Page last updated at 17:44 GMT, Tuesday, 9 September 2008 18:44 UK

Power bills 'bad news' warning

By Martin Cassidy
BBC NI consumer affairs correspondent

Electricity bills could rise by as much as 30%

Consumers face "appalling news" when increases in electricity and gas prices are announced on Wednesday, Northern Ireland's utility regulator has warned.

Iain Osborne said people were facing a very serious situation this winter.

He warned it would be "deeply improbable" that fossil fuel prices could drop back to previous levels.

The utility regulator confirmed the fuel price task-force has presented its recommendations to Department of Social Development minister Margaret Ritchie.

Mr Osborne said it would be up to politicians to set social policy and to decide whether some people paid more for fuel so that bills could be reduced for society's most vulnerable people.

Speaking at Parliament Buildings at the launch of the Regulator's annual report, Mr Osborne said he hoped the Executive would meet soon.

The increases will be announced on Tuesday, but the speculation is that electricity bills will increase by about 30% while gas bills may go up by 10% or even, as pessimists predict, by as much as 20%.

Consumers are only coming to terms with a 14% increase in electricity in July, while in May gas prices went up 28%.

The average gas bill in Northern Ireland is currently 584, and a 10% increase would push that well above 600.

The hike in electricity prices would add an estimated 150 to the average domestic bill.

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