14,000 cut off this year for unpaid energy bills

SIXTY-EIGHT customers a day – 14,450 in total – had either their electricity or gas cut off in the first seven months of this year.

The Commission for Energy Regulation has looked at buying 10,000 pay-as-you-go meters to allow poverty stricken account holders, who need electricity, to avoid having to pay hefty bill arrears.

This year, the cut-off rate for electricity was the worst of the two, with 10,678 customers having their supply stopped in the first seven months of this year – 969 higher than for all of 2009.

Even more were spared a blackout just before their power was switched off – technicians called to more than 20,000 homes or small businesses for a disconnection but turned away because the bill was just paid, there was a new tenant or they were refused access.

The majority of the cut-off account holders were for residential homes, with just 14% coming from small business. Many were reconnected, but not before the customers paid €174 for a technician to switch off the power and then turn it back on again.

With gas there were 3,722 disconnections up until the end of July. Of those, 2,383 were restored after a €123 charge was paid.

The figures were revealed to a special Oireachtas economic and regulatory affairs committee, convened to discuss the problems faced by vulnerable customers.

However, chairman of the Commission for Energy Regulation Michael Tutty said in spite of the increasing cut-off rate, the planned 4.9% price hikes will still come into effect in October. This is to fund the public service obligation levy and the Government’s commitments to modernise the peat fired plants and subsidise wind energy.

Mr Tutty confirmed to Deputy Joe Behan that more rises were likely over the coming years and it will go ahead with another minor annual increase to fund the upgrade of transmission networks.

Mr Behan said Mr Tutty’s presentation did not justify the additional charges which the CER had authorised energy companies to apply.

Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd has called for the CER to demand that pay-as-you-go meters be installed by utility companies instead of cutting off supplies.


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