Firmus announces major gas price hike by 35%

By Maurice Fitzmaurice

Firmus have become the latest energy firm to ramp up prices - with a 35% hike in bills.

Gas customers in the firm’s Ten Towns Network will be hit with the mammoth tariff rise from next month.

The changes do not apply to Belfast customers, but the utility company says “an announcement regarding tariffs in this area is expected in the coming weeks”.

The news, which is being blamed on “substantial rises in global wholesale gas prices”, comes just days after SSE Airtricity announced a 21.8% rise in gas bills.

It is understood the increase will impact around 55,000 domestic customers in the Ten Towns area and see average yearly gas bills for people with a credit meter go up by about £182 a year. Customers with a prepayment gas meter will see their typical costs increase by around £173 per year.

Firmus says their natural gas tariffs in the Ten Towns Network area will increase by 35.15% from October 1. The firm says that since the start of April, global gas commodity prices have increased by 170%. They add that in 2019 and 2020 they were able to cut prices by 37%.

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.

“With the world starting to reopen again, following the Covid-19 restrictions, this is leading to increased demand for natural gas and that has been driving the prices up at alarming rates. As normality returns, we expect prices to begin to stabilise again.

“Any increase is never welcome, and we know this will come at a particularly difficult time for many. Although we understand that gas prices across the UK and Ireland are likely to increase due to the global fluctuations, we appreciate this will be of little comfort to our customers.

“We want to assure our customers that we will continue to monitor and review our tariffs to ensure customers are getting the best prices possible. As soon as we can lower our prices again, we will do so without delay.

“We are fully committed to working with consumer bodies to best support our customers, especially in the forthcoming winter months.”

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, and is particularly difficult as consumers have no option to switch supplier.

“This firmus energy increase follows rises in electricity, grocery, and fuel costs and is particularly bad news for consumers in vulnerable situations as it will coincide with the end of the furlough scheme, the removal of the Universal Credit uplift, and the start of winter.”

The Ten Towns Network 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 in the surrounding areas.

Customers in the Greater Belfast area “will not be impacted by today’s announcement, although an announcement regarding tariffs in this area is expected in the coming weeks”, Firmus says.

The Utility Regulator said gas bills will increase on average from £518 to £701 per year.

Commenting on the announcement, John French, Utility Regulator Chief Executive said: “This announcement unfortunately reflects the unprecedented increases in international wholesale energy markets. Wholesale gas prices continue to break record levels. Currently, the cost of wholesale gas has risen by 170% since the start of April 2021.

“While we have no power to compel a company to sell energy for less than it costs, we have fully scrutinised Firmus Energy’s submission. This has been carried out in consultation with the Department for the Economy and the Consumer Council, and ensures that the company’s submission accurately reflects the costs they have incurred.

“To try and reduce the impact of this increase, we brought forward our review of their network tariffs which has enabled a 4.5% or a £20 reduction in Firmus Energy’s original application. The final agreed increase therefore will be 35.15% or £183 per year for the average household.

“As a result of this increase, the average domestic gas bill in the Ten Towns area will rise to £701 per year. For comparison, an annual average household gas bill in GB is £625 per year and £782 per year in the Republic of Ireland.

“As the table below shows, the average annual domestic gas bill in the Ten Towns licence area fell during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, due to the increases in wholesale energy costs, the average bill has risen back to prices previously seen in 2018.”

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