Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
Disconnection of Utilities
Question 30: To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the number of disconnections of gas and electricity customers to date in 2010; his plans to deal with this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45007/10]
Question 60: To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on the reconnection and disconnection fees imposed by the Commission for Energy Regulation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45005/10]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 30 and 60 together.
The very significant increase in disconnections is of considerable concern for the Government, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), voluntary organisations and energy suppliers. CER has provided the information set out below in relation to the total number of disconnections completed by ESB Networks on site for Non-Payment of Account: Year No. of Disconnections
2010 17,389 – up to 1st November 2010
CER has advised us that a significant portion of the electricity disconnections have been subsequently reconnected and the remaining often relate to vacant premises.
CER has also provided us with information on the number of gas Meter Locks/Disconnections. These numbers are not broken down between non-payment and separate meter locking/disconnect requests by customers which can arise for a variety of reasons. Year No. of Disconnections/ Meter Locks
2010 4,371 – up to 1st November 2010
Bord Gáis Energy, Flogas and Airtricity operate in the residential segment of the gas market. BG Energy advised in October 2010 that some 90,000 of their customers were experiencing payment difficulties with 26,000 customers currently carrying arrears of more than €500.
The key message for customers is to contact their suppliers to make arrangements before it gets to the point of disconnection. All energy suppliers have a Code of Practice in place setting out the steps to be taken before initiating a disconnection. These Codes of Practice require the suppliers to engage with the customer and /or a third party such as Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) or the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul on pre-payment plans and/or alternative methods of payment (prepayment meters/budget controllers). There are also protections in the current code for vulnerable customers, for example, to prohibit electricity suppliers disconnecting elderly customers in the winter months.
The CER has announced its decision that the cost of disconnections for electricity and gas be shared equally between the supplier and the customer in the case of non-payment of account. This is an interim measure commencing December 22nd and will remain in place for 12 months. I welcome this measure and CER's recognition that the current economic climate is placing additional pressures on energy consumers and that customers rights needs to be enhanced.
I also welcome CER's decision to review disconnections charges levied by networks companies and the revision of the Code of Practice for Disconnections to include additional supplier measures to assist domestic customers in managing their bills and reducing disconnection rates. CER also provides a dedicated Energy Customers website and Energy Customer Team, which provides consumer information on the electricity and gas market at www.energycustomers.ie/ .
I am also working closely with the Ministers for Social Protection and Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to deliver a fully cohesive Government response to the challenges of addressing energy affordability in Ireland. I expect the Affordable Energy Strategy to be submitted to me shortly, with a view to bringing it to Government in the coming weeks.