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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform