The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), Ireland’s independent regulator of energy and water, has published an open letter to all energy suppliers to reinforce the importance of consumer protection measures for the upcoming winter months and beyond. This follows constructive engagement between suppliers, customer stakeholder groups and CRU on consumer protection measures.
The CRU is acutely aware that, in the context of rising energy costs, this winter will be particularly difficult for many consumers, especially given the recent challenging period of COVID 19 restrictions.
The Electricity and Gas Suppliers’ Handbook sets out the minimum levels of service that licensed energy suppliers are required to follow in their dealings with energy customers. Many suppliers have indicated that they go beyond these minimum requirements and will continue to do so this winter.
Consumer protection measures which suppliers are required to comply with include, but are not limited to:
- Engaging with consumers in financial difficulty on an individual basis, to agree affordable payment plans
- Ensuring that customers in financial difficulty will have their case heard sympathetically
- Assisting customers who are in difficulty to explore ways that they can meet their energy costs e.g. pre-payment meters or budget controllers where appropriate.
- Ensuring adequate measures are in place to identify vulnerable consumers including maintaining registers (“Priority Services Register and a Special Services Register”) of vulnerable customers that are critically dependent on electrically powered equipment, and that these customers are not disconnected or de-energised at any time for reasons of non-payment of bills and are placed on the most economic tariff available for their circumstances.
- Providing customers who have a smart meter and time-of-use tariff with ‘hints and tips’ on how to reduce or shift energy consumption and communicating the benefits of time-of-use tariffs.
- Disconnection of energy supply for non-payment of account must only be carried out as a last resort.
In addition, the CRU welcomes the other proactive measures that suppliers are taking such as signing up to the voluntary ‘Energy Engage Code’ which means that a customer engaging with their supplier will never be disconnected.
Given the importance of these protection measures, the CRU is also launching a new winter communications campaign to ensure that customers are aware of their rights.
Commenting today, CRU Chairperson Aoife MacEvilly said: “With the increases in energy bills in recent months, it is now more important than ever to highlight the protections in place for customers. In addition, the importance of proactive customer engagement by suppliers cannot be underestimated.
Customers who are having difficulty paying their bills but who engage with their supplier will be offered a repayment plan or a pre-payment meter to help them manage their debt. It is also crucial that vulnerable customers who may be particularly impacted by disconnection or are dependent on electrically powered equipment, request to be registered on their energy supplier’s vulnerable customer register.