It's almost winter and the cold is starting to bite. Now's the perfect time to consider switching to a cheap tariff. Do it NOW and you'll be set for the coldest months.
Although suppliers cut prices earlier this year, those on expensive standard tariffs can still save an average £290/year. We've shouted about it for years, but the cheapest deals are for switchers, vastly undercutting the rest. This guide tells you how you can switch.
Top energy tips, including...
Before it's time to put the heating on full blast, take advantage of the cheap deals on the market and see if you could cut your gas and electricity bills by switching. We've had a hidden 'switchers' price war for the last few months, and cheap fixed tariffs (where the rate paid is guaranteed) now undercut the big six standard costs by £290/year for those with typical usage.
Compare to find your cheapest price (plus possible cashback)
Prices always depend on your region and usage, which is why it's important to do a comparison. Our MSE Cheap Energy Club has a top fixed picks comparison which will show you bespoke prices (if you switch, you usually get £30 dual fuel cashback, or £15 for a single fuel).
It's rare to see the UK's biggest energy provider competing on price, but British Gas has just launched a new cheap 12-month dual-fuel, direct debit fix (ie, the rate is guaranteed for a year). New AND existing British Gas customers can get it, so many can switch without moving firm (it won't charge British Gas or Sainsbury's Energy customers exit fees).
For someone on typical use it's £805/year, compared to £1,075/year on British Gas standard or 'fix & fall'. Leave early and there are £60 exit fees, though you can take it with you if you move house.
How to get it? It's not available direct, it's a collective switch (where a trusted intermediary asks energy firms to provide a tariff for it) via MoneySupermarket. It ends on Wednesday 2 December, so go quick if you want it.
As we're part of the same group, we've been able to add the British Gas 12 month fix to our Cheap Energy Club (link goes there). This way, we give £30 cashback which you won't get if you go direct. As your exact price depends on usage and location – you need do a comparison to get it. Here's how the top tariffs compare…
CHEAP ENERGY TARIFFS
Based on typical usage, not available for prepay
|Available until||Tariff||Cost/yr||Exit fee||Cashback|
|Typical cost on a big six standard tariff for comparison (1)||-||-||£1,095||-||-|
|MoneySup collective switch||2 Dec||British Gas 12mth fix||£805||£30/fuel||£30 dual fuel|
|Cheap variable tariff||Ongoing||GB Energy variable||£787||None||None|
|Cheap fixed tariff||Ongoing||GB Energy 12mth fix||£799||None||None|
|Cheap fix with good service||Ongoing||Ovo Energy 12mth fix||£845||None||£30 dual fuel / £15 single via Cheap Energy Club|
|Cheap two winter fix||Ongoing||Flow Energy fix (ends 30 Jan 17)||£824||£30/fuel||£30 dual fuel / £15 single via Cheap Energy Club|
Tariffs correct as of 27 Nov 2015. Based on Ofgem calculations for medium usage. All tariffs assume monthly direct debit. Varies by region. (1) Estimated average across big six.
Energy switch and fixing Q&A
We've been collating your questions from our own survey, the forums and social media about switching and fixed tariffs. We've answered the most common below. Click the links to read the answer to each question.
Comparing shows a fix'll cost me more – should I still do it?
If the comparison shows a fix costs more, then this is all about how much you need certainty. If you're an energy tart who regularly switches (the MSE Cheap Energy Club will give you alerts), you could just ride it out. If not, a fix is more likely to be worth it.
I have a prepay meter. Can I switch or fix my energy tariff?
Yes, you can do both, so don't assume you're stuck. There used to be few cheap fixes for prepay users, but now options are opening up.
One of the cheapest tariffs around is Ovo Energy's PAYG (Online) tariff which has no exit fees and, for someone with typical bills, it's £1,101/year, which is roughly £65/year cheaper than a standard prepay tariff. Ovo topped our latest customer service poll, with 81% scoring them 'great', BUT the tariff is variable so prices could rise.
Another option is Scottish Power's Help Beat Cancer tariff. This locks in the rate you pay per unit of energy until November 2017. It's around £25/year more on average than Ovo but is fixed, so you're protected against price hikes.
