Tag Archives | Commission for Energy Regulation (CER)

Switch to save more: At last, the power of real competition

Irish News of the World

February 22nd, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Electricity Competition Arrives in Ireland

Like the 19A bus, we wait for 4 years for a competitor to arrive for the ESB in a deregulated electricity market, and then in a month we get two – Bord Gais Energy and Airtricity. But before we get carried away, there are 19 electricity suppliers in the UK so we’ve a long way to go.

This is still good news for the Irish consumer. But how much can we actually save, and is everything as good as it seems. And more importantly, are there any catches?

Bord Gais Energy this week announced a promise to new customers that they will be always at least 10% cheaper than the ESB for the first year you sign up to them. They then guarantee to be 5% cheaper than the ESB for year 2 and year 3 after that.

If you’re a gas customer of Bord Gais already, they’ll give you an extra 2% discount, and as in incentive to pay by direct debit, they’ll give you another 2% off.

For the average electricity customer who can pay up to €1000 per year on electricity that’s a saving of between €100 and €125 per year.

Airtricity arrived a couple of weeks ago to the household market, but things are a little more complicated as they have 6 different discount levels. Depending on how you pay, they will give you between a discount of between 3% (paying by cheque) and 10% (for the Level Payment Plan and eBill).

Airtricity don’t provide a discount guarantee like Bord Gais Energy, but they’ll “endeavour” to provide the same discounts no matter what the ESB does.

So moving to Airtricity will save the average electricity customer up to €90 per year.
But with Airtricity you do have the benefits of using electricity that’s significantly greener than its competitors. 79% of electricity from Airtricity is from renewable resources, compared to 16% from Bord Gais Energy and 9% from the ESB.

This all sounds too good to be true – so where’s the catch?

For a start, even with these reductions, we’re still paying too much for our electricity. Last November, Sustainable Energy Ireland reported that Irish consumers were paying 20% more for our electricity than our European neighbours. But it’s a start I suppose.

What about switching away from the ESB? We’re told that switching will be simple and that we won’t even notice. We just ring up, give a meter reading and our meter number from our bill and that the rest will happen in the background.

But many of us tried to change land line or broadband provider in the past where the change was supposed to be equally simple. Given reports already this week, the ESB will be losing customers by the thousand, so it remains to be seen how easily the ESB will give up their customers.

A frequent problem when switching phone or land line providers in the past has been consumers receiving two bills – one from their new company and one from their old one. Given that an electricity bill is hard to read in the first place, this has the potential to cause serious headaches if companies get it wrong.

A further potential problem, similar also to what happened when the telecoms market opened up, could be the sales tactics of the competing companies trying to win your new business, or to win you back after you switch.

This was the source of enormous problems for electricity customers in the UK following their electricity deregulation, particular for older customers. Unscrupulous sales people were found to use bullying tactics to try to get customers to switch providers, or to switch back to their old supplier after moving. In some cases it was found that sales people actually forged signatures on switching forms to boost their commissions.

So what should consumers do?  Recently, we’ve had reports that Minister Eamon Ryan and Taoiseach Brian Cowen hoped to see the ESB reduce its prices in the next couple of months, possibly by up to 15%.

If you’re not keen on switching then you might still save yourself over €125 anyway by staying put. But that’s in the future. Moving today to Bord Gais Energy can save you that much immediately, and possibly a total of €250 if the ESB do drop their prices.

Check out TheBigSwith.ie or Airtricity.ie if you want to find out more, or ValueIreland.com for more research on electricity competition.

2

Who YOU gonna call? Aid hard to track

Irish News of the World

February 15th, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Somebody should do something – but who you gonna call?

As a consumer, you’ve found that you have a problem with a business that you’re dealing with. They’re not helping you out, or they’re ignoring your calls, but you’ve still a problem with their product or service.

But who can help you out?

Since 1998, 200 different government quangos and regulatory organisations were set up with the aim, supposedly, of helping consumers with problems that they may have with product and service providers. There are those that would say that they were just set up so that the government could avoid having to do any actual work themselves – we have nearly 1000 quangos in total today.

As an example, there’s the National Consumer Agency, the Financial Regulator, Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), the Commission for Energy Regulation, the Food Safety Authority, the Financial Services Ombudsman, the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement and the National Property Services Regulatory Authority.

These all sound very grand and important, but when we have problems, which ones can help us get things sorted?

