Monday 19 November 2018

5 things to consider when choosing the best energy provider for you

Finding the right energy provider isn’t just about getting the cheapest rate or the biggest discount when you sign up. It’s about finding a provider that’s the right fit for you.

If you’re thinking of making a move or opening a new account, there are some simple things to keep in mind. New customer deals can be a powerful incentive but you also have to consider who will consistently offer the best rates and customer care, and what you’ll get as part of the broader service.

Here’s what you need to consider if you’re looking for a new energy provider.

1. Make a long-term decision

When it comes to researching new providers or moving home, you will generally be presented with short-term benefits up front. Cashback offers, year one discounts, or gift offers are all designed to grab your attention but they are very much focused on the here and now.

What they don’t take into account is how an energy provider fits your lifestyle after you start an account. Will the short-term impact of a cash offer still benefit you in six months? In two years? Are there long-term benefits included in the offer too?

If you don’t want to spend your life chasing yearly discounts and researching new providers, consider the long term when you choose an energy provider and figure out the real cost of your energy over an average year. A good starting point is to look back at your last six bills and estimate your average annual consumption.

The average customer consumption in Ireland is defined as 4,200kWh for electricity and 11,000kWh for gas. That’s based on an urban family household with a 24-hour meter so it may not reflect your particular circumstances depending on your energy needs or the size of your home. Knowing your energy consumption can help you to make a true calculation on how much energy you use and how much you usually spend. Use this as a basis for all of your comparison calculations to ensure you understand what the best deal is for your actual usage.

2. Comparisons can be deceptive

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It can be difficult to know where to start when comparing providers

Modern consumers are used to using comparison sites to find the best deal or product but there are a few notes to consider when shopping for an energy provider. These sites don’t factor in cash bonuses into their rankings, so it’s not as simple as picking the provider at the top of the list.  It’s important to do your own calculations and factor in cash incentives when considering your actual energy costs over 12 months.

Another important point is to compare like with like in terms of the provider rates. The key differential between providers is the standard unit rate. That will be what will ultimately dictate the cost of your bills, so don’t forget the bottom line when you’re comparing what’s on offer.

There’s no point comparing the discounted rates of one provider with the standard rates of another. If you’re making a move or opening a new account, you’re going to be looking for discounted rates when you sign up. Always double check the rates on the provider’s website to ensure that you’re working with the most up-to-date information.

3. Switching bonuses or discounts

Be sure to read the small print with discounts and cash offers. Some providers automatically pay out any cash incentives but others will wait until you’ve received your second bill or require you to contact them to claim the cash. Be mindful that there may be conditions attached to offers.

Many providers offer a further discount if you opt to pay by direct debit or receive your bills via email. Some providers offer flexible options, like allowing you to keep your paper bills, while getting all of the benefits of 24-hour access to your bills and the additional discount. There are more variations within these discount offerings than you might imagine.

For example, if you don’t like the idea of direct debit payments, Electric Ireland offers customers who pay their bills within 14 days a 4pc discount, which is only slightly less than the 5pc discount you get for direct debit payment. So do your research to find providers that cater for your payment preferences and offer the most appealing deals for you.

4. What else does your provider offer?

For the most part we all want one thing from an energy provider - you flick a switch and the lights come on or the room heats up, but that doesn’t mean all energy providers are the same. Some Irish energy providers offer smart technology or energy efficiency incentives to help you get more out of your energy usage.

When choosing a provider, consider what else might be available in the short or long term to improve your experience. Does a provider offer access to smart heating controls or smart technology like Climote or Nest to help you take a smarter approach to energy consumption and save money? These technologies offer you more control over your home heating and can help you to be more energy efficient.

The key to lower energy bills is avoiding waste but there are other benefits out there for energy-conscious customers. For instance, Electric Ireland paid out €3m in grants to customers who signed up to their Energy Efficiency incentive Scheme. Customers who improved the energy efficiency of their homes with approved contractors were paid out an average of €408 in grants in the form of refunds on their bill. That’s on top of any SEAI grants that they were entitled to receive.

5. Picking a provider you want to stay with

Incentives and bonuses are great but your customer experience will also be defined by the provider’s reliability and the quality of the service. How does their customer service stand up to scrutiny? Are they easy to contact if you have a problem and can you contact them in a way that suits you – via online chat, social media, phone etc? Chat to people you know and ask them about their experiences with their providers.

Look for a provider that has a competitive standard unit rate as that’s a key long-term factor to consider. After that, consider if the provider offers attractive plans, provides the basic services or extras that you require, and whether they’re a good fit with your needs. If you choose a provider that would satisfy you in the long term, you’ll ultimately get one that ticks all the boxes in the short term too.

Electric Ireland customers get the best long-term savings on electricity and gas in the market, with discounts that stay the same, year after year.

See the proof on the Electric Ireland Price Check.

Sponsored by: Electric Ireland

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