CONSUMERS are getting a raw deal due to the failure of energy suppliers and petrol and diesel retailers to pass on massive falls in their costs.
Crude oil and wholesale electricity prices have collapsed, largely due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Crude oil prices are now down 50pc since the start of the year. The industry is also benefiting from the recent strengthening of the euro currency, as crude is priced in dollars.
Yet motorists have only seen prices come down by around 2c this year, according to petrol retail chain Maxol.
And wholesale electricity prices have also halved in the past few months.
The response from energy companies?
Just three of the 12 players have reduced prices for householders so far, and some the decreases will not take place until May.
This is well after winter energy bills will have peaked in homes.
And the decreases are small.
Electric Ireland, the State-owned behemoth in the market, is cutting its residential electricity prices by just 2.5pc from April 1, and its gas prices by 11.5pc.
This will save the average electricity customer around €22 a year while the average gas customer will save around €78 on their annual bill.
All of this is rather pitiful and has prompted consumer groups to make accusations of price gouging.
The suspicion is that electricity and gas providers and petrol stations and importers are making super profits at the expense of consumers.
They are achieving this by banking the profits they are getting from the fall in wholesale prices and falling to pass on decent reductions to the consumers.
Of course, there is no direct regulation of prices of electricity, gas, petrol, diesel and home-hearting oil in this country, leaving suppliers to largely do as they please.
Petrol and diesel importers and retailers have come in for particular criticism for their a failure to pass on decent cuts in the prices at the pumps.
The onset of the coronavirus has meant demand for oil has plummeted since the start of the year. This has accelerated after the Saudis decided to pump thousands of extra barrels of crude into the market after they failed to get the Russians to agree to restrict supply.
Overnight crude prices fell by another 30pc, and are now down 50pc this year.
This means there really is no excuse for radical price cuts being implemented at the pumps. Crude prices have been falling all year.
“The industry is price gouging on this. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission does not seem to be doing anything about it. The industry is making a killing and it needs to be investigated,” is the view of the chairman of the Consumers Association, Michael Kilcoyne.
There can be no doubt that motorists are extremely frustrated at the slow pace of price reductions at the pumps.
The Irish Petrol Retailers Association (IPRA) insists that retailers make a very small margin on fuel.
Asked if petrol retailers were making super profits, David Blevings of IPRA said retailers have no control over wholesale price movements.
Applegreen said it was not able to comment as it was busy “planning for the coronavirus”.
The Irish Petroleum Industry Association, which represents companies that import and distribute petroleum products, claimed it was unrealistic to expect big price cuts at forecourts due to drops in crude costs.
The good news is that prices will drop further, but it would make sense for the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to look at why the industry has been so reluctant up to now to pass on cuts in its costs.
Questions also have to be asked of energy companies.
Just two of the main players have reduced prices, and they have been small reductions, with these promised in the coming months.
Bord Gáis will reduce electricity prices by 4.5pc in May, with Electric Ireland saying residential prices will go down by 2.5pc from April 1.
Larger players Energia and SSE Airtiricty have yet to reduce prices.
The representative body for the suppliers of home-heating oil in this country insist that price reductions are being passed on to householders.
UKIFDA says prices of a 1,000 litre oil tank fill are already down by €100 this year alone.
This puts it up to the petrol and diesel importers and retailers, and to the energy companies to do more.
We do not regulate prices for end users of energy and petrol and diesel, but maybe we should.
Competition is clearly not delivering for consumers.