COMPETITION should have brought cheaper gas and electricity prices to everyone, but most energy customers are now paying more than ever.
Households pay €163 more for their gas and €126 more for their electricity than they did a year ago.
These price increases on standard rates added around €25 per month to the energy bills of already hard-pressed households across the country, according to Simon Moynihan of price comparison service, www.bonkers.ie.
With reports of further hikes on the way, customers will need to find ways to keep their bills under control.
Mr Moynihan says it is still possible to save money by switching.
Fortunately, gas and electricity are undifferentiated products. The same gas and electricity is delivered, regardless of the supplier.
There may be some small differences in customer support and home services, but there is no Bord Gais 'Finest' gas or Airtricity 'Superior' electricity. And with no premium products, there should be no need to pay premium prices.
The quickest way to cut the cost of energy bills is still to switch suppliers.
It's a message that's been around for a while, but more than half of Irish households haven't changed for a better deal yet. It's understandable though, says Mr Moynihan.
When switching was first available, energy bills were simple, there were just a few tariffs to choose from and the standing charges were all the same. It was easy to see how money could be saved by changing suppliers.
"It can seem overwhelming now though," the Bonkers.ie man says.
Many customers haven't moved away from expensive standard rates because there are dozens of tariffs on offer from five different energy companies and it's becoming more and more difficult for people to figure out the cheapest deals on their own.
It can be worth the effort though -- customers who have never switched before can save around €260 per year off their gas and electricity bills just by moving to the cheapest deals.
So what's available now if you've never switched before? Mr Moynihan outlines the options:
Most customers that have never switched are on Electric Ireland's standard rate and paying around €1,116 per year for their electricity.
Bord Gais Energy has the cheapest electricity in the market at the moment, and average customers could bring annual bills down to €965 by switching -- a saving of €150.
To avail of this rate, customers need to pay by direct debit and review bills over the internet.
For customers that do not wish to pay by direct debit, Bord Gais Energy is still the cheapest electricity supplier with an annual cost of €993 for the average household.
Gas customers who have never switched before are on the Bord Gais Energy standard gas rate and paying around €890 per year.
This price is controlled by the Commission for Energy Regulation, so even though Bord Gais has the cheapest electricity prices, they are unable to set gas prices competitively.
For this reason, big can also be made by switching gas.
Currently the cheapest gas supplier for an average household is Flogas Natural Gas.
The company charges an average household €777 per year -- a saving of €113 over Bord Gais rates. Flogas does not require customers to review their bills over the internet to avail of their best rates.
For customers that do not wish to pay by direct debit, Flogas is still the cheapest standalone gas supplier, with an annual cost of around €837 for new customers.
It is cheaper to take gas and electricity from two separate suppliers, but for many customers the convenience of having gas and electricity together with one company makes sense.
The cheapest dual fuel tariffs are available from Electric Ireland and Airtricity, and could save an average household between €98 and €136 per year over standard rates.
Both companies require payment by direct debit and billing.
Nearly half of Irish households have already switched electricity suppliers and more than 30pc of households have switched their gas away from Bord Gais.
Switching is usually done to save money, but the big discounts that are used by suppliers to attract new customers usually expire after one year.
Suppliers then quietly roll customers on to their standard rates.
Introductory discounts are usually only available from each supplier once per household so, when they expire, customers should feel free to switch again. The difference between staying with Bord Gais after the introductory discount has expired or switching again to another electricity supplier can be as much as €95 per year.
Some customers don't want to switch when their discounts expire.
This doesn't mean that they need to put up with higher standard prices, though.
Suppliers will rarely contact their own customers to offer them cheaper prices -- why would they?
When you are bumped off your discount, or if you are on a standard deal and don't want to switch, you can call your supplier and ask about a better rate.
Medium discounts for existing customers are available from Airtricity, Electric Ireland and Flogas.
Your account has to be in good standing, but it can be a quick and hassle-free way to cut your bills.
Bord Gais does not offer retention deals to existing customers and Prepay Power does not have introductory tariffs or retention discounts.
- Charlie Weston