Npower bills rise for second time this year

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The energy company npower shocked its six million customers yesterday by announcing the second rise in gas and electricity prices in ten weeks.

Gas bills are to increase by 15 per cent in April while electricity prices will go up by 13.4 per cent. Together with the increases announced by npower in January, this means that its gas and electricity prices have risen by 31 per cent and 27 per cent respectively since the start of the year, adding £200 to the typical household energy bill.

The average npower customer will now be paying £900 a year for gas and electricity.

The consumer body energywatch described the latest increase as "staggering" and warned that it would push more households into fuel poverty.

However, npower argued that the price rises were necessary because of the massive increase in the cost of wholesale gas and claimed that even after the latest rise, its bills would still be £100 a year cheaper than British Gas for the average customer.

The company held off increasing its prices in 2005, unlike British Gas and several other competitors. Since the start of the year, energy bills have increased for 22 million UK households.

The switching service uSwitch calculated that npower's price rise would plunge another 58,000 people into fuel poverty. It is estimated that 3 million households will fall into this category by the end of the year.

"This winter might be over, but unless government and industry take steps now, we will see more households making decisions between eating and heating next winter," said Adam Scorer of energywatch.