Monday, January 09, 2012

Companies must adhere to guidelines when communicating with customers

Statement Issued : Monday 9 January, 2012

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Labour Party TD for Dublin North Central, has called for strict adherence to the guidelines laid down by the Commission for Energy Regulation in order to protect home-owners from intimidation by service providers and financial institutions in relation to payment arrears.

"It has come to my notice that some service providers are effectively harassing bill-payers who are in arrears, including sending text messages - a practice that is covered by the current guidelines but which some charitable organisations have stated is pushing some clients over the edge. Moreover, current guidelines state that companies are forbidden from contacting their customers on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays, but unfortunately there have been instances of companies breaking this rule. I will be writing to the CER detailing these breaches of existing codes of practice.

"Unfortunately, the number of bill payers who are experiencing financial hardship is at an unprecedented level and their mental health is of serious concern to those who are attempting to help and assist them in their distress.

"Last September, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, announced that families in financial difficulty will not have their electricity or gas disconnected this winter if they agree to a pay plan or the installation of a pay-as-you-go meter. This has not however succeeded in preventing some providers acting in an intimidating and inappropriate manner.

"We are in an era where families are under huge financial pressure and are finding it difficult to cope. Suicide rates are high and must be at the forefront of the consciousness of all in Irish society.

"It is clear that households in difficulty with utility bills must engage with their utility company to enter an affordable payment plan in order to manage their debt. However, inappropriate and unnecessary contact from service providers or financial institutions must also be tackled to ensure that citizens can deal with their financial obligations in a calm and measured fashion, and with a stable frame of mind. I would also like to see the practice of contacting customers by text message revisited as I believe this is a step too far and I will suggest this to the CER and the Minister for consideration.

"I will be raising this matter with the Minister again and I hope to ensure that the strict guidelines are fully adhered to into the future."