Make some electric savings by changing energy supplier
Customers who search for a better deal will reap the biggest benefits, writes John Cradden
Energy companies want you. They really do. True, you may not feel the love from your current electricity and gas providers when your next bills come in the door - not least because most firms are dragging their heels in passing on recent falls in wholesale gas and electricity prices to consumers.
But if you switch to other suppliers, especially if you have never switched before or at least not for a while, you could save as much as €300 a year.
This is because almost all of the cheapest energy deals are for new customers, but what's more, according to Simon Moynihan of price comparison site Bonkers.ie, suppliers are focusing their efforts on switchers at the expense of passing on cuts in wholesale fuel prices.
"We've seen some energy providers cut prices recently, but I don't think we're likely to see much more in the coming months," he said. "That's because suppliers are using the savings they are making on the wholesale markets to offer bigger discounts to attract new customers."
Energy firms are coming under more pressure to pass on price cuts and some have begun to respond with announcements of price cuts in the last few weeks, but you should still work the system to your advantage to get the best possible value. "When energy price cuts take effect they should save all households between €25 and €60," said Mr Moynihan. "However, customers with gas and electricity can save more than €300 and still benefit from the price decreases, so it's the active customer that will benefit the most."
Eoin Clarke of price comparison website uSwitch.ie, says: "With the average energy bill now at €2,204 per year - almost a €500 increase in the last three years - recent price drop announcements will come as welcome news for many households."
But he, too, adds that consumers can still "take matters into their own hands" while prices remain high and switch to save.
It's certainly easy to be an "active" customer. Switching providers is a doddle thanks to the efforts of the Energy Regulator. "There is no interruption to your supply, no-one needs to visit your home and the only noticeable difference is that your bills will come from another company - and those bills should be lower," said Mr Moynihan.
According to recent research commissioned by the National Consumer Agency on switching behaviour, 17pc of respondents said they changed their gas and/or electricity provider regularly, and an overwhelming majority of respondents (around 90pc) said they regarded gas and electricity services as the easiest services to switch. Utility switchers saved on average €21 a month for electricity and €15 a month for gas.
Suppliers of both gas and electricity offer 'dual fuel' discounts if you use them as your sole supplier but, according to both Bonkers and uSwitch, the route to the cheapest gas and electricity packages for a household with average usage is to get them from separate suppliers.
Taking your electricity from either Electric Ireland or Airtricity and gas from Flogas will work out over €300 cheaper than paying standard rates.
The best dual fuel deal is currently from Energia, which provides a saving of nearly €280 on standard tariffs, according to Bonkers.
Most discounted tariffs will require you to pay by direct debit and use online instead of paper billing.
The cheapest non-DD package is with Airtricity for electricity and Flogas for gas, saving you €123 over standard tariffs, according to uSwitch.
Most discounted energy tariffs will also make it a condition that you sign up for a 12-month contract, but after a year the discounts usually expire and you are free to switch again.
Those looking for the best value electricity tariffs should probably avoid the pre-pay electricity packages available from PrePayPower, Pinergy and now Electric Ireland. These are packages where you pay for your supply in much the same way as you do as buying credit for a pre-pay mobile phone.
Comparisons show that the average household would end up paying over €300 more than with the cheapest bill-pay service, assuming they use the same amount of power. This is because providers charge the standard rate for electricity with no special discounted tariffs, and because they add on a daily service charge of for the use of the prepayment meters.
However, this may be missing the point of pre-paid packages, as the appeal for the many thousands of customers who have signed up in the last couple years is more control over how much they electricity use, which means no shocking or unexpected bills.
How to switch your utilities
To change your electricity supplier, you'll need your MPRN, which is a unique number for your home. You can find this on the first page of your electricity bill. If you want to switch your gas supply, you'll need your GPRN, which again can be found on the first page of your gas bill.
You'll need to provide meter readings when you switch. That's how your new supplier will know where to start billing you and your old supplier will know where to stop. Taking readings yourself is best, but if you can't get at your meters, you can provide the readings from your last bill.
You'll need billing information if you want to pay by direct debit too. "It's best to pay by direct debit if you can because the best discounts are available to customers that pay that way, and you won't usually need to pay a deposit to your new supplier if you're a direct debit customer," said Simon Moynihan of price comparison website Bonkers.ie.
It takes around two weeks for a switch to complete and once it does, your old supplier will send you a closing statement, which will be based on your own meter reading. You'll need to pay that, and then all your bills will come from your new supplier.
To find the best deals, you can use an accredited gas and electricity comparison and switching service like Bonkers.ie or uSwitch.ie. These sites take into account the amount of energy you use, how you pay your bills and your current supplier when comparing services based on the information you input, and then tell you how much you can save with all the deals you are eligible for.
Potential saving: €300
Total time: 30 mins