Ryan in talks with energy companies on protections for pay-as-you-go customers

Sinn Féin says 346,000 customers on these electricity meters have no protection from being cut off

Eamon Ryan is meeting energy companies to agree on methods to protect people who are on pay-as-you-go meters. Photograph: The Irish Times

Minister for Environment Eamon Ryan is meeting energy companies to agree on methods to protect people who are on pay-as-you-go meters, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.

The Green Party leader began talks with the companies on Wednesday and they are continuing today as the Government comes under further pressure to introduce an immediate ban on disconnections and to ensure some 346,000 customers on prepayment meters are also protected.

During Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil Mr Varadkar acknowledged that current protections are not enough and that a better solution has to be found to ensure people are not disconnected over the winter.

He told Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty that currently vulnerable customers on pay-as-you-go meters “have to be put on the most economic tariff”.

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The Tánaiste said the amount pay-as-you-go meters could over-run had been doubled from €10 to €20 in emergency credits and there were guarantees of no disconnections at the weekends or certain times of the day.

But Mr Doherty said this was not good enough as the €20 emergency credit would be exceeded rapidly with massively increasing prices.

“The reality is that Monday comes around and then power cuts do happen,” Mr Doherty said. “It is an issue of fairness and equality and ensuring that all customers are treated the same,” he said.

Mr Varadkar agreed that disconnections should be banned for prepay customers during the winter.

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Mr Ryan was discussing methods to protect pay-as-you-go customers with the energy companies and the utilities regulator “has very clear functions regarding consumer protection” including on disconnections and protections for those on prepaid meters, the Tánaiste said.

But they had to find an answer for “hardship cases” to ensure no disconnection of vulnerable customers “regardless as to how they pay” and the meetings between Mr Ryan and the energy companies were considering this, Mr Varadkar said.

Mr Doherty said the 346,000 customers who use pay-as-you-go electricity meters had no protections from disconnection unlike bill pay consumers, who were guaranteed no energy cut-offs in winter.

The protections for prepayment consumers were no real guarantee that they would have the most basic services, the Sinn Féin spokesman said.

Socialist Party TD Mick Barry told The Irish Times that there needed to be equality for all energy consumers - regardless of whether they were prepay or bill pay.

“There’s meant to be a moratorium on disconnections. If there’s going to be one, there has to be one for everyone,” he said.

“[If they run out] they have a €20 emergency credit - if they don’t top up before the credit runs out, they’re automatically disconnected.”

“Some households are being given a rock solid guarantee that they will stay warm this winter, and others are not. Those who are not, tend to be the lower income households across the State. The Government have to get their act together because at the moment they’re at sixes and sevens.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times