OVER 115,000 Bord Gáis customers are two months in arrears on their bill — treble the number who were having trouble meeting payments this time last year.
The news emerged as Bord Gáis also revealed it will almost certainly have to seek a gas price increase later this year.
Figures obtained by the Irish Examiner show 11.5% of Bord Gáis bills, which include both gas and electricity, have not been paid for more than 60 days.
The company installed 1,400 pay-as-you-go meters in houses last month to help people who were having trouble paying. This time last year, the firm was installing 40 meters a month, which are supplied free.
The organisation’s chief executive, John Mullins, said while bills would usually be higher after the winter months, this year debt issues were particularly prevalent.
However, Mr Mullins said the decision to cut off supply would remain a last resort and that customers in difficulty are offered plans to spread repayments over an 18-month period or are offered the pre-paid meters to regulate usage.
Mr Mullins said the company was trying hard to limit disconnections and was asking customers in difficulty to contact them as soon as possible to work out a payment plan. He revealed that Bord Gáis has 90 people employed to deal with customer debt issues, up from 12 in 2007.
Turning to the extent of price increases, Mr Mullins pointed out that gas prices on the wholesale market had doubled in the last year and that the company would have to seek a price increase as a result. He said the company had made no decision yet on the level of that increase or when exactly it would be sought. He admitted, however, that it would most likely be implemented in October.
Reacting to the news, the director of moneycoach.ie, Frank Conway, said Ireland was in the “grip of a severe income crisis”.
“People all over Ireland are effectively crippled by negative income and are chronically short of money to pay their bills.
“Additionally, the issue of repayment capacity is likely to continue to deteriorate for some time as recent developments take their toll, including a spate of rising costs, including petrol, mortgages and insurance costs, which have all played a significant role in price inflation,” he said.
A record 9,500 people contacted the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) in the first three months of this year, up nearly 3,000 on the end of 2010, with the most pressing problems being meeting a personal loan repayment or a utility bill.
Bord Gáis is due to announce its annual results for 2010 tomorrow.
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