Dublin, Ireland — (METERING.COM) — April 9, 2009 – Guidelines for a code of practice for suppliers for the provision of natural gas prepayment meters in Ireland have been issued by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER).

The Commission says its view is that the introduction of such a code of practice for suppliers is necessary to protect the interests of customers. The code is also a requirement of the Commission’s prepayment metering policy issued in August 2006.

Under the guidelines information requirements to be contained in the code include an explanation of what a prepayment meter is and how it operates, and full details of how customers will access information on up to date charges. The frequency and content of statements or bills which the supplier will issue also must be specified, as must details of how to access information on vending facilities in the customer’s area. Suppliers should refer to measures and provisions that relate to vulnerable customers, including recognition that prepayment meters may not be suitable for such customers, and customers should be advised that provisions exist to assist elderly customers in avoiding disconnection in winter months.

The guidelines point out that the suppliers should use prepayment meters as a last resort in the debt recovery process. The supplier should take account of the customer’s ability to pay when installing a prepayment meter and confirm with the customer that payment arrangements are manageable, in particular when setting debt recovery tariffs. Suppliers also must ensure that customers have reasonable access to vending facilities seven days a week.

Where a prepayment meter has been installed, suppliers should advise customers of any differential in costs between the option of a credit meter and a prepayment meter, including the debt recovery tariff they may be required to pay. Suppliers must monitor the pattern of top up by prepayment customers and also must monitor the vending of elderly prepayment meter customers over the winter period. Where the supplier becomes aware that an existing prepayment customer is experiencing difficulties physically using the meter or accessing top up facilities the supplier should work with the customer to make an alternative arrangement for payment for gas.

Suppliers are now required to draft their own codes, based on the guidelines as a minimum level of service to their customers, and submit it to the Commission for approval by May 29, 2009.

The Commission says it will work with suppliers to ensure they implement and comply with this code fully.