How to avail of the best energy deals on the market
With wholesale gas prices 30pc lower than a year ago, you would expect to see your bills fall. But as Charlie Weston discovers, you have to shop around to get the benefit
AT this time of year most of us are motivated to cut back a little and see where we can save. And there are lots of places we can save money too.
Retail sales are in full swing and ads call our attention to all manner of specials deals.
It's also the time of year for renewals, and even with car insurance and health insurance we can often save money just by calling a few brokers and insurers.
According to energy expert Simon Moynihan, of price comparison website Bonkers.ie: "Actively seeking to save money on the services we need is a good thing.
"It keeps providers keen, keeps prices down and puts a few extra euro back into our pockets."
However, there are some products that we spend a huge amount of money on where it can be a little harder to see how savings can be made, he says.
Across Ireland, we've become much more efficient in our homes and smarter about our usage.
We've replaced our old bulbs with new low-energy ones, we've insulated our homes and upgraded our boilers. We even turn off most appliances and devices when they aren't in use.
All our hard work is paying off too, according to Mr Moynihan.
Consumption of gas and electricity in Ireland is falling. In fact, we are now using 6pc less electricity than we were a few years ago, he says.
If we're using less energy how come our bills are higher? Unfortunately, in little more than three years, standard gas prices have gone up by 36pc and electricity prices have gone up by 22pc.
These hikes have added nearly €500 a year to average bills since 2011 and many people are now struggling just to keep the lights on, Mr Moynihan said.
Even with energy efficiency in our homes improving, it is almost impossible for householders to offset such high price increases just by using less gas and electricity.
What's even more frustrating to many householders is that suppliers are now paying 20pc less for gas than they were a year ago.
And asides from home heating, suppliers also use gas to generate the majority of our electricity, so you'd think that households should see their bills come down too wouldn't you?
After all, when suppliers had to pay more, they passed those extra costs on to us. So why aren't suppliers cutting our energy bills?
It's a very good question, says Mr Moynihan. Suppliers probably should cut standard prices so everyone pays less, but instead they have opted to cut prices for new customers.
And that means that if you want to take advantage of falling wholesale energy prices, you have to take action yourself. Otherwise you'll continue to pay full price.
It's a very good time to take action though. Suppliers are now offering some of the biggest discounts we've seen since deregulation. In some cases up to 20pc off standard rates, he says.
Some suppliers are offering cash-back sign-up bonuses too, and even gadgets like Nest and Climote heating controllers can now be had for free.
Changing supplier or tariff is the quickest and easiest way to save money on gas and electricity bills, and thousands of us have done this already, according to the energy expert. Although changing from standard rates will not offset the huge increases we've seen in the last few years, it can reduce energy bills by more than €300 per year for an average gas and electricity household.
Despite savings of this size being available to most people, the majority of Irish households have never changed. This is netting millions for energy suppliers that could be saved by customers instead, he said.
Most households that have changed in the past may also be exposed to high priced standard rates, Mr Moynihan said.
That's because most energy discounts expire after just one year, and suppliers do not notify customers that they have been moved on to those standard price plans, so checking prices once a year is good practice for keeping bills down.
Staying with your current supplier
Many customers are happy with their current suppliers and don't want to switch.
The good news is that this shouldn't stop customers from getting a better deal.
That's because most suppliers have now introduced deals that reward customers who keep their accounts in good standing with discounts. And although they may not offer savings as great as those available by switching supplier, they can be substantial.
Suppliers will only give these deals to customers that ask for them though, so again, customers do need to take action.
Thousands of householders are in receipt of the Household Benefits Package, and although the Telephone Allowance was scrapped last year, both the Electricity Allowance and the Natural Gas Allowance are still in place and are worth €35 per month to eligible customers.
This benefit is very welcome by those that receive it, but it is also something that prevents people from looking for a better deal because customers worry that they could lose it if they switch suppliers.
In fact, customers in receipt of the Electricity Allowance or the Natural Gas Allowance remain entitled to the payment regardless of the supplier, Mr Moynihan said.
It will just be paid directly to you instead of your supplier if you switch. After switching, customers can contact the Department of Social Protection to arrange this, but the good news is that switching can be like adding an extra €10 or €20 per month to the allowance.
Time to get a better deal
There are lots of ways to get a better deal, but one of the easiest is to use an accredited energy price comparison service like Bonkers.ie.
For customers that would rather stay with their current suppliers, it's worth making a call to see if they have a better deal - most of them want to keep their customers and have good discounts available to existing customers with accounts in good standing, says Mr Moynihan.
It's worth comparing, asking for a better deal from your supplier or switching altogether. It's easy, there is no interruption to supply and the savings are substantial.
The biggest savings are available to customers that pay by direct debit, and use online billing. That's because the suppliers save money that way and they can pass those savings on to you, Moynihan said.
It's up to you to take advantage of them, he added.