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Gas and electricity: Large fall-off in numbers getting disconnected

TOO many families are having electricity and gas disconnected despite a large fall in the numbers affected, a charity has warned.

The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) says 10,122 electricity customers and 5,895 gas customers were disconnected last year but says a third of those were suspected vacant properties.

Closer monthly monitoring has been introduced by the CER which expressed concern at how utility companies are continuing to operate.

The fall in disconnections for non-payment on 2012 – 31pc down for electricity customers and almost 16pc down for gas users – is being attributed to an increase in settlements involving the installation of pay-as-you-go (PAYG) meters.

The number of electric customes being given a meter as part of the scheme across all companies rose by 80pc last year to 26,591.

Another 18,519 gas customers accepted a meter, an increase of 45pc on 2012.

Electric Ireland told the regulator it has reached agreement on arrears with 200,000 customers.

The meters however remain a condition of bill settlement on arrears. Customers of the main utility companies cannot order a meter unless they are in arrears.

The St Vincent de Paul charity says the number of disconnections is still too high.

“There are  a very troubling number of households who must resort to payment plans,” said a spokesman.

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“In Great Britain for example there were just  453 electricity disconnections in 2012 and in the same year SVP provided €11.1million in helping people in Ireland meet their energy costs.

“SVP has long stated to the Minister that the crisis is about arrears, the inability to pay bills, as opposed to disconnections alone.”

He said there should be wider use of PAYGO and payment plans should be more affordable.

“We see it every day where people are having to make choices, often between eating and heating,” he added.

New players in the utility market are now offering metered energy as a lifestyle choice, but they often charge a premium.

The CER says it will now publish monthly statistics on disconnections with the energy companies being asked to provide more information.

The regulator imposed a moratorium on disconnections from January 1 until February 20 while it consulted the industry on its efforts to reduce the number of disconnections.

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