Looking to save money by switching energy provider? Don’t expect a big discount deal anymore

Pricewatch: As utility costs rise, readers’ queries turn to disappearing discounts, smart meters and finding the best value for money

This time last year the bulk of the queries and complaints we received were about international travel. People were looking for information about where they could go, when they might be allowed to go there and how could they get the refunds which had long been promised to them by airlines struggling to deal with wave after wave of Covid cancellations and global lockdowns.

Today, travel has fallen to second or even third position when it comes to correspondence and most of the attention has turned to energy. That is hardly a surprise as price hikes of between 20 per cent and close to 50 per cent have come into effect in recent days, which will see many households worse off by more than €500 over the course of the next 12 months.

And, of course, those increases are coming on the back of multiple earlier increases that have seen average domestic energy bills climb by more than €2,000 since 2020.

How to heat and light our homes for less? Where to find the best value? Where have the discounts gone? Are things going to get worse? And are we being treated fairly by companies who are imposing price hike after price hike on domestic energy uses while simultaneously recording large profits as a result of soaring price hikes? They are just some of the questions that keep coming up.


Anyone hoping for at least some of those questions to be answered by the executive director of Electric Ireland Pat Fenlon when he appeared before an Oireachtas hearing last Tuesday, or to get much by way of good news, would have been disappointed.

It was pretty bleak stuff and he told the hearing that about 125,000 Electric Ireland customers were behind in paying their energy bills as prices have soared, with worse potentially on the horizon as wholesale electricity prices climb. Electric Ireland’s wholesale costs will be about €2 billion this year compared with €300 million in 2020.

The pressure utilities are under is almost certainly behind the disappearance of many of the best discounts that were on the table for people moving providers in recent times. Even six months ago, companies were offering new customers discounts of up to 40 per cent, but incentives of that scale are largely off the table now and many of the current discounts are close to 10 or 15 per cent. Mind you, a discount of that scale still amounts to savings of €400-€600 annually to those who switch now — as long as they are not in a contract with their existing provider.

Last week the Government also announced more details of the energy credits that are to be applied to domestic bills in the months ahead. The first €200 will be given in November followed by two further credits in January and March, while Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan said the Government was looking at certain categories of households, including up to 340,000 on prepayment tariffs and members of the Traveller community who pay local authorities for electricity, to see how they could be brought into the credit net.


Now, back to our readers. First up we have Energia and a query that is — by any measure — bizarre and actually sees Pricewatch given a starring role.

“I just got off the phone to Energia, my current energy provider,” says the message from a reader whose name we will not mention for reasons that will become clear.

“They are offering me a 10 per cent discount and frozen standing charges for [a] two-year contract,” this reader says. “They mentioned you on The Late Late Show.”

Well, that is exciting. At the start of last month Pricewatch made a brief appearance of that show as part of a panel discussion on the cost-of-living crisis and we suggested — as we have done here many, many, many times — that people could save themselves money by switching providers.

“They said that you’re telling everyone to change providers [but claimed] you are wrong to be advising this and that you are causing the prices to rise. I also got the line of the Ukraine war might be ending soon and so hopefully the increases will stop and even get a reduced rate throughout the year. I am currently bamboozled with all the price hikes and unit rates and standing charges. I swiftly corrected the chap on the phone about how you aren’t the first person to recommend looking around for better prices and it was unfair to say this about you — it’s a common thing to do in a competitive market just like insurance.”

So we contacted Energia to find out how and why we were to blame for the spike in prices, and how and why we were wrong to suggest that people shop around for better value. We also wondered what intelligence did its call centre staff have that pointed to the imminent end of the war in Ukraine.

We got a sequence of responses to that query.

This is what the first one said: “At Energia, we strive to offer the very best value and customer care experience. Our agents provide existing and prospective customers with guidance, advice and helpful hints and tips related to their gas and electricity supply. We take pride in offering a unique approach, engaging with each customer on an individual basis. For those looking to renew or switch accounts, we would encourage them to do their own research to find the solution that suits their needs, drawing on resources that they trust such as our website, our customer care team, the independent CRU website and media sources, to name but a few resource examples.”

