Energy

matthew
29th July 2020

Coronavirus: Energy Advice (Natural gas, electricity, home heating oil and LPG)

Advice for consumers who are curious about the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus) to energy in Northern Ireland, including the latest information on natural gas, electricity, home heating oil and liquid petroleum gas (LPG).

The information on this page was last updated on 29 July 2020.

Meter readings

Electricity

NIE Networks will resume all meter reading activities during from mid-July. Meter readers will ask for permission to enter homes or properties to obtain a meter reading. They will only enter if they are in good health and are not displaying any symptoms of COVID-19. Before entering they will ask if anyone in the household is displaying symptoms, isolating or shielding. If so, they will not proceed.

Strict hygiene regimes are in place and staff will ensure they stand at least 2 meters away. You should maintain at least 2 meters distance also. 

If for any reason a meter reader can’t come into your property, they will ask you to read your meter while they wait. If you are unable to read your meter, or if you are not at home when the meter reader calls, they will leave a card with information on how to submit a meter reading online, via email or over the phone.

All meters located in outside meter positions are being read as normal.

If you need to submit your own reading there are three ways you can do this:
 

  1. Online – www.nienetworks.co.uk/metering 
  2. Telephone - 03456 093 030
  3. Email - [email protected]


You only need to submit your reading to either NIE Networks or your supplier, there is no need to do it twice. If you are unable to submit your meter reading you will receive an estimated bill from your supplier based on your usage history.

The Consumer Council advises consumers to continue to read their meter regularly to ensure bills are accurate and not estimated. NIE Networks’ website provides a guide on how to read your meter, click here.

Gas

Both Firmus Energy and SSE Airtricity Gas meter reading activities have resumed for all external/accessible gas meters. More information can be found on their relevant websites.

  • Click here for Firmus Energy
  • Click here for SSE Airtricity

The Consumer Council continues to advise consumers to continue to read their meter regularly to ensure bills are accurate and not estimated.

 

Checking the identity of staff at your door

You should always ask a person calling at your door for proof of identity. If you are concerned about the identity of someone at your door, call 101 and you will be given the option of going through to the Quick Check facility.

Your call will be answered by a trained police call handler who will take the details of the company the caller claims to be working for. The call handler will then contact the organisation to determine whether the caller is genuine. More information is available here.

Supplier communications

Electricity and natural gas suppliers are sending out important COVID-19 related information to all consumers via letter, email or text, as well as on social media and information on websites. We urge consumers to read the information from their suppliers carefully and to contact them if you have any queries or require assistance over the coming weeks.

Natural gas

Pay As You Go - Notice for consumers

The Consumer Council is working on behalf of all consumers in Northern Ireland to bring you the latest information on how to top up your natural gas Pay As You Go Meter. We have been in touch with the two gas suppliers in Northern Ireland, Firmus Energy and SSE Airtricity Gas NI and have received reassurances that they are working to maintain all payment options and services at this time.

We recognise that some energy consumers may be impacted over the coming weeks by COVID-19. We advise consumers who have a gas prepayment meter and require to stay indoors and self-isolate to make a list of neighbours, friends and family who live nearby and can top up your meter for you.

Consumers who have a natural gas credit meter will continue to receive their bills as normal.

Advice

If you, or the person you care for, are unable to leave your home and you do not have any other support (family/friends) to help them top up their gas PAYG meter, please contact your gas supply firm for further advice – Firmus Energy (0330 024 9000) or SSE Airtricity Gas NI (0345 601 9093).

Customer Care Registers

If you have a disability, are a pensioner, or are chronically sick, electricity and natural gas companies can provide additional assistance to customers who register their details with them. These services include bills in different formats such as large print or Braille, and password schemes to help identify representatives from a service provider.

A list of the services offered by the different companies is available on The Consumer Council website here.

Critical maintenance and essential works

Firmus Energy will continue to respond to gas emergencies and undertake critical maintenance and essential works.

However, it will no longer undertake non-essential work in homes and businesses. This page will be updated when the normal work schedule resumes.
 

Top tips for natural gas customers

Plan ahead

Consider how much you usually spend on natural gas each week and plan ahead for what you will need.

