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New Energy Engage Code launched in Ireland

Energy suppliers signed up commit to never disconnecting an engaging customer

Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte has launched a new voluntary code to tackle the issues surrounding energy companies and disconnecting customers.

It means Irish energy suppliers will no longer cut off energy supplies to homes that are facing difficulties with their bills, as long as the customers are in contact with them.

Around 11,000 households are estimated to have been disconnected by one of the five main suppliers last year after failing to pay bills.

The Energy Engage Code will see some sort of repayment plan offered to customers in order to pay off arrears rather than cutting off supplies.

One solution will see customers who continually struggle to pay receiving pay-as-you-go meters, with credit for them available in shops and electronically – topped up in a similar fashion to a mobile phone.

Around 140,000 homes now have pay-as-you-go meters installed and their installation removed the threat of disconnection for 26,000 electricity and 15,000 gas customers in 2013.

It is thought around 40% of disconnections were in vacant properties where nobody was living, according to the Electricity Association of Ireland.

The major suppliers – Bord Gåis Energy, Electric Ireland, Energia, Flogas Natural Gas and SSE Airtricity have all signed up to the new voluntary code of practice.

Disconnection as a last resort

“The disconnection of a customer should be an absolute last resort,” said Mr. Rabbitte. “To achieve this we must ensure that vulnerable customers receive every possible assistance and support.”

He added that more than 50,000 electricity and 80,000 gas pre-pay meters have been installed since 2011 – free of charge to help those in financial difficulty.

The Energy Engage Code will come into force at the start of June this year and was welcomed by the St Vincent de Paul Society – whose headquarters were used for the launch.

The code will aim to ensure that suppliers encourage customers who are in arrears, or who are at risk of disconnection, to contact them to ensure they remain connected.

A firm commitment from the suppliers will see that they never disconnect a customer that is engaging with them, meaning only those that fail to take action will be responsible should their properties be disconnected.

Stephen Wheeler, Managing Director of SSE Airtricity, said the firm was “always available to help and advise customers” and added that the approach saw the firm reduce disconnections by 42% in 2013.

“We also recognise the real benefit that working together as an industry can bring to maintaining energy supply for customers in difficulty,” he added.

“This Code sets the standard for all suppliers. And fundamentally the Code establishes the key principle and a firm commitment by suppliers that we will never disconnect an engaging customer.”

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