Energy companies have been asked to suspend contract clauses that penalize people for underusing energy.
Despite a winter of crippling bill increases, minimum consumption charges are hitting some customers.
These are fees that raise the bill to a certain minimum amount – regardless of how much electricity or gas they use.
Andrew Archer (33) from Lurgan has recently moved into his own home.
When he got his June-September bill from Firmus Energy, he was charged £20 on top of his bill for not using the minimum amount of gas and electricity at his house.
“Right now every penny is a prisoner,” Mr Archer said.
“I just moved out of my parents house so I’m living alone now and I don’t really know the cost of living yet so I’m trying to skimp and save every penny.
“When I was told I was being too efficient on my bill and charged for it, it came out of the blue and I didn’t know how to feel. It was like a kick in the gut.”
A Firmus Energy spokesman said: “A minimum consumption fee is necessary to cover the costs incurred by the supplier regardless of a customer’s consumption.
“The minimum consumption fee is calculated in relation to the applicable tariffs.”
According to Firmus Energy, their online and offline customers have to pay at least 419.5 kWh per quarter. This equates to £71.99 (including VAT).
This is the case with most other companies.
SSE Airtricity says all of their customers will have to pay the equivalent of 1,678 kWh per year, which is £235.51 (including VAT), which like Firmus Energy is 419.5 kWh per quarter.
According to Electric Ireland, their base charge only applies to a “minority of customers who use an average of two units or less per day over a billing cycle (typically 61 days).”
They say that a typical private electricity customer uses about 14 units per day.
Mr. Archer confirms that Firmus Energy has provided him with this information. However, when he took out the policy, he was told that the fee “doesn’t normally come into effect because the minimum fee is so low” and that he would “use the minimum fee anyway”.
“If you look at your bill, you’re being charged in kilowatt-hours, then it’s converted into cubic meters and then into pounds, if you don’t know exactly how to estimate it, you won’t know,” he said.
Raising the issue with the energy company, which recently announced customers across Northern Ireland will face a 56.3% price hike from next month, Mr Archer said he was basically told ‘bad luck’.
“I was told if I overstay my charge by a large amount, that charge will be deducted from my next bill. I told them what to do, run my shower, open my windows when the heat is on?”
Mr Archer said he chose to use as little energy as possible to “save effectively” and now feels penalized for it.
“Being asked to do more to save and be more efficient is ridiculous,” he said.
People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said: “The fact is people can’t win when it comes to heating their homes.
“If they use energy, they will be penalized with increasing and exorbitant energy costs.
“When people choose not to use gas or are unable to, the same companies penalize them for not using enough. You couldn’t make it up to you.”
Mr Carroll said what is happening now “is tantamount to a daylight robbery” and called for “an immediate end to the obscene profiteering of energy companies”.
“We are in a cost crisis of capitalism, where corporations are making profits while people are struggling to survive. People cannot afford to live under this system.
“Unfortunately, Westminster has not tackled profiteering in the energy sector and wider society and Stormont ministers have largely followed suit and adopted a ‘hands off’ approach,” he said.
SDLP councilor Gary McKeown said the idea of ”still charging someone for gas they haven’t used cannot be justified in the current circumstances” and also called for these types of charges to be abolished.
“We are in the midst of a livelihood crisis and as we head towards a very harsh winter it is vital that people’s health and well-being come first, over fine print or legal jargon.”
“While there are factors that may be out of everyone’s control, such as B. the wholesale cost of gas, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the burden on people and eliminating unnecessary charges is one of those things.”
https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/politicians-call-for-change-after-ni-customers-are-billed-for-using-too-little-gas-and-energy-42007823.html Politicians call for change after NI customers are billed for using too little gas and energy