While that is lovely and everything, it in no way addressed the query about why we were to blame for price hikes and the rest. We made that point clear to the company.

We then got a follow-up response in which we were told that the query was “being progressed internally and any such comment would be a one-off isolated occurrence. All customer calls are recorded so if you can send on the customer account number we can listen back and confirm what was said for you and move from there in terms of required action.”

We did have the time and day of the call that was made by our reader and their name but decided not to share it with Energia on the basis that we are not in the business of having individual staff members hauled over the coals or worse.

So, finally, we got a third statement in which we were thanked for flagging the issue which had prompted the company to reissue “their customer service guidelines to their agents. Discussions regarding external topics such as Ukraine or media, for example, are not part of the customer service guidelines — the remit of each agent is to guide the customer on their query.”

At no point in any of its responses to us did Energia actually say we were NOT to blame for price hikes or that swapping around WAS a bad idea, but we will have to take those two points as a given.

We also heard from a reader called Stephen in connection with Energia.

“Not only are energy companies increasing their prices, they are also gaining by reducing or removing incentives to new customers or those who switch,” he says. “I was on a discount of 41 per cent until September 20th and renewed with them with a 27 per cent discount. Now that’s gone for anyone doing so today. In fact, cash back awards are gone and standing charges are increased across many providers. What it means is that the energy suppliers are both increasing their prices and reducing discounts which, in fact, is often doubling that particular price increase.”

In response to our queries, Energia said it was “focused on providing the best possible value to customers across our gas, electricity and dual fuel plans. The rates that we offer to new and existing customers are determined by the market environment.”

Bord Gáis Energy

We had several queries over the course of a couple of days concerning Bord Gáis Energy, so we may as well deal with them as a bundle.

“My wife and I invested in solar panels in 2021 and are delighted with the results,” says Paul Ferrick. “We live in the sunny southeast and generate considerable surpluses of electricity back to the grid most days. To date, we have generated over 6MW and, as I type, we are producing 3kW per hour with no appliances in use.”

So far so good.

“Once our smart meter was installed, I immediately contacted Bord Gáis to avail of their smart meter rates; I chose an EV tariff that gave me a 10 per cent discount on the four separate time of day rates and started to monitor my usage expecting great things.”

“However,” his next sentence starts ominously, “the user interface on the Bord Gáis Energy website that I am constantly told to use, rather than talk to anyone, is frequently incorrect showing my usage. It shows usage in the house when we are not at home (over and above the fridge and freezer).”

He sent us a screen grab of his usage on a day when he and his family were at the National Ploughing Championships last month.

“It appears to show the ‘normal’ daily pattern even when we are not there, ie a small increase in the morning when we boil a kettle or have a shower and a second increase in the evening when we cook dinner. And every half-hour shows a small usage even though we are generating all our own daytime electricity. I appreciate this is the standing charge and PSO but the amount appears to more than will cover those. Finally I noticed in my most recent bill that it is estimated. How can this be with smart meters? When the information is provided to Bord Gáis half hourly in real time, the whole point of these things is to improve accuracy of information to empower us, the consumer to take control.”

In response, Bord Gáis Energy said: “Upon installation, smart meters are checked for its connectivity standard by ESB Networks in order for any electricity provider, including Bord Gáis Energy, to place a customer on a smart plan,” the statement said. “This determines which smart plans are made available to a customer. The connectivity of a smart meter is managed by ESB Networks and not Bord Gáis Energy. It would appear without having full detail that since August the connectivity between this meter and ESB Networks has significantly deteriorated and, as a result, the meter can no longer be reliably read remotely and estimated readings have commenced.

