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Energy customers face 'minimum charge' for not using enough electricity

The ESB-controlled ‘Electric Ireland’ has introduced a ‘low-user standing charge’ which will mean a minimum bill for customers.

Image: R/DV/RS via Flickr

Updated, 10.38

AN ESB-OWNED ENERGY company has introduced a new billing system which will see some customers have their bills increased – for not using enough electricity.

Electric Ireland, which was formally rebranded from ‘ESB’ shortly before Christmas, introduced a ‘low user standing charge‘ earlier this month – which means users who use only small amounts of electricity will pay for more than they actually use.

The charge applies to households who use an average of two units (kilowatt-hours) per day across the two-month billing period – adding €9.45 to each bill if customers fall below that minimum usage threshold.

Electric Ireland explains that the cost of necessary because the cost of maintaining the electricity network, and running billing and customer services has increased- with the result that low-spending households don’t actually pay enough to cover the costs.

Second or holiday homes which lie vacant for much of the year are most likely to incur the new charge. The average household uses several dozen units a day: for example a 28″ television, left turned on, would use around three units over a 24-hour day.

“This leaves us with no option in these situations but to increase the standing charge on these accounts,” it says, noting that the alternative option would have been to raise the flat ‘standing charge’ for all customers.

Though Airtricity and Bord Gais energy have similar standing charges, they do not apply a minimum floor.

The Irish Times this morning estimates that Electric Ireland’s minimum charge affects around 100,000 customers, with Electric Ireland saying the absence of any minimum charge meant that it was making a loss on ‘about 10 per cent’ of its 1.3 million domestic customers.

Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone said the new charge was a double-whammy for customers who were also not in a position to pay their bills by direct debit or who were in arrears, as customers who pay by direct debit on time are now given a discount on their bill.

“A simple proposal that would save money for both customer and company is, why not have a flexible billing period for low-usage customers and generate a bill when they hit a minimum threshold – perhaps €75,” Noone suggested.

“This saves the company issuing bills every two months, which in turn would detract from the need for this method of charging people for energy they haven’t used.”

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Gavan Reilly

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