I’ve been very critical in the past on ValueIreland.com of many of these organisations because of the difficulty many consumers are finding in actually getting any help from these organisations. In fact, despite all those that exist, in many cases consumers are being left helpless. However, here’s where you can go with problems that you might have:

If you have a problem with any financial institution that you have dealings with, you are supposed to go through their full complaints procedure. If you still have a problem at the end of that, you need to speak to the Financial Services Ombudsman. http://www.financialombudsman.ie/ If your complaint is related to your pension, the Pensions Ombudsman is there for you. http://www.pensionsombudsman.ie/

So where does the Financial Regulator fit in? They are responsible for overseeing the financial industry in Ireland, supposedly, and will not accept complaints from consumers. The “consumer” arm of the regulator is only an information providing service. http://www.itsyourmoney.ie

Say you have problems with your mobile, land line or broadband, then again, you must first go through the complaints procedure of the company you have the problem with. If you still don’t get satisfaction, you should escalate your complaint to ComReg. Your should remember though, that ComReg will only deal with issues related to “electronic communications services” – meaning you can complain about your mobile network service, but not handset problems, or about your broadband service but not your TV signal even though they may come through the same wires.

What happens if you have a problem with the management company or the managing agent in your apartment block? This is a very murky area at the moment with the National Consumer Agency, the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement and the National Property Services Regulatory Authority all getting involved.

The National Property Services Regulatory Authority has no powers at the moment, so you can pretty much forget about them. The National Consumer Agency produce booklets and have created a website, but they have no legislation to enforce, so you can ignore them here also.

When it comes to management agents – the companies hired by management companies to look after estates and apartment blocks – there is no actual legislation in place to control how they operate. So, if your management agent isn’t cutting the grass, is neglecting to maintain buildings, or they’re charging more than you think is fair for management fees, there’s not much you can do apart from follow up directly with the agents themselves.

The Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement can help you out if your management company isn’t following company law – for example not publishing accounts each year, or failing to hold an AGM. However, based on my own experience, they’ll treat you like a child for making the complaint, and then won’t do very much at all.

What about electricity and gas suppliers? The Commission for Energy Regulations aim is to make sure that electricity and gas suppliers give their customers a reliable and quality service at a fair and reasonable price.  The main impact that the CER have on our consumer lives is their decisions to raise or decrease the prices we’re charged.

If you want to complain about your electricity or gas supplier, you can escalate your complaint to the CER only if you’ve gone through the companies own complaint procedures first.

And now to my friends in the National Consumer Agency who are responsible for the implementation of over 60 different pieces of legislation aimed at protecting consumers. These regulations cover advertising, unfair commercial practices, consumer information rules, food and other product labelling requirements, product safety laws and rules regarding the pricing of items and the display of prices.

The NCA are also responsible for overseeing the key consumer legislation which governs a lot of our day to day purchasing – the Sale of Good and Supply of Services Act – the law which gives us the “repair, replace or refund” rules of thumb.

You can contact the NCA through their website – http://www.irishconsumer.ie. The only thing to remember is that though they received 70,000 calls in 2007, with 2500 complaints that could have led to prosecutions for breaking the law, they only followed through on 1% of those complaints.

Many of the organisations described above will not get involved in specific contractual difficulties between a business and a consumer – and unfortunately these are the areas where we end up having most of our problems. We pay someone for something and they don’t provide the product or service to the standard that we expect.

That leaves us with probably one of the most effective weapons for consumers – The Small Claims Court. This is a service provided by District Court offices designed to handle consumer claims cheaply without involving a solicitor. This service is only for the “consumer” who has bought a good or service for private use from someone selling them in the course of their business. Claims can only be for up to €2000 in value.

Finally, some of the most common queries received at ValueIreland.com read like “who regulates the price of petrol”, or “who can I complain to about sterling to euro exchange rates”? The answer here is no one. We in Ireland don’t have price controls in place for these types of goods and services. Basically business can charge what they want so it’s down to us to be the regulators – if we don’t like the prices, we shouldn’t buy the products.

You’ll have noticed that I haven’t mentioned my old friends in the Consumers Association of Ireland. The CAI is a pressure group that occasionally provides a helpline for consumers, however they have no statutory powers and therefore can’t actually do anything for you.

0

But why has Ireland the highest electricity prices?

We’re suffering the highest electricity prices in Europe according to this article last week in the Irish Times for one particular reason:

IRELAND HAS the highest electricity prices in Europe for many businesses and domestic consumers, largely due to a dependence on electricity generated from fossil fuels, according to a new report.

