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Taoiseach criticised for lack of clarity on disconnection moratorium for pay-as-you-go customers

Martin maintains there are extra protections in place to protect customers.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin at Leaders' Questions this afternoon
Taoiseach Micheál Martin at Leaders' Questions this afternoon
Image: Oireachtas.ie

Updated Oct 5th 2022, 5:31 PM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said people should not have their electricity cut off this winter unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Facing questions from reporters in Government Buildings about the threat of disconnections hanging over people, the Taoiseach said:

“First of all, I’ve made it clear, in my view, unless there are extenuating circumstances, [people] will not be cut off”, said Martin. He said a reason may be for example that someone is not engaging with the energy company.  

Given the Government supports provided and the lump sum payments, “people should not be cut off”, said Martin. 

He added in Leaders Questions earlier in the day he had gone through all of the various pillars “that in my view avoids people having to be cut off, that’s the bottom line there”. 

He said the Government has provided an “extensive package” including once-off measures to help people, but added that emergency social welfare payments are also available.

The Money Advice Bureau (MABs) is also a “very important organisation”, he said, while the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) has also “brought in extra protections”. 

The Government will be working with energy companies, he added, stating that service suppliers also have an obligation not to cut people off if they are engaging with them. 

In Leaders’ Questions, he said supports provided to pay-as-you-go utility customers in Budget 2023 would prevent them from being cut off over the winter.

Martin received criticism from both Sinn Féin and People Before Profit over  a lack of clarity around whether or not pay-as-you-go households would be included within the disconnection moratorium.

At the press conference, a text message that a customer receives when their balance is low, which outlines that they are at risk of disconnection, was read out to the Taoiseach. In response, Martin said he believes the CRU has “changed the conditions and strengthened protections” for people.

He said these were protections also in place for pay-as-you-go customers. 

Over the weekend, Martin told RTÉ Radio One that the Government did not want to see disconnections, particularly for vulnerable people.

“In the middle of an energy crisis of this kind, we cannot have disconnections,” said Martin.

However, due to the credit system on pay-as-you-go meters, if a household falls below the €20 emergency credit, the electricity or gas will automatically disconnect.

This is not covered by the CRU’s moratorium on disconnections, which is set to run from 1 December to 28 February, while a further moratorium for vulnerable customers will run from 1 November to 31 March.

In a statement, the CRU said that current pay-as-you-go metering systems cannot identify the reasons why meters have not been topped up.

“The metering systems cannot provide the granularity of data required to identify the reasons for certain meters not being topped up or the cohort of customers,” said the CRU in a statement yesterday.

“The CRU has made the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications aware of the limitations of the metering systems in this regard.”

It’s understood that this is due to limitations of the IT system that run pay-as-you-go meters.

Leaders’ Questions

The issue of pay-as-you-go meters was raised by both Sinn Féin and People Before Profit during Leaders’ Questions this afternoon, with Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald calling for the moratorium on disconnections to be implemented immediately and for it to run until the end of March.

MLMD_LQ1 Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald Source: Oireachtas.ie

In response, Martin said that the Government will be providing support and mentioned the raft of once-0ff supports that were announced in Budget 2023, including the fuel allowance payments and bonus social welfare payments.

McDonald said that Martin had given assurances over the weekend that there wouldn’t be disconnections and pressed him for an answer on how it might work.

“You gave the commitment of the weekend Taoiseach, that disconnections wouldn’t happen. I want you to set out in detail what that means for pay-as-you-go meters… you have made a commitment. When will that kick in and how will it work?,” said McDonald.

Martin criticised McDonald, saying that she was being “dishonest” for not acknowledging the impact the war in Ukraine was having on energy costs and added that the Government would protect people.

Following Martin’s comments, there was shouting over on the opposition benches, with McDonald calling on the Taoiseach to “do your job”, saying that he had not answered her questions.

Leas Ceann Comhairle Catherine Connolly intervened, calling on McDonald to stop and threatening to suspend the Dáil session over the exchange.

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy also spoke on the pay-as-you-go issues, saying that the Taoiseach’s comments over the weekend were “not accurate” and that he was “just playing with words”.

PBP_LQ People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy Source: Oireachtas.ie

“On Sunday, prepay energy customers will not be cut off, says Taoiseach. Today, the Taoiseach says prepaid customers should not be caught off. Which one is it?,” said Murphy.

He called for the Government to extend the emergency credit on prepay meters, which is currently capped at €20 before customers are disconnected. 

With reporting by Christina Finn

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