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Electricity customers risk losing discounts if they switch to smart tariffs before their plans run out

Energy regulator is not moving to protect customers, saying the market will be monitored 

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Hundreds of thousands of prospective smart tariff customers are exposed to potential losses

Hundreds of thousands of prospective smart tariff customers are exposed to potential losses

Hundreds of thousands of prospective smart tariff customers are exposed to potential losses

Electricity customers risk incurring penalties and losing discounts if they switch to smart tariffs before their existing plans run out.

The energy regulator is not moving to protect them, saying the market will be monitored for a “number of months” before any intervention is considered.

That leaves hundreds of thousands of prospective smart tariff customers exposed to potential losses if they make a wrong move.

One householder told how he almost lost the 26pc new customer discount he was availing of after he began the process of switching to one of his supplier’s smart tariff plans online.

A call to a customer service line to check some details revealed he would automatically forgo the discount if he switched before his current plan finished, leaving him substantially worse off.

“I was quite surprised, even shocked, when I discovered that because I’m tied into a deal for a year, if I move, I lose the discount,” Tony Calnan, a retired engineer from Cork said.

He was eager to move and, with solar panels and a storage battery installed to provide peak-time power, he is in a good position to make a smart tariff work effectively, but he said: “It makes no sense financially.”

Power suppliers are meant to encourage households to activate their smart meters and move to time-of-use or smart plans.

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The aim is to incentivise customers to better schedule household chores and use of appliances so as to ease the strain on supply at peak times.

That would reduce risk of outages, and lessen reliance on expensive and more polluting back-up generation provided by older oil and gas plants.

However, the Irish Independent revealed last week that almost one million smart meters installed in homes as part of a €1.2bn programme are unused, with just 4pc of those households on a smart tariff.

Energy regulator, the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU), has issued a direction to electricity suppliers to try harder to entice customers to make the switch.

But confusion over tariffs, lack of communication from suppliers and poor value options have made prospective switchers wary.

Electric Ireland, Mr Calnan’s supplier, said it was possible to hold on to introductory offers with some switches.

“We have designed some of our smart tariffs to replicate our non-smart tariffs where we could,” it said.

“Furthermore, if a customer chooses a smart tariff that they realise is not working for them for whatever reason, we would encourage them to speak with us and we will suggest a different smart tariff which they can switch to without incurring a penalty.

“In any case, once our customers are on a smart tariff with us, we give them an annual review on their usage and if necessary we recommend a better, more cost-efficient tariff for them.”

Replies from other large suppliers left uncertainty as to where customers stood.

“The retention of any discount or introductory offer is dependent on the customers’ existing contract,” Energia said.

SSE Aritricity said: “In most cases, customers can retain the offer they were on with non-smart services.”

Bord Gais said there was no penalty involved in breaking a contract to switch to a smart tariff but did not say if existing discounts could be retained by  customers.

The CRU advised customers to “double check” with their supplier what conditions attach to switching tariffs mid-contract.


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