Commissioner urges older energy customers to seek help if they need it
The Commissioner for Older People is concerned that some older pay as you go (PAYG) customers may be unnecessarily living in cold homes during the Covid-19 pandemic. They may be unable or reluctant to leave home to top-up their payment cards due to advice around shielding and social distancing. The Commissioner has been seeking assurances from energy suppliers and the Utility Regulator to ensure adequate support is available.
Speaking about the challenges faced by these customers, Commissioner for Older People, Eddie Lynch said:
“We already know older people are disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and, as a result, many are shielding or limiting how often they leave their homes. I am concerned that this brings its own set of challenges to those PAYG customers who have to go to a shop to top-up their payment cards in order to keep their heating and electricity running.
“There is a much higher proportion of households using PAYG in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK. If you are an electricity PAYG customer, you can top-up online or by phone. However, if you are a gas PAYG customer then you need to contact your supplier directly to find out what support may be available to you.
“The loneliness epidemic has been a challenge for our community long before Covid-19 reared its head. Therefore it cannot be assumed that older and vulnerable customers can simply rely on family and friends to top-up their meters for them. Older people may not have a trusted neighbour or friend to take on this task. I have been working with energy companies and the Utility Regulator to ensure adequate support is available and they have assured me they are doing what they can to support vulnerable customers.
“My message to older people is clear; if you have concerns about topping up your energy please contact your supplier to seek help. No one would want older people to be rationing their energy supplies for fear of leaving their home to top-up. I also encourage the public to keep in touch with the older people in their families and communities who perhaps don’t have many people looking out for them, particularly during these cold winter months."
1. COPNI would encourage older customers or families or older customers who are having difficult topping up their PAYG meters to contact their office on 028 9089 0892, email@example.com or visit https://www.copni.org/.
2. Natural gas consumers are encouraged to visit https://naturalgasni.com for advice about how their supplier can support them during this time.
3. Individuals can contact the COVID-19 Community Helpline on 0808 802 0020 or Advice NI single Helpline on 0800 915 4604.
4. Cold Weather Payment scheme: The Cold Weather Payment scheme runs from 01 November 2020 to 31 March 2021. Each Cold Weather Payment is £25.00. Payment is automatic if individuals receive a qualifying benefit and the temperature in their postcode area is, or forecast to be, zero degrees or below for seven consecutive days.
5. Winter Fuel Payment: If an individual was born on or before 05 October 1954 they could get between £100 and £300 to help pay heating bills. This is known as a ‘Winter Fuel Payment’. Individuals usually get this automatically if they are eligible and get State Pension or another social security benefit (not Housing Benefit, Child Benefit or Universal Credit).
6. Make the call: This service makes sure you're getting all the benefits, services and supports you're entitled to. Phone: 0800 232 1271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. Medical/Critical customer care information: Northern Ireland Electricity Networks (NIE Networks), offers a medical customer care information service to customers who are dependent on life supporting electrical equipment. Being on the register means you will receive up to date information by phone during a power cut or a planned interruption https://www.nienetworks.co.uk/help-advice/vulnerable-customers/medical-customer-care-register or 03457 643 643.
8. Customer Care Registers: All electricity and gas suppliers in Northern Ireland must keep a Customer Care Register with the details and special needs of customers who are of pensionable age, disabled (by virtue of being blind, partially sighted, deaf or hearing impaired) or chronically sick. Suppliers can provide free assistance and services to customers who register their details with them.
9. A list of contact details for energy suppliers are listed below:
Power NI - 0844 545 7855
SSE Airtricity - 0345 601 9093
SSE Airtricity – Gas - 0345 601 9093
Budget Energy - 0800 012 1177
Electric Ireland - 0800 056 9914
Click Energy - 0800 107 0732
Bright Energy - 028 9544 2290
Firmus Energy - 0800 032 4567
NI Water - 0345 744 0088