24th April 2008


The Consumer Council said today that the Phoenix natural gas price hike of 28 per cent could put many low income households in crisis at a time when the cost of living is increasing, and could rise further. It called for the Government to consider what further action can be taken to support people struggling to make ends meet, and to redouble its efforts to make sure everyone is claiming all the benefits they are entitled to.

Eleanor Gill, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council said: “The sheer scale of this gas price increase will leave consumers here reeling at a time when the cost of living has shot up by £1,400[1] in just one year, and they now will have to find an extra £130[2].  A staggering one in three households here is in fuel poverty which is nearly double the rest of the UK[3].  On top of this our incomes are lower and we depend more on benefits[4]

“Consumers understand that they cannot escape the effects of spiralling worldwide energy costs.  The Consumer Council has been consulted on this price review and we consider that this increase fairly reflects the rising global cost of wholesale gas.  However, this is cold comfort for those who need help.  The Consumer Council is urging the NI Assembly to start serious discussions on how to help people cope.

“The Consumer Council is focused on this issue and is currently undertaking research with the Utility Regulator into how to provide targeted assistance to households that need it most.  We believe that the findings and recommendations of this research will be timely and significant in giving the Northern Ireland Executive and others a valuable evidence base for taking decisions on providing special assistance for low income households.

 “This is a complex matter which goes beyond the price of energy.  Some consumers simply don’t have enough money coming into the house to cope with the rising cost of living here.  We need a concerted drive to ensure that everyone is getting the benefits and payments they are entitled to in order to help cover rising household costs.”


  1. Consumer Council media contact: Susie Brown, telephone, 028 9067 4807 or e-mail, [email protected].  
  2. The Consumer Council is an independent consumer organisation, working to bring about change to benefit Northern Ireland’s consumers. The Council campaigns for high standards of service and protection and a fair deal for all. It also carries out research, gives advice and publishes reports and other publications. It deals with individual complaints about electricity, natural gas, coal, passenger transport and water.
  3. For more information, visit our website at

[1]UK figure from the Centre for  Economics and Business Research Analysis for ASDA.  Published 3 March 2008.

[2]Based on Phoenix Supply Limited’s average annual consumption of 12,402 kWh across all payment methods.

[3]Fuel poverty is when a household spends more than ten per cent on energy bills. This figure is based on households in the UK, of which 4.5 million are in fuel poverty minus the 705,000 households in NI, of which 240,000 are in fuel poverty.  GB figures from the National Energy Authority and the NI figures are from the Home Energy Conservation Authority Report, 2007.

[4]Lower incomes - National Statistics Family Spending Survey, 2007 edition.  Benefits dependence - 16% of NI income comes from social security benefits compared to 12% for the UK (Financial Inclusion Centre)