ESB says 32,000 using ‘pay as you go’ electricity meters

Number of disconnections between 2011 and 2014 falls

Electric Ireland, retail arm of the ESB, has achieved a significant turnaround in the number of customers in serious arrears since 2011 with a reduction of one-third among those on payment plans over the past two years.

Jim Dollard, executive director of the ESB Business Centre, told an Energy Action conference in Croke Park on Monday that the rate of disconnections for non-payment of accounts is expected to be significantly reduced by the end of this year.

“We are forecasting our disconnection rate for non-payment of accounts to drop to 30 per 10,000 customers ... This means that 99.7 per cent of customers are engaging with us in trying to resolve payment issues and are not in danger of disconnection.”

Between 2011 and 2014, the number of disconnections by Electric Ireland had fallen consistently, Mr Dollard said. “Disconnection for non-payment is an absolutely last resort, and only customers who don’t engage with us run the risk of disconnection.”


He explained that “pay as you go” meters had played a major role in helping customers avoid falling behind with payments or, in the worst case scenario, being disconnected. To date, 32,000 such meters have been provided free for customers in arrears.

Dave Kirwan, chief operating officer of Bord Gáis Energy, said "pay as you go" customers use 11 per cent less energy than those receiving bills. So far, it had installed 50,000 gas meters and 7,000 electricity meters for customers in financial hardship.

Ireland has one of the highest levels of households in arrears on energy bills at 28.6 per cent — eighth highest in the EU, but it is only 19th in terms of households unable to keep homes adequately heated, said Oliver Rapf, of the Buildings Performance Institute Europe.

This suggested that public policy here is more effective in protecting low income groups than in most European states, he told the conference, saying “deep energy efficiency retrofits” were among the most effective measures to address fuel poverty.

In a video address to the conference, Minister for Energy Alex White said studies had shown that living in homes that were comfortable and warm "has an enormous impact" upon the quality of people's lives that was reflected in lower costs for health services.

Unfortunately, he said, customers experiencing the greatest difficulty with their energy bills were often living in sub-standard housing and forced to spend more money to achieve the same or a lower level of comfort than a family in a home with better insulation.

The Minister noted that the Government’s Warmer Homes programme had upgraded 105,000 homes so far, with a further 12,000 due to be done this year, “and I will fight to ensure that Budget 2015 protects programmes like the Warmer Homes scheme”.

Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former environment editor