Bleak winter ahead as oil prices soar

The cost of home heating oil has soared a shocking 10% in Derry over the last fortnight leaving many families struggling to heat their homes and worried about reports of colder weather to come.

Kathleen Bradley, (pictured right) Welfare Rights Officer at Dove House which monitors oil prices on a weekly basis, said that just two weeks ago the cheapest price for 900 litres of oil in the city was 395 while yesterday that had soared to 432 - a rise of 37.

Ms Bradley said if prices continued to rise at such a phenomenal rate people in the city would find themselves in "real difficulties as winter takes hold".

Ms Bradley made her comments after local MLA Pol Callaghan yesterday called for the regulation of oil prices throughout the North. Stating that oil prices have increased 23% in the last 12 months Mr Callaghan said: "Oil is not a luxury product, its pricing can be a matter of life and death especially for older citizens and people who are very unwell. It can no longer be left to casino capitalism where customers cross their fingers in hope it works out.

"Families and vulnerable people are the losers in what resembles a wild-west style free market. The Consumer Council survey this week showed that 300 litres of oil in Derry cost 30 more than in Armagh. It is difficult to see any logistical reason why that should be so. "

Kathleen Bradley said that even in the city there was a difference of around 30 between the cheapest and more expensive supplier. She said she struggled to understand how this could be the case.

"Surely oil suppliers buy their stock weeks in advance. The more cynical person would say there is a degree of profiteering going on given the change in the weather - and I suppose in a capitalist society we have to accept that.

"But 30 or 40 is a lot of money to people on a low income and already people are very concerned about meeting their heating bills. If the price of crude oil hasn't gone up then how can the price to the consumer go up so dramatically?

"It almost goes without saying now that come the cold weather people start talking about the cost of heating their homes," Kathleen said. "People do have to think very carefully about putting the heat on and I know a lot of people, myself included, have gone back to lighting fires - but not everyone has that option.

"If prices continue to increase at this rate we will soon be in a position where very few people will be able to heat their homes."

Ms Bradley urged householders to shop around for their home heating oil. "People in Derry seem to shop culturally - because they've always used a certain supplier, or they know someone who works there or wherever - I'd urge people to put those ties behind them and shop around for the best deal. It can make a significant difference to your bill."

She said she would echo Mr Callaghan's call for a regulator for the oil industry because at the moment it seems to be a "free for all". "There has to be someone watching out for the consumer," she said.