Utility disconnection ban must be reinstated as we enter Level 5
22 October 2020
Seanad Whip and Spokesperson on Employment Affairs, Media, Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht
Labour Senator Marie Sherlock has called on the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) to reinstate the moratorium on utility disconnections which existed from March until June, as the country enters Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions.
The CRU announced an initial moratorium on utility disconnections to assist vulnerable people during the first wave of the pandemic in March, and this was later extended before expiring in June. The Commission also increased emergency credit levels for gas prepayment customers from €10 to €100 at that time, in recognition of the reduced capacity of some customers to make it to a retail outlet to top up.
Senator Sherlock said:
“It is vital that the ban on disconnections is reinstated and that the emergency credit level is restored to €100. Importantly, the CRU must also ensure that utility companies do not apply surcharges on un-used credit as happened during the last disconnection ban.
“The introduction of Level 5 restrictions from last night has meant thousands are now back out of work with significant falls in income, while many families and individuals in vulnerable circumstances will find it harder to access extended family and community supports.
“Staying at home means that we all are going to be even more reliant on our utility services this winter, and we need measures put in place to ensure that no family is left in the dark and the cold due to an inability to pay.
“Fuel poverty was already a serious issue in Ireland. We know from the CSO’s 2019 SILC research that 8.6% of people went without heating at some stage last year. When combined with the fact that we are among the most expensive countries in Europe when it comes to household electricity and gas, it is clear that the risk of severe utility deprivation is at risk of increasing unless there is serious action.
“A number of utility companies have already committed to freezing or reducing their prices over the coming months in response to the pandemic, and these measures are welcome. What is needed however is a sectoral approach, the likes of which the CRU is best-placed to provide”.