Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Energy companies must comply with Code of Practice

With thousands getting their electricity cut off – are all customers being offered pay as you go meters?

Fine Gael Meath East TD, Regina Doherty, has called on the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, to examine whether energy companies are complying with the Commission for Energy Regulation’s Code of Practice, which states that suppliers must offer customers facing disconnection the option of pay as you go meters, instead of proceeding with disconnection. Deputy Doherty raised the matter during Topical Issues in the Dáil yesterday (Tuesday). 

“Hundreds of thousands of people across the country are struggling to pay their energy bills, and I am concerned that many of them may not be aware of the payment options available for customers in trouble. More than 11,000 people had their electricity cut off last year and I have been told that hundreds of families a week are being disconnected in the Greater Dublin Area. 

“Under the Code of the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), energy companies are required to offer customers pay as you go meters to customers facing disconnection. Considering the large number of people being disconnected, the question has to be asked; are customers in arrears being offered a pay as you go meter in every case? 

“Families are under pressure. Not only does having your electricity supply cut off cause great stress, it also increases financial hardship. Disconnection and reconnection fees apply; for example with the ESB each fee is in the region of €90. It can take up to five days to get your supply reconnected; meaning families are being left with no electricity for days on end. 

“I recognise and welcome the fact that energy companies have made significant steps in introducing payment plans, and Bord Gáis in particular has installed tens of thousands of pay as you go meters. But considering the large number of people still being disconnected, questions have to be asked about whether enough is being done to avoid residential supplies being cut off. 

“Customers need to be made aware of the payment options available. I believe, in many cases, people are so stressed that they feel there are no options open to them. It is incumbent on the energy companies to make it clear that being in arrears does not need to result in disconnection. 

“We also need to consider introducing a system of social energy tariffs, like that in place in the UK. Under this system, energy suppliers must offer discounted energy bills to customers in need, such as the elderly, people living in fuel poverty and those on benefits. We’re heading into the winter, with thousands of people living in fear that their heat or electricity could be cut off. We need to ensure everything possible is being done to prevent households suffering as a result of disconnection.”

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