In the battle for electricity customers, gimmicks are being used as the weapon of choice by companies. - Charlie Weston
Rather than cut their prices, electricity suppliers are offering cashback deals, reductions in bin charges and shopping vouchers.
These offers are welcome, but it would be preferable if we had some decent reductions in what households are being charged for their electricity use. And consumers need to be aware that the companies offering the best deals often do not bother with these gimmicks.
The electricity market is now a competitive one, with seven companies trying to sign up householders.
They are Electric Ireland (which is part of the ESB group), Bord Gais Energy, SSE Airtricity, Energia, PrePayPower, Pinergy and Panda Power.
If you have been with the same supplier for a long time and are paying a standard tariff for your service, the chances are you are being ripped-off.
The companies compete with each other on the basis of offering a discount on the standard rate — which is usually the highest rate in the market.
Now that we have so many players in the sector, it is a pity that we are not seeing much more intense competition based on price cuts.
It suits energy companies down to the ground to avoid price reductions when competing head-on with rivals.
Bord Gais is the latest to offer sign-up offers in a bid to attract customers.
Its latest offer sees it tempting families with a €75 voucher for Tesco just as back-to-school costs are at their highest.
SSE Electricity is offering €20 cash back to those who take out its one year deal.
And new player Panda is waving a €40 cut in bin charges for those who have their waste removed by the company.
Most of these deals involve online billing and signing up for a direct debit. They sometimes involve signing up for a level-pay deal where you pay the same amount every month.
The irony of these sign-up offers is that the best value is offered by Energia, which does not include a gimmick in its service. Its charges work out at just over €1,000 for a year's supply of electricity for the average user, according to comparison site Bonkers.ie, which does not include sign-up offers in its calculations.
Energy companies have been slow to pass on the benefits of lower oil, gas and coal prices to consumers.
What consumers need is real competition in the form of lower prices, rather than gimmicks.