Firmus Energy Customers

You can only buy credit for your gas prepayment meter by bringing your gas card to a PayPoint outlet. Once you top up your card, you should insert the card into your meter to transfer the credit.

A list of PayPoint Outlets are available at https://consumer.paypoint.com/

SSE Airtricity Gas NI Customers

You can only buy credit for your gas prepayment meter by bringing your gas card to a PayPoint outlet or to a Post Office. Once you top up your card, you should insert the card into your meter to transfer the credit.

A list of PayPoint Outlets are available at https://consumer.paypoint.com/ and Post Office branches at https://www.postoffice.co.uk/branch-finder

Get help from other people

Make a list of neighbours, friends and family who may be able to top up your meter if you cannot leave your home. You will need to give them your gas card and the key for your meter box.

Know your rights

If you are unsure how to top-up your meter or require further information on your prepayment meter, all suppliers have a ‘Code of Practice on Services for Customers with Prepayment Meters’ which can be viewed on their websites or requested directly.

Top-up when you reach emergency credit

Your meter will shut off temporarily when the credit reaches 15 units. You should consider topping up at this point, otherwise you risk having no heating or warm water.

If you are isolating and can't top up

If you, or the person you care for, has received a letter from your GP asking you to isolate in your home due to an underlying disease or health condition, and you do not have any other support (family/friends) to help you top up your gas PAYG meter, please contact your gas supply firm for further advice.

  • Firmus Energy (0330 024 9000)
  • SSE Airtricity (0345 601 9093)

Electricity

Pay As You Go - Notice for consumers

The Consumer Council is working on behalf of all consumers in Northern Ireland to bring you the latest information on how to top up your electricity Pay As You Go Meter. We have been in touch with all five domestic electricity suppliers and have received reassurances that suppliers are working to maintain all payment options at this time.

We recognise some consumers may be impacted by COVID-19 over the coming weeks and may be required to stay indoors and self-isolate. There are a range of option consumers with prepayment meters can consider.

Electricity consumers who have a credit meter will continue to receive their bills as normal.

Customer Care Registers

If you have a disability, are a pensioner, or are chronically sick, electricity and natural gas companies can provide additional assistance to customers who register their details with them. These services include bills in different formats such as large print or Braille, and password schemes to help identify representatives from a service provider.

A list of the services offered by the different companies is available on The Consumer Council website here.

Critical Care Register

Northern Ireland Electricity Networks (NIE Networks), offers a critical care information service to all electricity consumers (regardless of supplier) who are dependent on life supporting electrical equipment. Being on the register means you will receive up to date information by phone during a power cut or a planned interruption. For more information click here.

NIE Networks' latest coronavirus updates

For the latest information from NIE Networks regarding the coronavirus, please click here.

Faulty meters

If you experience a meter fault or you are scheduled to have your meter changed, a NIE Networks engineer will need to enter your property if you have an indoor meter. If you are self-isolating, you need to contact NIE Networks on 03457 643 643 to let them know so they can take precautionary measures before entering your property.

If the work is not urgent and you wish to postpone your appointment, contact NIE Networks as soon as possible.

Top tips for electricity customers

Plan ahead

Consider how much you usually spend on electricity each week and plan ahead for what you will need.

Consider which top-up option suits you

There are many methods available to you for topping up your electricity credit:

  • Go Online – Visit your supplier’s website or app, make a payment and receive a top up code to type into your meter.
  • Telephone – Suppliers offer over the phone top-ups.  Some will do this through an automated line where you can input your payment details and others will offer this through speaking to an agent.
  • Speak to your supplier – If you cannot use the above methods, your supplier can take payment over the phone by talking to a person during business hours.

Top-up options by energy company

Budget Energy: Online, App, PayPoint, PayZone, Telephone

Click Energy: Online, PayPoint, Telephone

Electric Ireland: Online, App, PayPoint, Telephone 

Power NI: Online, App, PayPoint, Post Office, Telephone 

SSE Airtricity: Online, App, PayPoint, Post Office, Telephone 

Get help from other people

Make a list of neighbours, friends and family who may be able to assist you topping up. You only need to give them the number on your electricity card and they can buy you a top up. You will still need to enter the top up code on your keypad meter.

