Local charities receive close to £1m in electricity company donations

The money is paid once firms put their hands up and say they will address a problem being enforced by the regulator.

Pylons
Pylons

Local charities have received close to £1 million in donations from electricity and gas suppliers who may have been in breach of their licence, the regulator said.

Issues that have arisen include when people have tried to switch, but this does not work effectively, or when some of the marketing processes have not been in line with expectations.

The money is paid once firms put their hands up and say they will address the problem.

The Utility Regulator disclosed the details.

Tanya Hedley, director of networks, said it happened after the watchdog had started an enforcement process.

She added: “We allow them to come to an early resolution if they are particularly helpful and put their hands up and say that they will address the issue.

“We then agree for them to make a charitable donation. They are not to get publicity for that, because we have found a failing, they have admitted to it, and the donation is a redress.

“It is not something for which they should get positive publicity.”

The total in Northern Ireland, so far, is £920,000.

She told Stormont’s infrastructure committee: “That has come from electricity suppliers who may have not carried out all the activities that we expect in licensing and for the protection for consumers.

Tanya Hedley, from the regulator’s office, said it wanted regulated companies to comply with their licences and to deliver value for consumers (Utility Regulator/PA)

“Such issues have arisen when people have tried to switch, but their connection does not work effectively, for instance, or when some of the marketing processes have not been in line with what we expect in licence compliance.”

The regulator carried out an enforcement on one network company because it had allocated money “inappropriately”.

Ms Hedley added: “That was our first enforcement.

“We do not necessarily want to enforce licences.”

She added: “We want regulated companies to comply with our licences and to deliver value for consumers.

“Enforcement is a last stage, but it is something that we have in our toolbox, and we are not afraid to use it.”

The matter has been raised by Sinn Fein’s Liz Kimmins.

Wesley Wilson of the Samaritans
Wesley Wilson is the Samaritans branch manager in Bangor (Liam McBurney/PA)

She said: “This case emphasises the importance of enforcement powers that can be used by the regulator in protecting consumers from suppliers who do not deliver the services customers are entitled to.

“Access to electricity is such a basic and fundamental necessity and it is vital that people can expect and receive the service they are entitled to from their suppliers.

“This demonstrates the important and valuable role of the Utility Regulator for customers.”

Recently Electric Ireland paid £50,000 to each of five local charities after issues were raised surrounding supply contracts with customers.

Among those charities was the Samaritans.

Wesley Wilson, who is the branch manager in Bangor, said the money was being distributed around the charity’s offices to pay for running costs such as telephone bills.

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