Belfast Telegraph

NIE wriggles out of paying compensation to householders blacked out in March blizzards

By Claire McNeilly

NIE has been lambasted after telling its customers they will not be compensated for loss of power for more than a day during the heavy snowfall earlier this year.

The decision contradicts its own standards of service which oblige the company to pay customers £50 for every 24 hours without electricity.

And it has sparked confusion over the role of the Utility Regulator after the watchdog admitted it was powerless to make compensation obligatory because NIE is citing exemption due to extreme weather.

It is also likely to anger householders who are facing an imminent 18% hike in the cost of electricity (although NIE is not responsible for billing).

Ukip MLA David McNarry (right) has called on the Consumer Council for “unambiguous direction as regards the entitlements of those affected”.

“The Regulator says they have no legal basis for providing NIE with an exemption from making these standards of service payments, yet NIE claims they are exempt from compensating customers — so who is telling the truth?” said Mr McNarry.

“I want a clear position on what happens the next time there is extreme weather.

“It seems to me that NIE have become a law onto themselves and people are telling me they are feeling cheated.”

There were more than 1,000 faults on the electricity network due to blizzards between March 22 and 25, with NIE emergency teams deployed for four days.

Around 300 customers subsequently applied to NIE for a payment, but the network distributor said it wasn’t responsible for the severe weather conditions.

On its website, a “customer guarantee” states the utility company will restore a customer's electricity within 24 hours of a power cut.

It adds: “If not you will be due £50 for your home/£125 for business premises, then £25 for every 12-hour period after that.”

But NIE has sent letters to customers instructing them that compensation will not be paid in this case due to the extreme weather.

An NIE spokeswoman said it had sought an exemption from its guaranteed standards from the Utility Regulator.

But a Utility Regulator spokeswoman said NIE had a duty to make a compensation payment to customers affected by a failure to meet a “guaranteed standard of service”. “We cannot legally exempt NIE from the standards.”

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