Cathy Mannion,
Director of Environment,
Retail and Consumer Affairs,
CER
 
Dublin, Ireland --- (METERING.COM) --- March 27, 2007 - Ireland’s Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) yesterday announced new protection measures for household electricity and natural gas customers, particularly the elderly, vulnerable and those with disabilities.

The CER’s guidelines, which must be implemented by all electricity and gas suppliers as well as the network operators, will ensure that customers can be confident of the quality of service being provided by their supplier. In the event that a customer is not satisfied with service quality, the CER requires that the companies have fair and reasonable complaints procedures in place.

The CER has required the electricity and gas companies to draw up Codes of Practice that will protect the rights of customers in the areas of billing, complaints handling, contract terms and conditions, disconnection, marketing and vulnerable customers. Furthermore the suppliers have been required to prepare Customer Charters. Together these Codes of Practice and Customer Charters must now be communicated by each company to all of its domestic customers.

Some of the key safeguards that have been put in place are:

  • Elderly people cannot be disconnected by their energy supplier during the winter months from November 1 to March 31
  • Visually impaired people must be provided with alternative means of communications, such as Braille bills, talking bills or phone bills
  • People who are hard of hearing must be provided with either a minicom, text messaging or video service to receive their bills
  • People relying on life support equipment in their homes cannot be disconnected under any circumstances
  • A register of vulnerable customers must be maintained by all electricity and gas suppliers
  • All customers must be notified directly of changes in pricing, with notification taking place in advance of any change
  • A second person may be nominated to receive energy bills on behalf of a vulnerable person
  • Energy suppliers must facilitate payment options for residential customers experiencing genuine financial hardship and, where appropriate, engage with a financial/money advisor appointed by the customer.

The electricity and gas companies are also required to notify their customers of the compensation and refund arrangements that apply if service quality standards are not met.

The launch of these measures is the outcome of a consultation process on the provision on services to vulnerable customers that was initiated by the CER in October 2005.

Among the other outcomes of that consultation, all suppliers and the network operators are also required to submit an annual report to the CER on their provision of services to vulnerable customers, including the number and category of customers registered as vulnerable and the types of service offered and their uptake.