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Consumer Champion: Viewing figures are up! But not in a way that will benefit your wallet when it comes to TV

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Game of Thrones: Popular

Game of Thrones: Popular

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Game of Thrones: Popular

UPC customers got a nasty New Year surprise in the form of a price increase of up to 10pc.

 It will hit their half a million customers for an extra €100 per year if they have bundled services (TV, Phone and broadband) - a lot more than the dreaded water charges for a single person. It is the second price hike in two years; last January services rose by up to 14pc.

UPC says it's to allow them "invest in giving our customers more entertainment than ever before and providing unbeatable superfast broadband services" and there's no doubt that its broadband is indeed 'superfast' - it launched its new 240 Mb fibre-powered offer this month - but at what cost? It will be particularly harsh for apartment dwellers whose management companies insist on UPC as the provider as they don't allow dishes on their properties so they have no option but to suck up the cost.

Offering

There was added criticism when UTV suddenly disappeared off screens, to be replaced by the new UTV Ireland, rather than offering both channels.

This week I've decided to compare basic packages for bundled services of television, broadband and phone with the two main cable providers but also in the mix you'll see Eircom's e-vision which came as news to this columnist. Comparison site USwitch's Eoin Clarke (www.uswitch.ie) says I'm not alone. "It's a new product and you will need to take a phone line with it and must already have their own broadband service, eFibre. So you're not always comparing like with like in terms of the other two, however if you have that, it is well-priced," he said.

"While providers are working hard to keep services such as broadband as competitive as possible, we are seeing additional costs creep into other areas such as TV. If you use a landline, broadband and TV, there are some good discounts to be had this month, especially with the introduction of Sky's just launched Fibre Broadband range."

It is good housekeeping to regularly review your broadband and TV services, to check when your contract is up and make sure you are getting the best deal. If you have TV and home phone with your broadband provider, it's worth doing your research and take advantage of low introductory offers, as this could make you some significant savings if you're a switcher and therefore a "new" customer. First year discounts can be really good (see table above).

Bundle

"Households can save up to €300 per year if they bundle and switch to a new provider," says Eoin.

Don't forget that Saorview is still an option for those struggling with cable bills. No, you won't get the range of stations, but it is completely free and if you add in a Free to Air Combi box (a once off cost of around €289) you can get many UK channels including BBC and Channel 4. Add Netflix at €7.99 p.m. and it may provide all your films and popular series options for a lot less than the movie packages from the two main rivals.

All three providers we looked at offer free installation of equipment and each has multi-room options for watching on a number of devices. They all have 'On Demand' services available and phone packages include free off-peak local and national calls. Sports packages are extra, averaging €300 more p.a. and include 2, 5 or 7 channels (Eircom, UPC, Sky respectively).

 

Digital VAT hike to create a level field

Well, 2015 certainly got off to a good start ... for Revenue.

Not only is the Local Property Tax pouring into their coffers, but new EU rules mean that from January 1, VAT is now payable on digital purchases at the full Irish rate of 23pc - already one of the highest in the EU.

While the intention is to create a level playing field across member states and avoid companies deliberately selling digital products like e-books, apps and streaming services, at very low or zero rates from countries which don't charge VAT, it does mean that Ireland gets hit the hardest, as will Luxembourg, which up to now had a 3pc VAT rate on books - with the result that many book companies operated from there, technically at least, to avail of it.

It could be good for us if more digital providers like Amazon decided to move here to join other multi-nationals like Google and Microsoft, but for Irish customers, it may mean that products they were used to getting tax free, including school books which were zero rated may now carry a hefty 23pc premium if they are bought online, while those in print will not change.

Absorb

For now, if you're buying any digital or e-products, you can expect to pay more for some of them.

This includes streaming services like cable television, although Sky TV has said it will (at least initially) absorb the difference between the UK and Irish VAT rates of 3pc.

Home insurance enters the credit union mix

Good news on the home insurance front with added competition coming from credit unions.

Many already offer car insurance deals for members, but under the CoverU initiative, house insurance will enter the mix in 2015. The deal, struck by the Irish League of Credit Unions, which has the vast bulk of members, will see offers of two months' free cover if they sign up. The ILCU has promised no admin charges also.

As ever, it's always worth shopping around at renewal time. This market is already extremely competitive and it's worth switching, but your local credit union can now be added to the mix when comparing what's what. Remember, irrespective of the provider, the best saving you can make is to insure your home for it's rebuild costs only, not it's current market value. To get this, use the Chartered Surveyors' guide on SCSI.ie.


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