Over the weekend, there was much controversy surrounding energy comparison websites in the UK. MPs and the British energy regulator are now scrutinising these commercial websites, because of concerns about that they do not always give energy consumers the best deal available.
Because of issues like this, it is important for energy consumers to know their rights so they can protect themselves. In Ireland, our energy rights are set out in Irish law, which comply with provisions set out in EU legislation. In Ireland the independent regulatory body is the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) and this is the body, which assists Irish energy consumers and makes sure their rights are upheld.
As well as the general consumer rights that are guaranteed to EU citizens, the EU has also set out rights specifically for energy consumers. In a nutshell these are:
- The right to an electricity connection: Every home within the EU has the right to be connected to the local electricity network and supplied with electricity. Terms, conditions and tariffs for this connection are monitored by the national regulator, in Ireland’s case the CER.
- The right to a choice of supplier: You can choose any EU gas or electricity supplier that offers its services in your area.
- The right to a quick and easy switch of supplier: For those who do decide to change gas or electricity supplier, the network operator cannot prevent you from switching. The switch must be completed within three weeks and without any charge.
- The right to clear contract information and the right of withdrawal: Energy providers must provide you with clear, comprehensive information on a contract before you sign it. If any changes are made to the contract, you must be notified in advance so that you can end the contract if you do not like the new conditions. All EU citizens also have the right to withdraw from a contract within 14 days, if the contract was agreed over the telephone or the internet.
- The right to accurate information on your energy consumption and billing based on it: Every energy consumer within the EU has the right to this information so that they can regulate their energy consumption. You are entitled to this data at no extra charge.
- The right to information about how to use energy efficiently and the benefits of using renewable energy: In Ireland the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland can provide you with this information.
- The right to specific consumer protection measures: In Ireland, this means that if you are struggling to pay your energy bills, but you actively engage with your energy supplier about the problem, your energy supply will not be cut off.
- The right to the easy resolution of complaints and disputes: Energy suppliers should provide information on how to make a complaint with them. If your complaint is not dealt with satisfactorily by the supplier, you can then complain to an independent body for an out-of-court settlement that is quick, inexpensive and fair for the customer. In Ireland the CER deals with these complaints.
- The right to an energy performance certificate for your home: Before you sign a contract to buy or rent a home, you should receive an energy performance certificate to show how energy efficiency the property is.
- The right to a national contact point for energy: Once again, the CER is the national point of contact for energy in Ireland and provides Irish consumers with information on their rights, the current laws and how to settle disputes with energy suppliers.
These rights apply to all EU citizens living within any EU country. Knowing these rights will help energy consumers within the EU save money and become more energy efficient.
As for energy comparison websites in Ireland, Bonkers.ie and uSwitch.ie are CER accredited. The CER monitors these sites and audits them annually, so Irish consumers can rest assured that they are reliable.
Photo: iamNigelMorris (via Flickr)