Prepay users should also consider shifting to a billed meter, if your credit score allows. For how to do this cheaply, see the Cheap Prepay guide.
Should I take a short, cheaper fix, or fix long? I can't decide
First, look at how much you'd save with each fix. Then ask yourself: "Am I the type of person who'll be an energy tart?" In other words, will you keep on top of this and remember to switch at the end of each deal?
If yes, then a shorter fix – which will generally be cheaper is worth considering (our Cheap Energy Club will alert you when to switch again). Be aware though that if energy prices rise over the next few years, you could end up switching to a pricier deal when your short fix ends.
The less likely you are to tart, the more you should consider a long fix. You may not get quite such a good rate, but it'll stay relatively cheap, even if you're inactive.
How much have prices dropped this year?
With the wholesale price of gas falling by up to 30% in 2014, energy firms found themselves under political pressure – especially in the run up to the general election – to pass on savings to customers.
British Gas cut its gas prices by around 5% on 27 Aug. This only applies to British Gas's standard and Fix & Fall tariffs, and Sainbury's Energy's standard tariff – which means those benefiting from price cuts could still save £250/year by switching to the market's cheapest deals.
We've detailed the big six standard gas tariff price cuts below.
|Supplier||Gas price cut (effective date)||Reduction on typical gas bill|
|British Gas||5% (27 Feb & 27 Aug 2015)||£72 combined|
|EDF||1.3% (11 Feb 2015)||£9|
|E.on||3.5% (13 Jan 2015)||£24|
|Npower||5.1% (16 Feb 2015)||£35|
|Scottish Power||4.8% (20 Feb 2015)||£33|
|SSE||4.1% (30 Apr 2015)||£28|
Switching questions, including 'I'm in debt, can I switch?' and 'Is it a big hassle?'
Q: Isn't switching a big hassle?
A: No. Switch, and you keep the same gas, electricity and pipes. Only service and, crucially, cost changes. Yet admittedly it can take up to two months to switch across.
All you need to do is take five minutes to do a comparison, find your cheapest deal and fill in your details. There can be hitches but switching should be simple for most.
Q: I'm in debt to my supplier, can I switch?
A: If you're on prepay, you can if the debt's £500 per fuel or less. If you're on a credit meter, it varies by supplier and payment type. British Gas and Scottish Power tell us you need to pay off your debt before switching away. The other top six firms may let you switch, then pay it off.
If you're in credit when you switch, your old provider needs to give you the cash.
Q: Suppliers are all the same, so isn't switching pointless?
A: You're right – in many ways they are the same, even though some new smaller suppliers have launched. Yet switching isn't actually about suppliers. Just like one mobile phone firm has many different tariffs, so do energy suppliers.
One supplier can have both the UK's cheapest and most expensive tariff. So the aim's to find your cheapest tariff, regardless of the firm. To show you the impact, and potential waste, someone with typical usage on the UK's cheapest tariff pays £831/year. But the same user on a pricey tariff pays £1,095/year.
Q: How long does it take to switch?
A: Energy suppliers have a cooling-off period of 14 days, which starts from the date you submit your switch, so no action is taken until this period is over. The switching process can take up to 4-6 weeks to complete, depending on the supplier, although some will now switch you more quickly.
But don't worry, you won't lose your supply during this time. It should be a seamless handover from one provider to the other. All that's really changing is the billing, not the actual gas and electricity that you're being supplied.
Energy suppliers are supposed to keep you updated on your switch (via letter/telephone/email – please keep an eye on your junk/spam folder). If you ever have any queries about your switch, you can always contact your energy supplier for an update.
Q: How long does it take to get confirmation after switching?
A: You usually get a confirmation email from the comparison site within 24 hours (definitely via Cheap Energy Club). After that, you're due a welcome pack. It could take weeks (sometimes they even deny you've done it).
Q: I've switched before. It said I'd save, but my bills weren't lower?
