Electric Ireland moves to reassure KBC and Ulster Bank customers over direct debit switchovers

ELECTRIC IRELAND HAS said it is focussed on ensuring there are no energy-supply interruptions for customers as a result the KBC and Ulster Bank departure from the market. 

However, concerns have been raised about customers switching their direct debits from their ‘old’ bank to their new account. 

The energy supplier has raised concerns about the “cumbersome” paper-based process which requires the customer’s current bank – such as KBC or Ulster Bank –  to write to the existing direct debit holders, such as Electric Ireland, to notify them of the customers’ new bank account details.

‘Paper-based process’

The system in place for this notification is currently paper-based.

Electric Ireland told the committee today that it was not designed for bulk account switching activity resulting from banks exiting the Irish market.

Both Ulster Bank and KBC are winding down their operations in Ireland, leaving Bank of Ireland, AIB and Permanent TSB to fill the gap in a landscape that has been described as the “biggest logistical change in the history of Irish banking”.

While Electric Ireland said it is working to ensure that the switching experience runs as smoothly as possible, the energy provider remains concerned at the paper-based process and that customers may not open new bank accounts and inform them in a timely manner.

To date, Electric Ireland has successfully migrated more than 4,000 customers from the exiting banks to the ‘new’ bank chosen by the customer.

The majority of this figure are using the online facility to switch over their banking details, but 25% are using the paper-based system. 

In a normal year, the committee heard that Electric Ireland receives and processes approximately 2,000 direct debit amendment forms, which is considered business as usual switching activity. 

However, representatives outlined to the committee that there are nearly 65,000 Electric Ireland residential or commercial customers paying by direct debit through Ulster Bank and KBC which will have to change bank accounts.

‘Doesn’t make sense’

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said customers having to put a form into an envelope, put a stamp on it and post it off “in this day and age” doesn’t make any sense. 

He raised concerns about the pressure alone that it will place on Electric Ireland to deal with volume of customer switchovers.

“Switching has to become so simple… otherwise banks are able to avail of the fact that people don’t switch,” he said, adding that this process is “far from straight forward”.

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The representatives said it would have been preferable if an automated or digital solution were deployed to allow the “significant numbers of customers” with both KBC and Ulster Bank to change bank accounts. However, the supplier said it has been told there are legal obstacles to this. 

“It follows that we will now have large numbers of customers looking to make these changes to their payment arrangements at the same time – many multiples of the annual activity we would normally experience in processing direct debit and standing order arrangements and in a more concentrated period of time,” the committee was told.

The company said it has significant numbers of customers with both KBC and Ulster Bank looking to make these changes to their payment arrangements at the same time – many multiples of the annual activity the electric supplier would normally experience in processing direct debit and standing order arrangements.

“In this context, our focus will be to issue clear communications to advise our customers of the electronic means by which they can update their data with us on our website.

“Hopefully, this will – in turn – minimise the number of “manual” direct debit mandates being submitted through the existing cumbersome and paper-based bank switching process,” they said. 

Electric Ireland said it is “entirely focussed on ensuring that our customers do not experience any service interruptions as a result of this process”.

“We will also provide assurance to our customers impacted by these circumstances that they will not be at any risk of loss of supply should they experience difficulties or delays during the banking transition,” the concluded. 

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