By Emma Kelly

It’s that time of year again- it seems we’ve only packed away our shorts and suncream when you can’t sit in your house without your thermals and a cup of tea. Along with the switch from t-shirts to winter woollies, it’s now time to switch on the heating. This can cause many problems for cash-strapped families and senior citizens, as having the heating on non-stop means your bills will sky rocket in the winter months.

In a rare move, energy supplier Airtricity have introduced a massive discount leading into their most profitable season, offering a saving of 26% when customers switch their electricity and gas provider. This pumps up the pressure for the rest of Ireland’s energy suppliers, who face their customers fleeing to greener pastures. So what are they doing to become more appealing to the recession generation?

We’ve all seen the Bord Gáis ads with Lucy Kennedy urging us all to “make the Big Switch”. Cash-savvy customers may want to take notice of them, as they are offering a saving of 10-14% off regulated ESB rates. The actual monetary saving will vary from tariff to tariff, but Bord Gáis claim that a household’s average saving will be between €90 and €125.

However, ESB don’t really seem to be retaliating to their competitors, with no discounts being offered to new or existing customers, although they do have several tariffs to choose from to suit your heating needs. The Urban 24hr tariff offers a single rate for the units you use throughout the day and night, at little over 14c a unit. Added to your bill is a standing charge of €15.37 every two months. One of the main benefits of these various tariffs is that you can monitor your spending on the meter you get installed. But in the freezing winter nights when turning on your heating is essential, getting your warmth from ESB may turn out quite costly in the long run.

With heating allowance grants for senior citizens barely covering a month’s bill, those feeling the pinch may be better off switching energy providers to stretch their money a bit further.

“After I read about the discount Airtricity are giving, I think I might switch from ESB to them,” says Maureen O’Loughlin, 71, from Clondalkin. “Heating in the winter costs me a fortune and my benefits don’t cover the costs, so it makes sense to take advantage of the discount.”

Dermot McMahon, 68, from Ballyfermot agrees, saying “I was quite surprised that a lot of the companies are giving discounts before the winter. The new offers would really help me out as I do leave the heating on full blast for most of the winter”.

If public opinion is to be believed, ESB are going to have to step up their game if they want to keep customers, because making the switch seems to be the way to go this winter.

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