A: While it sounds strange, you may save money by switching, even if your bills go up during a round of price hikes. For example, during price hikes by suppliers, you might switch to a new deal to pay less, but then see the price of your NEW tariff increase slightly.
But if you hadn't switched during the price hikes, your bills would've gone up even more on your OLD tariff. So, while you're paying a bit more, it'll still be less than if you hadn't switched.
Q: I am moving home, can I take my fix with me?
A: If you're moving, most providers will allow you to take the fixed tariff to the new house. You usually have to pay the new region's prices, which may be different. But because you've locked into a price before prices go up generally, the savings should still outweigh this.
Therefore if you're fixing right now, it's best to compare based on your new postcode (if you know it) as you'll be there longer – and, of course, check the fix is portable.
Q: Should I call my existing provider to fix?
A: No, no, no. This isn't about grabbing any fix. That could leave you locking in at a high cost – it's about locking in on the cheapest fix, which may be with another provider.
Q: Will prices keep rising in the long run?
A: With energy firms' efficiency, green energy and investment obligations, prices are predicted to go up at least 30-40% over the next five years, unless there's huge political change.
Q: Must energy providers give notice of price rises?
A: Yes, 30 days' notice, so you'll know when it's coming.
Q: Does switching affect my credit rating?
A: Suppliers often carry out credit checks when you apply that show on your credit file. Lenders can see these. Each application can have a minor effect on a future credit score. It's usually not an issue unless you're applying for lots of other credit cards and loans around the same time.
Q: I've just moved house, how can we compare?
A: If you can get an idea of usage figures from the previous homeowners, brilliant. These figures will give you the most accurate comparison.
If not, some comparisons offer a movers' service. Simply answer some basic questions about the house, such as size and appliance use, and it'll tell you the likely cheapest provider.
Until you switch, the energy supplied to the house will come from the supplier the previous owners used.
Q: I'm in the process of switching to a new supplier, but haven't fixed. Is it too late?
A: When you switch supplier, you've got a 14-day cooling-off period. So if you're within this time, do a new comparison looking for a fixed deal and if it's with a different supplier, you can switch again without a problem.
If it's with the same provider or if you've missed the cooling-off period, call the supplier you're due to move to and ask it to switch you to its cheapest fixed tariff (use a comparison to check). Otherwise you'll have to wait until the supply is live before switching again.
Q: I fixed, now prices are up, will I get it?
A: The point of a fix is you're not affected by energy price rises.
If you fixed to cheap fixes that have now been pulled, you should be fine – you'll normally get the prices advertised at the point you applied (whether directly or via a comparison site).
Things can go wrong, though. You could fail a credit check, or maybe you're heavily indebted to your supplier and it tries to block you. If so, you should be told within about two weeks.
Q: I'm already tied in, is it worth asking my current supplier if I can switch to a fixed deal?
A: The only way it can lock you in is with an exit penalty that wipes out any savings you'd make by switching. So first ensure your provider's fix is competitive. If you'd save more than the exit penalty by switching elsewhere, there's no point anyway.
If not, while we've never heard of this happening, it's certainly worth seeing if your current company will waive your exit fee and switch you to its fix – you can always push hard by threatening to go elsewhere if not.
Q: My friend says Utility Warehouse promises to be cheapest?
A: Utility Warehouse/Telecom Plus is a network marketing firm, so its users can be very keen to sell it on. Its 'price promise' excludes online tariffs, which tend to be the cheapest.
As its prices are covered by comparison sites, just like others, to see its price for you, do a comparison (scroll for it, as it usually isn't near top). However, some do like it for getting multi-utility discounts (ie, energy and phone together). The problem is you're normally locked into the energy and phone elements to get the full benefit.
Q: I'm only going to save £10. Is it worth switching?
A: Remember, by fixing you're not just saving now, the aim is to get a guarantee against prices rising. You could also get cashback on top of the tariff saving via the cashback site links.
Q: How do I switch – will the new company contact the old?
A: Yes. There's no need to contact your old provider (unless, perhaps, you are in debt with it and want to discuss how you pay it off).
Q: I've heard some people switch to a cheaper price but have a bigger direct debit?
