Scots are bracing themselves for tough times ahead as the UK’s biggest domestic energy supplier last night announced a price increase of 35%.
A spokesman for senior citizens claimed the move could put lives at risk and an MP said thousands of families could be pushed into fuel poverty.
British Gas, which is known as Scottish Gas north of the border, blamed the 35% increase for gas and 9% for electricity on “soaring wholesale prices”.
A 25% rise for dual-fuel bills means customers will now pay an average of £1,317 a year – £404 more than at the beginning of the year.
British Gas also raised its prices in January.
The rises take effect immediately.
British Gas, which is owned by Centrica, is blaming soaring wholesale energy costs for the latest increases, which come just days after rival energy firm EDF Energy put up its gas prices by 22% and electricity by 17%.
The rest of the UK’s “big six” energy firms are set to follow suit shortly.
British Gas has said there will be no further rises under its standard tariff this year but critics claimed the latest increases may push thousands into fuel poverty.
George Thomson, president of the Grampian Senior Citizens Forum, said the news would be distressing for thousands of pensioners and people on low incomes.
“The government needs to look very closely at the situation and make an announcement on how they’re going to help very, very soon,” he said.
“Winter’s not all that far off and, in the north-east, it seldom leaves us. There are even some days in the summer when you need your heating on. The £250 we will be getting for the winter fuel allowance is obviously not going to be adequate. It needs to be increased immediately.
“Something needs to be done – people’s lives are at stake.”
Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander, MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, said the move would force “thousands of families in the north of Scotland” into fuel poverty.
“It will be devastating and it is totally unacceptable given the profits they are making, particularly the huge £9billion windfall energy companies made from the European Emissions Trading Scheme,” he said.
“At the moment they are just pocketing this cash. The government should be doing much more to make energy companies use their windfalls to help people insulate their homes to find a long-term solution.”
Aberdeen North Labour MP Frank Doran said it was “another blow for the consumer”.
“I would question the judgment of the people making these decisions and what regard they have for the interests of their customers,” he said.
Communities Minister Stewart Maxwell called the move “shameful”. He added: “It is a kick in the teeth for those already reeling from soaring energy prices.
“The Scottish Government is deeply concerned about the effect that fuel prices are having upon households in Scotland.
“This government will continue to press energy companies and UK ministers to take action to minimise the impact of high fuel prices, particularly on Scotland’s most vulnerable people.”
Norman Kerr, director of fuel-poverty charity Energy Action Scotland, urged customers yesterday to act now to find the best deal.
“Customers should not only shop around for the cheapest supplier but ask their supplier for their cheapest tariff and payment method.
“Older or vulnerable people and those on benefits must also ask for social tariffs or any special rates and services open to them. It is vital that customers ask for help and take up as much of that help as possible to offset high energy prices.”
Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch.com, said the price increase would be a lot for households to absorb and might prove impossible for some.
“Consumers should begin to make the adjustment now by cutting back on their energy usage and making sure that they are paying the cheapest available price for what they are using,” she said. “This will help limit the impact of soaring energy prices.”
British Gas managing director Phil Bentley said: “We very much regret that we have had to make this decision at a time when many household budgets are already under pressure. The simple fact, though, is that we have entered an era of unprecedented high world energy prices.
“We can’t absorb the impact of such high wholesale prices.”
The higher costs have slashed British Gas profits by 69% to £166million for the first half of the year.
But Centrica’s shares rose almost 3% yesterday following the increases. Its interim results, due today, are still expected to show group operating profits of about £880million for the six months to June 30.