THIS ARTICLE APPEARED ON PAGE 1 OF THE IRISH EXAMINER
Pressure on ESB to lift ban over arrears
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
THE ESB has come under pressure to reverse its decision to exclude customers in arrears from its latest price reductions after Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton urged the company to have a change of heart.
Mr Bruton made the call after the power company banned the 150,000 customers who are behind in their payments from benefiting from reductions as high as 17% on the new combined electricity and gas bills it is offering as part of its move into the gas market.
Mr Bruton said: "I think the ESB should reconsider this position. Ann Fitzgerald of the National Consumer Agency is writing to the ESB to set out that it is not fair to penalise customers, who may have got into difficulties on their payments in the past, in respect of future deals with the ESB.
"I think a big company like the ESB ought to respond to the consumer agency in a constructive way and I hope they will respond constructively. I think it’s important that we see customers who are the hardest pressed getting access to this relief."
Earlier, Ms Fitzgerald said she would raise the issue with the company and the Energy Regulator. "We think it’s totally unacceptable for a state company to have a promotion that precludes consumers who are in arrears. That’s penalising their future consumption because of their past payment history."
ESB communications manager Brian Montayne defended the company’s stance, saying it worked very hard with customers in arrears to set up special payment arrangements so they could clear their debts over time while still availing of an ongoing power supply.
"Those 150,000 customers are dealing with their arrears and a large number of them will have dealt with their arrears in the coming weeks and months. Then they can avail of the offers like anyone else. There is no penalty for what happened in the past."
Consumer watchdogs expressed frustration with the confusion surrounding the different price packages offered by the various power suppliers. "Comparing like with like is becoming more and more difficult. People cannot make sense of what’s on offer," said Simon Moynihan of price comparison website Bonkers.ie.
Brian Montayne said by 10am yesterday the ESB had already received hundreds of calls from householders interested in joining or rejoining the company which lost hundreds of thousands of customers to Bord Gáis in the two years after the gas company entered the electricity market.