The CRU has published the results of its annual Consumer Survey targeted at measuring consumer engagement, experience and attitudes in the residential and SME electricity and gas markets in Ireland in 2021.

Approximately 2,000 residential customers and 650 SMEs participated in the survey which was conducted between May and July 2021.  The main objective of the CRU Consumer Survey is to gather customer views and experiences and how they are benefitting from competition in the market.

The direct views of customers can also help to identify gaps or highlight issues in relation to customer engagement, satisfaction and customer protection.

The survey, conducted by Behaviour & Attitudes Ltd and The Research Perspective Ltd, has been carried out annually since 2011. The 2021 results confirm some continuing trends evident from previous years but also highlights 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 ease of comparing offers has gradually improved since 2019 across both electricity and gas customers (increase 42%→ 49% for electricity, increase 44% → 54% for gas).

For domestic customers, switching levels increased slightly in 2021 with 19% of electricity & 20% of gas customers having switched in the past 12 months, The main driver of switching has been the money-saving opportunities.  However, the survey also found that 39% of consumers in the electricity market and 40% in the gas market have never switched suppliers.

Domestic and business customers who indicated they used comparison websites to switch suppliers increased notably, 41% of electricity consumers and 45% of gas consumers used comparison websites in 2021 in comparison with 34% and 42% respectively in 2020. Ease of switching remains high at 94% for electricity and 92% for gas.

Billing and Contract information:

Bill understanding has improved on the already high levels recorded in 2020, with more customers now claiming to read at least some part of their bill. An increased number of domestic electricity customers indicate that they now open their bill and read it in detail (47% in 2021 vs 40% in 2020).

Ease of identifying if a bill has been based on an actual or estimated meter reading remains steady, with the number of consumers who submit their own meter reading increasing from 2019 to 2021 -(59% of electricity consumers and 55% of gas consumers indicate that they submit their own meter readings, compared to 32% and 40% respectively in 2019).

Prepayment customers continue to prefer prepayment to bi-monthly bills; however, satisfaction ratings have declined among gas prepayment customers, reflected by a decline in ratings of the perceived benefits of prepayment.

49% of household electricity customers and 50% of household gas customers are aware of the potential to make a payment arrangement with their supplier in the event of a payment issue.

Priority and Special Services registers for Vulnerable Customers

Energy suppliers are required to maintain a register (“Priority Services Register”) of their customers who are critically dependent on electrically powered equipment; and a register (“Special Services Register”) of its customers who are particularly vulnerable to natural gas or electricity disconnection during winter months.

The number of customers registering remains low, mainly due to consumers not knowing it was possible to register. In 2021 only 29% of electricity customers were aware of the ‘Priority Services’ register. While 19% of electricity customers were aware of the ‘Special Service’ register.

Smart Meters

Awareness of Smart Meters has increased significantly between 2020 and 2021

39%→63% awareness among domestic electricity customers

36%→58% awareness among electricity SMEs

The proportion of customers interested in getting a smart meter remains positive: 78% domestic electricity, 86% domestic gas, 65% SME electricity, 73% SME gas.

Customer willingness to share their usage information with suppliers remains steady with 2020 levels at 81%.

Active Consumer and Energy Communities (new section introduced in 2020)

3 in 5 electricity and 2 in 3 gas customers are interested in becoming an ‘Active Consumer’ in the energy market and mainly interested in the installation of solar panels and monitoring energy through a smart device

Over 50% of customers interested in joining an ‘energy community’ – majority claiming they would not be concerned about the location of the renewable energy generation.

COVID-19 Impact

12% of electricity and 21% of gas customers indicated their household’s ability to pay bills has been negatively impacted by Covid-19 (12% and 15% respectively in 2020). While 43% of all energy users are concerned about increased energy usage and impact on bills (similar to 2020 levels). 1 in 5 electricity and 1 in 4 gas SMEs claim their organisation’s ability to pay energy bills has been impacted by Covid-19 (down from over 1 in 3 in 2020)

Customer Satisfaction:

Satisfaction with energy providers remains high but declines in satisfaction are evident with 77% overall electricity supplier satisfaction (80% in 2020). This is the lowest score since measurement commenced in 2013.

In gas, there was 84% overall gas supplier satisfaction (82% in 2020).

The results of the 2021 Consumer Survey can be found here

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 2021. While switching rates have remained steady, with recent price increases across all suppliers, now is the time to be an active consumer and negotiate or switch your supplier to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible. In addition, customers who may be vulnerable due to advancing age, disability, or illness are encouraged to avail of additional protections by contacting their energy supplier to register on their priority and/or special services register”