The Government is examining whether it could reduce or waive a fee charged to energy customers who switch from pay as you go to bill pay to further protect people this winter.
It comes as Taoiseach Micheál Martin guaranteed that people struggling to pay their energy bills “will not be cut off” as concern grows around disconnections for pay-as-you-go households.
The Government has faced calls from the opposition to ensure pay-as-you-go customers are included within the disconnection moratorium. The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) has extended its disconnections moratorium for vulnerable customers until the end of March next year.
Thehas learned that Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday night that the Government will examine whether a fee to switch from a pay-as-you-go customer to bill pay could be reduced or even waived.
Sources have said this fee can be quite high, up to €160 in some cases and, although a reduction in the charge would not be a solution for everyone, it would help some households.
The source said: “It will be examined by Government as it would offer further security to pay-as-you-go customers this winter.”
Earlier, Mr Martin said the level of support put in place by the Government will be enough to ensure people do not face disconnection. He said people will not be disconnected this winter unless there are extenuating circumstances — for example, not engaging with their energy provider.
Mr Martin said the measures to put cash into people’s accounts and reducing the bills are unprecedented:
"The impact they should demonstrably have is that people should not be cut off, by definition, given the scale of the energy credits, free fuel allowance, and double payments, right across the board.
"Very substantial provision has been made right to the end of this year and into the two bill periods in early spring.”
Mr Martin said social protection is there to protect people from being disconnected in the event of their making a presentation to say that if they do not get X’, their electricity will be cut off.
“The Commission for Regulation of Utilities has also provided strong protections with regard to this," he said, adding:
Mr Martin added that the Government will work with providers and the commission, and said there are now €600 in energy credits, a lump-sum payment of €400 to fuel allowance recipients, a double-week payment to all qualifying social protection recipients in October, and the normal Christmas bonus will be paid.
He also pointed to the extra €500 for recipients of working family payments and carer support grants and a double child benefit payment in November.
There is a once-off payment before Christmas of €200 to recipients of the living-alone allowance and €500 to those on disability allowance, invalidity pension, and the blind pension, and extra funding across the board for a range of not-for-profit and voluntary organisations to help with energy costs.
These measures will have an impact, said Mr Martin.
“If we did not have all of those measures, I accept the point that there could be disconnections and so on,” he said. "However, these measures will have an impact and we will keep monitoring how this works in reality."
In the Dáil, Mr Martin suggested opposition TDs are being “too dismissive” of the “extraordinary measures” included in Budget 2023.
The Taoiseach dismissed a call from People Before Profit-Solidarity TD Paul Murphy to nationalise the energy sector.
Mr Murphy said the Taoiseach had promised that prepay customers “will not be cut off” over the weekend. However, he was now stating that these households “should not be cut off”.
“Which one is it?" Mr Murphy asked. "You are the Taoiseach. You have the power to prevent disconnections.
“Instead, what you’re actually saying today is, ‘These people have gotten enough money, sure it will be their own fault if they run out and they are not able to put money in the meter’.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said an immediate ban on disconnections should be extended to the end of March.
“People are now under severe pressure," she said. "The energy credits announced in your budget are already being gobbled up.”
Mr Martin agreed that the energy emergency “needs more than words” and this is why the Government rolled out a series of supports and payments as part of the budget.
However, he said: “We are facing the worst global energy crisis since the 1970s, caused by Russia’s unprovoked war with the people of Ukraine
"You cannot make it go away magically. It’s dishonest, in the middle of a terrible crisis, to pretend that there is no war, or [that] the war doesn’t have an impact.”