s happened a couple of times when she’s about to get a shower, and it’s run out, and I’ve had no money,” she said.

“You can’t shower your kids, you can’t wash your dishes because your gas is your main heating and hot water supply.”

The price increases were announced earlier this month, with Firmus Energy due to charge customers 35.15% more from 1 October in its Ten-Towns Network.

The area includes Antrim, Armagh, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Banbridge, Coleraine, Craigavon (including Lurgan and Portadown), Limavady, Derry/Londonderry, Newry, and more than 25 other towns and villages.

SSE Airtricity, the other domestic gas provider, announced its prices will rise by 21.8% from next month.

 Lorraine Pollins's husband had to quit his job after he was diagnosed with cancer. They now have to ration their heating
Image: Lorraine Pollins’s husband had to quit his job after he was diagnosed with cancer. They now have to ration their heating

There is no energy price cap in Northern Ireland, instead, price increases are scrutinised by a regulator.

Commenting on the announcements, John French, chief executive of the Utility Regulator, blamed an “unprecedented increase in the cost of wholesale gas, coal, oil and carbon on international markets”.

He added: “This, unfortunately, has an impact on consumers’ bills, as around half of a final gas bill is made up by wholesale gas costs.”

People have been topping up their pay as you go gas meters before the price increase kicks in on 1 October
Image: People have been topping up their pay as you go gas meters before the price increase kicks in on 1 October

Pat Austin, director of National Energy Action Northern Ireland, told Sky News there are concerns some people will be forced to switch off their gas altogether.

Figures published by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive showed that in 2016, 22% of people in Northern Ireland were living in fuel poverty.

Ms Austin believes the current figure could already be 10% higher, even before the price increase.

“People can self-disconnect very quickly,” she said.

“This is the perfect storm: ending of furlough, ending of the universal credit uplift and these eye-watering increases to the gas prices and indeed to oil where we have 68% of households reliant on home heating oil.

“There are dark days ahead, and we need an urgent intervention from government to assist low-income households.”

At local stores where people can top up the cards for their gas meters, they’ve seen an increase in people keen to buy what they can before the price goes up.

“There’s just been a lot of customers coming in, topping up their gas because they’re panicking due to the increase and a lot of them just through COVID, they just don’t have much money at the minute,” says Lynsey Scott, who works in a shop in south Belfast.

Among her customers is Lorraine Pollins, 64. Since her husband had to give up work to have treatment for cancer they’ve struggled to get by on her wages from the care home where she works as a cleaner.

“Every penny you earn it’s just going on food and bills,” she says. “You’ve nothing left over. You’re just really getting by from month to month.”

They’re already rationing their heating. “We’ll just leave it off during the day and put it on at night because you couldn’t afford to burn it during the day. Even now you can’t before it goes up, you know”.

Follow the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker

Both gas companies acknowledged the impact the hike in prices will have on their customers.

Michael Scott, managing director of Firmus Energy, said: “We are very sorry to have to make this announcement as the last thing we want is to have to increase our prices.

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

Andrew Greer, SSE Airtricity general manager (NI) said: “We are aware of the impact this increase will have on our customers and this decision has not been taken lightly.

“SSE Airtricity has a longstanding history of working with our customers and, as we have done in the past, we will look to lower our prices as soon as it possible to do so.”

 Sky News

© Sky News 2020

Tagged as