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Dublin: 17 °C Saturday 23 August, 2014

Column: In our daily lives, we can form powerful campaign groups to demand change

Consumers can band together to demand better services, writes Oliver Tattan.

Oliver Tattan

PEOPLE POWER HAS always been a powerful force for change in society over the course of history.

Marginalised, ignored and exploited, people power poured onto the streets of Tunisia in the Jasmine revolution that heralded the Arab Spring, it ousted the Marcos regime and in Europe cracked the Soviet bloc in the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.

These are very dramatic examples of people power – but even in our daily lives we can unite to form powerful campaign groups to say: we want change.

Today in the marketplace there is a new emerging force made up of individual consumers standing up for themselves by joining together in their tens of thousands to demand better.

Our new consumer network carried out a survey of over 22,000 householders who signed up to our campaign – probably the biggest vox pop ever carried out in Ireland – to identify that need. The survey showed that three out of four households remain on their electricity retailer’s standard plan, suggesting that many could make savings if they switched their provider. It also found that over half of all householders under 40 years of age said they were too busy to switch.

We pay some of the world’s highest electricity bills

In an international context, Irish householders are paying some of the world’s highest electricity bills, ranking fourth most expensive in Europe according to the latest EC Eurobarometer survey.

It starkly showed that we are paying over twice as much as consumers in Bulgaria, Romania and Estonia. And three times more than consumers in Bosnia Herzegovina.

Clearly, here’s was just one case for a campaign.

This new model of market demand  is a simple but compelling idea: a powerful network of thousands of consumers, voluntarily coming together through the internet to demand and negotiate new deals. Because of their numbers and joint purchasing power, suppliers are creating packages specifically for them.

This is real people power in action, advocating and winning deals on behalf of thousands of individuals and putting money back into consumers’ pockets.

Householders join by adding their name, their county and their email address. Nothing more is required – it costs nothing to join and there’s no obligation. We don’t advocate for any supplier, we advocate and work for our members. There is no charge and no obligation for our members as we fund our campaigning with a commission from the company that provides the final preferred offer.

The Australian example

The concept is so simple and compelling people ask why it wasn’t done before. It’s been tried in the past when people banded together to form buying clubs and co-ops to get better discounts and deals, but they have always been limited by the lack of technology to maximise the mechanics of organising, campaigning and switching, and also by their limited size to reach a critical negotiating mass.

One Big Switch was founded in Australia by Lachlan Harris, where the potency of people power was proved: over 500,000 households became members, leading to a string of successful campaigns to win deals on a range of household bills including home energy, solar power, home insurance, health insurance and broadband.

Now we’ve brought the idea to Ireland. We have harnessed the latest advances in digital technology and internet campaigning tools to forge a powerful, vocal, demanding and effective consumer network. To date over 30,000 Irish householders have joined our campaign for reduced home energy costs, exceeding our recruitment target by over 50 per cent.

Our campaign provides evidence that there is a huge public appetite for a mandated consumer network to harness people power to seek out exclusive deals. I believe we are that force for positive change.

Oliver Tattan is co-founder of OneBigSwitch.ie , CEO of Insurance Regulatory Capital, Co-founder GloHealth, CEO and co-founder VIVAS Health, CEO and co founder Daon, and a former CEO of the VHI and Enterprise Ireland.

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