Friday 28 October 2016

Consumer Champion: Don't be afraid to bundle up with your supplier if it gets you a better deal

SQUEEMIDS: Looking after money is key
SQUEEMIDS: Looking after money is key
Michael Noonan
Picture at the launch of the new Code of Standards for Advertising and Marketing Communications unveiled by the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) is Frank Goodman, CEO, Orla Twomey, Assistant CEO and Sean O’Meara, Chairman, ASAI

If, like me, you couldn't get to September before switching the heating back on, you'll already be worried about the first bill landing. Such a dismal summer and chilly autumn start makes for household budgeting blues.

This week I'm looking at current offers in the gas market since you might not have checked these out since summer or maybe you changed your supplier.

Since 1980 when the first 20,000 people were connected to natural gas, some 326,000 households - and 69pc of Dubliners - now use it as their primary power source, so it's always worth keeping on top of things to make sure you're getting the best deal out there.

First, some good news: oil and gas prices are down this summer, which should reflect on bills. And the PSO levy (set by the Government) is being reduced by about €5.

Most contracts sign you up for a year, so be aware of this when comparing. It might be beneficial to switch, or indeed, bundle gas with your electricity from the same supplier, but not always. Comparison sites such as bonkers.ie or switcher.ie are helpful.

To actually switch, it's really simple - you need your last bill, meter reading and bank details and it's all done over the phone.

If you're prepared to pay by direct debit or paperless billing, all offer discounts for this and they're worth it.

There's a quirk in the Commission for Energy Regulation's rules that bans energy companies from advertising some offers, but I've checked the latest out for you.

Energia sells both gas and electricity and has a discount of 13pc off the former and 17pc off dual fuel.

Flogas is storming the market. You might only know it for the big yellow cylinders, but it supplies cheap natural gas too and has a great 20pc direct debit discount at present for signing up for 12 months. Definitely worth including in the mix. It doesn't sell electricity.

Bord Gais has announced its second price discount recently, from October 1. It has lots of switching offers including €100 cashback, free boiler service (before September 30) or a Tesco voucher, depending on the deal.

It has discounts for electricity and/or gas, but 2pc of these are 'flexible', for you to choose which utility you want it off. I like that they also make offers available to existing customers.

Electric Ireland has a €30 online switching bonus and is giving its 'Nest' tool for free if you sign up for two years.

That's a long tie-in, but the app allows you to control your heating/water remotely and is worth €349.


Bord Gais has its own 'Hive' product that retails for €299 and replaces your existing thermostat with the new device that can also be worked from an app. Handy if you've inadvertently left on the heating, or want to switch it on before you leave work.

SSE Airtricity has a €20 cashback with 20pc off electricity and 10pc off gas (it doesn't sell stand-alone gas). It's also offering a free boiler service if you sign up before the end of the month.

Don't forget that the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland gives grants for home insulation and new boilers. Under the Warmer Homes scheme, these are means- tested for those on social welfare and all work is free; under the Better Homes initiative it's open to everyone.

Grants range from €200 to €3,600. See www.seai.ie


Latest round of rate cuts selective


It seems some banks, like many phone and utility companies, deem a new customer to be more worthy of their attention than loyal ones who have stayed with them. It's very annoying when offers are made to attract new business but not given to the people who have kept the banks going.

The latest round of rate cuts was selective for both KBC and Bank of Ireland. The latter, which has consistently ignored the direction of Michael Noonan (inset) to cut standard variable rates, introduced new fixed rates instead, which lock customers in for up to 10 years. The one-year fixed rate from 3.6pc is for new switchers only.

KBC, which had been making strident moves in the mortgage market, is giving rates of 3.45 to 3.85pc per annum for new customers only, though existing ones can at least get a 0.2pc discount for having their current account there too.

Ulster Bank and AIB made their latest standard variable rate cuts available to all (in AIB's case, the third this year), which is good.

Permanent TSB has introduced a home revaluation product (which it pays for), and if your house is deemed to be worth more now than when you took out the mortgage, you might qualify for a lower interest rate.

It's good to see banks chomping at the bit for switcher business, but don't forget the customers who make up your current client base either.


Name and shame if products are outlandlishly advertised


I ENJOY seeing clever, funny ads in the paper, on bus shelters and on TV. But it can be annoying when they're misleading or dupe us into buying stuff.

The new code from the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) includes sections on gambling, e-cigarettes and advertising to kids which should sharpen up companies who make dodgy product claims.

Although it's a voluntary code, consumers should complain when they see a product outlandishly advertised - the ASAI has a name-and-shame policy on www.asai.ie

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