And not only that, prices are increasing faster in Ireland than anywhere else in Europe:

Electricity costs the Irish domestic consumer 20 per cent more than the EU average, according to the report by Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI), and some industrial customers are paying up to 52 per cent above the EU average.

Can I propose an alternative reason?

We have no competition for the ESB in the electricity market, and hence we’re being gouged on price because they can charge what they like, and are ably assisted by the useless Commission for Energy Regulation.

Have a look here to see the state of electricity competition in the Irish domestic market – with little or no change since 2005.

1

Tell the CER what you think about Gas/Electricity rises

The Irish Independent today wrote that the energy regulator, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) are having a public consultation meeting where:

CONSUMERS will get a chance to air their views on proposed price increases in gas and electricity.

This opportunity is being provided because of the fact that gas will increase by 4.2% and electricity by 5.8% on January 1st, 2009.

The public meeting is planned for 10am on Monday November 10th, in the Gresham Hotel in Dublin 1. Almost as handy a time to hold a meeting as the Consumer Association of Ireland AGM. You’d almost think that they didn’t want anyone to attend.

The public meeting is expected to last until 1.15pm and will involve presentations from the CER, Bord Gais and the ESB. The full meeting details are available here.

1

How to build a website about nothing!

The useless Commission for Energy Regulation has launched it’s new “customer focused website“. This website has been in development since February 2005. Can you believe it – it’s taken them 3 years to put together a website that will tell customers nothing about what they really want to know when it comes to gas and electricity.
  1. Why am I being charged so much, and who keeps allowing the suppliers increase their prices?
  2. Why isn’t there any competition in the gas or electricity markets?

It’s nearly 4 years now since the electricity market was deregulated for domestic electricity supply. And unfortunately, there’s still no competition for the ESB – our research done in 2005 is still valid today with very little need for updates (unfortunately).

0

Saving Money on your Gas and Electricity Bills

It’s a couple of weeks now since the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) admitted that the ESB and Bord Gais would be allowed increase their charges to customers – despite the fact that their fuel costs will have dropped by 20% in the last 3-4 weeks.

We could go on about the fact that this is yet another useless government quango that amazingly describes its mission as “acting in the interests of consumers is to ensure that: the prices charged are fair and reasonable”.

But we won’t! We’ll be a whole lot more positive and provide a listing of simple Top Tips that you can apply to your day to day lives which should cut down on your usage of both gas and electricity. This is something that I’ve successfully done in the past, and continue to do today. With a little bit of thought and effort, you could at least save yourself the cost of any price increases.

Here’s our Top Tips to reduce your electricity costs:

  • Unplug your phone charger when its not actually charging a phone.
  • Turned off your TV/Video/DVD/Digital box at the wall at night – equipment on stand-by uses up to 20% of the energy it would use when fully on.
  • As your light bulbs go out, replace them with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) – it’ll be the law soon anyway. These bulbs use 20% of the energy and last up to 15 times as long (though they are initially more expensive to buy).
  • Always make sure to always switch off lights when you leave a room – energy is wasted lighting unoccupied rooms. Also, there’s rarely need for lights on in hallways if you’re not there – though I know it’s an “Irish thing” to have lights on in the hallway when you’re home.
  • A simple thing that can be done every time you make a cup of tea – and I used to always fall foul of this myself. Stop overfilling the kettle – only boil as much water as you need.
  • It’s said that you should avoid unnecessary electricity use between 5pm and 7pm. For me, I’m rarely home before 7 anyway.
  • If you need to replace any home appliances (such as fridges, cookers or boilers), make sure you select A rated models which will be much more efficient.
  • Don’t forget to use half load or economy programme on your washing machine, dishwasher or tumble dryer if you’re not filling them up. Alternatively, just wait for a full load.
  • The temptation these days with always-on broadband is to leave your computer always on as well. Turning your computer whenever you’re not using it for more than an hour, and especially overnight and during the day if you’re at work could save you 25% of the cost of powering your computer for the year.
  • Do you really need a tumble dryer? After the fridge, they’re the second biggest user of electricity in the household. Can you line dry your clothes instead?
And here’s our Top Tips to reduce your gas costs:
  • Check the level your heating is turned to – I turned down my heating to 20ºC. By lowering your thermostat by 1ºC, it will knock 10% off your heating bill.
  • You should also regularly check the timing settings for your central heating – do you need it on for as long as it’s currently set to be on? Even cut 10 minutes here and there.
  • Keep your curtains closed in the evenings – otherwise heat can escape through the windows. But if you have south facing windows, leave them open during the day to take in any heat that we might get in the coming months.
  • Check which rooms have heat turned on in them. If you absolutely need to have heat on in those rooms, keep the doors closed – otherwise switch off the heat in those rooms.
  • In such unused rooms, make sure that the windows and air vents are closed properly. Reducing drafts through the whole house will do two things – save energy on normal heating costs, and will remove any temptation to turn on the heat if people are feeling cold.
  • Do you have leaky taps or shower heads especially hot water taps? Get them fixed as soon as possible to reduce wasting your hot water.
  • Use less hot water wherever possible. Don’t wash your teeth, or shave, or wash the dishes under running hot water taps. Take a shower in the morning rather than a bath in the evening.
  • If you’ve a gas cooker, remember that you lose 20% of the heat in the oven every time you check your dinner. Make sure you use a ring size to suit the saucepan you’re using, and always place the saucepan dead centre on the ring.
  • Make sure to switch off all your central and hot water heating if you’re away for the day, or for the weekend.
  • Always make sure your radiators are not covered over, or left hiding behind furniture. The clearer the space around a radiator, the better the circulation of heat around the room from it.
Remember, all these tips are things to you can pretty much do right now. You don’t need to spend any big money to start. Just do it now and save yourself some cash.
8

