Ban on telephone and internet disconnections needed during pandemic, says SVP

Phone and internet providers should follow lead of energy suppliers, says charity

SVP national president Kieran Stafford expressed concern that children from low -income families would fall behind on their schoolwork if they cannot access the internet. Photograph: Alan Betson

The Society of St Vincent De Paul (SVP) has called for a ban on telephone and Internet disconnections during the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure no households are left without communication services.

The charity called on telecommunication companies providing telephone and Internet services to introduce “clear guidelines and a consistent approach for dealing with customers during the Covid-19 crisis”.

The charity also requested that suppliers engage “proactively and compassionately” with customers who may be faced with large bills in the coming weeks and called for limits and caps to be extended.

SVP national president Kieran Stafford warned that some older people and lone parents had recently been issued with disconnection notices from communication providers and underlined that it was “more important that ever that vulnerable and marginalised groups can stay connected with loved ones and access up-to-date health advice”.

READ MORE

Mr Stafford also expressed concern that children from low -income families would fall behind on their schoolwork if they cannot access the internet.

He recommended that phone and internet companies follow the lead of energy suppliers who have already introduced a number of measures for customers using pre-paid electricity and gas meters who may be unable to top up their meters because of illness, self-isolation or a drop in income.

These measures, implemented by Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, include a moratorium on all energy disconnections, an increase in emergency credit on meters and workable solutions for bill customers experiencing payment difficulties, said Mr Stafford.

A similar response is needed from the telecommunications industry to protect those “struggling in energy poverty”, he said.

Responding to correspondence from SVP, the Communications Regulator said it was “actively monitoring the disconnection policies of suppliers and that the industry had processes in place to deal with these exceptional circumstances”.

Mr Stafford said the minister for communications had indicated that a charter of fair practice was being developed for the telecommunications industry during the pandemic.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast