Rising electricity bills: No switching help for apartment dwellers who are stuck with a gas or electricity provider

The energy regulator has said it is powerless to help apartment dwellers stuck with high energy bills switch to cheaper suppliers amid fears of being fleeced by above-average price hikes.

While all households face rising bills, People Before Profit’s Bríd Smith said some of the increases she’s aware of are inexplicably higher for apartment dwellers than all others.

“The amount per kilowatt-hour for gas is at least three times what it is for you and me, and these customers can’t switch,” she said.

Energy regulator Aoife MacEvilly said it had no power to step in and insist that people be given the right to switch supplier because they are not individual direct customers of an energy supplier.

The gas was purchased from the building owners or managers and then delivered to the various apartments.

“These people are heat customers, not gas customers,” Ms MacEvilly said. She said problems with the heat contract needed to be resolved with whoever supplied them.

More generally, she said, a scheme whereby residents draw their heat collectively from a single source has been classified as a district heating system and the energy regulator currently has no powers over such systems.

Ms Smith said the lack of safeguards was worrying amid government plans to drastically increase district heating schemes to use collective waste sources and renewable heat.

“These people pay more than everyone else, but they can’t switch providers like everyone else is told,” she said.

The issue was raised in the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment and Climate Change, where other limitations on the regulator’s powers to help those facing rising prices during the current energy crisis were also discussed.

That Irish Independent revealed this week that electricity and gas utilities were imposing huge hikes in subscription fees even as customers were already hit by massive per-unit price hikes.

The research shows that some providers charge up to €700 per year, regardless of how much or little energy a customer uses.

Committee members said it was difficult to understand why these increases were made and said the timing was of particular concern.

It was also pointed out that it is difficult to persuade people to reduce their energy consumption to support the tight supply situation when their subscription fees are still increasing.

Karen Trant, the energy regulator’s customer policy officer, said the agency doesn’t have a legal mandate to investigate the base charge.

“Any review of the base fee would be price regulation, and we don’t have that role,” she said.

“It’s a free market, so it’s not regulated.”

Regulator officials told the committee they also don’t know to what extent people are “self-disconnecting” from utilities or if it has to do with default, as they don’t have access to that amount of information.

However, they said the message needed to be spread that there was a moratorium on all disruptions this winter from early December to late February.

For registered vulnerable customers and those using prepaid systems due to financial difficulties, the moratorium was extended from early October to late March.

https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/rising-energy-bills-no-switching-help-for-apartment-dwellers-stuck-with-one-gas-or-electricity-provider-42004186.html Rising electricity bills: No switching help for apartment dwellers who are stuck with a gas or electricity provider

Fry Electronics Team

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