Call for ESB to review exclusion of those in arrears from cost plan

 

The National Consumer Agency (NCA) has called on ESB Electric Ireland to review its exclusion of customers in arrears from its new price plans and has urged the company to give “vulnerable consumers in need the chance to benefit” from reduced prices it has announced.

The newly rebranded company introduced a number of discounted tariffs yesterday and said consumers could knock about €190 off their annual energy bills.

The move makes the company the cheapest electricity provider in the State although consumers who sign up with Airtricity for both gas and electricity will still pay marginally less.

New and existing ESB Electric Ireland customers who pay by direct debit, sign up for online billing and switch to its gas offering will see reductions of 17 per cent on the unity price of their electricity.

They will also get discounts of up to 6 per cent on the regulated price of gas.

The discounts were described by Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton as “a major saving for hard-pressed consumers and a small but helpful stimulus for the economy in these difficult times”.

The discounts will not extend to more than 100,000 customers who have fallen into arrears over the past 12 months and they will have to stay on standard regulated rates until they clear their arrears.

The NCA’s chief executive said she was greatly concerned the price plans appear to force limitations or exclusions on particular vulnerable consumer groups.

Dermott Jewell of the Consumer Association of Ireland echoed her concerns and said if 100,000 people were in arrears, “they are in arrears arguably most of them because they have had two of the worst years of their lives which really should be borne in mind”.

ESB Electric Ireland said social welfare recipients in arrears who entered payment plans could take advantage of discounted rates – although not at the level offered to customers whose accounts were in good standing.

He added that any existing non-social welfare customers who cleared their arrears would immediately qualify for cheaper electricity.

In response to an NCA call for clarification regarding the exclusion of consumers in receipt of the fuel allowance scheme from the new tariff plans, the ESB spokesman said there was a technical problem involved in passing on discounts to these customers, but he said the problem would be resolved by June at the latest.

The price cuts do not make the ESB the cheapest energy provider in the Irish market. Consumers who switch to Airtricity’s electricity and gas deals can get a 20 per cent discount off the regulated Bord Gáis Energy gas rate and a 6 per cent unit rate discount on electricity – equivalent to a typical annual saving of €194, compared with discounts of €190 promised by the ESB.

The ESB spokesman pointed out, however, that customer who switched to its package did not have to enter contracts of a specified duration and could leave at any point. Airtricity customers who choose an electricity-only deal will get a 13 per cent discount on electricity rates.

Bord Gáis Energy customers can qualify for discounts of between 10 and 14 per cent off the regulated electricity rates although to get the maximum discounts, they have to sign up for both the company’s electricity and gas prices.