Gas crisis: consumers face shock £200 rise in bills as cold weather and snow lead to low fuel reserves

Families may be forced to turn off heating as their gas bills soar

Energy bills are set to jump by as much as £200 over the next year as a result of continuing gas shortages, potentially forcing more than a third of households to switch off their heating entirely, energy consultants warn.

As emergency deliveries of liquefied natural gas from Qatar brought some relief to Britain’s rapidly diminishing gas reserves, specialists cautioned that supplies remained strained and would lead utility companies to raise gas and electricity bills.

“It’s probably inevitable that the energy price is going to go up this coming winter and customers better fasten their seatbelts. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the rise is in double-digits which would push many families close to the edge,” said Ms Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch, the energy consultant.

Big Six energy providers buy the vast majority of the gas they supply to households and businesses a year or more in advance. This makes a price rise next winter almost inevitable, since the sustained period of heightened demand for gas as a result of Britain’s unseasonably cold spring weather has pushed the wholesale price considerably higher.

The average “dual-fuel” gas and electricity bill in the UK currently stands at a record £1,300 a year. This would rise by £130 to £1,430 if prices increased by 10 per cent, while a 15 per cent increase would add £200, taking the total for the year to £1,500. An increase in various green charges and subsidies is set to add a further 2.5 per cent to customers’ bills next year, analysts said.

According to recent research, almost 60 per cent of British households have said they would ration their heating, using less than they needed, if the average dual-fuel bill breached the £1,500 mark – while 36 per cent said they would switch it off altogether.

Joe Conlan, of the Inenco energy consultancy, said it was “conceivable that companies will raise their gas price by at least 10 per cent”. Berenberg Bank analyst Peter Chantry said it was “looking at a 10 to 15 per cent increase in dual-fuel bills” if wholesale prices remained at current levels.

The warnings will add to the problems facing the Government over Britain’s gas supplies, just as the Chancellor, George Osborne, pledged to substantially step up the amount of energy the country generates from gas-fired power stations in his Budget.

Britain’s gas reserves fell to just 36 hours worth of consumption on Friday, raising the prospect of gas rationing – although the emergency shipments from Qatar have added 12 more hours of supplies.

Stored gas is only a back-up designed to boost the frequent deliveries of gas from the North Sea, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands and Qatar. However, after a prolonged cold snap and with the country currently working at 40 per cent above its usual gas capacity for this time of the year, reserves are dwindling fast and now stand at just one-fifth of the level they were at last year.

Mr Conlan said stocks at Centrica’s Rough gas storage facility off the coast of Yorkshire – which accounts for three-quarters of total UK storage – were no so low that it would be physically impossible to fill it back up by the official start of the winter, potentially putting additional pressure on supplies if October and November are particularly cold.

The Government sought to calm fears about gas shortages yesterday as Centrica, the owners of British Gas, signed a new £10bn deal with the US to import enough gas to power 1.8 million UK homes each year for two decades. The deal will see Delaware’s Cheniere Energy Partners liquefying the gas at -160C, shrinking it to 1/600th of its original size, and transporting 89 billion cubic feet of the resulting commodity – known as liquefield natural gas – to Centrica each year, via huge ships from the Sabine Pass liquefaction plant in Louisiana to the Isle of Grain in Kent.

Commenting on the deal, David Cameron said: “Future gas supplies from the US will help diversify our energy mix and provide British consumers with a new long-term, secure and affordable source of fuel.”

But although it will relieve some pressure in the future, campaigners pointed out that the first shipments are not due to arrive for another five years. They argue that recent developments highlight the weakness of Mr Osborne’s aim to increase Britain’s reliance on gas at a time when North Sea reserves are rapidly declining.

“If we become more and more dependent on gas, this is a glimpse of the future that we will face. We will be at the behest of the international gas market, and companies like Centrica that buy and sell on that market,” said Friends of the Earth’s head of campaigns, Andrew Pendleton.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game