The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP) has appealed to all energy and telecom companies and the Regulators to deal compassionately with the issue of fees that may be incurred by people who are struggling to pay their energy bills.

It has also called on Eircom to reverse their decision to only accept a minimum of €20 in weekly payments from 1st October.

The SVP welcomes the general approach announced today by Bord Gais in dealing with the thousands of people who are struggling to pay their bills and the ESB’s declaration that it will not disconnect older customers and customers who are in receipt of the Free Electricity Allowance during the Winter months.

However the SVP says that there must also be a fresh look taken at the additional charges imposed in terms of fees for warnings, disconnections and reconnections. It is ludicrous in these times of financial difficulty for so many families that the Regulator’s insistence that fees for disconnection and reconnection are charged, just over €197 in the case of electricity and €140 in the case of gas. These fees must be waived.

We would also favour greater availability of pre-paid meters for both gas and electricity users, says the Society.

The Society is calling on Eircom to reverse its decision to refuse any weekly payment below €20 from 1st October, a move also being considered by the ESB from next year. The SVP says that this will create a very difficult situation for many on social welfare who do not have access to bank accounts and credit cards, but who exist from week to week making small weekly payments off their telephone, gas, electricity and other household bills to ensure that they do not have large bi-monthly payments to make. Many vulnerable customers are used to paying these bills in the post office. While SVP note that other local outlets such as shops are being considered for the payment of bills, this move is an example of a business decision made to suit the company’s administration system rather than many of its customers. “We believe that it will lead to increased levels of bad debt and result in the more vulnerable in society being cut off from essential services”. says the SVP.

The SVP regularly intercedes with the energy suppliers on behalf of people who find themselves in difficulty over unpaid bills and this year it expects provides over €4m in assistance to poor and low paid families to combat energy poverty.