Getting the best from your energy supplier
Whoever you buy your gas and electricity from, you need to make sure you are getting a good deal...
Take a meter reading every time
Every time you receive a bill, check your meter. Most bills are still based on estimates, and these can be extremely inaccurate. If your bill has been overestimated then you are paying for fuel you haven’t actually used; if it’s been underestimated then you won’t be paying enough and may be in for a shock when the meter is eventually read
Avoid prepayment meters if you can
Prepayment meters work on a pay-as-you-go basis. You top up a key or a card at a pay point and then stick it in the meter which tops up your available credit. Some people like prepayment meters because they help with budgeting and they do not allow you to build up a big debt (emergency credit is usually limited to £5). However, credit can run out at inconvenient times and you may find it difficult to get to a pay point.
Prepayment customers don’t benefit from prompt-payment or other discounts, so it usually pays to switch to a billed credit meter. Some supplier charge for this, so you may want to switch to a supplier who doesn't.
Some suppliers have begun to offer smart pay-as-you-go meters which offer more convenient top-up methods and a range of other advantages over standard key or card meters.
If your existing supplier hasn’t put you on the cheapest option (or ‘tariff’) you may be paying more than you need to for your gas and electricity. You can phone them to check; the number will be shown on your energy bill. Some suppliers may offer you a smart meter as part of your deal. This will automatically provide accurate meter readings to your supplier.
If you live in a rental property and your name is on the bill, you have the right to switch to the energy supplier of your choice even if your tenancy agreement says otherwise. You also have the right to change your meter from a prepayment to a credit meters (or vice versa), although you may be obliged to change it back at the end of your tenancy. The exceptions to this are if your landlord’s name is on the bill. If your landlord or lettings agency is unreasonably preventing you from switching you can contact Citizens Advice for guidance.
Customers who are prepared to pay by direct debit will often pay less for their fuel and have the greatest choice of tariffs. Energy suppliers can no longer offer discounts for customers who pay by direct debit but they still restrict access for many of the most competitive tariffs to those prepared to pay by direct debit. Sometimes suppliers also offer lower unit rates on tariffs for direct debt customers. Paying by direct debit also spreads the cost of fuel evenly over the course of the year, avoiding high winter bills.
Even with a direct debit it is important to take regular meter readings and check your bills. Direct debit payment figures are only ever based on estimates of how much energy you will use and these are frequently over or under estimated. Your supplier is only obliged to attempt to read your meter once every two years so, to avoid shock bills or accumulating large credits, send a meter reading every time you receive a statement. Your direct debit should be reviewed at least once a year.
Buying both your gas and electricity from the same supplier is convenient but it is not always the cheapest option. If you have one supplier for gas and a different one for electricity then you can check with both to see which would offer you the better deal to become a dual fuel customer. However, to find the cheapest available tariff it’s better to use an independent comparison service and check tariffs from separate suppliers as well as dual fuel options.
Switching to an online tariff can save you a further 10% on your bill. The only thing that will change is that you will get your bills by email rather than through the post.
Most competitively priced tariffs available nowadays are fixed-priced deals. This means the rate you pay for each unit of gas or electricity you use, and for your daily standing charge, won’t go up for the duration of your contract (though how much you pay each month will still be affected by how much energy you use).
If your supplier drops its prices after you've fixed yours then being on a fixed deal might mean that you end up paying more than you would have done on their standard variable rate tariff. However, in recent years the trend has been for energy prices to go up so being on a fixed deal has tended to offer better value than being on a variabe rate tariff. You can always get out of your fixed deal if you find that you can get a better price elsewhere. Even after your 14 day cooling-off period you can still cancel your fixed deal. Cancelation fees are usually little more than £20 per fuel and in some cases it’s free to exit a fixed contract.
To get the best savings you need to check independent price comparison websites every year, or at least whenever your contracts end. If you can’t, or don’t want to do this, 3 or even 4-year fixed price deals can be available. These may not offer the cheapest option, but compared to your supplier’s standard or default tariff they can save £500 or more over the lifetime of that contract.
