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Energy Act (Northern Ireland) 2011

Standards of performance

Sections 1 to 8 concern standards of performance.

Section 1 concerns standards of performance in individual cases.  Subsection (1) gives the Utility Regulator the power (with the consent of the Department) to make regulations prescribing such standards of performance in connection with the activities of gas suppliers and gas conveyors, affecting customers (or potential customers) in individual cases.  Subsection (2) provides that the gas supplier or conveyor must pay the prescribed compensation where it fails to meet the relevant standard of performance.  Subsections (3) and (4) provides that the regulations may contain rules relating to provision of information to customers, how compensation is to be made, which persons may be exempt from the regulations and how some suppliers (and conveyors) may be treated differently from other suppliers (and conveyors).  Subsection (5) clarifies that payment of compensation does not prejudice any other remedy that may be available in respect of the failure to meet the prescribed standard of performance.

Section 2 provides that any dispute relating to standards of performance in individual cases shall be determined (on reference to it) by the Utility Regulator. The Department may make regulations concerning the practice and procedures to be followed when the Utility Regulator makes its determination in any dispute.

Section 3 concerns overall standards of performance for gas suppliers and conyeyors and gives the Utility Regulator the power to determine (and arrange for the publication of) standards of overall performance in connection with the provision of gas supply services by gas suppliers and in connection with the activities of gas conveyors.  Different standards may be determined for different suppliers, if the Utility Regulator thinks it will not cause undue disadvantage in competition.  Under subsection (4), each gas supplier and gas conveyor is required to conduct its business in such a way as can reasonably be expected to lead to the achievement by that gas supplier or gas conveyor of the overall standards of performance determined by the Utility Regulator.

Section 4 sets out the procedure for determining and prescribing standards of performance.  The Utility Regulator must arrange for appropriate research to be conducted, and consult with persons or bodies it thinks are likely to be affected.  In respect of overall standards of performance, it must also consult the Consumer Council and gas suppliers and conveyors, publish a notice of its proposals (together with reasons) and consider representations received (after giving not less than 28 days for such representations to be made).

Section 5 gives the Utility Regulator the power to determine standards of performance in connection with the promotion of the efficient use of gas by consumers.  Before doing so, it must first consult gas suppliers and other persons it considers are likely to be affected.  Different standards may be determined for different suppliers, if the Utility Regulator thinks it will not cause undue disadvantage in competition.  Gas suppliers must take steps to inform its customers of the applicable standards of performance, and the level of performance achieved by the supplier.  The Utility Regulator may determine the frequency and manner of the provision of such information.

Section 6 requires the Utility Regulator to collect information with respect to compensation paid under section 1, the level of overall performance achieved by suppliers and conveyors and the level of performance achieved by suppliers in respect of the promotion of the efficient use of gas by consumers.   Gas suppliers and conveyors are required to provide the Utility Regulator with information concerning the levels of compensation paid and the levels of performance achieved, and subsection (3) creates a criminal offence for failing to provide the relevant information.   Under subsections (4) and (5), the Utility Regulator must arrange for this information to be published (at least once a year), although it may decide not to publish certain information if to do so would seriously and prejudicially affect the interests of a person or body.

Section 7 requires each gas supplier and gas conveyor to take steps to inform customers of suppliers of the applicable overall standards of performance, and the level of performance achieved by the supplier and conveyor.  The Utility Regulator can determine how often this should be done, although it cannot specify a frequency of less than once every 12 months.

Section 8 places each gas supplier under a duty to establish a procedure for dealing with complaints made by customers (or potential customers) and to publish that procedure (and also to send it free of charge upon request).  Before doing so, the Consumer Council must be consulted, and the procedure cannot be established until approved by the Utility Regulator.  The Utility Regulator has the power to give a direction requiring the gas supplier to review its procedures and provide a report to the Utility Regulator, following which it may require modifications to be made to the procedure.

Section 9 of the Act makes certain amendments to the Energy (Northern Ireland) Order 2003.  These amendments are consequential to the new provisions on standards of performance.  Subsection (2) extends the gas functions of the Department and the Utility Regulator under the Energy Order, to include those functions under the Act.  Subsection (3) extends the definition of "relevant requirement" in Article 41(2) of the Energy Order, so that it captures the new provisions relating to standards of performance.  This has the effect of extending the enforcement powers of the Utility Regulator under the Energy Order, so that the Utility Regulator is able to issue an order for compliance, where necessary.  Subsection (4) concerns Article 45(2) of the Energy Order.  That Article gives the Utility Regulator the power to impose a financial penalty on an electricity supply licensee it believes is failing to achieve a standard of performance (in individual cases) that have been prescribed by regulations under the Electricity Order.  Subsection (4) amends Article 45(2) to extend the Utility Regulator's powers, so that it can impose a financial penalty where a gas supply or conveyance licence holder is failing to meet standards of performance (in individual cases) prescribed by regulations.  Subsection (5) concerns Article 51(1)(a) of the Energy Order.  That Article gives the Utility Regulator the power to require information from a licensee suspected of contravening relevant conditions or requirements.  Subsection (5) extends the scope of Article 51(1) with the effect that the Authority is given information gathering powers where a gas supply or conveyance licence holder is failing to meet standards of performance (in individual cases) prescribed by regulations.

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