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Switch suppliers ‘to force down energy prices’

Households struggling with energy bills have been told that switching supplier is the best way to force energy companies to slash prices - By Conall Ó Fátharta Irish Examiner Reporter.

Households struggling with energy bills have been told that switching supplier is the best way to force energy companies to slash prices.

Consumer organisations have expressed anger that the large drop in wholesale oil and gas prices is not being passed onto customers in the form of lower tariffs.

Crude oil prices more than halved last year to a nine-year-low of less than $50 a barrel, while wholesale gas prices have fallen by more than a quarter.

A Eurostat report in May 2014 showed that Ireland has the fourth most expensive electricity in the EU, while our gas prices are 22% higher than the cost of gas in Britain.

Electricity prices are up 15% since 2011.

Energy suppliers here no longer have to apply to the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) when looking to increase or decrease the prices they charge consumers.

A spokesman for the CER defended price deregulation, stating it had led to a strong level of competition in the market and an increase in options for the customer.

“Customers are not limited to one particular energy supplier or price, and they have options with regard to payment types and methods,” he said.

“There is active competition for customers between the suppliers.”

“Suppliers are now offering customers discounts on their tariffs and offer a choice of price plans and features associated with these plans.

“These range from limited-term discounted plans, cashback offers, fixed-price plans, more prepayment options and other such innovative offers from suppliers.”

The spokesman said that while the CER no longer regulates supplier prices, it continues to actively regulate and monitor the energy market in general, to ensure that customers are protected. This covers electricity generation, energy networks and energy supply activities.

Commenting on consumer concerns, CER commissioner Aoife MacEvilly said that consumer action was the most effective tool in forcing suppliers to drop their prices.

“The market now is free. The suppliers are competing. They don’t have a regulatory barrier to changing their tariffs.

“What is the most effective tool is actually consumers out there switching. That is the tool that is driving suppliers now to change their tariffs in line with falling prices,” she told RTÉ radio.

Ms MacEvilly said the regulator was engaging with suppliers which have not dropped tarrifs and that it was a question of when rather than whether or not they would cut prices.

Managing director of price comparison site Bonkers.ie, David Kerr, said consumers here were facing energy price increases roughly twice a year.

“Unfortunately what we have seen again last October time was that, for most customers, the price of gas and electricity increased. What we’ve seen for the last 18 months to two years is that customers have faced increases in pricing roughly twice a year.

“We have seen the cost of gas over the last three or four years increase by over 35%.”

Mr Kerr pointed out that said that while the wholesale price falls are not being reflected in cuts to the standard rates, they were leading to increased discounts being offered to consumers.

Meanwhile, Permanent TSB has confirmed that it will contribute €1,000 to new mortgage customers and customers switching from another lender to help offset legal fees associated with buying a new home.

The bank said the incentive was designed to match similar incentive offers which have been put in place by a number of banks in recent months.

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