I propose to take Questions Nos. 147 and 186 together.
The total cost of the electricity/gas allowance in 2013 is estimated at €176 million with 405,000 recipients. The total cost of the telephone allowance in 2013 is estimated at €48 million with 395,000 recipients. My Department meets regularly with the energy and telecommunication providers to ensure the smooth operation of the household benefits scheme, and to pursue savings for the Department and better deals for our customers. Those discussions are on-going. We continue to receive a discount from Electric Ireland; this discount was increased last year to €1.7 million. This is in addition to a previous ‘write off’ of €1.1 million in relation to Public Services Obligation (PSO) rebate in 2009. Last year a deal was concluded with Eircom which was estimated to generate €17 million in savings over a twelve month period.
Following Budget 2013, the structure of the electricity and gas allowance has been changed from a unit based allowance to a cash credit of €35 per month. This rate is currently aligned to the best average market rate currently available. The changed structure of the allowance is designed to encourage customers to achieve better savings through greater mobility between energy suppliers who can best meet their individual energy needs.
As announced in Budget 2013, and having regard to the on-going budgetary constraints, the monthly telephone allowance for customers has been reduced from €22.60 to €9.50. By way of response, I welcome that Eircom are currently looking at developing special packages for vulnerable customers in response to this change. In addition, there are a wide variety of deals available from other operators within the market; by way of illustration it is now possible to get a standard pay-as-you-go brand name mobile telephone for as little as €19.99.
Electricity and gas customers will mitigate the average loss per customer of €7.05 if they regularly shop around and ensure that they get the best value now in the market place from energy providers for their specific energy needs. The Commission for Energy Regulation website energycustomers.ie has information on how to switch electricity/gas supplier and the Commission for Communications Regulation website www.callcosts.ie has information on how to switch telecommunication and broadband supplier.