Extra support measures are being put in place for households this Winter, as Northern Ireland’s Consumer Energy Charter is launched for its second year. This is a collaborative project which has been led by the Utility Regulator, in partnership with gas and electricity supply companies, the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, the Department for Communities and the Department for the Economy.
Commenting on the launch of the Consumer Energy Charter, John French, the Utility Regulator’s Chief Executive, said: “The Consumer Energy Charter was initially developed last year, following the cost-of-living crisis, to provide additional support and enhanced protections to households. We are very aware that some households are continuing to struggle, and these additional protection measures are still very much needed this year.
“Protecting consumers is at the heart of the Utility Regulator’s work and we are determined to do everything in our powers to both help and protect consumers. The commitments in this year’s Consumer Energy Charter cover financial support, support for pre-payment meter customers, debt support and communications with customers. We believe that this package of measures will once again make a tangible difference to those consumers who are struggling this Winter.
“We are grateful to have collaborated with the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland again this year in the development of the Consumer Energy Charter. The domestic electricity and gas suppliers voluntarily support the Charter, and we are thankful for their continued co-operation. Additionally, to gain support from the Department for Communities and the Department for the Economy is also crucial.”
In signing up to the Consumer Energy Charter, the electricity and gas suppliers have committed to:
- Contributing to an external hardship fund for households struggling with their bills.
- Guaranteeing that none of their domestic customers will be moved onto a pre-payment meter during December 2023 or January 2024, unless the customer requests it.
- Completing an updated review of ability to pay for all customers on the maximum debt repayment amount of 40% and offering to move them to a 20% repayment rate.
- Ensuring that debt repayment amounts are not set above 20% for customers who are new to debt repayment plans, unless the customer requests it.
- Ensuring customers on care registers will not be moved onto a pre-payment meter, unless the consumer requests it and have proactively been made aware of the advantages and disadvantages of this choice.
- Checking in with consumers who have been moved on to a pre-payment meter to recover debt one month after installation.
- Continuing to assess ability to pay for all credit customers in debt, and if this identifies any issues, look to reducing repayment rates and/or extending debt repayment timeframes.
- Making sure that customers on their care registers are aware of the tariff most suitable for their needs.
- During their interactions with consumers in payment difficulties, provide practical advice to consumers on energy efficiency measures that could help customers reduce their energy bills.
Peter McClenaghan, Consumer Council Director of Infrastructure and Sustainability, said:
“Many people continue to experience tough times because of high energy prices and cost of living pressures. Given there has been no financial support announced for consumers this Winter the extension of the Energy Charter is very welcome.
“The Consumer Council are grateful to all our local energy suppliers who have voluntarily agreed to put in place this extra support this Winter. We also welcome the leadership from the Utility Regulator in convening development of the Charter.
“We will support suppliers to ensure these tangible, beneficial, and measurable commitments to their customers are delivered and will continue to work closely with the Utility Regulator to enhance consumer protection.”
The commitments from the Consumer Energy Charter will be in place from 1 November 2023 to 31 March 2024. For more information on the Charter, including the full list of commitments, please follow this link.