Pay-as-you-go customers get no protection from disconnection

Pay-as-you-go customers get no protection from disconnection

Eamon Ryan's talks were 'wide-ranging' but no mechanism was agreed to protect meter users. Picture: Brian Lawless

A meeting between the environment minister and energy companies has failed to produce an agreement on how pay-as-you-go customers will be protected from disconnections this winter.

A spokesperson for Eamon Ryan said the talks were "wide-ranging" and took in a number of subjects, including energy prices, market projections, and 'hedging' for the coming months.

However, it is understood that no mechanism has been agreed upon to protect those who use meters. 

Government sources have said that many energy companies have stressed the need for concerned customers to engage with them if they cannot afford to keep the lights on. 

However, speaking in the Dáil at leaders' questions, Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty said that 712 households were disconnected from their supplies in the first half of the year and that broader guarantees are needed to avoid disconnections. 

"The plan to introduce a ban on disconnections for bill-pay customers from December until February is not good enough," he said.

It leaves people waiting far too long for protection and the timespan is too short. There are 125,000 households currently in arrears and this figure, unfortunately, is only going in one direction.

"What is needed is an immediate ban on disconnections now and to run that ban right through to the end of March."

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that the overdraft on metered facilities has been increased from €10 to €20 but that this was not the full solution.

Moratorium on disconnections

Asked by Mr Doherty if he agreed that pay-as-you-go customers should enjoy the same moratorium on disconnections, Mr Varadkar said that he did, but "because of how pay-as-you-go works, we have to find a viable mechanism to achieve exactly that".

"The energy credit is €600. In addition to that, people can overrun by €20 without being disconnected," he said.

They cannot be disconnected at weekends and we are looking at mechanisms to make sure we can extend the treatment that bill-pay customers have to pay-as-you-go customers. I believe it can be done.

Speaking earlier, Mr Varadkar had said that nobody can rule out blackouts this winterbut the likelihood is “very low” despite fresh warnings from Ireland’s grid operator. 

In its annual generation capacity statement, EirGrid has said the electricity system will face a shortfall of supply for the next decade.

The situation is described as “stark” and “serious” and chief executive Mark Foley said it will be a “tight” winter ahead and he cannot guarantee there will not be blackouts. 

However, Mr Foley said it would take "an extraordinary confluence of events for the lights to go out".

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the risk of blackouts affecting homes and small businesses and farms is 'very low'. Picture: PA
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the risk of blackouts affecting homes and small businesses and farms is 'very low'. Picture: PA

Reacting to the report, Mr Varadkar said: “We are concerned. I do think the risk of blackouts affecting homes and small businesses and farms is very low.

“Nobody wants to rule it out, but I think the possibility of it and likelihood of it is very low and I do want to give people that assurance.”

The Fine Gael leader said there has been a big increase in demand for electricity in the past couple of years and more investment is needed in renewables over the next couple of years.

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