As the Energy Minister today called on firms to make the energy switching process easier, these are my top ten energy need to knows.

With all of the big six energy providers having now announced or enforced autumn price hikes, and as the Government's plans are still a few months off (see the Energy crackdown news story), these are the steps you can take now to slash your energy bills now:

  1. Your bill could be £1,400/year if you don't act. Price rises have been a mammoth 5%-12% on electricity and 15%-19% on gas. Until now, I've been saying either fix or stick. Yet now everyone should check as we've a level playing field for comparison as all companies have upped prices. So compare now, and you won't end up switching to a company only to see it hike prices the next week.

    Typical standard post-hike annual bills
    Company Cost Effective
    British Gas (i) £1,286 Now
    EDF £1,240 10 Nov
    Npower £1,253 1 Oct
    SSE (ii) £1,265 Now
    Eon £1,293 Now
    Scottish Power £1,391 Now
    (i) Includes Scottish Gas. (ii) Includes Southern Electric, SWALEC, Scottish Hydro & Atlantic

  2. It's about your tariff, not what company you're with. Each energy company has a range of deals, with those who've never switched paying the most. Which tariff you're on has a far bigger impact than whose logo tops the bill. Someone on the most expensive deal may compare and find their own company's also got the cheapest.

  3. Compare and get cashback. To find your cheapest tariff, just plug your postcode and average usage into a comparison site and it'll find you the cheapest. Plus, certain sites such as Energyhelpline, Moneysupermarket or uSwitch may offer cashback deals on top of what you're already going to save by switching.

  4. Prepay customers can save £100s too. Don't assume just because you're on a key or card meter you can't switch and save, as you can use energy price comparison sites to compare your prices too. Better still, you may be able to switch to a standard meter for free, as some providers will install them for nothing if you meet certain credit check requirements.

  5. Pay by monthly direct debit to save 5% ish more. Most companies give big discounts if you pay by monthly direct debit (don't confuse this with other direct debits). Here, you pay a fixed estimate each month based on a year's typical use, but ensure you do regular meter readings to keep it accurate. If you're overpaying, just ask them for the money back.

  6. Dual fuel isn't always cheapest. Logically, dual fuel (gas and electricity from the same supplier) should be cheaper and it often is, yet not always. So compare the cost of cheapest separate gas and electricity suppliers too.

  7. Some online tariffs could still rise. Online tariffs are by far the cheapest. Most have seen their prices hiked, but beware as some deals such as EDF's Online Saver 7, 9, 10 & 12 for example haven't yet, so if they come out your cheapest, be careful switching to them as prices could rise.

  8. Fix to block future price rises. A fixed tariff ensures your rate won't rise for a set period, eg, 2 years, giving you a 'no-hike' guarantee. Many on standard tariffs can save £100s a year by fixing (just select 'fixed options only' on comparison sites). Yet, of course, I simply don't know if the next round of prices moves will be up or down and if a fix turns out to be costlier, you'll usually need pay a small penalty to exit.

  9. Npower and EDF customers – act quick to beat exit fees. Many gas and electricity deals come with an exit fee of up to £100 (though typically around £60) for those who leave before the term ends. Yet once prices rise there's a small window where you're allowed to leave without penalty (see the EDF and Npower rises news stories).

  10. Free energy grants worth £100s to cut your bills. Cheaper rates are just one half of the energy saving equation, the other is using less. Currently, British Gas is offering £100s of free wall or roof insulation for all customers, Eon is offering it to some. But these are just the start and some grants can be in the £1,000s.
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