Electricity or gas is cut off in almost 2,500 homes
Published 16/05/2015 | 02:30
Nearly 2,500 homes have had their gas or electricity cut off this year because the bills weren't paid.
The latest figures from the energy regulator show that 1,852 homes had their electricity cut off - while 633 had the gas disconnected between January and March 2015.
The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) said in a report that these domestic disconnections cover customers in arrears who cannot pay due to financial hardship as well as customers who choose not to pay.
A blanket moratorium to prevent all disconnections during the winter months ended last year but new measures to protect consumers who are registered as vulnerable were introduced instead to prevent them being cut off between November and March.
Vulnerable customers are those who require an electricity supply to power medical equipment or technology to support independent living.
It also covers those who would be particularly vulnerable to being disconnected in winter because of advanced age or physical, intellectual or mental health issues.
CER said anecdotal evidence from suppliers that around 44pc of disconnected homes were vacant last year suggested the number of customers in difficulty was significantly lower than the data suggested.
Its figures show that gas disconnection rates in March 2015 varied from nine per 10,000 customers with Flogas, to one per 10,000 with Energia, and seven per 10,000 with Bord Gáis.
Electricity disconnection rates were highest with Prepay Power at eight per 10,000 in March 2015, compared with three per 10,000 with Electric Ireland, and one per 10,000 with Energia.
PrepayPower operates a system where customers purchase credit for electricity in advance meaning they cannot build up arrears and the company said it only disconnected where it suspected a site was vacant or in cases of fraud based on analysis of vend and consumption data.
CER said that during 2014 some 3,793 domestic customers had their gas cut off, while 7,271 had their electricity disconnected.
It said that companies must adhere to a code of practice before disconnecting a customer,
"The disconnection of a customer's energy supply should always be the last resort and all suppliers are required to offer a payment plan and a Pay As You Go meter to customers in arrears in advance of proceeding to disconnect," CER said in its latest Domestic Disconnections report.
Meanwhile over 78,000 customers switched electricity supplier and 27,000 changed gas company in the first three months of the year in order to get a better deal on their bills.
Electric Ireland lost some 30,000 electricity customers, but gained more than 22,700 new ones, while SSE Airtricity lost over 21,700 customers but won slightly more new ones, the CER figures show.
For gas, Bord Gáis Energy lost around 10,000 customers while winning back less than half that number. Electric Ireland meanwhile gained over 8,000 new gas customers but lost nearly 7,000.
Consumers can avail of the best prices for energy by regularly switching.