Energy users are to enjoy greater consumer protection against mis-selling and unreasonable debt recovery because of new European legislation, the Utility Regulator has said.
The law is designed to improve the transparency of information given by suppliers and make it easier to switch companies, produce greater clarity on bills, helping people monitor their energy usage, and enhance protection for the vulnerable.
Shane Lynch, chief executive at the regulator, said there would be a three-week time limit to change consumers between supplier. He said: "These measures will deliver a higher level of consumer protection for Northern Ireland energy consumers while also meeting the requirements of European legislation."
The EU Third Internal Energy Package directives comes into effect on September 13.
They will strengthen codes of practice that the regulator will monitor and enforce. There will also be additional measures to help indebted consumers and ensure suppliers give advance notice of changes to terms and conditions or when nearing the end of a fixed-term contract.
There will also be a new mandatory marketing code of practice to prevent mis-selling and covering doorstep selling by regulated energy suppliers.
Other measures include ensuring customers are provided with clear information on their charges on bills, limiting the amount of debt a company can recover from each transaction through a pre-payment meter and advance notification when a customer is nearing the end of a discounted or fixed-term contract or has had a change to their terms and conditions.
There will also be enhanced protection for vulnerable customers, particularly during winter months, and new enhanced codes of practice.
Mr Lynch said: "The legislation introduces clear and enhanced requirements for consumer protection in energy markets across the EU and aims to ensure that the existing rights of consumers are strengthened and guaranteed, while also delivering greater transparency from energy companies.
"This is extremely timely. As our energy market is becoming more competitive, further protection for consumers is required. These changes will help us ensure that consumers in Northern Ireland are protected from many of the problems seen in other energy markets."