From MONEY MADE EASY by Niall Brady
HOUSEHOLDERS have three electricity suppliers, four gas companies and a growing range of energy tariffs from which to choose. The decision is not made easier by high-pressure sales tactics that some energy suppliers use to sign you up. The Commission for energy Regulation hopes to bring them to heel this summer by introducing rules on door-to-door energy selling. We tell you what to look out for.
WHY THE FUSS?
the regulator is concerned that households are being placed under undue pressure to switch. It is developing a code of practice that will require door-to-door salesmen to explain that consumers are free to change their minds, with some suppliers having cooling-off periods of up to 20 days. They will also have to obtain confirmation that consumers understand they are switching to s specific tariff for a specific period. David Kerr, of Bonkers.ie, a price comparison website said: "One in eight householders feel that the pressure to sign up to new energy suppliers by cold-callers has been unreasonable. This number could certainly increase now that the electricity market is fully deregulated. Most agents work for commission and represent just one company."
WHAT SHOULD I WATCH OUT FOR?
Bonkers.ie has identified three key questions that energy salesmen must ask before they can offer you a good deal: who is your current supplier and what tariff are you on; how much do you spend on electricity and gas; and can you pay by direct debit and view your bills online?
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
If a salesman does not know the tariff you are on, he cannot know that what he is offering is in your interests. Figures from the regulator show that 7,000 households switch energy suppliers each week. If you have switched recently, you are unlikely to benefit by switching again. To quantify the benefits of switching, you must know how much energy you use. To help you crunch the numbers, the regulator proposes that bills should disclose your consumption in the previous 12 months. Bonkers.ie uses 13,800 kilowatt hours (kWh) of gas and 5,300 kWh of electricity as a rule of thumb. To get the best deals you must receive your bills electronically and pay by direct debit. Bord Gais, for example offers a 2% discount for direct debits and an extra 1% for paperless billing. Airtricity requires a €300 security deposit if you do not pay by direct debit.
ANY OTHER PITFALLS?
Bonkers.ie warns householders to watch out for exit penalties and sneaky tariffs that thy to claw back savings on the unit prices of gas or electricity by imposing higher standing charges. Airtricity, for example, makes you sign a 12-month contract to qualify for its best deal - 15% off electricity and 5% off gas, or vice versa if you use more gas than electricity. There is a penalty of €70 for breaking the contract early. Airtricity also has higher standing charges - 32c a day for electricity and 22c a day for gas compared with 28c and 18c for ESB Electric Ireland.
WHICH IS CHEAPEST?
ESB's SuperSaver tariff is tbest for electricity - €870 a year for an average household, according to Bonkers.ie. Flogas has the edge for gas - €635 for an average user on its New Customer Option B plan.
Ask for identification so you know which energy supplier a salesman is acting for.