Know your rights

If you are unsure how to top up your meter or require further information on your prepayment meter, all suppliers have a ‘Code of Practice on Services for Customers with Prepayment Meters’ which can be viewed on their websites or requested directly.

Utilise emergency credit when needed

If you hear the low-credit warning sound, press any button to automatically get £1 emergency credit.

Difficulty topping up your meter

You should tell your supplier straightaway if you can’t top up your meter. This includes if you are ill with suspected coronavirus or following guidance to stay at home and self-isolate, and if you don’t have anyone to help you. 

Home Heating Oil and Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG)

Access to Oil and LPG - Notice for consumers

The Consumer Council is working on behalf of all consumers to bring you the latest news on getting your home heating oil delivery safely when you need it.

The Consumer Council is working closely with the Northern Ireland Oil Federation, the local industry body with approved suppliers. The Northern Ireland Oil Federation has confirmed that oil distributors and their employees are deemed key workers and that supply of oil remains strong. Therefore service is continuing as normal and there is no need to panic buy, but we do have a few tips below to keep you right.

The health of consumers and of those delivering home heating oil and LPG to your home is essential. The Consumer Council urges home heating oil and LPG consumers to stay indoors while the fuel is being delivered. There is no requirement to sign a docket and the best thing you can do to facilitate your delivery is to ensure any gates and tank access are open when the driver arrives and stay inside while the driver is on site.

Deliveries are continuing as normal, but you may have to wait a few more days to get your delivery. The Consumer Council advises consumers to plan ahead and allow a few extra days for delivery.

For Liquid Petroleum Gas consumers, suppliers have indicated that they will be continuing to ensure supply to all its customers. The same goes for its customer service.

Contact Calor Gas (02890455588 or their website) or Flogas (02890732611 or their website) directly if you need further information or advice.

The Northern Ireland Oil Federation Customer Charter

The Consumer Council and NI Oil Federation have developed a Customer Charter that offers additional protection to home heating oil consumers. Home heating oil distributors who have signed up to the Customer Charter have their own register of customers who are vulnerable.  These consumers will be given priority delivery slots.

For more information on the customer charter please click here.

Top tips for home heating oil and LPG customers

How to protect health and safety during deliveries

There is no requirement to sign a docket and the best thing you can do to facilitate your delivery is to ensure any gates and tank access are open when the driver arrives and stay inside while the driver is on site.

Plan ahead

Check your oil tank and estimate when you might need a refill. Book with your supplier a few days in advance.

Shop around for the best price

Check out The Consumer Council’s home heating oil price comparison table. It is updated every Thursday and gives you information on the average price of oil so you have a good idea what you’re looking for when you contact suppliers.

Make sure you contact a few different suppliers for a quote and get the best price.

For more information, please visit our website here.

Agree the price

You should agree the price with your oil distributor when placing you order, to avoid any surprises. 

If you have a special reason for needing a quick delivery

If you need a priority slot (for example, if you have a disability, sickness or older people in the household), please do remind your supplier when placing the order.

Check out The Consumer Council’s ‘Switch On’ guide

This is our useful guide for advice on shopping around for home heating oil. Please click here to view the guide.

Reducing Bills with Energy Efficiency

Being more energy efficient at home is one way to reduce your bills. It is also better for the environment. The Consumer Council has a range of tips on simple things you can do at home to reduce your energy consumption. We have also developed some handy tools to help you see how much money your electrical appliances are costing you to run. Click here to visit our Energy Efficiency page.

 

Energy Efficiency Grants

Consumers have been spending more time at home as a result of COVID-19 and might have increased heating and electricity bills. The Consumer Council advises consumers to consider improving energy efficiency  measures in their home to help reduce energy consumption. A number of grants are available from The Northern Ireland Housing Executive and local Councils, including the Affordable Warmth Scheme and the Boiler Replacement Scheme.

However, to ensure the safety of consumers and staff, services have been streamlined and only emergency work is currently being considered. More information is available on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive Energy Advice page here.