Poor consultation by energy firms
The Utility Regulator has found that some energy providers were lacking in their communication of a price rise to customers.
Senior staff from the watchdog briefed the Enterprise Committee at Stormont on the contents of a report to be released later this week based on complaints received from business customers after prices went up by as much as 40% last October.
The rise came after a rebate on part of the charges that make up bills — known as the public service obligation — came to an end.
Shane Lynch, director of electricity for the Northern Ireland Authority for Utility Regulation (NIAUR), said the concerns of 17 complainants had been investigated, but this was from a total of 57,000 business customers.
He told the committee: “If you are running a business and have a high electricity bill you need no surprises... It is important that if tariffs are going to change significantly that you know well in advance.
“We did find that communication was a bit lacking in this case. While all four suppliers clearly knew that the rebate was only for nine months the communication of that fact was not complete with all customers.”
When prices went up representatives of large users, particularly manfacturers, were critical that the timing of the rebate ending did not give consideration to the difficult economic climate. However, the regulator said the rebate was a temporary measure and noted it had brought electricity bills down |by as much as 30% for some |users.
Mr Lynch said that wholesale energy charges typically make up 70% of electricity bills, with 20%-25% coming from network charges and only 5%-10% from the regulated PSO charge.
However, the regulator found a lot of business consumers saw communication of electricity prices as too complicated.
The committee was also told that competition in the Northern Ireland energy market is still “immature” but is “moving in the right direction”.