HOUSEHOLDERS learnt last night they are to pay an average of €145 extra a year for gas after the Energy Regulator approved a price hike of almost 22pc for Bord Gais tariffs.
The increase means customers in the Republic will pay a staggering €300 more a year for gas than the price currently charged to Bord Gais customers in the North.
A rival operator claimed the average household in the North pays around €520 a year with Bord Gais's lossmaking subsidiary Firmus Energy -- but that the yearly bill in the Republic would now rise to nearly €820.
However, Bord Gais said it expected subsidiary Firmus in the North to review its prices in the coming weeks and also to announce an increase taking effect from October 1.
Spokesman Larry Donald said Bord Gais had taken a decision last year to offer significant discounts in the North until September 2011 because they were a new entrant to the Belfast market competing against the dominant Phoenix Gas.
Business losses experienced there did not have any impact on prices in the Republic, he said, as the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) only approved yesterday's increase after tight scrutiny of operating costs in the Republic.
However, the Consumers' Association of Ireland said the differential between the North and South was staggering, and households demanded equalisation of prices.
"This is a company that we found out this week was spending an extraordinary amount on furnishings, and it's an incredible differential that means we must be subsidising lower prices there," a spokesperson said.
Announcing the price hike that will come into effect from October 1, CER said the main reason for the 21.7pc increase was higher world prices for gas.
"The CER understands that an increase of this magnitude will cause hardship for many consumers given the difficult economic circumstances," it said.
"It very much regrets this but notes that wholesale gas costs are something over which Ireland has no control."
The CER urged customers to shop around for the best value.
Bord Gais said this was the first gas price hike in three years, and that even when it was applied, prices would still be 12.5pc lower than in September 2008.
Meanwhile, 9,500 prepayment gas meters have already been installed this year while 50,000 customers have entered payment plans to tackle arrears.