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New Code of Practice to Protect Vulnerable Energy Consumers Launched

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Dublin, 14 May 2014
Energy Minister, Pat Rabbitte T.D., today launched a new code of practice from energy suppliers at the Dublin headquarters of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. The “Energy Engage Code”, aimed at protecting customers in financial difficulty, has been voluntarily adopted by the five main energy suppliers and will come into effect on June 1.

Minister Rabbitte commented at the launch: “Many families continue to struggle with bills, that is clear and I am determined to ease the burden on these families. This code of practice is a first step in that direction. It creates new mechanisms to help customers having difficulty with their energy bills and gives a very simple, clear commitment from energy suppliers to consumers - if you engage with your supplier your energy supply will not be cut off.

I would like to thank the energy suppliers for developing this code of practice and I urge those in financial difficulty to pick up the phone to their supplier or to one of the organisations who can help you such as Saint Vincent de Paul or MABS.”

Under the ‘Energy Engage Code’,suppliers will guarantee that no customer engaging with them will be cut off. They will seek to identify vulnerable customers at an earlier stage and will treat each customer individually, with realistic and achievable payment plans offered to any customer in difficulty. The new Code will be independently audited to ensure that all energy suppliers are complying with it.

The publication of the code follows months of intensive work by a taskforce formed by the Minister to examine what could be done to better protect energy consumers in financial difficulty. While the taskforce was doing its work there was a complete moratorium on the disconnection of the energy supplies for all domestic customers from December to February.

“The disconnection of a customer should be an absolute last resort. To achieve this we must ensure that vulnerable customers receive every possible assistance and support. Since 2011, more than 50,000 electricity and another 80,000 gas pre-pay meters have been provided free of charge to customers in financial difficulty. I am convinced that this single measure has done more than anything else to reduce the number of disconnections.

Of course, minimising disconnections is just one element of reducing energy poverty and I intend to continue to work with industry and consumer organisations to ensure that the needs of the energy consumer are at the heart of Irish energy policy,” continued the Minister.

The Code of Practice builds on the consumer protection work already undertaken by the Commission for Energy Regulation, which requires energy suppliers to meet certain minimum standards of customer service. To complement the code, the taskforce formed by the Minister is also undertaking a number of pilot programmes to develop better ways to identify and reach customers in financial difficulty and to ensure that every possible support is made available to them.
ENDS



Note to Editors

Energy Poverty

There are three underlying causes of energy poverty – energy costs, a person’s income and the thermal efficiency of their home. The Government’s Affordable Energy Strategy has implemented a range of actions to tackle each of these factors. Our dependence on imported fossil fuels limits our ability to control energy costs except through the promotion of active and healthy competition. The Government supports income through the social welfare system and specifically a range of measures under that system support energy bills such as the electricity and gas allowance and the fuel allowance. Finally, the most meaningful method of addressing energy poverty to improve the thermal efficiency of people’s homes and thus insulate them from the effects of rising energy costs. More than 12,000 low-income homes will receive an energy efficiency upgrade this year and nearly one sixth of all homes in Ireland have received some form of Government supported energy efficiency upgrade to date.

Existing CER Protections

Every energy supplier that operates in the Irish energy market must comply with certain mandatory consumer protection standards that are set out by the CER in a Supplier Handbook. Before a supplier can even consider disconnecting a customer they must agree a payment arrangement which suits the customer’s circumstances, while avoiding a situation where the debt becomes worse. This can include the installation of a Pay As You Go meter.

Energy suppliers must also refer an at risk customer for guidance to their local MABS office, St Vincent de Paul office, or local Community Welfare Officer and find out about any exceptional circumstances, such as special needs that might apply. Only after all these measures fail, and only after at least another four separate attempts to contact the customer have been made without result, can a supplier consider applying for a disconnection. In addition, all suppliers are obliged to establish and keep updated a register of vulnerable customers. Customers who fall into this category cannot be disconnected during the winter months from November 1st to March 31st.

The CER regularly monitor energy suppliers to ensure that they are complying with these standards and undertakes random audits of suppliers; including site visits.



 

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