Utilities – MABS Investigates

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At MABS, we receive a lot of great questions about money matters and tackling debt. Questions that we know many people want to ask but don’t know who to ask or where to start. ‘MABS Investigates’ is here to help. In this series of blogs, we will answer these questions and “investigate” these topics. Aiming to bring clarity and break down the jargon.

The focus of this ‘MABS investigates’ is Utilities. We receive many questions regarding utilities, so let’s dive in.

What is a Utility Bill?

A utility bill is a bill for services that you use in your home including electricity, gas, and waste. Electricity and gas bills are often referred to as energy bills as they relate only to light and heat. Most energy bills are issued on a bi-monthly basis. Landline and/or mobile phone and broadband bills are often considered a utility too, but are usually a fixed price each month.

How do utility bills work?

Utility bills differ slightly from our other bills as we don’t always know how much they will be as they relate to how much you use. It is a good idea to look at how much you are spending and if you can cut back.

If you are using a pre-pay meter, you will not receive a bill, but it is important to know your usage to plan your budget for the week/month. Some providers have a mobile app or online account to check your usage on pay-as-you-go.

You can find our series on energy-saving tips here.

Oil

Although gas and electricity are commonly used to heat our homes, many households use oil heating. According to the 2022 Census, almost 4 in 10 households use oil to heat their homes.
Bills for oil work differently from electricity and gas because they aren’t every month or two months but as and when you need to fill the oil tank. You may need to budget a percentage of the fill each month to have the money ready for when you need to buy a fill.

Waste

Most of us don’t consider waste a utility, but our waste bins are an important part of our budget. Depending on where you live, there may be many suppliers that provide waste collection and recycling facilities. If so, shop around to see which plan best suits your household. If you are being charged by weight, try to reduce how much goes into the waste bin and recycle where possible.

Some suppliers offer a yearly set fee or a smaller once-off annual fee and then charge per lift. The lift charge may include the recycling bin, so it might be more cost-effective to bring some recycling, glass and cans to your local recycling centre or where there are free recycling bins. For more information on managing your waste, check out mywaste.ie.

All containers will have the Re-turn logo on them so you know which ones can be returned to the point of sale for a deposit refund. The deposit will be between 15c and 25c per container depending on the size of the container. Check out the Re-turn website for more information.

Food and Compost Waste

Often, the heaviest item in our bin is food, so where this can go in the compost bin is an immediate saving. As of 1st January 2024, all households are entitled to a brown bin collection service, if you don’t have one already.

Consider your shopping habits as well, as about a third of the food we buy is thrown away. Check out stopfoodwaste.ie to see how to cut down your food waste.


I’ve just got a massive electricity bill. I can’t afford to pay it. What do I do?

If you’re going to have trouble paying your gas or electricity bill, the best thing to do is to talk to your energy provider as soon as you know you can’t pay it in full. Check a recent copy of your bill, the number to call will be on this bill with your account number. Your provider may advise that you enter a longer-term payment plan. The energy provider should be able to give you your average usage, and it’s important to include this in your repayment plan.

Make sure you agree on a date that will suit you to pay if you agree to a payment plan going forward. If your bill is on direct debit and you have entered into a payment plan, make sure that the energy provider cancels the request from their side if applicable, and you should also contact your bank to cancel the direct debit.

Are your bills constantly high lately? Check your energy bills from the last year to see if there have been any big increases in use. Try to figure out why this has happened (for example, are all your appliances functioning properly?). Bills based on estimated readings may be wrong (usually marked E beside the usage).

If you can, take your own gas and electricity meter readings and send the current readings to your supplier. The contact details will be on your bill, or you may be able to do it on your online account. Doing this will make your bill more accurate. Remember that by updating your readings, if your readings are higher than your supplier’s estimated readings, you may end up with a bigger bill.

The unit rates I am paying are very high. How can I lower them?

You can check with your provider that you are on the best tariff for your needs, and if you are out of contract, you might be able to avail of a discounted plan. It is possible to switch providers to get a better tariff. Before you switch, make sure you check your contract as there are often penalties (at minimum, €50 breakage fee per energy) if you break a contract i.e. switch providers before your contract is due to end.

