5% of households in arrears on electricity bills

A survey has revealed that 5% of households are in arrears on their electricity bills and 3% on their gas bills.

Research by the Commission for Energy Regulation also shows another 20% of domestic customers said they only managed to part-pay their bills but usually had paid in full before the following bill was issued.

However, the commission said such a group did not consider itself to be in arrears although they may be included in arrears figures calculated by energy suppliers.

The survey would indicate that more than 101,000 households are in arrears on their electricity bills and almost 19,000 behind in their payments for gas bills.

Earlier this year, Electric Ireland (formerly ESB) reported that it was in special payment arrangements with 315,000 customers at the end of 2011.

Bord Gáis said it had similar arrangements with 76,700, while Airtricity has about 8,000 such customers.

The commission surveyed 1,000 customers around the country and found the majority were satisfied with both the level of service and competition in the gas and electricity markets.

Electric Ireland holds 58% of the domestic electricity market, followed by Airtricity (23%) and Bord Gáis (18%).

In the household gas market, Bord Gáis is the market leader with 69%, followed by Airtricity (21%), Electric Ireland (8%), and Flogas (2%).

The survey also revealed that 16% of electricity and 18% of gas domestic customers had switched supplier over the previous 12 months.

Value for money and cheaper bills were the main reasons why households switched energy suppliers. However, the commission said customer knowledge of the pricing structures operated by energy suppliers was low.

Nevertheless, more than 90% of those surveyed who had switched said they had found the experience easy to complete. Of those who switched electricity supplier, 70% said they had found their bill reduced by the amount expected and 81% in the case of gas customers.

More than half of the customers who had not switched supplier said the main reason for not doing so was that they preferred their current supplier and wanted to stay with a supplier they could trust.

The commission said there had been a significant increase in the number of households which used the same supplier for electricity and gas — up from 39% in 2011 to 50% this year.

The survey showed a low level of awareness among the public of the facility to register as a vulnerable consumer (mostly elderly people), which alerts energy suppliers of the need to maintain a supply of gas or electricity for medical or heating reasons in the case of delayed bill payment.

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