No ESB switch

Irish Independent
Orla O’Sullivan, February 17th, 2005

Value Ireland is today quoted as a “Market observer” (well, we think we are and are open to correction) in a short piece about the ESB and the opening up of the electricity market this coming Saturday. In an article not attributed to anyone, in the “Euro Notes” section, the piece reads as follows –

CONSUMERS get the right to use a potentially cheaper electricity supplier than ESB this Saturday, but it won’t be as easy as flicking a switch.

Market observers question whether it will be worthwhile for ESB competitors to cater to new customers other than businesses.

Details of the half dozen contenders to ESB can be found on the website of the Commission for Energy Regulation (www.cer.ie).

Value Ireland has carried out its own research into what the electricity market will be like for Irish consumers after market de-regulation.

0

Where’s the electricity competition?

In case you didn’t know, way back in February 2005, the Irish electricity market for residential consumers was deregulated. At that time, we were told in an enormous amount of hype that we’d all be able to choose our electricity suppliers – removing our dependence on the ESB.

At that time, I did some research on what the options were for consumers – the original article is available by clicking here.

Back in 2005, there were 6 possible electricity suppliers other than the ESB. At that time, none supplied (or had any plans to supply) residential customers. A couple of months later though, it was reported that Airtricity would be entering the residential market – which they did for a while, backed out for a while more, and re-entered the residential market again in 2007.

As of today, more than 3 years later, Airtricity are still the only competitors to the ESB for residential electricity consumers. The market for alternative suppliers of electricity is still pretty shocking. Of the original 6 possible options, 2 have now been taken over by one company (Scottish & Southern Energy has taken over both Airtricity and CH Power). One other, Direct Independent Energy, seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. The remaining 3 – Bord Gais, ESB Independent Energy, and Energia – still won’t supply electricity to residential customers.

There are now, according to this list from EirGrid, 14 customer supply companies in the electricity market. However, none of the 8 new participants will supply electricity to the residential market – their focus is only on business customers.

So what’s the competition like between Airtricity and the ESB? Well, I’d like to be able to show you the comparative costs – however, that I’m able to find, neither company provides the cost of electricty on their websites. However, back in 2007 when I did the last research, the prices were exactly the same.

Some competition!

Oh, and by the way, you should be thanking the Commission for Energy Regulation – “The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) is the independent body responsible for overseeing the liberalisation of Ireland’s energy sector.”

0

Value for Money

The Evening Herald
Linda Higgins, January 26th, 2005

IT’S that time of year… many of us are down in the dumps, fed up with the cold weather and short days, and still in shock over the size of the bills coming in after Christmas.

Many well-intentioned resolutions for 2005 are already falling by the wayside, and vows of joining the gym or going on a diet have already been forgotten.
Meanwhile, there are numerous bills demanding your attention, while your latest bank statement leaves you reeling in shock.
This is a month when you should take stock of your situation, and that includes a careful spring clean of your finances.

