Prime Minister Liz Truss’ promise in her maiden speech outside No 10 to take action to tackle rising electricity bills should come as a relief to households across the UK.
but for Northern Ireland, where our energy system is very different from the UK, any relief is alarming.
There are very few details of her plans, but they suggest a cap on electricity bills of £2,500 with no increase to the current cap of £3,549 from £1,971 until 1 October.
It will cost the UK government between £90bn and £130bn as it covers the gap between what providers spend and what they charge customers.
The UK energy cap is not in effect in Northern Ireland because instead we get periodic updates from our suppliers about energy increases, with the latest being a shocking 56.3% increase from Firmus Energy since 3rd October. However, our bills are usually lower.
The current level of price increases from electricity and gas suppliers means many of us will be facing total electricity bills of around £3,000 from next month. The concept of a £2,500 ceiling is therefore a comfort, although it still represents a huge increase on previous accounts. But if the price cap did not work here until now, it is unlikely to be introduced now, because our system is very different from the British one.
The biggest complicating factor for us is that two-thirds of homes in Northern Ireland rely on fuel oil from dozens of different suppliers.
Government intervention in gas and electricity prices is much easier because there are a limited number of suppliers and the system is regulated.
However, oil supplies are not regulated, so there is no system of control over suppliers and how they charge their customers, not to mention that many of us change suppliers frequently.
Adhan O’Donnell, founder of energy comparison website Power to Switch, said: “I don’t think you can just lift and move what they’re proposing for England, Scotland and Wales and make it work for Northern Ireland.
“But the amount of financial support that households in the UK get should also apply in North Africa, even if we have to have a different way of making it work for people.”
He said the simplest intervention might be through electricity suppliers, but even that was not clear cut.
In May, then chancellor Rishi Sunak introduced a separate energy rebate scheme, giving each household £400 off their electricity bill. This will be implemented in the UK from October in the form of phased discounts. But even four months later, we still don’t know exactly when or how the scheme will be implemented here.
The success of previous emergency financial support measures in the UK, such as the holiday scheme, was down to the simplicity of their implementation. There were no administrative problems with applying for leave to Northern Ireland.
In her speech, Liz Truss referred to the United Kingdom and “Britain” but not to the full name of Great Britain, “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. The ease with which her key energy policy can be applied here will help preserve the impression of her prime ministerial skills.