According to the energy industry regulator, Ofgem, switching supplier could save you £130 per year, and more than this if you’re on your supplier’s standard or default tariff. The switching process is easy; a quick phone call or a few minutes online with the company you're switching to, followed normally by a small form to fill in that you'll receive in the post.
For accurate, independent advice, use one of the price comparison and switching services listed below. These are all accredited under the Ofgem Confidence Code:
www.energyhelpline.com | 0800 074 0745
www.uswitch.com | 0808 1783 492
www.moneysupermarket.com | 0845 345 5708
www.theenergyshop.com | 0845 330 7247
www.simplyswitch.com | 0800 011 1395
www.energylinx.co.uk | 0800 849 7077
www.myutilitygenius.co.uk | 0203 468 0461
www.switchgasandelectric.com | 0871 711 7771
www.ukpower.co.uk | 0808 250 7341
www.unravelit.com | 0800 862 0021
www.which.co.uk/switch | 01992 822 867
www.runpathdigital.com/gas-electricity | online only
www.Quotezone.co.uk | online only
Ofgem has a website with lots of useful information about switching. See goenergyshopping.co.uk.
It’s very important to bear in mind that an offer from your new supplier may be only temporary, and that in due course you’ll be put on a more expensive tariff. You should check this before making any commitment to switch.
Once you've switched, your old supplier is not obliged to reimburse you any credit left behind on your old account unless you specifically ask for it. You can claim credit back from an old account no matter how long ago it was. If you think your old supplier owes you some money back following a switch, visit myenergycredit.com.
What information will I need?
Recent changes have made switching energy suppliers much simpler. One of these changes has been to ensure all bills contain all the information you need to accurately compare energy suppliers, all helpfully packaged in one section of the bill, generally called “About your tariff” or something similar. This section informs you of: the name of the tariff you're on; how you pay for your energy; if you have to pay any fees to exit your tariff; and how much energy you use per year in kilowatt hours (kWh).
Elsewhere, your bill or annual statement will tell you the name of your current supplier and your electricity or gas supply number. Every gas and electricity supply has a unique reference number. For gas this is known as the Meter Point Reference Number (MPRN). For electricity this is known as the Meter Point Administration Number (MPAN). Note that these are not the same as your customer account number or your meter serial number (printed on your meter).
If you switch suppliers, make sure you give your new supplier these numbers when you switch or during your two week cooling-off period afterwards. This will help to avoid any mistakes or mix-ups during the switchover. Your MPAN and MPRN will be printed on an old bill or statement, or your old supplier will be able to tell you what it is.
All of these details, can be found somewhere on your bill. For help finding them, see Understanding your gas or electricity bill.
Warm Home Discount
The Warm Home Discount is a rebate on the household electricity bill, offered by the larger energy suppliers (those with 250,000 customers or more). This winter (2016-17) it is worth £140, and is available to customers who receive the guarantee credit element of Pension Credit.
Some suppliers also offer this discount to a broader group of customers, so if you receive any type of benefit or are on a low income it’s worth calling your supplier to check. See our Warm Home Discount page for details.
Priority Services Register
If you have a disability or a longterm health issue that means you rely on a constant electricity supply, e.g. for an oxygen machine or stairlift, you should contact your District Network Operator. This is the company that owns and runs the wires in your area (in most of the South West it’s Western Power Distribution). They can put you on their Priority Services Register so that you’ll receive priority treatment in the event of a powercut and could get extra support in an emergency, like providing you with a generator or sending the British Red Cross to help you. Your energy supplier will also have a Priority Services Register. Being on this will entitle you to help like:
- Quarterly meter readings to keep on top of bills
- Free gas safety checks
- Moving your meters to a more accessible place
- Special controls for appliances and meters
- Password protection scheme to deter bogus callers
- Getting your bills sent to friends, relatives or carers
- Services for deaf or visually-impaired customers
- Advance notice of disruption to supply
Switch suppliers now
CSE has formed a partnership with energyhelpline to make it easier to switch. See www.cse-switch.org.uk
Priority Services Register
If you live in the green or blue areas, we can sign you up to your local priority services register if you're over 60 or you rely on electricity for medical or mobility reasons or you have a hearing or visual impairment or a long-term health condition.
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For more domestic energy advice, view all our advice pages.
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