Disconnections of gas and electricity halted
ESB and Bord Gais have stopped disconnecting cash-strapped customers who cannot afford to pay their bills for the duration of the cold spell.
Both companies took the decision last week when the bad weather hit.
The ESB is disconnecting 8,000 to 9,000 homes per annum, while Bord Gais has disconnected 3,500 customers so far this year.
But a spokesperson for Bord Gais last night said there is no need for disconnections if customers who are having financial difficulties agree to sign up to a pre-paid metering system.
He added the number of disconnections is falling as morecustomers join the scheme.
New figures from Bord Gais for last month reveal there were 125 gas disconnections in November. This compares with more than 600 this time last year.
Company director of communications Larry Donald also said the company has a team of 40 people now dedicated to designing customer-payment plans and installing technology for pre-paid systems.
"Disconnections can be avoided if customers sign up to the pre-payment metres," he said. "Payment plans are also useful and we now have 30,000 customers on these compared with about 3,000 a couple of years ago."
Later this month, the cost of disconnections from both companies will be halved. Rates of €197 and €140 currently apply to the disconnection of electricity and gas supplies.
From December 22, the new policy will also require the supplier to help domestic customers to manage their bills in a bid to reduce the number of disconnections.
Labour Party energy spokesperson Liz McManus called for a policy of zero disconnection in a submission to the energy regulator. She also called on energy minister Eamon Ryan to publish the Government's fuel poverty strategy -- which is now a year overdue.