THE north’s main electricity and gas suppliers have signed up to a new voluntary energy charter to help people struggling to pay their bills.
Under the charter, developed by the Utility Regulator and the Consumer Council, suppliers will contribute to a hardship fund for struggling households and commit to reducing the maximum debt repayment rate amount to 20 per cent.
As it stands, energy suppliers can deduct up to 40 per cent from a top-payment to reduce a customer’s debt.
Extra provisions will also be put in place for customers placed on care registers.
Gas and electricity suppliers are required to compile and maintain the details of customers who merit special treatment on account of age, disability or chronic illness.
The Utility Regulator said while each supplier has a responsibility to promote awareness of its register, consumers have to choose to join it.
Under the charter, customers on the care register should not be moved to pre-payment meters, unless requested.
The energy firms have also agreed not to move households onto pre-payment meters over the Christmas period unless they request it.
The charter also states that customers on the registers should also be made aware of the best tariff available.
The suppliers who have signed up include the main domestic electricity and gas suppliers: Budget Energy, Click Energy, Electric Ireland, Firmus Energy, Power NI and SSE Airtricity.
The chief executive of the Utility Regulator, John French, said: “Consumers have told us how much they are struggling with their electricity and gas bills, and this will become a greater challenge as we move further into the winter.
“As a regulator, we are determined to do everything we can, and take the necessary steps, to protect all consumers.
“In addition to the financial package of energy schemes being rolled out by the UK government, the energy charter is a series of measures which together will provide practical and tangible support to vulnerable consumers this winter.”
Peter McClenaghan from the Consumer Council said even with the government support, most households will pay higher prices this winter than last winter.
“In March 2022 we found 1one-in-tjree households were in fuel poverty. Sadly, we expect even more households to struggle in the coming months.
“As consumers are paying very high prices for energy, and many of us are really struggling as a result, the Consumer Council welcome the voluntary agreement of local suppliers to put in place this extra support this winter.
“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.”