Green Party Spokesperson for Justice, Patrick Costello TD, has called on the CRU to address the serious discrepancies in premiums between pay-as-you-go and direct debit electricity customers.
Speaking on the matter, he said: “Research carried out by my office found that pay-as-you-go electricity customers can pay anywhere up to three hundred euro extra per year based on standard electricity consumption when compared to direct debit and online billing. According the CRU’s 2019 Market Survey, 11% of electricity customers and 15% of gas customers are using prepay meters. This is an issue which affects a significant number of people, many of whom are vulnerable.
“Though the CRU has put in place measures to protect vulnerable customers against disconnections, these measures no longer apply where customers avail of a pay-as-you-go meter or a budget controller, though the CRU recommends such means of payment for vulnerable customers. If disconnected, they are left in a highly vulnerable situation with no fridge, cooker, heating or other basic necessities, made worse where a child is in the home. Poverty is not listed as a reason to be vulnerable in the CRU handbook.
“According to 2019 research carried out by St. Vincent de Paul, there are 140,000 (12.3% of children in Ireland) living in homes with a leaking roof, damp walls, or floors. Additionally, over half of the poorest children in families reliant on social welfare are not in receipt of the Fuel Allowance. Children are quite literally growing up cold and are being put at risk of serious health complications. This is neither acceptable nor liveable in a modern world.
“I have written to the CRU asking whether the longer-term financial impact of prepay meters on people with lower incomes has been considered. Though pay-as-you-go can be advantageous in some cases, the system ultimately is more expensive and offers less protection for those in vulnerable situations. I understand that my colleague, Minister Joe O’Brien, has also written to the energy regulator looking for more information on the costs faced by pay-as-you-go customers.
“Fuel poverty is not just an environmental issue. It leaves vulnerable adults and children at high risk of developing issues with their immune system due to thermal stress on their body, it aggravates respiratory conditions, and it can also affect the blood and cardiovascular system as well as having negative effects on mental health. Data collected from the 2018 Survey on Income and Living Conditions in Ireland shows that 7% of individuals went without heating at some stage in 2018 due to cost, rising to 8.6% in 2019. We cannot allow adults and children to continue living in these conditions and stand by as statistics move in the wrong direction.
“As we strive to strengthen our economy and its mechanisms of social support post-Covid, we must ensure to adequately support those who have difficulty heating and lighting their homes. We cannot morally continue to encourage customers onto a prepayment system which unfairly disadvantages those already in financial distress,” concluded Deputy Costello.
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