“We’ve reached out to this customer in order to assist them handling this issue with ESB Networks and will do everything we can to support them to resolve it. Under our smart plan terms and conditions, it is explained that should an issue occur which impairs the communications network between the smart meter and ESB Networks, then we may no longer be able to support a chosen smart meter tariff. In this case, we would have to place a customer on to another smart meter tariff which can be supported by the communications network. However, Bord Gáis Energy always contacts the customer once they are made aware of this by ESB Networks or the customer. The company would also normally wait 30 days to ensure that there is no improvement prior to contacting a customer to move tariff.”

Next up is Philip Cullen. “I understood that Bord Gáis Energy announced an increase of 39 per cent for their gas prices from the start of October. Their website shows an increase from 9.02c ex-vat per unit to 13.40c ex-vat per unit, which is an increase of 48.5 per cent. Am I missing something?”

In response, the company said its price increase “equates to a 39 per cent increase on the average bill which is reflective of a 46.6 per cent increase in the gas unit rate. There was no increase in the standing charge. These figures are based on a typical annual consumption of 4,200kWh for electricity and 11,000kWh for gas (as defined by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities) and Bord Gáis Energy standard tariffs.”

Then there’s Jenny Williams. “My current dual fuel energy contract with Bord Gáis ends on October 4th. I received a letter on August 22nd advising me of this and then received a phone call on September 8th from Bord Gáis offering me a new ‘loyalty/legacy dual fuel’ contract with 39 per cent off both my electricity and gas bills. As I was about to go on holiday, I asked how long this offer was valid and was told it was valid until the renewal date. Having now had time to look into the alternatives — including getting my head around the smart meter tariffs — I rang up today to accept this offer. Having waited on the phone for 53 minutes, I was told that the offer was no longer valid and that the best they could offer me would be a reduction of 10 per cent on my electricity and 9 per cent on my gas bills. To say I was gobsmacked would be an understatement. Obviously I’m not going to renew under these conditions. But you might warn your readers that Bord Gáis Energy doesn’t keep its promises.”

And finally — at least when it comes to Bord Gáis Energy — there’s James Greally. He is carrying out some fairly significant retrofitting on his home this month and is getting his windows and doors upgraded, and his cavity walls pumped with insulation. He says the total cost for doors and windows is €13,000 and says “amazingly, there is no SEAI grant for us regarding all this work. To my knowledge, if it hasn’t been discontinued, its means tested to the point where we don’t qualify anyway — and we are by no means wealthy. We are having the exterior cavity walls pumped with polystyrene bead insulation. The cost of this is €1,700. There is an SEAI grant of €1,200 which we will hopefully get for this part.”

He started thinking more about the windows and doors again. “I thought that it’s a massive upgrade to a house and there must be something available towards this sizeable bill. Then after trawling around the web, [I found] the EEOS grant scheme, so I contacted Bord Gáis Energy in relation to applying for the above grant.”

He found out that a company acting on behalf of Bord Gáis Energy would vet the company carrying out the work on his home, ask for a checklist and supporting documentation “and considering that all is in order, their works can be included in the scheme that we operate”, Greally was told.

The bottom line is that he will spend €14,700 on the work to make his home more energy efficient and “if we and our two installers jump through all the hoops and we do qualify for this grant, Bord Gáis Energy will give us credits of €350. This represents a whopping 2.38 per cent of a grant. All I can say is: My cup runneth over.”

And finally, an energy query that has nothing to do with any specific company but raises an interesting question all the same.

“We have solar panels which were installed at the end of May 2021 and are very pleased with them,” starts a mail from a reader called Sara.

“However, we are still attached to the grid since there is not room on the roof to mount enough panels to cover our needs for a whole year. If there is a power cut (as we experienced for several hours one day last year) then our panels are automatically shut down until the grid connection is up again. I contacted the solar panel company who said that SEAI regulations prevent them from circumventing this but to find out if an electrician can legally set up a second box so that we can generate our solar electricity while the grid is down.

“I thought you might be able to tell us whether such a box could be legally installed. It seems a waste of available solar power to switch off domestic users from their panels simply because the grid can’t cope. Surely it would be in the interests of the national electricity supply if domestic panels could keep working through a grid power outage.”