Two Irelands

MORE than 210,000 ESB and Bord Gáis customers are in arrears on their bills, with many thousands more having agreed alternative payment plans.

The figures were unveiled just a day after the state-funded Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) revealed it is assisting more than 45,000 people with an average debt of €20,000.

Combined with latest inflation figures which show the price of clothing, electricity, insurance and petrol all rose last month, the news has dampened the claims yesterday by Taoiseach Enda Kenny that Ireland is “heading in the right direction, and confidence is returning”.

After a meeting in Brussels with the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, Mr Kenny went on to suggest Ireland could be an example to other countries in financial crisis.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Barroso said he had congratulated Ireland’s recent economic performance and suggested the EU shared the Government’s ideas of maintaining the “community method” in any future economic governance rules.

Mr Kenny and Mr Barroso’s comments will come as cold comfort to the hundreds of thousands who, according to figures obtained by the Irish Examiner, are in arrears on their energy bills or have been forced to seek alternative payment plans.

New figures, supplied by the ESB, show that the number of customers on payment plans has increased threefold to 240,000.

The company also revealed that 110,000 customers are in arrears on their bills.

Fellow energy provider Bord Gáis also revealed the number of its customers in arrears for 60 days or more stands at a little more than 103,000.

Bord Gáis has agreed 63,000 payment plans with customers this year compared with 31,500 for the whole of 2010.

Latest figures from the debt resolution agency MABS reveal that the service took on 13,000 new clients in the first half of this year — including more than 150 over-65s, homeless people and, for the first time, a number of people under 18.

According to spokesman Michael Culloty, the organisation, which negotiates with creditors on behalf of indebted people, had 30,000 active clients in 2008. By last year this had increased to 45,000 and it is continuing to rise.

In its report, MABS revealed that about 70% of all debts owed by clients were to banks or financial institutions, with the number of mortgaged clients constantly growing.

The average amount owed by the agency’s new clients has grown from just over €6,990 in 2006 to €19,471.

Mr Culloty said the agency only worked with people who really need help. “We don’t take on people who can deal with creditors themselves. The people we help are those who really need it,” he said.

In further bad news for consumers, the latest inflation report by the CSO reveals that the cost of living continues to rise, with prices increasing 0.3% in September.

According to a Reuters survey, consumer prices are likely to end the year up 2.6%.

HSE cuts

DRAFT proposals aimed at ensuring the HSE breaks even in 2011 would have “profound implications on the most vulnerable and most needy” in society, it was suggested last night.

The HSE proposals — aimed at saving €57.5 million by the end of the year — include a suspension to the issuing of non-emergency medical cards to a projected 42,044 people under 65, a 24% reduction in home help hours and a 61% cut in personal assistant hours.

Not issuing any new medical cards to these people — except in emergency cases — between now and the year’s end would save about €18m.

A reduction of 600,000 home help hours would also produce savings of €11m.

The removal of 400,000 personal assistant hours would save €10m.

The HSE document on “proposed reductions that will have an immediate cash flow effect” comes against the background of the HSE having to generate savings of more than €300m before the end of the year.


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