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Sunday 10 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Mick Barry

Tánaiste says pay-as-you-go utility users will not be included in winter cut-off moratorium

‘A moratorium on disconnection for electricity this winter needs to be a moratorium for everybody,’ Mick Barry told the Journal.

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR told the Dáil this morning that the December to March moratorium on the disconnection of utilities due to non-payment does not extend to customers using pay as you go meters.

Responding to a question from People Before Profit TD Mick Barry, Varadkar said “ideally” the moratorium should apply to everyone but he can’t envision it working.

The Cork North-Central TD told the Dáil that approximately 10% of electricity users in Ireland or 200,000 households use a pay-as-you-go meter.

“For low income households the percentage will be higher, I suspect much higher. One constituent I spoke to last night said that every second house in her estate used pay-as- you-go,” he began his question.

“When she has reached her last €2 on her top-up a beep will go off in her house, and when she reaches €0 a second beep will go off,” he said.

She would then be provided with €10 of electricity on credit to last her until she tops up again and pays for the credit used, Barry continued.

“If she spends all of the €10 of the emergency credit that is given before she goes to the shop to top up, she is then disconnected.”

“My question is this, what happens this winter when the emergency credit runs out? Will the emergency credit be extended and if so, will it be extended without limits, or will she and others in her situation be cut off?”

Varadkar replied:

“Ideally the moratorium should apply to everyone. I think it’s difficult to know how you’d apply that to pay-as-you-go customers, because of the nature of how pay as you go works. But the government can help and wants to help in these scenarios.”

He then highlighted the fuel allowance cash payment, an expansion of eligibility for fuel allowance and a double payment of some social welfare payments.

“Can we do without limits? I don’t think so. I don’t think we can say to anyone that we’ll cover their bills without limits no matter who it is. I don’t think that would be reasonable or right.”

Varadkar also said that he could examine the issue in conjunction with Minister Eamon Ryan and Minister Heather Humphreys.

Barry replied that he was “gobsmacked” by the Tánaiste’s answer, telling The Journal that he was surprised that Varadkar hadn’t already looked at the issue as a matter of urgency.

“We’re into October next week, people need an answer soon. I think government ministers live in a very different world from working class people on low incomes, who have to rely on a pay-as-you-go system to heat their homes.”

The TD said that resolving the issue wasn’t a matter of letting people use free unlimited electricity and heating, but preventing them from being disconnected.

“If you were to make emergency credits sufficiently large, disconnections would be ruled out. That would be one way to do it.”  

Barry added that emergency credit doesn’t equate to free electricity but is in fact debt that households would need to pay back.

“That is a legal way and a relatively easy way that this could be done. So the idea that there are some obstacles which would prevent you from doing this, I don’t buy that.”

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