The Consumer Council has revealed that the average household bill for heating oil now stands at £1,705 a year, after prices soared over the last number of years.
Antoinette McKeown, the council's Chief Executive, said: "The unfortunate reality today for many struggling households is that many consumers simply cannot afford to fill their oil tanks currently.
"And we totally understand that in the Consumer Council because we have monitored [prices] over the last number of years and have seen the cost of oil going up by at least 60% in the last three years.
"So it's no wonder consumers are struggling at the minute."
She said many consumers feel they have no choice other than to buy emergency 20 litre drums, which can be up to 61p per litre more expensive than the cost of the average 500 litre refill.
The consumer expert is advising the public to always shop around for the best available price before ordering oil.
"We monitor oil prices across Northern Ireland on a weekly basis, and encourage people to check our website and shop around for the best deal. However, we know there are many who simply cannot afford to fill their tank and feel they have no option but to use emergency drums," she continued.
"There is an urgent need to identify the scale of dependence on emergency drums and consider approaches which would reduce this dependence and provide better value to homes across Northern Ireland."
At present, the home heating industry in Northern Ireland is not regulated.
The Consumer Council has been calling on the Executive to explore the option of regulation for some time.
"It doesn't make sense to us that 70% of households are relying on home heating oil - yet it's not regulated."