The CRU has a statutory responsibility to protection energy consumers. One way the CRU discharges this responsibility is through the Electricity and Gas Suppliers’ Handbook. The Handbook acts as the ‘rulebook’ for suppliers with regard to all interactions with energy customers. The Handbook is a mix of principles and rules which all suppliers must adhere to.
The Handbook is split into a number of codes of practice for issues such as billing, disconnections, complaint handling, vulnerable customers, etc. The Handbook also contains a number of codes for non-household customers which suppliers must also comply with providing protections for small and medium sized businesses (SMEs).
The CRU manages the Handbook and conducts reviews to take account of developments in the energy market. The most recent review of the Handbook was conducted in 2019 and was subject to a number of rounds of public consultation and engagement with industry and consumer interest groups. The latest version of the Handbook can be found here.
The Code of Practice on Billing sets out a number of requirements which suppliers must comply with with regard to customer bills. For example, suppliers must ensure that bills are issued to customers free of charge and are based on actual readings provided by ESBN, GNI, readings submitted by the customer or on estimated readings. Suppliers are also required to ensure that customers receive bills regularly in-line with the terms and conditions of their contract and legislative requirements.
The Code of Practice on Billing also includes a number of requirements on suppliers with regard to information to be presented on the customer’s bill and outlines the options which must be available to customers when paying their bill.
More information on the format of the customer bill can found on the consumer section of the CRU website.
More detailed information on the requirements for the customer bill can be found in the Code of Practice on Billing in the latest version of the Electricity and Gas Supplier’s Handbook here.
Protections for vulnerable customers in the energy market are very important to the CRU. The Code of Practice on Vulnerable Customers contained in the Electricity and Gas Suppliers’ Handbook ensures a minimum level of service for vulnerable customers which electricity and gas suppliers must comply with.
A vulnerable customer is defined as a person who is
- critically dependent on electrically powered equipment, which shall include but is not limited to life protecting devices, assistive technologies to support independent living and medical equipment, or
- particularly vulnerable to disconnection during winter months for reasons of advanced age or physical, sensory, intellectual or mental health.
Registering a Vulnerable Customer
When dealing with a vulnerable customer, there are a number of specific rules which suppliers must comply with. For example, there are a number of obligations on suppliers when signing-up and registering vulnerable customers. This includes the types of forms used by suppliers to register vulnerable customers and the processes in place to complete the registration process.
In addition, suppliers must also have in place processes to identify when a change in vulnerability has occurred with a view to ensuring that customers are registered accurately and appropriately.
PAYG Meters and Vulnerable Customers
The Electricity and Gas Suppliers’ Handbook lays down a number of rules which suppliers must comply with when offering a Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) meter to vulnerable customers. This includes ensuring suppliers have adequate processes in place to ensure that appropriate levels of information is provided to vulnerable customers regarding PAYG meters. Moreover, suppliers must also ensure that processes are in place for instances when it is longer appropriate for a customer to remain on PAYG.
More detailed information on the protections afforded to vulnerable customers can be found in the Code of Practice for Vulnerable Customers in the latest version of the Electricity and Gas Supplier’s Handbook here.
Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) products have become more prevalent in the retail market over the last number of years. PAYG products differ significantly from the standard credit products offered by suppliers and therefore adequate protections have been put in place by the CRU to reflect this. The Code of Practice on PAYG Meters and Budget Controllers outlines a number of obligations for electricity and gas suppliers to comply with regard to installing a PAYG meter / budget controller.
Information on PAYG / Budget Controllers
The Code of Practice obligates suppliers to provide a minimum level of information to customers regarding their PAYG meter / budget controller. This should include information on the PAYG meter / budget controller, how it operates, where the customer can find information regarding the tariff they are currently on, an explanation on emergency credit and other useful information. This information also must outline the fact that in a clear statement that the energy supply is cut off if there is no credit on the PAYG meter or the budget controller.
When a customer with outstanding debt is transferring to PAYG, there are a number of obligations which suppliers must comply with. For example, the supplier should take account of the customer’s ability to pay when installing a prepayment meter/ budget controller and confirm with the customer that payment arrangements are manageable. Moreover, suppliers must also ensure that customers have access to vending facilities in order to top-up plus should a customer have difficulty topping-up or accessing the budget controller, suppliers must work with the customer to make alternative payment arrangements.
More detailed information on the requirements for PAYG meters and budget controllers can be found here.
The CRU encourages consumers to shop around for the best deal for their energy needs – whether that is with their current supplier or with an alternative. Analysis carried out by the CRU shows that significant savings are achievable for those customers who switch.
The Electricity and Gas Suppliers’ Handbook outlines a number of obligations on suppliers with regard to switching. For example, suppliers must ensure that their internal processes and procedures must facilitate and support the switching process.
Obligations are also in place which requires suppliers to release any information required to complete the switching process in a timely manner. For example, the release of the ‘deactivation code’ to a customer on a PAYG product who is looking to make a switch.
More information on what the customer needs to complete the switch can be found on the consumer section of the CRU website.
Marketing and advertising
Marketing and advertising are important tools for suppliers when communicating their offerings and products to consumers. However, consumers should be protected from any marketing or advertising which could be potentially misleading or unwanted.
Therefore, the CRU has outlined a number of obligations which suppliers must be comply with when conducting marketing and advertising activities. For example, Suppliers must take all reasonable steps to ensure its marketing material is easy to understand, accurate, specifies clearly the product being marketed and the period it covers.
Moreover, suppliers are also required to ensure that it presents an estimated annual bill (EAB) in all marketing and advertising materials – including television and radio adverts. The EAB is an easy to understand indicator for consumers to compare and contrast energy tariffs on offer from suppliers.
More detail on the obligations on suppliers can be found in the Code of Practice on Marketing & Advertising in the latest version of the Electricity & Gas Suppliers’ Handbook here.
More information about more general standards for marketing and advertising or to make a complaint regarding any marketing or advertising material can be found on the Advertising & Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) website.