Energy firms cut off supply to 20,000 homes last year
Gas customers worst hit as disconnections up 82pc
MORE than 20,000 homes had their gas or electricity cut off last year.
New figures from the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) reveal that the number of households who had their gas disconnected soared by 82pc last year. Over 7,000 homes had their gas supply cut off while 14,650 homes had their electricity disconnected.
That's up from 3,849 gas disconnections in 2011, while electricity disconnections are up 1pc in the year.
Bord Gais cut off twice as many electricity customers as it did the year before, while it cut off gas to over 5,000 homes, up 64pc on the previous year.
A CER retail market annual report said that increased customer arrears and debt levels were behind many disconnections, while vacant premises accounted for between 30pc and 40pc of homes cut off.
It said the level of electricity disconnections was starting to come down because 'pay as you go' meters were being installed in households in serious arrears.
Meanwhile, a survey found that a quarter of electricity and gas customers don't pay their bills in full, and the number who do pay in time is falling.
It indicates that hundreds of thousands of householders are managing hefty energy bills by paying when it suits them rather than when the company demands it.
However, most of these customers don't consider themselves to be in arrears even if their energy suppliers disagree, a new CER survey found.
Some 6pc of domestic electricity customers and 3pc of gas users said they were either now, or sometimes, in arrears. This was much lower than the level of arrears reported by energy companies, CER said.
However, another 21pc of household electricity users and 22pc of gas users said they only part-pay their bill – though typically these pay up in full before the next bill is issued.
These customers do not perceive themselves as having payment difficulties, even though they don't adhere to suppliers' deadlines for payments, CER said.
The numbers who pay on time and in full has fallen from 77pc to 74pc of gas households this year, while for electricity it's down from 74pc to 73pc.
But fewer households are switching energy suppliers than in recent years – though reducing cost remains the prime reason to do so, CER's Consumer Survey 2013 found.
Some 12pc of households switched electricity in the last 12 months compared to 29pc in 2011 and 16pc in 2012.
Switching rates in the domestic gas market have also fallen from 18pc a year in 2011 and 2012 to 14pc in 2013.
Even though over 80pc of consumers who switched supplier found it easy to do so, only around 60pc found their bills reduced by the amount expected, which was well down from previous years.
And there was strong interest in prepaid electricity and gas services, with a quarter of consumers reporting they would like to use these.