THERE have been grave warnings from the country’s largest utility companies that more than 110,000 householders haven’t enough money to pay their electricity and gas bills.
According to the ESB, 90,000 of their customers are in arrears, double 2009 levels. Meanwhile, the head of Bord Gáis is warning that the country is in the middle of “a big social recession”, with his company devising new payment plans every five minutes for customers in trouble.
The ESB has already admitted it has doubled its rate of electricity disconnection in the four months up to July.
Bord Gáis chief executive John Mullins said its customers are given 18 months to organise their arrears as part of a payment plan but he warned of a “moral hazard” if customers weren’t faced with the prospect of being disconnected. Some customers would also be asked to install a pre-payment meter.
“There is moral hazard. We can’t have good customers paying for bad,” Mr Mullins said. Bord Gáis have 23,000 customers in arrears.
An ESB Customer Supply spokesman said customers would only be disconnected as a last resort. He encouraged anyone experiencing or anticipating difficulty to ring their office and an affordable plan of repayment would be worked out.
“In excess of 11,000 repayment arrangements per month have been entered into with customers throughout 2010,” he said.
“We emphasise that disconnection only occurs when all other avenues have been exhausted and 99.9% of those disconnected are reconnected within 24 hours.”
Last night, St Vincent de Paul (SVP) appealed to all energy and telecom companies to deal compassionately with arrears. It also called on Eircom to reverse its decision to only accept a minimum of €20 in weekly payments from October. The ESB is currently trying to negotiate with An Post to have a similar minimum payment put in place for ESB customers at its post office counters across the country.
“A fresh look must be taken at the additional charges imposed in terms of fees for warnings, disconnections and reconnections,” said an SVP spokesman.
Yesterday, the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources agreed to call Bord Gáis, ESB, Airtricity and the Commission for Energy Regulation to a meeting to discuss bill arrears.
Committee chairman deputy MJ Nolan said: “It has been revealed that almost 2,500 households a month, some 80 a day, are having their electricity disconnected after failing to pay their bills.
“In total, as of the beginning of September, 10,678 customers had been disconnected, more than in the whole of 2009.”
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