Pricewatch: Readers’ queries

This week, the One Big Switch campaign, Electric Ireland contract durations and the price of ringing Aviva are exercising consumers

Our reader asked One Big Switch why she was suddenly paying more when she thought the point was to pay less

Our reader asked One Big Switch why she was suddenly paying more when she thought the point was to pay less


Not everyone is satisfied with One Big Switch

Annie from Sligo is not happy. She was one of thousands of people who made the One Big Switch and moved to Bord Gáis Energy for her gas. After she made the move she got a letter from her new provider to say her monthly payments would be €126, which is considerably more than she is used to. “I went back and calculated my average monthly payments with Electric Ireland, which worked out at about €100.”

She tweeted One Big Switch and asked why she was suddenly paying more when she thought the whole point was to pay less. “I got a tweet back saying they would email me, which they did.”

The mail said: “Please be aware that the level pay aspect of our offer incorporates a 20 per cent loading to your estimated monthly bills. This is to account for any usage that should go above this by you. At the end of the first year, there will be a reconciliation made, which will mean any discrepancies will be ironed out. If you choose to leave the deal at any stage, you will be credited any outstanding amount.”

She then got a tweet saying she should take it up with Bord Gáis Energy. “So I called them. They said they’d drop it by a tenner. I said, ‘No thanks, I want you to explain why there’s this huge loading on the bill?’ ” She was told prices had gone up. Annie pointed out they had not gone up by €20 a month.

She then phoned, the utility price comparison and switching service. “They switched me back to Electric Ireland within minutes. Bonkers are tops.”

We contacted One Big Switch. “The 20 per cent loading is a feature of the ‘level pay’ agreement of the offer. It’s a payment system Bord Gáis uses to aid customers in controlling their budget: they’ll know exactly how much they’ll pay by direct debit each month,” a spokesman said. “At the end of the 12 months, any balance owed or owing is brought forward to the following year, and spread out evenly over the monthly payments. The customer can request a refund if overpayments are in excess of €200 or if they decide to leave Bord Gáis Energy.”

He went on to say that if One Big Switch members “are unhappy with the amount set for their monthly direct debit, we’ve been encouraging them to contact Bord Gáis to see if they can get this adjusted. We understand not all switchers will see an immediate reduction in their bills. However, we believe the overall discount and cashback received from the offer is beneficial to the majority of our members.”

Is Electric Ireland in a different time zone?

Not everyone is happy with Electric Ireland this week, however – the company has incurred the wrath of David Ryan. It has a range of “one-year” contracts for electricity and gas supply, he writes. “In most people’s books, ‘one year’ means 12 months. It’s reasonable to assume that if I take out a contract for 12 months, I can cancel it after 12 months have elapsed, and I can then move to another supplier.”

Ryan says that with Electric Ireland, however, the contract term is a minimum of 12 months if taken out on one specific day in a 90-day period, with a maximum period of 15 months. “The consumer has no choice over the duration of their ‘one-year’ contract.”

Confused? We were too.

“The problem is that Electric Ireland has a fixed contract expiry date for each quarter, so if you took out a contract on April 1st, 2013, you would be tied to the contract until June 30th, 2014 – one year and three months later. When April 2nd, 2014, came around and 12 months – or ‘one year’ as they have it in their documentation – had passed, you still couldn’t move to a new supplier without paying a penalty.”

Ryan says he has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland.

“The problem that I feel might be worth highlighting is that their advertising information and terms and conditions clearly and consistently refer to ‘one-year’ contract terms. They don’t refer anywhere that I can see – and I have checked the terms and conditions – to the fixed expiry date, and the fact that you will (unless you sign up on June 30th) end up with a contract for greater than 12 months.”

We contacted Electric Ireland. A spokeswoman said its residential plans applied for “the balance of the calendar month in which the customer signs up” and then for a further 12-month period. This means a person could be bound to the company for up to 13 months – and not 15 as our reader says.

However, some of its business plans are managed on a quarterly basis and customers sign up for a 12-month period plus the balance of the quarter in which they sign up. The spokeswoman said these contracts “are not published on our website and are not sold as one-year deals”.

Cost of calls to Aviva bad for health

“Health insurance is dear enough without having to pay 35 cent a minute to call Aviva in order to get a quote,” fumes Gerry, referring to the company’s 1850 number, which is pricey to call from a mobile.

“One is even paying to listen to messages about data protection. Today I waited 4½ minutes before I was answered. Aviva don’t offer an alternative land-line number.”

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