NIE refuses to honour power cut guarantee payments
Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) has said it will not be paying compensation to customers left without power for more than a day during the severe weather earlier this year.
Under its standards of service, NIE is obliged to pay customers £50 in compensation for every 24 hours they are left without power.
Blizzards in March caused over 1,000 faults on the electricity network.
NIE emergency teams worked for four days to restore supplies to customers.
Repair crews were also drafted in from the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain.
Following the blackouts, around 300 customers applied to NIE for a payment, but the company said it was not responsible for the effects of the extreme weather.
A "customer guarantee" on the NIE website states the utility company will restore a customer's electricity within 24 hours of a power cut.
"If not you will be due £50 for your home/£125 for business premises, then £25 for every 12-hour period after that. You must make your claim within one month of the day of the interruption," the website states.
The company wrote to customers to advise them that it would not be paying the guaranteed standard compensation due to the exceptional weather.
"It was customary to seek an exemption from our guaranteed standards from the Utility Regulator," an NIE spokesperson said.
"In response to our request the regulator advised that it could no longer agree 'blanket exemptions' as it had done in the past and would be engaging with us in the near future to clarify the process going forward.
"However, the Utility Regulator also recognised that the legislation provides for exemptions in exceptional events and as such NIE considers itself exempt from making any payments under the guaranteed standards.
"As is always the case any customer who is dissatisfied with NIE's decision can refer the matter to the Utility Regulator."
A Utility Regulator spokeswoman said NIE had a duty to make a compensation payment to customers affected by a failure to meet a "guaranteed standard of service".
"Following the severe weather during 22-25 March, NIE informed us that they were applying an exemption to the guaranteed standards of service for customers affected by the exceptional weather conditions," the spokeswoman said.
"We cannot legally exempt NIE from the standards; it is their decision whether an exemption is applied as detailed in the relevant regulations.
"If an exemption has been applied, customers have the right to refer their exemption to us. We will look at their individual circumstances and make a decision on whether NIE was correct in applying the exemption."
The Consumer Council has criticised the decision and said the power company should investigate customers' claims more thoroughly.