Gas price rises: Derry’s Council to lodge formal complaint with competition authority

Derry City and Strabane councillors have supported a motion brought by Aontú Councillor Emmet Doyle calling for council to write to the Competition and Markets Authority to issue a formal complaint regarding what was termed a ‘monopoly’ by Firmus Energy on gas distribution in the ten towns area.

By Gillian Anderson & Brendan McDaid
Saturday, 2nd April 2022, 8:28 am

Addressing the chamber on Thursday, Councillor Doyle said: “This is a hot topic and council needs to take dramatic action to address matters which are getting to the point of putting people into destitution just so they can heat their homes.

“One of the things that continually comes up when we talk about this is that Firmus have a monopoly in the ten towns area and that is something that should never have been signed off in the first place and we are dealing with the consequences of it now.

“We should be seeking to have that monopoly undone so our constituents who are customers of gas companies can benefit from competition.”

Protestors at a previous Derry Against Fuel Poverty rally in Guildhall Square. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2206GS – 135

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Speaking on a point of accuracy, SDLP Councillor Rory Farrell said: “We know that Firmus is the only company that operates in the ten towns area and it could  be considered a monopoly, but that market is open and has been open since April 1, 2015. The problem is no other company has bid to operate in the ten towns area.

“We support the spirit of the motion, there should be more competition, there should be more choice but we can’t force anybody to bid for this.”

The Mayor, Alderman Graham Warke said officers would ‘seek clarification’ on the facts of the motion before sending a letter to the Competition and Markets Authority.

Emmet Doyle, Derry & Strabane Aontú Ccouncillor.

Firmus energy customers in Derry and across the Ten Towns Network area were advised this week of another 16.31% price hike coming in May.

Making the announcement on Thursday, the firm blamed global pressures for the latest in a succession of steep price increases.

Firmus said the sustained increases in global wholesale gas prices have forced Northern Ireland’s largest gas supplier to do this, with the increase due to take effect from May 3, 2022.

Today’s announced change in tariffs will mean an extra £3.86 per week on to the average household bill in the Ten Towns area.

“firmus energy is committed to reducing its tariff for all customers as soon as the market crisis subsides and enables us to do so.”

Niall Martindale said firmus was taking measures to help customers.

“We understand it is a tough time for many of our customers and we have been providing financial and administrative support to the Department for Communities scheme to help those most in need. If any of our customers need further support, I would urge them to call our dedicated local team to see if we can help.”

Customers seeking advice on their natural gas bills or direct debit payments are asked to contact the firmus energy Customer Services team on 0330 024 9000 or [email protected] Telephone lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

For free and independent advice on how to save energy please contact NI Energy Advice Line on 0800 111 4455.