You might be astounded to realise just how many easy money-saving tips you can adapt to your lifestyle – hopefully saving a small fortune in the process.
If you’ve previously had a head-in-the-sand approach to your spending, then now is the time to make amends.

Read on for some imaginative and simple ideas that can help save you time, energy – and, most importantly, money. Many of us are guilty of frittering away our money on silly things. It’s known as the ‘Latte Factor’ – the syndrome where we blind ourselves to what we spend on little indulgences, and then wonder where our wages are disappearing to. The term was created by American financial expert, David Bach, author of The Automatic Millionaire, and it refers to the habit of splashing out on a takeaway coffee once per working day. At an average of €2.50 for a medium brew, coffee addicts can easily spend €600 per working year on their caffeine fix.

What are the other little sundries that are helping to drain your bank account regularly? Do you spend a small fortune on ready-made sandwiches, or after-work drinks twice a week? Do you have an addiction to glossy magazines? Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at your daily outgoings.

Samantha Downes, editor of The Virgin Money Guide, says that this ‘lifestyle’ money pit is one of the biggest we deep for ourselves.
“A life of fast food, eating out and dumping your clothes at the the dry cleaner, or
getting your shirts ironed there – these are all big money eaters,” she points out. Her
advice, for a start, is to stay in a couple of nights a week, and re-discover your
supermarket.

One common expense is convenience foods. Ready meals are a handy option at the end of a long working day, but far more costly than cooking from scratch. One UK figure shows that for every £1 spent on food in Great Britain, around 30p goes on crisps, snacks, frozen pizzas and the like. It’s a rather sad indictment of our current lifestyles.

Apart from the obvious expenditures that you’re aware of, make sure that you’re not
overpaying in other areas. For example, are you unwittingly paying too much tax? According to new figures, 17.4pc of taxpayers applied to the Revenue Commissioners for a balancing statement on their tax liability for the year 2003. Of those who applied, 75pc received a refund – with the average payment amounting to €1,400. The total refund bill was €306 million. Make sure that you’re claiming for all you’re entitled to, from medical bills to relief on refuse charges. Check www.revenue.ie for more information, or contact your local tax office.

Diarmuid MacShane is the founder of consumer website Value Ireland, whose slogan is ‘Better Purchasing Decisions Through Better Information.’ “We’ve all successfully negotiated our way through the New Year period, and have committed to our resolutions for the coming months, ” he says. “It’s more than likely that at least one
of the resolutions revolves around having more money, or not wasting so much money, or simply saving more for a special occasion, or that rainy day. ”

“Value Ireland has devised some useful tips for you to help you plan what you can do to meet these financial new year resolutions. Following some, or all, of these tips will help you save money, avoid the dreaded ‘Rip-Off Ireland’, and hopefully give you a little more to spare…”. Mr MacShane invites Evening Herald readers to log on to www.valueireland.com in order to access information, and share tips and opinions on the forum.

Read on for 50 Top Tips to get you started. Some are easy to implement, while others may require a bit of time and effort. However, they’re all worth the investment. After all, becoming more financially aware will certainly benefit both your current lifestyle and your future security.

TOP TIPS

GENERAL FINANCIAL ADVICE

1) REVIEW your mortgage. If you’re in your existing mortgage for a period of time, shop around to see what offers currently exist on the market. Rates haven’t changed enormously, but there are deals available from various banks and building societies. Ring around, or search online, and work out if you could be better off. Remember to ask what extra a new provider can do for you if you were to move to their mortgage package i.e. with regards to fees, penalties etc.) If you find a better offer, ask your existing lender if they’re willing to do anything for you in order to keep your business.+

2) CHANGE your bank account. Competition is finally starting to hot up in the banking sector, so watch out for new offers and deals. If you like it, then switch. Changing bank accounts is not as difficult as banks would like us to think.+

3) REVISIT your credit card needs. Obviously, having a credit card at all, and paying credit card interest rates isn’t very wallet-friendly, so your first aim should be to get rid of it, if possible. However, with the provision of a new relief that effectively removes the double charging of Government stamp duty on changing credit cards in the last budget, it’s now more viable to shop around and change credit cards. Look out for companies offering low rates of interest for credit transfers.+

4) REVIEW all bills. Take a month’s set of bills and make sure that you still require everything that you’re paying for. You may have requested a service that you no longer require, or are paying for insurance on an item that you no longer have, or that isn’t valued as highly as it once was. Ring each company and ask if they’ve any way of either reducing your bill through discounts, or a cheaper ways of paying the bills – some companies provide discounts for paying by direct debit.+

