Thursday, 30 May 2013

Questions (176)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

176. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he is concerned at recent figures indicating that 1,800 households are having their gas or electricity supplies cut off every month; the steps he is taking to address this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26336/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Responsibility for the regulation of the electricity market, including disconnections, is a matter for the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), which is an independent statutory regulator. While disconnections are a matter of concern to me, I have no statutory function in the matter of disconnections of electricity or gas customers regardless of the supply company involved.

The CER provides quarterly and annual updates on the electricity and gas retail markets, including on disconnections. Further information may be found at:

http://www.cer.ie/en/electricity-retail-market-reports-and-publications.aspx?article=b0ba4820-3227-499f-9879-16de76bdd5b0 .

As mentioned, the number of disconnections is a matter of concern to me as it is for the Government, the CER, voluntary organisations and suppliers. The rise in numbers in recent years has coincided with the economic recession which has caused customer arrears and debt levels to rise.

The CER has specific rules in place to ensure that disconnection is treated as a last resort. These rules are detailed in the CER's Code of Practice on disconnection and include the assistance that must be provided to customers in managing their bills and avoiding disconnection. This assistance includes a requirement that domestic customers in genuine financial hardship be provided payment options/plans that take the customer’s ability to pay into account. A customer cannot be disconnected as long as they keep to a payment plan. Pay As You Go meters are also made available, free of charge, to those customers who would benefit from them most. A customer must be offered a Pay As You Go meter before the supplier moves to disconnect. The latest figures show that by the end of March this year, 22,733 Pay As You Go electricity meters, 18,000 token meters and 38,592 gas Pay As You Go meters had been installed under this provision.

I welcome the fact that the CER continues to work with industry and customer advocacy groups (such as the Money Advice and Budgeting Service and St Vincent de Paul) to ensure that these measures are working as effectively as possible and to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to assist customers through this difficult period and that disconnections resulting from genuine inability to pay are minimised and only occur as a very last resort.

Implementation of the measures set out in the Government’s Affordable Energy Strategy, published last November, is pivotal to protecting the interests of vulnerable customers and improving energy affordability. In addition, the Government will continue to support the delivery of energy efficiency measures to vulnerable households in 2013. Funding of €17 million to Better Energy: Warmer Homes in 2013 will support the delivery of energy efficiency measures to approximately 10,000 homes. This will result in energy savings of 18 GWh, corresponding to monetary savings of €1.8 million (4.6kt CO2).