By Charlie Weston Personal Finance Editor
STATE-OWNED electricity and gas supplier ESB is to introduce a range of discounts in an attempt to win back some of the thousands of customers who have switched from it.
However, the best discounts will only be on offer to those returning to ESB -- while lesser deals will be available to existing customers.
ESB, which has rebranded as Electric Ireland, hit customers with a 22pc rise in gas and a 14pc hike in electricity prices last autumn.
This meant the electricity bill for an average family rose by €150 over a year, with gas going up by €100.
Now Electric Ireland is to offer deals that could save families up to €189 on their combined bills.
In an attempt to woo back customers who switched to competitors Bord Gais, Airtricity and Flogas, Electric Ireland will offer discounts of up to 20pc for both electricity and gas, the Irish Independent has learned.
The plan to offer larger discounts to new customers than existing ones is a move energy experts say is an attempt to put the emphasis on getting customers to return to Electric Ireland.
The biggest discount offer for new and returning customers is a 14pc discount on electricity and a 6pc discount on gas.
Those who opt for this will alternatively be able to choose to have the higher discount applied to gas, with a smaller discount on electricity.
It is estimated by the energy company that this new ValueSaver deal will save the average family around €189 over a year.
The catch is that families have to sign up for a one-year contract, with a €50 penalty imposed for breaking out of this, according to Simon Moynihan of price-comparison site Bonkers.ie. This is the first time the semi-state has imposed contracts on householders.
And to get the maximum discount, customers will have to opt for online billing.
For those who opt for electricity only, and are new or returning customers, there is a new 11pc discount on offer.
Existing customers, who want both electricity and gas from Electric Ireland, will be able to sign up for discounts of up to 9pc on their gas and 6pc off electricity.
This will mean savings of up to €140 for the average family, a spokesman for Electric Ireland said.
The energy company is also offering the option of a price guarantee. This applies only to those taking both electricity and gas from the supplier.
Again there is a contract until March 2013, with a 3pc discount on the standard tariff, which is expected to be worth €32 a year. The company is guaranteeing that the unit rate of the gas and electricity will not change for more than a year.
Customers will have to pay a higher standing charge for this fixed-price offer.
Mr Moynihan said this was the first time Electric Ireland had competed in the market with special offers since it announced price hikes last August.
"Electric Ireland is back in the game today with a series of new price plans. ValueSaver is the cheapest deal and is clearly aimed at winning back customers lost to Airtricity and Bord Gais," he said.
- Charlie Weston Personal Finance Editor