Some suppliers now charging up to €700 a year in standing charges – these are imposed regardless of how much energy a customer uses.
An investigation by Bonkers.ie and the independent.iereveals providers have pushed up the standing charges for residential customers by more than €300 in some cases.
Consumer advocates have questioned the fairness of hiking standing charges for hard-pressed householders.
The standing charge is supposed to reflect the fixed costs associated with providing gas and electricity supply, and not the unit cost of energy.
The charge cannot be avoided by households, and has to be paid no matter how much electricity or gas a household uses.
Hiking standing charges reduces the attractiveness of eco-friendly initiatives like having solar panels installed.
Having such high standing charges seems to be in conflict with the Government’s Reduce Your Use campaign.
Chairman of the Consumers Association of Ireland Michael Kilcoyne called on the Government to change the rules to allow the energy regulator to have a role in the setting of standing charges.
“A taxi driver needs approval to increase prices, but it seems energy companies can do what they like despite electricity being an essential service.”
Daragh Cassidy of Bonkers.ie, who compiled the figures, said the scale of the increases over the past 18 months was difficult to justify. “And it means it’s even more difficult for hard-pressed households to reduce their energy bills.”
He said: “Depending on your supplier and the type of meter that you have, you could be paying up to €700 or €800 a year in standing charges alone before you’ve even flicked on a light switch or turned on the heat for an hour.”
Mr Cassidy said the charges are fixed and cannot be avoided so hit all households, regardless of income or usage.
He said a customer with gas and electricity, who has a pre-pay meter, could be paying over €900 in standing charges as they also have to pay an extra charge for the meter.
PrePayPower has some of the highest standing charges.
We don’t regulate standing charges. They are network charges. Sometimes the providers will absorb them and sometimes they will pass them on
Its electricity standing charge is between €500 and €700 a year, depending on the price plan. For gas it is €228.
Electric Ireland’s standing charge is up to €480 a year for electricity, up by between €137 and €200 since last year.
And Bord Gáis Energy charges electricity customers between €280 and €458 a year, depending on the plan.
Flogas’s electricity standing charge can be as high as €600.
A spokesman for the regulator, the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, said: “We don’t regulate standing charges. They are network charges. Sometimes the providers will absorb them and sometimes they will pass them on. Standing charges are included as part of the Estimated Annual Bill information and are outlined on accredited comparison websites.”.
The figures were put to each provider. PrePayPower said a standing charge increase is not an additional charge and has been included in all price announcements.
It said the focus should be on the Estimated Annual Bill (EAB). This shows it has both the lowest standard Unit Rate and the lowest standard EAB in the market.
Electric Ireland said the standing charge is a combination of the fixed charges associated with providing and maintaining the supply of electricity to its customers.
“While the recent price increase, due to take effect on October 1, does not impact the standing charge for our customers, we have taken the decision in the past to increase our standing charge so that we were able to minimise increases to the unit rate which would allow our customers to continue to use electricity at the lowest unit rate possible.”
Bord Gáis Energy said the standing charge makes up around 9pc to 12pc of a customer’s bill and includes, among other things, the general and fixed costs associated with gas and electricity supply.
“Bord Gáis Energy always aims to have its standing charge as low as possible, but it has been impacted by a significant increase in costs over the last two years.”
Flogas said its increases have been among the lowest in the marketplace compared to any other supplier and it has avoided enormous increases in unit rates – while also holding its standing charges flat in its most recent increase.