Meeting the cost of supplying your home with energy can be difficult at the best of times, given spiralling electricity and gas prices. The picture can take a grimmer turn when you take into consideration priority or vulnerable customers, who may be dependent on uninterrupted gas and electricity supply for a range of reasons.
We highly recommend that priority customers and vulnerable customers register as such so they can be at the top of the list for help if, and when, blackouts occur or the gas is cut off. Vulnerable customers should be aware that they will need to liaise with their energy suppliers in order to register as a vulnerable or priority customer.
Who is a vulnerable customer?
Vulnerable customers are defined as those customers who may be put at risk due to interruption of electricity or gas supply. For example, customers with medical conditions, or those who have certain communication requirements. Within the scope of vulnerable customers, the top category is priority customers.
1. Priority customers
Priority customers are customers who require life support equipment which needs electricity to run.
2. Elderly and disabled customers
These customers may be at risk when gas or electricity is cut off for a longer period. Elderly customers, to be considered vulnerable, must satisfy any of the following circumstances:
- They live alone
- They live with other elderly people
- They live with minors
3. Special communication customers
This category consists of customers who cannot simply and easily pick up the phone should they be cut off, and may include:
- Visually impaired customers
- Hearing impaired customers
- Mobility impaired customers
Why register as a vulnerable or priority customer?
There are several important advantages to being registered as a vulnerable customer.
- Priority customers dependent on life support cannot be cut off at the suppliers request, unless for safety reasons (or if the customer requests it).
- Elderly customers cannot be cut off from electricity or gas during the colder months (from 1st November to 31st March).
- Suppliers must attempt to aid customers who might become vulnerable as a result of prolonged disconnection.
- For any customers who have visual impairments, both suppliers and network operators have to develop alternative - and standard - way of communicating with them. For example, in order to report an emergency situation, or to verify the identity of network or supplier representatives who call to their home.
Also of great importance is that priority customers need to be made aware of any alternatives available should their supply be interrupted by circumstances beyond the supplier’s control, e.g. by a storm.
CRU supplier requirements regarding vulnerable consumers
All energy suppliers in Ireland must register customers, who apply as a vulnerable customer, using a standard application form. Exceptionally, where the customer is a priority customer, an extra application form will be needed for those who are dependent on life support equipment.
The supplier is responsible for completing the customer’s registration, and registering their details in the central database for vulnerable customers, which the network operators Gas Networks and ESB Networks Ireland) can then access. This information must be updated by the supplier every two years after registering for the first time.
Electricity and gas suppliers must design a code of practice for vulnerable customers, and their implementation of it must be approved by the CRU. All applicants should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
PAYG meters (Prepayment meters)
Even if a vulnerable customer requests one, suppliers are required to carefully examine whether a PAYG meter would be compatible with the needs of a vulnerable customer. In situations where a customer’s impairment or particular circumstances might make it difficult for them to use or top up a PAYG meter, other alternatives to PAYG meters should be considered.
ESB Networks will use the register to:
- Advise vulnerable customers at least three days in advance of a planned outage.
- Assign priority to customers who contact them and rely on life support during unplanned outages.
- Contact life support equipment-dependent customers during unplanned outages.
NoteCustomers who depend on life-support equipment should always have a back-up plan to deal with an unanticipated electricity supply interruption. This could include keeping a fully-charged back-up batter, or being ready to temporarily relocate to a location which is unlikely to be disconnected or likely to have a backup electricity supply (e.g. a hospital).
ESB networks also adheres to the Department of Defence's Protocol for Utility Companies in the event of an emergency. This means that should they encounter a vulnerable customer, they will encourage them to get help from friends and family, and if that is not possible, they will contact the appropriate authority and relay the necessary information (e.g. An Garda Siochána).
Gas Networks Ireland
Gas Networks Ireland are the DNO (Distribution Network Operator) in charge of updating and maintaining the Irish gas network. They also connect and disconnect meters, as well as arrange for
As with ESB Networks, Gas Networks Ireland will also provide special services to vulnerable customers, such as:
- Customers on the special services register will not have their gas supply disconnected between 1st November to 31st March.
- Customers on the special services register will be given priority for reconnection in the event of an outage.
- For planned interruptions, Gas Networks Ireland will also provide heating and cooking facilities in the form of an electric heater and an electric cooker.
- If you are visually impaired, you can contact Gas Networks and agree a security password to verify the identity of Gas Networks field staff.
- Gas Networks will contact vulnerable customers in advance to notify them of planned outages.
Each energy supplier has a code of practice regarding vulnerable customers, and different ways to register as one. For the majority of suppliers, you'll need to contact customer service in order to request the from, but in some cases you can download it directly from their website.