| 19.8°C Dublin

Consumer Champion: It's time to break out of your energy slump, there's major savings to be had if you switch


The study by Mercer found that 82pc of staff are facing increased personal stress, and 59pc are worried about their ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle while holding down a job (Stock image)

The study by Mercer found that 82pc of staff are facing increased personal stress, and 59pc are worried about their ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle while holding down a job (Stock image)

The study by Mercer found that 82pc of staff are facing increased personal stress, and 59pc are worried about their ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle while holding down a job (Stock image)

Energy prices have slumped worldwide, halving since last summer. BP is laying off staff, inflation has dropped and the oil cartels show no sign of slowing their production levels.

We're seeing it at the pumps where lower petrol and diesel costs are feeding through, despite the Government's punitive tax take.

So, it must be great news for homeowners who are seeing huge drops in their electricity and gas bills as a result.

Are you? Me neither. My bills look exactly the same. So what's going on? Why is this big drop in a major commodity not being seen on household utility bills?

Well, the answer is because companies will keep their prices high as long as they can get away with it. Until people like you and me start stamping their feet and switching to other providers, they feed on that apathy all the way to the bank.

And if you're waiting on the regulator to step in and make a difference, forget it. The Commission for Energy Regulation doesn't have to do its main job any more.

Because it brought Bord Gais down to a 'competitive' level by forcing it to reduce its customer base, it considers the market open now and no longer has a role in setting or agreeing prices.

Big Brother has become a best mate instead - and the result is that the average energy bill of a three-bedroom house in Dublin is €2,204pa.

Electricity prices are actually up 22pc, making them one of the highest in the EU while gas is up 36pc, a fifth more than in the UK, according to Eoin Clarke of uSwitch.ie, a CER-accredited comparison site.

"While quick to pass on rising costs, most energy suppliers have yet to reduce bills for the majority of their customers who are on standard tariffs.

"There is scope for energy suppliers to drop their prices. If one large energy supplier cuts their standard prices, they are laying down the gauntlet for others," he said.

"The best advice for customers is to shop around. It doesn't pay to be a loyal energy customer, especially as there is a €307 per year difference between the best deal on the market and the average standard tariff," he told me (see table). So, what can you do right now?

1. Find out the plan you're already on. If it's a bog standard tariff rate and you've never changed it, do that first. Ring up your supplier and ask if there's a cheaper option for you before you call the others. Many staff will proactively try to keep customers by offering better deals.

2. Use a comparison site to check the best deal for gas and electricity. If you don't know your usage, the standard is for a 3-bed house in Dublin so work off that.

3. Opt for direct debit payments and paperless online, billing - discounts are significant. Flogas offer a 20pc discount for new direct debit only customers until February 28.

4. Don't bundle your services. Bundling can be handy but the best prices are achieved by keeping gas and electricity separate.

5. Sign up to a contract. Yes, you'll be stuck with it, but only for a year. Make an active decision to compare everything again then.


Think before you change mortgage

Whatever you might think from all the ads, the mortgage market is still in disarray. 

Lending is at very low levels and with Dublin property prices in flux, banks must hoover up customers where they can. This means attracting switchers, but only the ones they want!

Switching your mortgage can be a super idea - most banks have dropped their variable rates in recent weeks, and there's more to come.

Additional incentives abound, such as payment of your legal fees to make the move; discounted rates for new customers and extra discounts if you move your current account also.

However, there are some things to beware of before you take the plunge:

- If you have a tracker mortgage don't even think of switching. There is no incentive big enough to make it worthwhile. Hang on for dear life and count yourself lucky.

- You must be in positive equity. This means the value of your house must be more than the loan on it, usually by at least 20pc. Banks aren't interested in your business if you owe more than the asset is worth so don't waste your time.

- Don't assume that you need to have banked with one bank for years to get a mortgage. As long as your paperwork is in order another bank will be happy to take your business.

- Switching takes time and costs money. Make sure it's worthwhile before you move. Consider using a broker for the leg work.

Time to inspect your gadget insurance

January always sees a spike in insurance claims for lost/stolen gadgets.  We're out and about over the season and can be a little careless around Christmas.

Many household insurance policies don't include portable items like smartphones, so covering them separately might seem like a good idea.

However, such policies are expensive costing around €7-9 per month just for one item, or almost €100 a year.

Check the store's own insurance (which can be expensive) against online providers. Ask:

- How much is the excess? This is the first part of every claim that you pay.

- Are you covered immediately or is there a waiting period of 14 or 21 days?

- How many claims can you make and what is required by way of documentation/evidence? Bear in mind that some only cover phones under two years old.