Check out the following websites to compare tariffs on gas and electricity:

If you are in arrears with your current supplier, you may still be able to switch, depending on how much you owe. If you switch, you’ll need to pay the balance when your old supplier sends you your closing bill. The Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) outline what you need to know on their website.

I’m on social welfare/low income. Is there any support available to help with my energy bills?

If you receive a social welfare payment, you may be able to avail of the certain schemes and packages outlined below:

The Household Budget Scheme (HHB) is a scheme that helps people getting certain social welfare payments to spread the cost of some household bills over the year. Under this scheme, a fixed amount is deducted from your social welfare payment each week. The HHB Scheme is free, find out more about HHB scheme on An Post’s website here.

Make sure you are receiving all your entitlements to help with utility bills. If you are 70 or over, the Household Benefits Package (HBP) helps with the cost of the TV licence, your electricity and gas bills. Only one person in a household can get the package. You do not need to be getting a state pension, and the package is not means-tested. You can find out more information about this on the Citizen Information’s page on the Household Benefits Package.

The Fuel Allowance is a payment to help with the cost of heating your home during winter. It is paid to people who are dependent on long-term social welfare payments. As well as those who cannot pay for their own heating needs. Only one Fuel Allowance is paid to a household. More information is available on the Citizens Information page on Fuel Allowance.

 

I’ve been told that I’m going to have my gas/electricity disconnected. Can I stop this happening?

If you are concerned about being disconnected, talk to your energy provider. If you don’t feel you can talk to your provider, talk to MABS. MABS may be able to put a stay on the disconnection while we work with you to put a payment plan in place.

If your circumstances have changed, meaning that you can no longer afford your bill or payment plan, MABS advises you to pay what you can, no matter how small. In this case, you should consider a short-term budget to account for the unusual things that have affected your situation.

You can find out if you’re deemed a vulnerable customer on the CRU page about Vulnerable Customers. If you are eligible and not already on the vulnerable customers register, you can register by contacting your energy provider. Each provider has a registration process and MABS can help you to find out how to register with your provider.

I’ve a pre-pay meter, but I’m always in the red. What can I do?

If you are using a pre-pay meter, this means you pay in advance for the energy that you are going to use. You can also set up prepayment meters to collect debt from the money that you put in. You may be only paying off arrears and standing charges on your meter. If this is the case, it means only a portion (if any) of your top-up is going towards usage. It is important to check this with your provider.

It is important to work out your usage to see if you need to adjust your budget to cover your usage costs. If you find that you don’t have enough money to keep the meter topped up, talk to MABS. We may be able to help you work with your provider to put a better plan in place.

How can I contact my energy provider?

There are many ways you can contact your energy supplier, many offer chat functions on their website, you can email them, or we’ve gathered all their contact numbers here so you can call them. If you feel you can’t talk to your energy supplier, talk to MABS about your situation. We’ll work with you to create a budget for your energy bills or help you work with your energy provider.

Energy Company Contact Number
SSE Airtricity 0818 818 110
Energia 0818 405 405
Bord Gais Energy 01 611 01 01
Pinergy 0818 363 749
PrePay Power 0818 323 920
Yuno Energy 1800 554 488
Waterpower 029 50568
Arden Energy 1800 940 151
Flogas Gas Customers – 041 214 9500

Electricity Customers – 041 214 9500

LPG Customers – 041 214 9600

Glow Power 01 960 9690
Electric Ireland 1800 372 372
Community Power 067 56005

Have you got a money or debt advice question you’d like answered? Get in touch, and we’ll give you a clear and accurate answer to your money and debt advice questions.


Disclaimer: This blog does not represent legal advice and is intended for guidance only. If you are concerned about your current or future personal financial situation then please contact an adviser from MABS. Advisers are available by phone and email and through our WhatsApp 086 035 3141. You can call the MABS National Helpline on 0818 07 2000, Monday to Friday, from 9am to 8pm or find the contact details for your local office here.

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