A: Direct debits are based on an estimate of your usage. Some find they switch to a cheaper tariff, but their direct debit rises.
This is usually because the new firm over-estimates, or the old one under-estimates. If it's too high and means you overpay, you'll get the money back later. If it's a problem, you've a right to ask them to lower it. See Energy Direct Debits.
Q: I'm renting, can landlords dictate which electricity provider I use?
A: If you pay the gas and electricity bill directly (not via the landlord), you can and should compare and switch. Don't stick with the previous tenants' supplier as often it's costly. Always do a meter reading as soon as you move in.
You have a right to do this without your landlord's permission, though it is worth checking your tenancy agreement just in case it's a breach. If it is, communicate with the landlord – nothing changes for it if you switch, so it shouldn't be an issue.
Even if your tenancy agreement says you can't switch, challenge it. Preventing a tenant from changing energy suppliers may be viewed as an unfair term in a tenancy agreement, so talk to Citizens Advice to see if it can help. If you pay your landlord for energy, it's their choice.
Q: I only use electricity – can I switch and fix?
A: Yes, use Cheap Energy Club to find the cheapest electricity prices for your area. Just select 'electricity only' and it will show your top fixes.
Q: Is it true that paying by direct debit is cheapest?
A: Yes, but specifically for monthly direct debits, which can be £90 cheaper/year. Your bill is then estimated, so make sure you do regular meter readings.
Q: What happens if my energy company goes bust?
A: Most importantly, you won't lose continuity of supply. Ofgem will appoint a supplier to take over, and you'll be moved across to a standard tariff. You can switch away without exit fees if the price isn't good enough, so make sure you do a comparison. The only risk is that if you're in credit with the now-bust supplier, you might not get your money back.
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Our Cheap Energy Club is designed to keep you constantly on the cheapest tariff – fighting the fact most cheap deals only last 1-2 years before their rates rise. It does this by...
Finding you the cheapest deal. If you're already on it, great. If not, it'll help you switch. You usually get £30 cashback on top for a dual fuel switch or £15 cashback for switching just gas or electricity.
Then constantly monitoring your tariff. Each month, without you doing anything, we do a background comparison to check yours is still cheapest.
Alerting you when it's time to switch (again). If you can save money switching either because your rate's changed, or others have, we'll tell you.
We've been swamped with positive feedback, such as:
Got to say thanks. I’ll be saving a whopping £800 per year on my dual fuel bill after using your Cheap Energy Club. Was hoping for £300 so this is amazing (a tad annoyed with myself that I didn't do it sooner!
I just switched via Energy Club and will save about £120/year! Thanks! Don't know why I didn't look into this ages ago.
Registered & used your Cheap Energy Club. Managed to switch to a fixed deal and saved £85/yr! On top, the deal promises £70 cashback after three months, making my fixed deal less than the cheapest variable deal.
We've also added some improvements to Cheap Energy Club. One is a filter that lets you search for tariffs with no standing charge. Let us explain....
Energy bills work a bit like phones – you have the standing charge (like line rental, you pay it regardless) and the usage charge (like calls). Many who go away for some of the year want to avoid a standing charge – so Cheap Energy Club now lets you compare all 'no standing charge' tariffs.
Cheap Energy Club's results also show which tariffs will and which won't be eligible for the Warm Home discount. This is a Government discount of £140 you can get during winter - if you qualify. See Warm Home Switching. It also shows which tariffs are made of 100% renewable electricity.
And finally, in the past our alert emails went just to the person who registered, but lots of you said you wanted somebody else copied in, so we've added that function too. Do it when you register, or add them to the account details page if you're already a member.
Try it, and let us know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comparison sites don't always show all tariffs by default
It's also possible to get cashback for switching from comparison sites. Bear in mind though that some comparison sites by default only show you tariffs you can switch to via them (ie, where they're paid commission). This filters out some results – Cheap Energy Club shows you ALL those available by default.
If you do use a comparison site always make sure you've selected the option to show all available tariffs to get the full picture before making a decision.
