Prepaid meters for families to cope with energy bills
THE main electricity and gas suppliers are planning to allow all customers install pay-as-you-go meters to better manage their energy bills.
These meters are at present only available to customers experiencing payment difficulties.
But the meters are now set to be rolled out to families who have not fallen behind with payments but want better control over their budget and to avoid the huge two-monthly bill.
Electric Ireland is planning to also make prepaid meters available to such customers, the Irish Independent has learned.
"Once the availability of these meters increases they will be made more widely available," a company spokesman told the Irish Independent.
Bord Gais is also providing the meters -- which are free to customers in arrears -- to those who want to use the pay-as-they-go option. However, installation to customers in credit will cost €110.
The prepaid meters are topped up in broadly the same way as prepaid phones, with credit available from pay-point or pay-zone outlets.
It is expected that over the next 12 months this option will become more widely available.
More than 650 households with arrears are being fitted with pay-as-you-go electricity and gas meters every week to avoid racking up massive unpayable bills and being disconnected.
More than 276,000 domestic gas and electricity users have now fallen into arrears, according to data supplied by Electric Ireland (the new name for the ESB), Bord Gais and Airtricity.
The Commission for Energy Regulation says the roll-out and increased availability of the meters "may reduce disconnections figures in the future".
A total of 14,508 domestic electricity customers and 4,242 gas users were cut off last year, but the regulator expects this to fall as the meters become even more widespread.
Bord Gais has so far installed 60,000 meters, of which more than 30,000 were put in free of charge since January 2011 to customers in arrears.
Electric Ireland has put in 8,100 meters for its customers experiencing financial difficulties, averaging 230 a week.
And according to Airtricity, it has arranged for 3,500 households to have meters to pay for electricity and gas.
It is widely expected that eventually all of the energy providers will provide meters for all customers who wish to take them.