Taoiseach ‘concerned’ as 23% in arrears on gas bills
The number of domestic gas customers falling into arrears has increased from 20% to 23% in the first quarter of 2023.
However, the number of domestic electricity customers in arrears dropped from 11% to 9% over the same period.
The number of domestic gas customers in arrears at the end of March stood at 160,399, while the number of domestic electricity customers in arrears was 199,790.
Leo Varadkar said he would expect to see electricity and gas prices go down later in the year.
He said this may be because energy credits were taken off electricity bills and not gas bills.
He advised those in arrears to engage with their provider.
Appearing before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action today, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) said it remains very concerned about the impact of high energy prices on households and businesses.
Chair Jim Gannon said that despite recent, welcome announcements of reductions in wholesale gas and electricity costs, they remain over twice the historic norms.
Decisions by suppliers to buy energy in advance saved customers from the worst impacts of price volatility, he said, but those same decisions mean the passing on of cuts to retail markets are delayed.
Falling wholesale prices have resulted in retail prices remaining stable since last December, Mr Gannon added, but they are still significantly elevated.
He said the CRU is continuing to encourage suppliers to reduce prices as soon as possible.
In relation to energy prices in Ireland in a European context, Mr Gannon said that, up to 2021, Irish electricity prices were at or close to the Euro area average.
However, high gas prices had a disproportionate impact on the Irish market.
Mr Gannon said analysis by the European Union Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators highlighted that peripheral energy markets such as Ireland, with a higher dependency on gas for power generation and a relatively low level of interconnection, were particularly hard hit by higher gas prices.
The committee also heard that 1.2 million smart meters have been installed in Ireland, and 80,000 consumers are on smart tariffs.
The CRU estimates that annual bills for smart service tariffs are better value for consumers than the traditional 24-hour tariffs.
The committee also heard that following an eleven-year charging error by ESB Networks, €100 million will be returned to domestic customers. The money will be returned via a reduction in domestic tariffs such as standing and unit charges that will kick in from 1 October.
ESB Networks said back in January the credit will be around €50 per customer. The error arose in the administration of a subsidy scheme to help large businesses to the tune of €50m.
Finance Minister Michael McGrath said he was calling on companies now to step up and do more because they have enjoyed dramatic reductions in the wholesale costs.
Mr McGrath said those cuts have not been passed on to retail customers yet and “it’s well past time” that they were.
Mr McGrath said the Government would “consider what more can be done to help customers over the months ahead, particularly in the context of the budget” but the State “can’t do everything through taxpayers’ money”.
Sinn Féin urges Govt to ensure prices are reduced for customers
Sinn Féin has urged the Government to act to ensure prices are reduced for energy customers.
Party leader Mary Lou McDonald said it was absolutely staggering that almost one quarter of gas users are in arrears and 199,000 electricity customers were also behind on paying their bills.
She asked what the Government was doing to ensure compliance by the energy companies and she said the coalition had opposed Sinn Féin’s proposal to cut and cap bills.
Mr Varadkar said he acknowledged that the country is facing a cost of living crisis but he said the Government is helping on pay, take home pay and other measures like childcare.
He also said the coalition would not oppose Sinn Féin’s motion tonight on food costs and grocery bills.
Mr Varadkar said there were some good measures in the proposal but the Government did not agree with all of it.