Energy disconnections have been a big debating point before the winter. We look at the data behind it all to find out the risks for those in arrears with their bills.
Disconnection moratoriums have been the talk of the town as we anxiously await the winter and the potentially sky-high energy bills that it will bring.
While the government and the CRU have confirmed that there will be no disconnections over the coming months, there are still thousands of energy customers in arrears with their suppliers.
And there is considerable consternation over what happens to those customers after this pause in disconnections concludes at the end of March - will we see disconnections shoot up?
The rarity of disconnections
The good news is that outside of the moratorium, disconnections are exceptionally rare in the Irish energy sector.
Analysing data from the CRU’s Arrears and NPA Disconnections, the number of customers in arrears with their electricity supplier was 217,450 in the second quarter of 2022, or 10% of all customers. Similarly, 148,020, or 20%, of all natural gas customers are in arrears.
The electricity arrears are actually 76.8% lower than the previous quarter, perhaps due to the energy credits introduced by the Government. The gas arrears, meanwhile, is the highest on record, most likely due to the fact that gas wasn’t covered by the credits.
However, of those numbers in arrears, only 0.36% of electricity customers and 0.27% of gas numbers have had their services disconnected in the past quarter.
Even going back to before the energy crisis, and before the moratorium put in for the Covid-19 pandemic, only 1.6% of electricity and 2.3% of gas customers in arrears were disconnected.
This percentage is only coming from a small portion of gas and electricity customers who are in arrears - the amount of disconnections compared to the overall customer numbers is minuscule.
However, there are tell-tale signs that disconnections were rising before the moratorium - in the first six months of 2022, the number of disconnected electricity customers had risen by 70% compared to the whole of 2021.
And although gas disconnections hadn’t surpassed 2021’s numbers yet, six months of 2022 yielded only 11% less disconnections than the whole of 2022.
While disconnections may seem scary, they are only an act of last resort for most electricity and gas suppliers, and communication with your supplier is of the utmost importance to ensuring it doesn’t occur.
As we explained in our guide on contacting your energy supplier, The CRU set up the Energy Engage Code in 2014, which means that any customer who is actively engaging in communicating with their supplier must not be disconnected.
The companies who are part of this scheme are:
- Electric Ireland
- Bord Gáis Energy
- SSE Airtricity
Being an engaging customer is vital for ensuring that your electricity is never disconnected.
Trouble getting through
However, actually communicating with your energy supplier has been a tougher task in reality.
Using data from the frequency and subject matter of customer complaints to the CRU, we can see that the volume of complaints rose substantially in 2022 - in the first six months of this year, it already outweighs the number from 2018, 2019 or 2020.
The volume of complaints in the second quarter of 2022 is 90% higher than the corresponding quarter in 2021.
What’s pointed about this analysis, however, is the number of complaints relating to customer service complaints – customers who couldn’t get through to their energy provider or who were faced with an exceptionally long wait time.
15% of calls, which is up 8% from the previous quarter, were related to a struggle in contacting their supplier. This suggests that the number of customers who are wishing to communicate with their supplier about their situation is increasing, but that suppliers are struggling to handle the demand.
Analysing other data from the publication is interesting – it shows that the highest percentage of calls (18%) was related to customer dissatisfaction with their bills, such as high prices, frequent price changes or mid-contract tariff changes.
The data also shows how an individual company’s price rise or exit from the market can increase consumer complaints - despite making up only 2% of the market share, Flo Gas accounted for 19% of all customer complaints in the latest quarter.
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Getting in touch with your supplier is imperative if you find yourself behind on your bills. If you want any more information, see our articles on:
- The supports put in place by the CRU for this winter
- What happens when a supplier leaves the market
- What supports are available if you’re struggling with your bills
However, if you want to switch your energy supplier, you can compare different suppliers’ offers on our energy comparison tool. For more information on doing this, check out our energy Quickstart Guide.
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