People who are forced to heat their homes day-to-day with emergency oil drums because they cannot afford to buy in bulk are paying almost two times more than for a bulk delivery.
The News Letter can reveal that those “paying-as-they-go” with 20-litre emergency drums across the province are spending an average £19 per drum, which works out at almost £1 per litre.
But those who can pay to fill their tanks with a recommended 900 litres are paying on average 59p a litre.
This is based on energy providers in Northern Ireland selling a bulk 900 litres at an average price of £533, while local filling stations offer single barrel drums at prices ranging from £14.50 to £22.99.
Garages in Belfast proved to be more expensive, followed by Cookstown, Ballymena and Lisburn, while the more rural Armoy in Co Antrim and Ederney in Fermanagh proved to offer cheaper deals.
In response to the figures, the department for social development said there was “no doubt” that buying emergency oil drums costs people more.
A spokesman for the department said encouraging people to budget would therefore be crucial in the fight against fuel poverty.
He went on: “The new fuel poverty strategy ‘Warmer Healthier Homes’ highlights that budgeting for fuel will be a critical tool in tackling fuel poverty in the future.
“The department collated information from several existing oil stamp saving schemes and promotes existing oil stamp savings schemes as model of good practice.
“Householders should be encouraged to join local oil stamp saving schemes to avoid having to buy emergency drums.”
The Northern Ireland Oil Federation said while emergency oil drums are great for consumers to use in an emergency, it too would discourage people from using them otherwise.
Spokesman David Blevings said: “Small oil drums are sold for emergency use only. They are to provide a small amount of oil, often in a run-out situation occurring out of hours which allows the householder to continue to heat their home until a distributor can visit the next day.
“They are not promoted as a method for heating a family home and we would discourage consumers from using them, except in an emergency.”
Like the DSD, he said budgeting for fuel was vital, adding: “As a responsible industry, the oil sector offers numerous products to assist consumers’ to budget for their annual fuel requirements.
“Consumers should contact their local distributor now and plan ahead for this winter. Ask what options are available; these include pre-payment options such as PayPoint and council stamp schemes.
“Most distributors will accept direct debits and many operate their own savings schemes. These schemes are ideal as the consumer can build up credit or budget using a free-to-use payment system that allows them to buy a more economical amount of oil and control their fuel spend.”
News that the less well-off are being priced out of the best deals in the energy market came to light following a recent report from the Consumer Council entitled The Price of Being Poor.
It revealed that people are buying the emergency drums because the “volatile” price of oil makes it harder to anticipate fuel expenditure.
Council chief executive Antoinette McKeown said: “It is scandalous that those least able to pay are receiving the worst deals.”