herald

Friday 20 October 2017

Rabbitte's pay as you go meter plan for jobless

Pat Rabbitte
Pat Rabbitte

Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte wanted people on social welfare to have Pay As You Go (PAYG) meters installed in their homes as a condition of getting their benefits money.

Mr Rabbitte wrote to Social Protection Minister Joan Burton last autumn suggesting that meters should be installed in the houses of people who apply for an exceptional needs payment.

He is set to lose his position in a cabinet reshuffle this week.

The exceptional needs payment is made to people who cannot meet the cost of fuel bills, funerals or serious illness.

Pressure

But sources in the Department of Social Protection said it would not take Mr Rabbitte's idea on board as it would put people under pressure to feed their meter constantly for fear of their lights and heat going off in the middle of winter.

"The result would be people dipping into their pockets more for energy bills when there are more cost-effective packages for paying for energy available," said the source.

But Mr Rabbitte's department said it believed that forcing PAYG meters on people applying for the exceptional needs payment was a way of identifying and protecting customers who could be seen as vulnerable.

A spokesperson said disconnections because of unpaid bills have been increasing at an increased rate during the financial crisis, and that reducing them was a high priority for the minister.

It said meters are given to people free of charge if they are in financial difficulty, and they would not be disadvantaged financially if they opted for them.

Meters prevent customers from being disconnected and facing reconnection bills and gaps in power supply.

In a comment to the Sunday Times, the department source said that meters give people better options to manage their bills.

Around 16,000 homes had their energy disconnected last year.

Pay As You Go meters are available from electricity and gas suppliers and allow people to pay for power when they have the money.

Credit for the meters can be bought in shops and electronically, and they are topped up much like a mobile phone.

Engaging

Bord Gais, Electric Ireland, Energia, Flogas and SSE Airtricity all signed up for a voluntary code of practice that was launched in May in the Dublin HQ of St Vincent de Paul.

Under the code, power suppliers cannot cut people off if they are engaging with them.

There are now 140,000 homes with PAYG meters for gas and electricity.

The energy regulator estimates that around 40pc of the 16,000 household disconnections last year were vacant properties where nobody was living.

cfeehan@herald.ie

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