Firmus Energy has announced another price rise - this time for those in its greater Belfast network.
Customers are to see a 37% increase in bills from May 3.
The Consumer Council said around 47,000 customers were affected and they would see an increase in bills by around £330 a year.
Firmus blamed global pressures - including the war in Ukraine - on the move with sustained increases in global wholesale gas prices. It pledged to act to reduce prices as soon as it could.
It comes less than a week after the firm announced a 16% increase in its Ten Towns Network.
The Consumer Council said the option to switch supplier was possible for those in Belfast, unlike those in the Ten Towns Network.
Niall Martindale, interim managing director of Firmus Energy, said: “Energy markets remain at very high levels having been adversely affected by the war in Ukraine.
"This has been reflected across the board with increases in the costs of home heating oil, coal, electricity and gas.
"Regrettably the sheer scale of the increased costs involved give us no alternative but to pass on to our customers the higher costs we are having to pay for the gas we supply. “Firmus Energy is committed to reducing its tariff for all customers as soon as the market crisis subsides and enables us to do so.” Mr Martindale added: "We understand it is a tough time for many of our customers and we have been providing financial and administrative support to the Department for Communities scheme to help those most in need. If any of our customers need further support, I would urge them to call our dedicated local team to see if we can help.”
Raymond Gormley, of the Consumer Council said while this price rise was expected, "it makes it no less challenging for households to absorb". "This is particularly bad news for consumers in vulnerable situations and low income households.
"It also means a wider group of households than before are having their budgets stretched ever further. “Unlike the consumers in the Ten Towns network, gas consumers in the Greater Belfast area have the opportunity to switch supplier and the Consumer Council encourage customers to check they have the best deal before 2 May 2022 when the opt-out period ends. It is also worth checking if you are on the cheapest electricity tariff.
“We encourage anyone who is struggling to pay their energy bills or top-up their meters to contact their supplier directly for help and information. We also encourage consumers to think about ways they can reduce their energy costs via energy efficiency, switching energy supplier, or changing billing method.” The Consumer Council’s website has a number of free resources including Switch On: A Guide for Home Energy Users to help consumers be more energy efficient at home, get the best from their electricity or gas supply and save money. Raymond continued: “We appeal to Firmus Energy, and the wider energy industry, to commit to continued financial support for a fuel hardship scheme in the coming financial year.
"For the longer term, it is clear that energy companies, policy makers, The Utility Regulator, charities and the Consumer Council must continue to work together to develop sustainable solutions to help support those in need as the problem of high energy prices will likely be with us for the foreseeable future.” Those seeking advice on their natural gas bills or direct debit payments should contact the Firmus Energy customer services team on 0330 024 9000 or email@example.com.
Our telephone lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For free and independent advice on how to save energy please contact NI Energy Advice Line on 0800 111 4455.