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A fake choice… September 26, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Conor Pope recently took readers of the Irish Times to task for not changing energy providers.

Irish consumers have collectively wasted close to €1 billion over the last five years by spending way more than necessary to heat and light their homes.
Now Pricewatch knows that number might sound absurdly inflated at first glance but, if anything, we are underestimating the nation’s wanton wastefulness when it comes to energy.


But to make the savings, people need to switch, and a staggering number of Irish people don’t bother. According to figures from the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) more than half of Irish consumers have never switched their energy provider, while the numbers who have switched in the last 12 months is a whole lot smaller.
A less-comprehensive Pricewatch Twitter poll of more than 500 people last week echoed these numbers. We asked people if they switched provider annually, occasionally or never. Only 15 per cent said they switched annually, while 40 per cent said they had never switched provider.
They are all wasting money and just how much is really quite shocking.

I was fascinated by the fact that (at the time) there was only one comment. It went along these lines:

• UrbanSprawl
The author does not take into account the value consumers place on customer service. Having changed providers several times over the years, I have experienced middling to dreadful customer service from the cheaper providers. Incorrect bills, unauthorised deductions from my bank account, weeks and months of trying to engage with companies to have their mistakes rectified… I have been with my current provider for 3 years and am just not willing to take the risk of changing again, even if I could be saving €200 a year.

I’ve no idea whether that comment is an accurate outline of the situation, I’ve not had those problems – though getting the meter read is a nightmare which despite repeated requests to contact me re arranging an appointment no response. But I can’t help but think that Pope et al are missing the point. I don’t want to change my energy provider any more than I want the near continual calls from my mobile provider or similar from my internet provider in regard to ‘cheaper’ options. I don’t want the hassle. All I want is a good service that continues into the medium to long term. I’d vastly prefer if these were socialised services. But hey, that isn’t going to happen. Failing that I don’t want to be engaged in a sort of perpetual bidding process with energy or other providers. It seems a pointless and cosmetic exercise whose purpose appears more to justify the ‘liberalisation’ of a market for which the benefits of liberalisation are difficult to understand.


1. sonofstan - September 26, 2016

” I don’t want to change my energy provider any more than I want the near continual calls from my mobile provider or similar from my internet provider in regard to ‘cheaper’ options. I don’t want the hassle. All I want is a good service that continues into the medium to long term”


I’ve just moved flat here in the UK and am setting up electricity/ broadband/ water/ council tax and, in the case of the first two, it’s a nightmare of special offers ‘introductory tariffs’ blah, blah.
Old fashioned communism now!


Gewerkschaftler - September 26, 2016

I’m increasingly of the view that what we anti-capitalists could and should offer simplicity and transparency as part of our visions, and a release from all the artificial and unnecessary complexity that bedevils our lives.

We need a complexity theory of capitalism. The systemic tendency of globally connected hyper-capitalism is to maximise opportunities for profit through supply-chain complexification and obfuscation affects everyone.

Law in a post-capitalist society would be of an order of magnitude simpler and more accessible to all citizens, having jettisoned those 9/10ths of the law that have to do with property.


2. deiseach - September 26, 2016

I stay with my energy provider because I had a good experience with their customer service people over a billing issue. However, quite apart from discounting the shoe leather costs of switching, what he is advocating is a Ponzi scheme. If everyone switched every year then the energy companies wouldn’t be slow in getting shot of the new customer discounts. There is no €1 billion saving to be made, just a fraction of that to be shuffled around for the sake of maintaining the illusion that this is a free market.


3. lamentreat - September 26, 2016

There was a good take on the waste of time and energy caused by these ridiculous pseudo-markets a couple of years back by Corey Robin. Talking specifically about US health insurance (and he’s right about that morass of pointless bureaucracy), but applicable across the board.

“In the neoliberal utopia, all of us are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time keeping track of each and every facet of our economic lives…What’s so astounding about Romney’s proposal — and the neoliberal worldview more generally — is that it would just add to this immense, and incredibly shitty, hassle of everyday life. One more account to keep track of, one more bell to answer. Why would anyone want to live like that? I sure as hell don’t know, but I think that’s the goal of the neo-liberals: not just so that we’re more responsible with our money, but also so that we’re more consumed by it: so that we don’t have time for anything else…”

Liked by 1 person

sonofstan - September 27, 2016

thanks for that; exactly how I feel.


4. CMK - September 26, 2016

Recently switched suppliers to avail of the ‘EUR 100 cashback’ offer. Only it wasn’t really what it said on the tin and it took me two months of phone calls and emails to eventually get the EUR 100 back and it still hasn’t arrived yet. Robin in the Jacobin piece cited above makes a profound point, I think.

I remember Mary Harney in the 2000s at the height of the PD pomp blithely stating that people ‘shop around’ for some service, I can’t remember the exact detail. Then I listened to Ruairi Quinn on some radio programme going on about shopping in Aldi and Lidl and that seemed extremely unlikely to me. The point is, that those above a certain material level don’t really have to shop around as they can afford whatever it is pretty easily. They can then put their time in to other pursuits. Those below a certain material level (greatly increased since 2008) are often compelled to spend substantial periods of their time getting bargains and shopping around. It can be exhausting at times. It’s one of the paradoxes of neo-liberalism that we are ‘free’ to shop around but many of us are not ‘free’ to not shop around.


RosencrantzisDead - September 26, 2016

Groceries and health insurance is what Harney was talking about when she advised people to ‘shop around’.

These two are probably the least suitable markets for shopping around. The effort and difficulty of doing multiple grocery shops in order to avail of the lowest prices is seldom worth the investment. Consumer groups in the UK noted that it would be impossible for a consumer to keep up with the price fluctuations on most grocery items or to stay on top of what discounts were available and when.

Health insurance is even more difficult. Most health care plans are not comparable and even then it is difficult to discern the quality of the product (nobody seeks out the cheapest surgeon or GP they can find).


CMK - September 27, 2016

Good points regarding food shopping. ‘Shopping around’ is exhaustive and advice on where to get the cheapest this or that has been a staple of the media here since the crash. Of course, in a sensible society with a fair balance of forces between capital and labour these kinds of conversations wouldn’t be happening, but that’s another day’s work.

Re: health insurance, if you have a pre-existing condition all the shopping around in the world is not going to do you much good. Or if you’re elderly. I know of one example where a health insurance missed direct debit for an elderly couple led to the cancellation of the policy and they have been unable to renew at an affordable rate since. I’d say Harney’s ministerial pension and the couple of directorships she no doubt has handsomely cover her health insurance and she has no need to follow her own advice.


5. Tawdy - September 27, 2016

They call to my door with regular monotony to get me to change my supplier.

The sad part is that these callers are on a commission basis only. I always tell them that we never ever do business at the door. They move away rapidly at that.


6. Seedot - September 27, 2016

I also had the unpleasant experience recently of registering for electricity supply – lengthy conversations on ways to achieve various discounts without any real explanation of what it was that was being discounted or what my likely bill was to be. Very hard to keep your temper with the poor cratur in the call centre.

On the €1bn being ‘wasted’ – does Mr Pope believe these energy companies are taking money they don’t deserve? Surely the flip side of us wasting the money is that they are gouging us for the same amount? Or is switching an economic good now like shopping and watching reality TV?


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