By PAMELA NEWENHAM
Support groups have warned an increase in electricity prices will cause further hardship to those struggling to pay bills, as new figures show the ESB is cutting power to 900 households per month over non-payment of bills.
The company, which supplies electricity to 1.5 million customers throughout the country, said it was having to cut the power to 30 homes a day as the weak economy makes it harder for customers to pay bills. This figure is a fifth higher than the average number of homes cut off in March.
The company said the disconnection of supply was used as a last resort when problems with payments arise, adding that it tries to help customers avoid disconnection by offering payment plans, of which 11,000 people are entering each month. Some 80,000 repayment arrangements have been entered into with customers in 2010.
“We also work with St Vincent de Paul and Mabs (Money Advice and Budgeting Service) to assist customers who are struggling financially with their electricity bills,” a spokeswoman said.
Some 99.9 per cent of customers disconnected are re-connected within 24 hours according to the company, which urged customers experiencing payment difficulties to make contact as early as possible.
Bord Gáis said it disconnected the gas to approximately 230 homes per month, while a maximum of 120 households had their electricity cut.
“Last year an average of 330 customers were disconnected each month, while this year it is down to 230. In July of this year 190 were disconnected compared to 440 in July of 2009,” he said.
He said the reconnection fee was €88 for electricity customers cut off and €61 for gas customers disconnected, adding that the key to avoiding disconnection was early contact.
St Vincent de Paul said the announcement that electricity prices are to increase in October is of “grave concern” and will “add further to the level of fuel poverty witnessed consistently in recent years”.
“While the Government has signalled that it is preparing an energy affordability strategy, it has not yet introduced any compensation measures for the most vulnerable households in relation to the carbon tax and now these households face additional electricity costs,” the charity said.
This year it expects to provide in the region of €4 million to help people struggling to meet their fuel bills.
More than 4,000 people contacted the Mabs over problems with utility bills payments, a spokesman said, adding that difficulty with utility bill payments was the second highest reason people approach the service.