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Examiner1

BE A BRIGHT SPARK AND USE YOUR CONSUMER POWER

We all hate bills, so why stay passively with one provider? Kya deLongchamps teases out the savings and benefits available to us from our energy providers

With winter huffing at the door, utility providers are enthusiastically vying for your business.

Switching to a new one-year fixed contract with a new supplier for natural gas or electricity or both (dual fuel), can shake out real savingsâ?? actually, it almost always does. To play to win, treat this as an annual re- boot and decide whether you stay with your energy company, or move on.

Suppliers are not feted for passing on the potential savings of dips in wholesale fuel prices a?? get proactive. It may appear to be swings and roundabouts between lumps of credit and percentage discount cuts, but making a move is all about personalising a new plan and judging any product fully. It's up to you to shake out the best deal and the good news is, it is laughingly easy.

Nothing to lose

Where you meet the qualifying criteria there's nothing to lose in reshuffling your provider or your package with a new deal ornamented with join- up discounts and credit rewards.

Your portrait is not framed in head office. Put that redundant sense of loyalty to one side. Airtricity for example are offering 10% off their standard unit price for electricity alone (bar standing charges), plus a whopping €120 slipped in as credit (€150 with dual fuel package), for new customers.

Energia are quoting as much as €190 off your power tariff with their SmartChoice Electricity offers, a potential win of 19% off your electricity bill. Staying with the electricity prices per unit, applying the right package that will inevitably include online billing and direct debit, could reduce your cost per unit ( including the VAT), to .0906 from the standard rate (Electric Ireland) of .1717, calculated on direct debit discount.

Combining natural gas and electricity, the stated savings soar - with SmartChoice Dual Fuel at Energia that rises to 23% on power with 20% slashed from your gas unit price for the first 12 months.

The very best savings per annum quoted (€300+ compared to current supplier) are for new customers, taking electricity and gas in dual bundles. Some deals will include extra incentives such as a year's free boiler & home heating emergency breakdown insurance, valued at around €50.

Others, including Electricity Ireland, offer the chance to tighten up your power usage with a Nest 'learning' thermostat. €199 with free installation, electricireland.ie.

Unfortunately the savings on switching with discounted tariffs still do not always address the needs of those who frankly need them most - pre- pay customer, although there are join- up bonuses for some products at least.

Levelled out, set monthly DD payments (reimbursing any over- spend at years' end or topped up by you), may also be required for a specific product, but make sense, reducing the weight of winter bills.

Getting Started

Don't buy any package before you have done your own online investigation, and resist the advertising prompts to go straight to any provider's website.

The percentage savings quoted by the companies on home websites is on their own standard rates - which can be misleading. Price comparison websites accredited by the Commission for Energy Regulation, including and Bonkers.ie, are anonymous, independent, free, and effortless and tailor packages in a few clicks in descending order of cost- savings, based on your situation, breaking down the costs in easily read columns.

To start, you will be required to enter your particular usage and payment requirements for gas, power or both, including for example, whether you are living in an urban or rural situation, whether you use a Night Meter and crucially how you pay for your supply.

Get out your most recent bill and work from there, or even better work up annual number from all six of your last bi- annual power bills and natural gas invoices.

Otherwise you will be setting the criteria with an average usage, for example, electricity at 5,300kWh per year (low or high usage can alter the choices). Ensure you know what your current gas/electricity plan is called.

Even staying with your current supplier for gas and electricity, the savings thrown up by moving to a new plan can be astonishing - or maddening - begging the question, where is the follow up call prompting you to move your package across to a better deal from the supplier in the first place?

Paying by cheque, pre- payment, and other typical life hacks can disqualify you from new deals dependant on paperless billing.

Go to the details of the offer for a side by side comparison to what you have been suffering -    uplifting and informative. Where separate suppliers for gas and electricity create a better deal, you will be informed of that by the comparison engine.

Energetic win- win

Despite the life affirming smiley advertising, existing customers cannot always expect the same products and conditions as happy newcomers and returning customers offered short- term deals. For this reason homeowners routinely chop from one electricity and/ or gas provider to another - lose the fear. The ESB remain in charge of the power network, so if the electricity goes down beyond your fuse box, it's the same stalwart crew in attendance - there's no new crack team in cloud print overalls bought with your new billing arrangements.

Standing charges (which vary by company) and Public Service Obligation Levy (€68.20 annually inc VAT) remain untouched by discounts. (And why do standing charges get included in the VAT total at the end? A charge on a charge?)

Stay on your toes

Twelve months is now a standard term, and twelve months flies by, returning you to a standard tariff. As your contract nears its end, do a fresh comparison.

Be wary  - ?? as leaving any contract early can land you with a hefty €50-€200 exit fee, but suppliers are starting to shift focus to keeping customers in this market ebb and flow.

Electric Ireland now has laudable 'year after year' policies rewarding customers who stay with them with rolling dual fuel deals of as much as 8.5%.

Bord Gais Energy has a lively Rewards Club in league with Tesco.

GO ON, JUMP

Once you have fully researched and decided where to move your custom, a fully encrypted online service will allow you to change immediately and online, with confirmation by email and phone if you prefer. That's it. There's no interruption to your service whatsoever, just a new heading to your paper or e- bills.

  • Forget the five minutes touted and put aside 20 minutes at your own home computer or using your smartphone or android device. Check that your current policies is/ are out of any discount contract if there is one.

  • Take a meter reading if possible for your gas and electricity or fish out your last bill and use these figures during switching. Meter readings are important to keep your bill accurate.

  • Start at the comparison website where you found your deal. Go over the details for a minute or two and jot down any promo code.

  • Click on buy. This will take you to the provider's own website and should carry the deal through too.

  • Take your unique MPRN from the top of your electricity bill. This is expressed as a GPRN on your gas bill and is specific to your house.

  • Enter your direct debit details using the encrypted website of your provider. Remember no- one should or will ever ask for your bank details, card details and/ or passwords by email. This is a commonplace and dangerous scam.

  • In about two weeks you will receive a closing statement from your previous supplier. If you don't receive any word, ensure your registration was taken correctly by contacting the provider with your customer details.

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