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Last Updated: Monday, 22 August 2005, 20:45 GMT 21:45 UK
Gas customers may face price hike
Gas pipes
Gas customers may face a 25% price rise in the autumn
Gas customers in Northern Ireland may face a 25% price rise in the autumn after Phoenix Natural Gas announced it wanted to increase its bills.

Phoenix said it was in negotiation with the industry regulator, Ofreg, and the General Consumer Council over the rise.

Company spokesman Richard Rogers blamed the increase on high global energy prices and also pointed out the rise in the price of home heating oil.

He said: "It is a large figure but it's being driven by world gas costs."

According to Phoenix, the price of gas has risen by 50% in the past year.

Oil prices

"It is important that it is put in the context of our main competitor which would be heating oil, Mr Rogers said.

"Here we are in Belfast today where heating oil if 50% up from this time last year and double the price of this time two years ago.

"So it was important we let consumers know that although any price increase is unwelcome, they will still be getting the cheapest possible heating fuel compared to other fuels that are available in Belfast."

As a result of this the company said the price it charged for gas needed to rise by 25%.

Eleanor Gill of the General Consumer Council said they were very disappointed that Phoenix was making statements outside the formal price negotiations.

She also rejected the company's assertion that it was currently in consultation with them concerning the price review.

"No meaningful consultation or negotiations have taken place between us and Phoenix to date," she said.

"We will be writing formally to Phoenix as well as the regulator and Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment on this issue.

"Consumers can be assured that the Consumer Council will continue to play its role in representing the consumer interest in all price negotiations."

Last year Phoenix proposed a 20% increase in prices because of licensing issues, however, this was later reduced to 11% after negotiations with the industry regulator.

The new proposed increase comes as the company finds itself at the centre of a disputed takeover.

A UK investment firm is trying to pull out of the deal because of a row with the regulator.

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