Almost a quarter of domestic gas customers were in arrears in the first three months of 2023, according to new figures from Ireland’s Independent energy and water regulator, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU).
The disconcerting statistics from the CRU show that more than 160,000 people in Ireland were behind on their bills at the end of March – a jump of more than 20,6000 since last year, representing 23 per cent of Irish gas customers.
The energy watchdog’s chairman, Jim Gannon, is expected to tell the Oireachtas Environment Committee today that it “remains very concerned” at the impact of steep prices on households and businesses, and that the CRU is encouraging all suppliers to “reduce prices as soon as possible”.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar today joined calls for action – with Mr Varadkar saying he is “very concerned” by the amount of people who are in arrears on their gas bills. He encouraged customers to engage with their energy suppliers and to seek advice on possible options.
As reported by The Irish Times, Mr Varadkar told reporters ahead of a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday:
“I’m very concerned to hear that over 20 per cent of people are in arrears on their gas bills.” He added that the proportion of electricity customers in arrears is “a lot lower”.
“That may be linked, in part, to the fact that the credits were taken off your electricity bill rather than your gas bill – for good reasons because everybody has an electricity bill, most people don’t have a gas bill,” he said.
He insisted that the situation facing gas customers is “a matter for concern” – adding that it is expected that electricity and gas prices will decrease later in the year.
If anyone is in arrears the best thing you can do is to contact the company to seek advice,” he said, adding:
“There are options available and it’s best to deal with it rather than not to for lots of different reasons.”
Last month, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) reminded all energy customers of the protections that are in place with suppliers if they have built up any debt over the last number of months.
Customers were reminded that suppliers will not disconnect customers who engage with them and that suppliers must provide every opportunity to customers to avoid disconnection.
The CRU also advises customers to submit regular meter readings to avoid any large catch-up bills. Customers can submit a meter reading either through their suppliers or ESB Networks. Suppliers have also put in place put in a range of online resources and supports to assist customers who may be in difficulty.
The CRU advises those who are struggling to pay gas or electricity bills, or who may have built up any arrears during the winter period, to contact their supplier which will have trained staff in place to listen to individual situations.
This way, customers can arrange a repayment plan. Suppliers are required to provide affordable and reasonable options to allow customers to reduce any arrears, the CRU says.