5) CHECK all bills. Since May 2004, 12 major Irish companies – plus the Government – have admitted to overcharging a total of 967,500 Irish consumers – to the tune of €84 million. In a Value Ireland survey, 42pc of respondents admitted that they didn’t check every bill before paying. Ensure that only items you expect are included.+

6) SHOP around. As simple as it sounds, shopping around can be one of the best ways of saving money. Being aware of as many alternatives as possible when making a purchase allows you to make an informed decision. Always research before buying.+

7) ALWAYS have a budget. Keep in mind how much something is worth to you. Know the price before buying. If you find it’s more than you budgeted for, just say ‘no thanks.’ Don’t feel pressurised – just because you’re at the counter doesn’t mean that you have to buy.

8) DON’T automatically renew any insurance policy without checking around first for
alternatives and better deals. For tips on purchasing car, home, and travel insurance,
visit www.valueireland.com.

9) SELL, sell, sell! Take inspiration from the current TV programmes where people make money from old or unwanted items in their homes. Use simple options such as car boot sales and local auctions, or internet auction sites such as eBid and eBbay.+

10) MAKE su
re that you buy assets rather than liabilities with your hard-earned money. You need food, clothes and shelter, but if you want to create wealth, you don’t want to pay rent, interest, or buy things who value decreases (new cars, for example). Buy assets!*

GROCERY SHOPPING

11) MAKE use of the website www.shoppingbill.com – which has plenty of interesting
insights on supermarkets. Check it weekly for the best special offers available at
Superquinn, Dunnes Stores, Tesco, SuperValu, Lidl and Aldi. Save money, particularly on meat, wine and household items by knowing what’s on offer before you shop.*

12) BUY basics in basic shops. Visit Aldi, Lidl or your local market once a week – then top up at a big supermarket where temptation is too much.*

13) BE flexible. Always buy ‘Half Price’ or ‘Buy One, Get One Free’ offers.*

14) BE brand disloyal. You don’t have well-known (expensive) brands just because everyone else does! Why would you want to foot the bill for the advertising? For example, milk is milk – €1.19 for two litres is the most you should be paying, and it freezes; butter is butter; bananas are bananas, and remember – you ‘learned’ to like certain beers, lagers, wines and coffees. The first time you ever tried them, you hated them. So maybe now is a good time to ‘learn’ to enjoy other brands.*

15) PAY with cash – it feels very different from using cards or cheques.*

16) BUY items that are reduced because they’re near their sell-by date – and freeze them.*

17) BE wary of loyalty cards. They’re designed for the benefit of the store – not you! Be promiscuous – make the store loyal to you.*

18) MAKE a list, and stick to these items only. Shopping online cuts out impulse buys. Don’t automatically throw out vouchers posted in the door – they may save you money on items that you buy anyhow.+

19) BUY a water filter jug instead of bottled water.+

20) ALWAYS bring your reusable bags, so you don’t end up forking out extra for packing your groceries.

ENERGY-SAVING & ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY TIPS

21) REDUCE, reuse and recycle. Visit www.raceagainstwaste.ie for practical advice.

22) SWITCH off all appliances at the wall before going to bed. Many electrical items use electricity even while switched off.

23) VISIT www.esb.ie to find out how you can cut down both on bills and electricity use, including information on energy efficient lighting.

24) TUMBLE drying is very expensive. Line drying is free. Or invest in an old-fashioned clothes horse.

25) IF you’ve your heating or immersion on a timer, try switching it on and off by hand as needed instead. This uses far less fuel/energy. Turn your thermostat down a few degrees.

26) TRY to get your name off lists for junk mail.

27) SAVE water by showering instead of bathing. A house brick placed in the toilet cistern reduces the amount of water used each flush.

28) TOO much ice in the freezer means less efficiency, so defrost regularly. Keep it filled.

29) DO you really need a cupboard full of expensive – and environmentally unfriendly – cleaning products? Check out the alternatives. Own brands are cheaper than named ones, and do the same job. Instead of using pricey cream cleaners, try a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda on a damp cloth. Use vinegar to clean windows and mirrors – fill an old spray bottle with a solution of half-vinegar, half-water.

30) WHEN buying appliances, choose brands with the most energy-efficient ratings.

