Bord Gáis under fire over limits to billing system

Bord Gáis has been accused of posing a health and safety risk by excluding independent contractors from accessing a billing system that allows customers to spread the cost of putting in new central heating systems over a lengthy period.

The Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors of Ireland (APHCI) claims customers who want to pay in installments must use Bord Gáis’s sole approved contractor, Sierra.

APHCI represents 350 independent approved contractors and claims the restriction is fuelling the black economy by forcing cash-strapped consumers into hiring unapproved contractors.

Such a development is also posing an increased health and safety risk, according to the APHCI, which said it was a criminal offence for unapproved contractors to carry out work on gas installation equipment.

Previously, gas customers who had their boilers installed by any registered contractor could pay the cost via installment through their gas bill. However, they must now pay the full cost upfront unless they use the services of Sierra.

The APHCI maintains that such customers are also paying up to 50% above normal prices for such equipment because of the monopoly situation created by Bord Gáis’s arrangement with Sierra.

APHCI chairman Seán Giffney estimated that up to 60% of the 22,000 boilers installed every year are being done by unapproved operators, with a loss of €43m in taxes to the exchequer as consequence.

He claimed the number of registered gas installers had fallen from 4,500 to 2,000 in recent years, partially as a result of Bord Gáis’s abuse of its dominant position.

The APHCI confirmed yesterday it had made a formal complaint to Joaquín Almunia, the EU competition commissioner, over the issue.

“Any customer that wishes to pay for a gas installation or service can only do so through Sierra, whose prices are up to €1,000 more expensive than our local contractors,” said Mr Giffney.

He claimed the average cost of a new boiler came to about €2,000 through independent contractors but €3,000 through Sierra/Bord Gáis.

In reaction, Bord Gáis said it was not its function to operate as a finance house for independent contractors in a competitive market as the provision of such a facility would add greatly to its administration costs.

A spokesman for Bord Gáis stressed that no contractor was precluded from carrying out work on behalf of Sierra.

He also expressed confidence that Bord Gáis was not in breach of any anti-competition legislation through its contact with Sierra and pointed out that other energy providers such as ESB and Airtricity provide similar services.

Bord Gáis added that about new 2,000 boilers are fitted each year through its contract with Sierra.


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