SOARING gas prices are expected to force thousands more customers into using pay-as-you-go meters.
Bord Gais installed 8,000 pay-as-you-go gas meters in the first half of this year compared with 650 in the same period last year.
But now it expects that by the end of 2011 up to 50,000 customers will be using metres.
And thousands more consumers are expected to be plunged deeper into arrears as fuel prices go up in the coming months, just as mortgage rate increases kick in as well.
In the first half of this year Bord Gais also set up 45,000 payment plans for customers struggling to pay their bills.
This compares with 31,500 plans for the whole of last year.
Bord Gais is expected to announce a 12pc hike in electricity prices tomorrow which will take effect on August 1, while a 20pc to 30pc increase in gas prices will take effect from October 1.
The hikes will mean an increase of around €300 a year on customer’s fuel bills. Average annual domestic gas bills in Ireland are now at €689, while the average electricity bill is €989.
A Bord Gais spokesman has said that they would encourage people who are having difficulty paying to contact them as soon as possible.
The company now has 90 people working full-time in its credit control department, compared with 12 two years ago.
Director of moneycoach.ie, Frank Conway said that consumers are being asked to fill “too many financial gaps in state, banking and utility provider bottom lines while struggling to supply basic necessities in their own homes”.
There are now around 115,000 Bord Gais customers in arrears with their repayments.
“This year has been a watershed one for consumers. It is becoming a year of significant inflation for basic necessities, including heating, housing and health,” said Mr Conway.
The energy regulator is expected to decide on the price increase for gas shortly. Gas prices at Bord Gais are determined by the regulator as Bord Gais is the dominant player in the market.
Other energy suppliers such as Airtricity and ESB could follow the lead from Bord Gais and increase prices too, according to experts.
– Conor Feehan