The fact energy bills were not hiked this year has come as a shock to many - but it doesn't mean you should stop looking for savings elsewhere, writes Charlie Weston
IN a welcome break with tradition, energy companies did not increase prices this October. It is surprising because every October since 2011, energy companies have pushed up the cost of gas and electricity in what had become an unpleasant and costly annual event, says Simon Moynihan, communications director of price comparison and switching service bonkers.ie.
"In fact, we've become so used to price increases at this time of year that it came as quite shock when Electric Ireland instead announced at the start of the month that it was to cut the price of electricity for all its customers," he said.
Electric Ireland's price cut is modest, but it's the first time any energy company has cut prices in nearly five years.
And it will certainly be a relief to households across the country as we face into winter, Mr Moynihan said.
Electric Ireland's price cut will help lower bills for thousands of households, but the company is not alone in offering good deals and discounts, the Bonkers.ie expert said.
Unlike previous Octobers when prices went in just one direction, this year has seen a surge in the launch of new energy discounts and deals as suppliers vie for switchers and new customers.
Mr Moynihan outlined some of the deals:
Cash back offers for new customers have been relatively rare until now, but currently Electric Ireland, Energia and Airtricity are all offering money back incentives as part of their best deals.
The incentives, which range in value up to €50, are paid out as a credit on customers' bills and will doubtless be very welcome in the coming winter months.
Cash-back deals are not the only incentives energy companies are offering to new customers though.
In addition to cash-back offers, there are a range of other incentives from energy companies to encourage returning and new customers to sign up.
Bord Gáis Energy is offering a free boiler service to customers that switch their gas back to the company, Electric Ireland and Airtricity offered free and discounted Climote heating controllers to new customers and all big suppliers have rewards programmes that offer retail discounts, money off energy bills and even priority theatre tickets.
It's really beginning to look as though competition is finally working in favour of the consumer, Mr Moynihan said.
When it comes down to it though, what most households really want is good prices first.
And this is where we often let ourselves down.
"The good prices are out there, in fact some of the best deals we've seen in a long time are available now, but we need to take action to get them. Suppliers don't hand them out," he said.
The good news though is that the difference between staying with legacy standard deals and signing up to a new discounted tariff can be €311 a year for an average gas and electricity household.
Add in a €35 cash back and it brings the first year savings up to €346 - which can bring energy bills down by nearly €30 a month.
All Irish energy suppliers operate in more or less the same way. They have a standard price and they offer discounts off that standard price to new customers.
Some also offer discounts to existing customers that ask to change tariffs or ask for a better plan.
The cheapest deals usually require customers to pay by direct debit and get their bills online, but in return suppliers will give discounts of as much as 20pc off those standard unit rates.
There is one caveat though - the discounts usually last for just one year, and then customers are back on standard rates again.
Suppliers don't let us know when our prices change back to standard either, so we need to watch for it ourselves.
The good news though is that it's never been easier to change suppliers or sign up for a better deal, and the difference between doing nothing and changing can be hundreds of euro.
So what do you need to do to save?
The energy companies want you as a customer.
It's why they offer incentives, cash-back deals and big discounts.
And with the help of the energy regulator, they've arranged to make the process of switching as easy as possible.
There is no interruption to your supply, no-one needs to visit your home and the only noticeable difference is that your bills will come from another company - and those bills should be lower.
To change supplier, you'll need your MPRN (meter point reference number) which is a unique number for your home and can be found on the first page of your electricity bill.
If you want to switch your gas supply, you'll need your GPRN (gas point registration number), which again can be found on the first page of your gas bill.
You'll need a meter reading too. It's best to take one from your own meter, but the reading from your most recent bill will do just fine.
You'll need billing information if you want to pay by direct debit too.
It's best to pay by direct debit if you can because the best discounts are available to customers that pay that way and you won't usually need to pay a deposit to your new supplier if you're a direct debit customer.
It takes around two weeks for a switch to complete and once it does, your old supplier will send you a closing statement which will be based on your own meter reading. You'll need to pay that, and then all your bills will come from your new supplier.
To find the best deals, it's good to use an accredited gas and electricity comparison and switching service like bonkers.ie.
That's because the amount of energy you use, how you pay your bills and which company you are currently using matter when choosing a new supplier. And a good comparison service will be able to show you the deals you are eligible for and how much you'll save by switching.
This article appeared in the Irish Independent Your Money supplement magazine on 30th October 2014