Surprise at sharp rise in numbers of gas cut-offs
on 18/01/2013 00:00:00
He told the Dáil Public Accounts Committee 4,090 consumers had been disconnected from the gas supply in the first half of last year - just less than the entire number of householders cut off in all of 2011.
In contrast, there was a more modest 17% increase in the number of electricity disconnections over the same timeframe. Some 7,140 households had their electricity supply cut off in the first half of 2012 compared with 6,088 in the corresponding period in 2011.
Last November, Mr Nolan told an Oireachtas committee he expected the number of consumers disconnected during the second quarter of 2012 would fall as there had been a downward trend since figures had peaked in 2010.
The regulator was yesterday forced to admit there had been a "significant" increase in gas disconnections last year for which there was no immediate explanation.
However, he noted up to 30% of disconnections by gas and electricity suppliers were on vacant premises.
Utility companies such as Bord Gáis and the ESB, he said, had to follow strict guidelines in terms of issuing notices to customers over arrears before they could disconnect homes.
Mr Nolan said only 1% of customers who switched energy companies had done so because they were in arrears with their original supplier. He said there was now a system in place where gas and electricity firms were warned if a prospective new customer had a bill of more than €250 owing to their existing supplier.
TDs heard there was strong reluctance on the part of many consumers who were unable to pay their bills to having pay-as-you-go meters fitted in their homes. Mr Nolan said he believed some householders felt there was a stigma attached to such metres while others were reluctant to have to pay for their electricity or gas upfront.
The Dáil's public spending watchdog heard electricity and gas prices had risen by around 30%, on average, over the past two years leaving the average household with annual gas bills of €940 and electricity bills of just over €1,000.
Mr Nolan insisted Ireland was a "price taker" as it had no control over the cost of gas which is also used to generate 60% of the country's electricity.