NIE was involved in another public relations fiasco last night when it emerged that customers have been denied the chance to stock up on their electricity before the new higher tariff kicks in.
Many pre-paid customers learned just yesterday that any electricity they buy now at the old, cheaper rate will automatically default to the controversial 33% higher level on October 1.
It means that housholders who did not ‘top up’ at the old rate before September 23 have lost out on the opportunity to make a substantial saving.
But many of them are furious at only learning of this develoment from NIE a day AFTER the cut-off point. Indeed, many have not been informed at all.
NIE claimed yesterday it had sent a letter to its customers fully explaining the new rates — but although the correspondence was dated September 16, many householders were last night still waiting for theirs to arrive.
The company admitted a “bit of a glitch” was to blame for the delay in correspondence.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Conor Henry — whose mother, Elizabeth (53), tried to beat the hike by putting extra money on her pre-paid card — said it was a “disgrace”.
“My mum called NIE last week and she was told that anyone who bought electricity before October 1 would be charged at the old tariff,” he said.
“But when she went online last night to buy £100 worth of electricity, she was given a new 40-digit number to use, which was for the new tariff.
“She rang NIE this morning and was told that it would have been fine to top up her card up until Tuesday, September 23 — but from then onwards what she buys will default to the new tariff at the end of the month.”
He added: “NIE said they’d sent out letters on September 16, but my mum still hasn’t receieved anything.
“But there are other steps they could have taken. They could easily have put something on their website last night to explain the situation — but by the time she had paid £100 it was too late.”
Disgruntled customers contacted the Belfast Telegraph, and the BBC Northern Ireland Radio Ulster Talk Back programme, yesterday to register their disgust at the news.
Castlereagh grandfather Billy Douglas (76), who was among them, also told the Belfast Telegraph that he hadn’t received a letter either.
“I thought if I bought electricity in advance I could get it at the cheaper price,” he said. “I live here on my own on a state pension. I don’t know what winter is going to be like, but I know it’s going to be harder for me.
“They said they sent out letters seven days ago but I think there’s something funny about that. I still haven’t got my mine. Something’s wrong somewhere along the line. It’s bad enough that they’re putting it up by 33% – but not giving people any warning, that’s despicable.”
NIE Energy spokeswoman Kerstie Forsyth last night admitted there appeared to have been a “glitch”.
“If a customer buys say £50 worth of credit today, they will be charged at the lower rate until October 1; the new rate will apply from October 1,” she said.
“Keypad customers are being treated fairly in that the new rates will apply to all customers for units used from October 1.
“NIE Energy announced a price increase on September 10. A letter has been organised for all Keypad customers, which happens every tariff change, covering why they are getting a longer code than normal and how this triggers the new tariff rate from October 1.
“We’re assured by our mailing company that the vast majority of letters have been received however, some customers will get their letter a few days late.
“We apologise for this delay, which is due to a print production problem.”