ESB not to pay power-loss compensation

 

ESB customers in the north-west who lost electricity for a week over Christmas are to receive no compensation. This is despite their counterparts in the North being promised a "good will" payment of £115 by Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE).

The good will payment, normally set by NIE at £65 for customers who have been dis connected for more that 24 hours, has been increased to £115 per customer as part of a "one-off gesture", NIE said yesterday. The payments will be in credits on customers' electricity bills.

NIE said the additional gesture was "in recognition of the hardship faced by many during the Christmas storms".

The move follows criticism of NIE by the electricity industry regulator in Northern Ireland, OFREG, over the inability of customers to get information during the storms.

NIE said "information flow was difficult in these extreme circumstances and we will be seeking ways to improve this". It thanked customers for their patience, describing the storms as "the worst in living memory".

However, an ESB spokesman told The Irish Times that "terms and conditions don't apply to weather like that which struck the north-west over Christmas".

He said the large number of households affected - some 160,000 at the height of the storm - and the length of time it took to reconnect outlying households was a testament "to the extremely diffuse nature of our network".

He said crews battled very severe weather over the holidays in a large operation to get the greatest number of customers reconnected in time for them to continue their festivities.

On compensation for households affected, the spokesman said "the [customer] charter doesn't cover situations such as weather of that type".

The ESB customer charter, examined by The Irish Times, instances 12 guarantees of service - including disconnection - where financial compensation is made to consumers. Guarantee Number One says that if a customer has been left without supply for more than four hours after the ESB has been notified, domestic customers can claim £40 and business customers £100.

However, the ESB spokesman insisted that the guarantee referred to "instances where the break is our fault".

"Where we didn't cause it and we have 1,000 men out working all hours to fix it, it is a bit unfair to penalise us."

A spokesman for the Consumers' Association of Ireland, initially amused at the idea of ESB compensation payments, did say that the NIE move "is an admirable move by the Northern Ireland Electricity board".

"I would imagine that if they can do it, we can do it too. I think somebody should ask the question: `Why not?' "