The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) has published the results of a consumer survey targeted at measuring consumer engagement, experience and attitudes in the residential and SME electricity and gas markets in Ireland in 2020.
Approximately 2,000 residential customers and 650 SMEs participated in the survey. The purpose of the survey is to provide additional consumer-based insights to the market monitoring activities of the CRU, to contribute to consumer protection polices and codes of practice for energy companies and to further empower customers in the competitive energy market.
The survey, which was conducted by Behaviour & Attitudes Ltd and The Research Perspective Ltd, has been carried out annually since 2011. The 2020 results confirm some continuing trends evident from previous years, but also highlight the potential impacts of Covid-19.
Some of the key customer insights include:
Competition and Switching
The level of consumer ability to understand market offers is an important dynamic in a competitive
market. The research shows that more domestic customers found it easy to compare offers from electricity (47%) and gas (46%) suppliers.
Understanding of offers has also increased for customers, rising from 41% in 2019 to 56% in 2020 for electricity and from 57% in 2019 to 63% in 2020 for gas.
In order to understand the channels used for comparison, the survey investigated the usage of price comparison websites to compare offers. Usage of online comparison websites continued to increase, rising from 25% of electricity customers in 2019 to 34% in 2020, and 25% of gas customers in 2019 to 42% in 2020.
When it comes to switching energy supplier, half of electricity and gas consumers surveyed said they have never switched supplier (44% electricity and 43% gas). Among those who have switched, consumers report similar levels of switching within the last 12 months across both gas and electricity.
For domestic customers, switching levels remain similar to 2019 as 16% of electricity & 16% of gas customers have switched in the past 12 months, with savings the main driver.
Among those who have switched, the ease of switching has been gradually improving since 2016 with 97% in electricity and 91% in gas saying it was easy to switch. Switching of electricity & gas among SMEs has declined on 2019 levels with electricity down from 25% to 17% and down from 22% to 14% in gas.
Billing and Contract information:
Bill understanding has improved on the already high levels recorded in 2019, with more customers now claiming to read at least some part of their bill. In 2019, 85% of electricity customers and 81% of gas customers would read at least one part of their bill, which rose to 89% and 88% respectively in 2020.
Ease of identifying if a bill is an actual or estimated reading has increased from 73% and 70% in 2019 to 79% and 76% in 2020 for electricity and gas customers respectively.
Similarly, the proportion of customers who have submitted their own readings in the last 12 months has increased from 32% and 40% in 2019 to 48% and 54% in 2020 for electricity and gas customers respectively.
Interest in smart meters has increased on 2019 levels, with 7 in 10 electricity and 4 in 5 gas customers claiming interest in availing of a smart meter.
Tariffs and Green Energy
Environmental benefits are cited as being an important reason for getting a smart meter (26% electricity / 43% gas). Supplier offering gas at the same price but was more environmentally friendly was given as a reason to switch by over 40%.
12% of electricity & 15% of domestic gas customers believe household ability to pay bills has been impacted by Covid-19. A total of 2 in 5 of domestic energy users are concerned about increased energy usage and impact on bills. Over a third of SME’s claimed that their organisation’s ability to pay energy bills has been impacted by Covid-19.
Levels of customer satisfaction with service from energy suppliers remained high with overall satisfaction scores of 80% and 82% in the residential market and 82% and 85% in the SME market, for electricity and gas, respectively.
The results of the 2020 Consumer Survey can be found here on www.cru.ie
The CRU Commissioner with responsibility for the retail sector, Aoife MacEvilly, said:
“This research provides us with a timely and important look into attitudes and experiences in the domestic and SME electricity and gas markets in Ireland in 2020. While switching rates have remained steady, 12% of electricity & 15% of gas customers claimed their ability to pay household bills has been impacted by COVID-19. With this in mind and the fact that more people are working from home, the CRU would encourage energy customers to see what savings they could make by negotiating with or switching their supplier.