STRUGGLING householders are facing significant hikes in gas bills by the end of the year.
Bord Gáis has said consumers here were paying about 26% less than the European Union average and that it would be seeking to increase charges this year.
The company said prices came down 8% in 2010 taking the total reductions over two years to 25% and that the hike would be in the region of 10% to 20%.
Industry sources have suggested the price hike would be substantial although unlikely to be large enough to outstrip the fall in costs since 2009.
Speaking at the publication of its annual report, chief executive of Bord Gáis John Mullins said international wholesale energy prices were the primary reason for the company seeking a price increase.
“I think we are going to see an increase in gas prices, we will see an increase in electricity prices, not to the same level as they have been recently in Belfast at 39% but, certainly, in gas prices we are probably looking at 10% to 20%. It’s still early to say as the price increases won’t be confirmed until October.
“Another key challenge facing the company this year is that Bord Gáis is the only regulated provider in the gas sector, and as such, faces considerable constraints in terms of its ability to compete on a level playing field. This needs to be addressed urgently.”
An application on a price hike is to be made to the Commission for Energy Regulation ahead of a decision in October.
Bord Gáis also revealed it was writing off some €26.4 million in bad debts for last year arising from customer arrears.
The company’s turnover grew by 12% last year reaching a new annual record of €1.51 billion. The energy supplier also announced that its electricity customers now make up almost half of its total customer base. It has 460,000 electricity customers out of a total of 1m.
Mr Mullins said the number of customers in arrears was an issue which the company was striving to tackle head on.
“We have 115,000 households or customers who are in arrears greater than 60 days so it’s a real issue and we’ve increased the number of people managing this process from 12 in 2008 to over 90 at this stage dealing with customers who have a problem,” he said.
The company also re-iterated its commitment to pursuing the increased use of prepaid gas meters which it claims will help its customers keep a greater track of their spending so as not to fall into arrears.
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