Thursday 14 December 2017

Energy regulator in talks to cut reconnection fee by half

Shane Hickey

TROUBLED families who have had their gas or electricity cut off will find out in the coming weeks if sharp cuts in the cost of reconnection are to be introduced.

New proposals to halve the charges for reconnecting gas and electricity are currently being examined by the State's energy regulator.

A study by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) has shown that there is a steadily increasing number of people who have had their energy supply cut off as the recession continues.

The CER has canvassed the views of the public on a series of proposals that include asking suppliers to help customers manage their bills.

It is expected that a decision on the plans -- which will cut almost €100 off the cost of reconnection -- will be reached within the next two weeks.

More than 2,000 electricity customers are being disconnected every month, while 300 gas meters are being locked.

Last night, a spokesman for the regulator said submissions from various parties had been received and these were being examined before a final decision was made.

It costs an electricity customer €86 plus VAT to have their supply disconnected and another €88 to be reconnected. Both of these charges have to be paid before supply is restored.

"We issued a consultation paper on this matter a number of weeks ago, on foot of the large number of disconnections, to assist customers in paying their bills and preventing disconnections happening," the spokesman said.

The CER said the number of customers in debt who have been disconnected for non-payment was "unacceptable".

The proposals have been opposed by some quarters of the energy market.

It is expected that the submissions to the proposal will also be published when the decision -- which will be reached by the CER -- is agreed.

The body has said the costs of reconnecting energy supplies were adding to other money problems people are facing.

"Currently the charges for disconnection, and reconnection, place an additional cost burden on the customer, compounding existing debt," the submission said.

"While a significant proportion of completed disconnections may pertain to vacant premises (reflective of trends in emigration and returning migrant workers), there are unacceptable numbers of customers in debt being disconnected for non-payment."

The plans were "emergency measures" in the middle of a recession, said the CER, and should be reviewed in a year.

The CER also wanted energy suppliers to refer customers to charities where necessary and use "plain English" in correspondence.

Irish Independent

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