PERSONAL EXPENDITURE

31) DO you purchase glossy magazines each week? Do you really need them? You can read plenty of celebrity gossip and features online, for a start. If you’ve a friend who also loves magazines, then why not agree to buy one monthly title each – then swap?

32) MAKE full use of your local library, where you can rent the latest bestsellers for free, access the internet. Check out second-hand bookshops. Similarly, rent DVDs and games before buying them.

33) IF your house is overcrowded with books, then sell some – or donate them to a charity shop.

34) GO through your wardrobe and clear-out items that don’t fit, or you don’t like. Donate them to charity. Or the latest trend in America is to host ‘swapshop’ parties with a group of friends, where each person brings along a few unwanted items of clothing.

35) MEN with short hairstyles can save themselves barber fees by investing in a hair clippers.

36) REVIEW your mobile phone, landline and internet usage. Consider changing providers if you can get a better deal.

37) SIGN up for phone or internet banking. It makes managing your bills easier, and saves time.

38) PAY your credit bill on time in order to avoid penalties.

39) INSTEAD of taking out expensive gym membership, rope in a friend and go for long walks, runs or cycles, or swim in your local pool.

40) SET up a change jar, and regularly empty coins into it. It’s amazing how quickly it builds up.

SAVINGS & INVESTMENTS

41) MAXIMISE your SSIA contributions between now and when it matures. Your minimum return is 25pc.+

42) MAKE your savings work harder. If you’ve money put away, is it earning the best interest possible?+

43) MAKE your savings untouchable. If you’ve a tendency to raid your rainy day money, then put it in a term, or notice, account, where you can’t gain immediate access.+

44) FOLLOW the Value Ireland savings plan. This keeps track of your outgoings – particularly your wasteful outgoings. The plan forces you to match in savings any money you’ve wasted – the double whammy will encourage you not to wast money in future.+

45) PAY off your mortgage in 20 years, if possible – you’ll save thousands.

46) IF you haven’t already, then start saving for your pension.

47) DON’T invest in anything high-risk unless you can afford to lose the money.

48) ALWAYS read the small print to see if you’re being charged fees or commission.

49) DON’T take the first financial product on offer. Compare rates. The Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority (www.ifsra.ie) publishes reports on different products.

50) FINALLY, once you’re in control of your money, reward yourself with the occasional indulgence!

USEFUL RESOURCES:

+ All tips marked with a plus are courtesy of Diarmuid from www.valueireland.com
* All tips marked with an asterisk are courtesy of Bill from www.shoppingbill.com

Another site that encourages Irish consumers to swap tips and advice in their busy forums is www.askaboutmoney.com

Work out your personal budget with MABS (Money Advice & Budgeting Service). Visit www.mabs.ie or your local branch for advice on dealing with debt.

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VI Better Information 18-May-2008

The Value Ireland slogan is “Better Purchasing Decisions through Better Information”. Where we have information to share, but which won’t take up a full-length post, we’re planning on beginning the VI Better Information series – bring together the most important and relevant consumer news for Irish consumers.
  • The Sunday Business Post today published its research into the prices charged to Irish consumers by British retailers based here in Ireland. According to the article “Irish shoppers are paying up to 50 per cent more than their British counterparts for many goods sold by British retailers”. The response from the National Consumer Agency was that Ann Fitzgerald “said shoppers should boycott British retailers that charged significantly higher prices in Ireland”. Don’t forget though, some Irish stores do this as well. I wonder is Ann Fitzgerald calling on Irish consumers to boycott Dunnes Stores as well – because of this, or because of this, or should we just boycott the British stores that rip us off.
  • From Damien Mulley, read here how Vodafone double charged a customer who pays monthly via credit card – and it was only noticed by the customer and not Vodafone themselves. Knowing how credit card charges are made in such big companies, it’s likely that more than this one customer was impacted. So, if you pay Vodafone monthly via credit card, check your credit card statement that you haven’t been double charged recently.
  • From AskAboutMoney, another warning, this time for O2 customers. A customer who upgraded their phone but paid for it through their monthly O2 bill was charged VAT twice for the phone purchase. Again, if you’ve been in a similar situation recently, check your bill – you should only be paying VAT once.
  • From Ireland.com, Bord Gais customers are facing a rise in the price of gas towards the end of 2008. The gas company has said that it would seek permission from the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) to impose a price increase of up to 19% from October. Given all the current price rises, I wonder will the Commission event have second thoughts about approving this request?
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