Energy price hikes taking effect over the winter months will force low-income households to go without heat and light, according to The Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
SVP says that in addition to increases in the last month by two companies, other suppliers are due to put up their prices between now and January. These follow significant hikes in gas and electricity prices in August 2018. Over a 12-month period this equates to roughly €300 more a year for the average dual fuel bill.
“For many thousands of people that SVP supports, opening a utility bill is a major source of stress and these price increases are really going to hit struggling households hard, said Caroline Fahey SVP Head of Social Justice.
“It also means that the increase in the Fuel Allowance in Budget 2019 will be completely wiped out by the latest hikes.”
It is estimated that 28% of people in Ireland experience energy poverty and in 2017, SVP spent over €4 million helping households with fuel costs and utilities.
“The regulator and consumer protection experts often suggest that customers switch suppliers to avail of better deals. But this isn’t always possible for financially vulnerable customers if they have arrears”, she said.
The charity also evaluated the disparity in prices between the main suppliers of electricity and found that pay-as-you-go customers can pay anywhere between €103 and €274 extra a year on standard electricity consumption.
“The uptake in PAYG hardship meters has significantly reduced the number of disconnections among customers in financial difficulty, which is obviously positive. But PAYG customers are often subject to a “poverty premium” as they cannot avail of online offers or discounts for using direct debit or online billing”, said Ms Fahey.
She also noted the practice whereby retail outlets surcharge top-ups, adding additional unnecessary charges to these customers.
The Society welcomed Electric Ireland's decision to keep prices static over the coming months and to offer discounts to those on PAYG meters. The news yesterday that PrePay Power will also delay its price increase was also welcomed and SVP said that it would urge other providers to follow these examples.
“We are asking all suppliers to consider putting measures in place to protect vulnerable customers from price increases and poverty premiums,” Ms Fahey added. "In the longer term, we believe the State should play a stronger role in determining housing standards, including energy efficiency and regulating energy prices to support affordability and social tariffs.”
Data from Eurostat shows that amongst EU peer countries, Ireland has the second highest rate of households who cannot afford to adequately heat their home and the highest percentage of utility arrears.