Energy companies have been told they cannot cut customers off in the depths of winter over non-payment of bills.
The energy regulator, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), announced details on Friday of two separate moratoriums on disconnections for domestic electricity and gas customers – one for vulnerable customers and a second one covering all consumers.
Customers registered as being particularly vulnerable to winter disconnections will be protected for a six-month period from October 1st until the end of March.
Vulnerable customers – those registered as being critically dependent on electrically powered assistive devices – cannot be disconnected for reasons of non-payment at any time when this protection remains in place.
The moratorium for all domestic customers has also been extended again this year from what is normally a three-week period over Christmas. It will now be in place from the beginning of December until January 31st.
The CRU said it had “struck a reasonable balance” between protecting customers during the peak winter period from disconnection while at the same time encouraging customers to engage with their supplier at the earliest opportunity to avoid increasing debt levels.
According to CRU data, customers tend to continue to incur debt during moratorium periods rather than engaging with suppliers to enter payment plans. That leads to an increased level of debt, greater difficulty in reducing this over time and a higher risk of disconnection once the moratorium is lifted.
The moratoriums are in addition to the customer protections announced by the CRU in August for the coming winter. These include extended repayment periods, reduced debt burden on pay-as-you-go customers, better value on financial hardship meters and greater promotion of the vulnerable customer register.
The CRU’s Karen Trant said the moratoriums were “vital in providing support and peace of mind to customers during the winter period” but stressed that it was “important for customers ... to talk to their supplier at an early stage to find the best solution for them as customers who engage with their supplier will not be disconnected”.