New package of measures to help with energy costs for the next two winters.
The government has today established a €10 million fund to further support people to pay energy bills this winter and into 2023.
The Department will work with suppliers, relevant public bodies and NGOs to provide financial support to citizens experiencing difficulties meeting their energy costs this winter, including Pay As You Go gas and electricity customers. The new fund will be available to bolster hardship funds operated by energy companies and people are advised to engage with their suppliers directly or contact the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS), St Vincent de Paul or ALONE , who can advocate on their behalf to suppliers. The scheme is designed to get money out fast to those who need it most.
In addition, the definition of ‘vulnerable customers’ is being broadened to include people who are financially vulnerable, to ensure they can avail of additional consumer protections. This will include those in receipt of Fuel Allowance, Job Seekers Allowance for over six months, Working Family Payment, One-Parent Family Payment, Domiciliary Care Allowance or Carers Allowance.
At present, the definition of a vulnerable customer is limited to those in the following two categories:
· Category A: A household customer who is critically dependent on electrically-powered equipment, which includes, but is not limited to, life protecting devices, assistive technologies to support independent living and medical equipment or
· Category B: A household consumer who is particularly vulnerable to disconnection during the winter months for reasons of advanced age or physical, sensory, intellectual or mental health
The extension of the definition of a vulnerable customer will see the establishment of a third category of financially-vulnerable customers to cover the winter periods of 2022/2023 and 2023/2024.
The moratorium periods, during which bill-pay electricity and gas customers cannot be disconnected, are as follows:
· Category A: Vulnerable customers cannot be disconnected at any time
· Category B: Vulnerable customers cannot be disconnected for non-payment of account between 1 October and 31 March
· All bill-pay customers are protected from disconnection between 1 December and 28 February.
All suppliers are required to put vulnerable customers on the most economic tariff.
In addition, customers in need of additional support can apply for an Additional Needs Payment provided by the Department of Social Protection. This includes customers on a Pay As You Go meter who may need immediate financial assistance to pay their meters and keep their energy on. Every effort will be made to ensure that people in financial distress, and who qualify, receive an Additional Needs Payment on the same day or as soon as possible where it relates to electricity and heating expenses. Those needing financial help are encouraged to contact MABS or Alone. MABS can be contacted at 0818 072 000 Monday to Friday from 9am to 8pm. Alone can be contacted at 0818 222 024 every day from 8am to 8pm.
The Energy Poverty Action Plan also includes an extra €248 million for the Warmer Homes Scheme up to 2027 to retrofit more lower-income homes and more in depth research to better measure and respond to energy poverty in Ireland.