ESB cuts off 900 a month for failure to pay bills
Disconnections almost double the 2009 figure
THE number of households being cut off because they cannot afford to pay their electricity bills has almost doubled in just a year.
But the ESB has refused to describe its actions as cutting people off, instead calling them the "de-energising" of customers.
The ESB said yesterday it was de-energising 900 homes a month, up from 500 a month in August last year and 750 just five months ago.
The move comes as the Government plans to introduce a 5pc electricity levy from October 1 next, which will add more than €30 a year to household bills.
The Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) has also warned that it has taken on more than 4,100 new clients since the start of the year who are struggling to pay utility bills.
A spokesman called on energy providers to show restraint when it came to disconnecting homeowners.
"We feel that in today's climate, there is an onus on everybody to distinguish between people who can't pay and people who won't pay," he said.
"We'd be looking for the same forbearance that is now evident in the credit industry to be shown by all power and utility companies."
The ESB said yesterday that disconnection -- or 'de-energising' -- was only done as a last resort and following attempts to arrange payment of outstanding bills with the customer.
"De-energising is our term for disconnection," a spokesman said. "The 900 households is an average across the month; it's a last resort and we engage with all customers. It has to be seen in the context of 1.5 million customers.
"A large number are reconnected within 24 hours but they have to get into a repayment plan. The system does flag arrears, and as customers only get bills every two months they have 60 days to pay.
"A lot of people just put the bill aside and don't think about it. We have to be paid for the product we sell."
Last August, the Irish Independent revealed that Bord Gais was disconnecting between 350 and 400 customers a month, with the ESB cutting supply to another 500.
Bord Gais was not able to provide up-to-date figures yesterday, but the number of disconnections by the ESB has almost doubled in the space of a year.
The company said it arranged payment plans and budget payments and worked with St Vincent de Paul and MABS to assist customers who were struggling financially.
"ESB Customer Supply encourages customers who experience difficulties in paying their account to contact the company as early as possible, and in the majority of these instances, a repayment arrangement is reached," the spokesman added.
"In the past year, ESB Customer Supply has de-energised an average of 900 customers per month. This figure represents a slight increase on previous figures of 700 per month. De-energisation only occurs when all other avenues have been exhausted. A large percentage of these are reconnected within 24 hours."
Despite the high number of people being disconnected, every home and business in the country will have to pay more for power from October 1 after the introduction of a levy to offset the costs of producing renewable and peat-generated energy.
There has also been an increase in the number of people claiming a free electricity allowance from the Department of Social Protection, with €165m paid to suppliers last year.
A total of 99,190 claimed the allowance, compared with 92,772 in 2008.