Here's a summary of how you can switch via the major comparison sites:
Six-bottle case of wine to switch
uSwitch* – only applies to dual fuel switches
We've blagged MoneySavers six bottles of wine from Naked Wines if you switch both gas and electricity via uSwitch. Use this uSwitch* link and, after your new supply goes live, you'll be emailed a voucher for a case of wine containing six bottles worth at least £60. Please be Drinkaware.
It can take up to four months from the date you switched to get the voucher – you must use the voucher within six months of the date it was sent.
£17 cashback per fuel switched
Energyhelpline* – get £34 for dual fuel
Switch via this specific Energyhelpline* link. You can get £34 for a dual fuel switch, or £17 for a single gas or electricity switch.
If you switch gas to one supplier and your electricity to another supplier, you get £34. Though if you do two single switches to the same supplier, you'll only get £17.
Energyhelpline pays the cashback 60-120 days after your new supply goes live. The offer is ongoing.
£30 dual fuel cashback or £15/fuel
UK Power* – you must go via our link to get it
Do a comparison via this UK Power* link and you get £30 cashback for a dual fuel switch with it. You'll get £15 cashback if you switch just one fuel via the same link.
£30 cashback or £15 per fuel
Moneysupermarket* – cashback can take up to six months
Go via this MoneySupermarket* link and if it can switch you, it will put £30 in your account. Expect it 8-12 weeks after your supply has gone live, though it can take as long as six months in some cases.
It may be possible to INCREASE the cashback even more
Occasionally, some energy companies pay even more if you switch directly via their websites or via cashback websites. Therefore, for the ultimate finesse, first use the comparison services to find the cheapest, then check the winner's website direct to see if it offers more cashback.
When is the cashback paid?
Cashback's usually paid automatically 45 to 90 days after you sign up, but remember it's only paid when the comparison service actually administers the switch for you. In some cases it can take as long as six months, and some comparison sites make you put in a claim.
Otherwise it doesn't earn anything, so it can't cut you in. Things can and do sometimes go wrong, so don't count the cash as yours until it's in your pocket.
How do comparison sites work?
The cheapest supplier for you is calculated by a complicated algorithm. It depends on where you live, how much energy you use, and the type of energy you use. Web and phone-based comparison services do this for you.
Just plug in your address and usage (use the kilowatt hours on the bill rather than the cost to improve accuracy) and they tell you which supplier is cheapest. If you don't have a bill or have just moved in, most comparison services can still estimate for you.
How do they earn their money?
Comparison services are paid between £30 and £70 per switch by the energy companies. In other words, they're referral businesses. In itself this isn't actually a problem, as it doesn't add costs to the consumer. Watchdog Citizens' Advice has an accreditation system for website (not phone) services, setting minimum standards.
Yet these are commercial beasts, and thus there are differences between them – in functionality, inclusion of niche players and the treatment of initial discounts. There have also been some concerns that one or two tweak results at the edges for their gain.
Overall, it's better to use them than to listen to the energy companies when they shout "we're cheapest".
Why do they only pay cashback via this site?
In the early days of the site, way back in 2004, a comparison service boss asked Martin: "How can we be your top pick?" Flippantly, he replied: "Pay customers some of your cut!" Surprisingly it agreed to a trial, but only for users of this site, so as not to cannibalise its existing custom.
That was the start, and as this site's grown, now with many millions of users a month, they all want a piece of the pie. Hence many now offer cashback.
In the main, it's still only links from this site, or for those who use phone services and quote the deals here. If you go direct, you get exactly the same service but without the cashback. You may be able to get cashback for specific energy providers via cashback websites.
Why do I get different results from comparisons?
It's common to use different comparison sites and get different results. While it can be annoying, not much can be done to standardise it. The main reasons it happens are:
These sites make a number of assumptions If you haven't entered kilowatt hours, which is the most accurate way, then just giving a past bill can't actually tell the comparison sites your exact usage, so they each make some assumptions to work it out. Slight differences in those assumptions can affect the overall recommendations.
