Thousands of Irish gas and electricity customers face losing their supply from today as a moratorium on disconnections ends. It's an endearingly old-fashioned way of dealing with unpaid consumer debt, but perhaps better for the customer than the system now in use in the UK. Disconnected consumers have several ways to regain their supply; pay off the debt and make a hefty deposit, get a relative to take over the account, abstract illegally or (generally only for Nigerians) get reconnected using one of your other names. In most cases, the supply company will end up taking a hit on the arrears.
In the UK for some time now the procedure has been to continue the supply but to change the meter to a pre-pay type calibrated to charge at a rate to recover arrears as well as charging a premium 'dodgy person' rate for the power or gas currently consumed. Thus the utility companies avoid the opprobrium of cutting off widows and orphans whilst recovering their costs from their problem customers - a win-win solution. In fact so lucrative is the pre-pay meter that any of you not on a direct debit arrangement, who still pay on quarterly paper bills, will have noticed the gap between the first, second and final demands is now about three weeks. The old system of 'only pay on red' today risks the compulsory loss of your account facility and the installation of a pre-pay meter. I have to admit to having gas and electricity not only on direct debit but paperless, and monitoring of U Switch and churning my supplies means I'm probably paying about half as much for my heat and light as the poor folk down at the bottom of the hill.
But don't be tempted to be a heat miser like my old chum. Fed up with his wife cranking the thermostat up from his 'economic' 19deg as soon as he left for the office, he installed a tamper-proof control that reduced the temperature to 15deg during the working day to 'encourage her to get out more'. She did. She spent sufficient time in Westminster reference library to mug up on divorce law. He can now have no heating on at all during the working day, but it doesn't seem to have compensated for losing his wife.