FAMILIES are facing a winter of record-high energy costs after regulators approved a new price hike.
Bord Gais was granted a new rise for October, with its rivals now set to also hike prices.
Electricity prices are also expected to increase, in a move that could see the average family paying close to €2,200 a year for gas and electricity for the first time.
The Commission for Energy Regulator (CER) gave Bord Gais the green light to raise prices by 2pc. This will add close to €20 a year to the average bill for the company's 380,000 gas customers.
The new rise is set to come into effect on October 1, just two weeks before what is expected to be another harsh Budget. The state-owned gas supplier had sought a 7pc rise.
There was massive criticism of the regulator last year when it granted Bord Gais an 8.5pc rise, even though it initially sought a rise of 7.5pc.
It comes after a 22pc hike in domestic gas prices in 2011.
The combined rises in the past two years mean gas prices have surged by more than a third. This has added €250 a year to a typical family's gas bill, taking it close to €1,000 for the first time.
Simon Moynihan of the price comparison site Bonkers.ie said the rise would add €18.42 to the average bill.
He said there would be a similar rise in electricity prices due to a higher public service obligation levy. This is to fund a subsidy for wind and peat-generated power.
The combined rises would add €52 to household heating and light bills.
The cost of gas has gone up by more than a third in two years. Families will now end up paying close to €500 more a year for energy than they were two years ago – at a time when incomes are squeezed and Central Statistics Office data shows most are already struggling to pay their bills.
Mr Moynihan said: "The announcement by the Commission for Energy Regulation represents the third October in a row that gas prices have increased."
Chief executive of the Consumers' Association, Dermott Jewell, welcomed the fact that the regulator had granted Bord Gais a smaller rise than it initially sought.
But he said the regulator should tell the gas supplier it was not getting any rise and instead would have to cut costs.
"It may be only a rise of 2pc but this will hurt families," he said.
Eoin Clarke, head of utility switcher service uSwitch.ie, warned of more energy price rises.
"The fact that Ireland's largest supplier of domestic gas is increasing its prices is not just a blow to Bord Gais customers, it is also a warning to all consumers that price hikes are back on the agenda.
"In the past we have seen other gas suppliers follow Bord Gais Energy and increase their prices."
He advised consumers to take action to reduce the cost of energy bills by using less energy, by making homes more energy efficient and paying less for the energy they use by switching to the most competitive tariff.
"With the average household energy bill already an eye-watering ¿2,140 a year, it's important that consumers take action now to reduce the cost of their bills," Mr Clarke said.
Bord Gais's Dave Kirwan said the key factor driving the price increase was the rise in networks tariffs which affect all suppliers.
"Bord Gais Energy regrets that a price increase is necessary and although networks tariffs are beyond our control, we continue to do everything we can to deliver good value for our customers," he said.
By Charlie Weston Personal Finance Editor