Even if you do put kilowatt hours in, other assumptions are made, as some sites add in seasonal usage weightings and more slight variances due to how the calculations are done. Of course it's very frustrating, but ultimately it's likely the actual difference in what you pay will be small.
Check you've selected exactly the same current tariff Annoyingly, when asking which tariff you're currently on, comparison sites often list almost identically named products for each provider - something that should be cracked down on - so make sure when you're picking your current tariff, you get it exactly right.
Was the difference just in the amount saved? If the tariff you should switch to is identical, but the saving isn't, this is less of a worry - it's far more likely to be about assumptions.
What about when there are genuinely different answers? That's very annoying and really it shouldn't happen, but occasionally it does. The only way to get PERFECT accuracy is to get a spreadsheet out and do your own comparisons. But unless you're a maths whizz with a lot of time, that's virtually impossible.
The actual answer here is to remember the differences are only at the margins, so overall if you're making a saving it's still a good move.
Why do we suggest comparison sites if this can happen? The alternative is listening to the guy in the supermarket or ringing you trying to flog you a new tariff, and they're just salespeople. While the comparison sites aren't perfect, they are accredited by Ofgem and those standards mean the differences are small.
In 2005, we took the decision (having made a big fuss about it), that, ultimately it was more important to encourage people to save big money by getting the best tariff easily and switching at the right moment, than to berate comparison sites for small differences.
We accepted comparison sites were the 'least worst' way to do it. Overall, they provide a good service and tell you roughly the cheapest provider. We hope they'll improve, but they're much better than sticking with an expensive supplier and watching prices rise.
Help! I'm supplied by an independent gas transporter
Independent gas transporters (IGTs) are often used by homebuilders instead of National Grid in new-build properties as they charge less to fit pipes. One in 20 people are supplied by them instead of National Grid.
Occasionally, it may mean you can't switch to certain suppliers – usually the smaller ones.
How to tell if you have an independent gas transporter
If the MPRN (meter point reference number unique to your house) on your bill is 10 digits long, and starts with 74 or 75, this means you are supplied by an independent gas transporter. If you're not sure, Energylinx has a useful tool you can use to check.
Is Utility Warehouse any good?
This is a commonly-asked question. Unlike most energy companies and resellers, Utility Warehouse operates by network marketing, which means its customers are encouraged to sell the product to their friends and they get commission for it.
This tends to mean it does well on feedback charts, as customers have a vested interest, and many of them are evangelical about the firm. That in itself doesn't make the product bad, but in our view it's no better or worse than any other energy provider.
Utility Warehouse's prices are included in all the main comparison services we list. So if the company turns out to be cheapest for you, it should be listed by them, and then it's worth going for.
The main pitch of Utility Warehouse is that you can also get cheap mobile, broadband and home phones with it and that reduces the fee. In general, we find using the cheapest individual providers undercuts this, so always compare with those before signing up to it. See the Cheap Home Phones, Cheap Broadband and Cheap Mobiles guides for more.
Can I compare renewable energy?
Luckily, renewable energy tariffs are now commonplace, and most suppliers offer them. Cheap Energy Club has a filter which shows all renewable tariffs.
This is one area where going green and saving money diverge. The cheapest renewable tariffs tend to cost more than the cheapest standard tariffs, so it really is a question of your personal politics. However if you can afford to go renewable, then it's a help to the environment, and all the main comparison services allow you to compare renewable tariffs.
Fixed monthly direct debit payments, where you pay a fixed estimate each month, can usually save you £70-£90 a year as companies are sure you won't default and they earn interest on any overpayments. So if you can do this, go for it. Depending on your supplier, any overpayments are refunded automatically or on request.
Plus don't assume dual fuel (getting gas & electricity from one supplier) is cheapest. When comparing, check the cheapest separate suppliers too.
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Energy efficiency can seriously cut bills. There are wads of freebies on offer from energy providers, from new boilers to loft and cavity wall insulation.
It's all part of their efficiency obligations to people in certain groups. The full Free Insulation & Boilers guide has more, but below's a taster of what you can get and what it'll save you.
Boiler replacement or repair. Boilers account for around 55% of what you spend in a year on energy bills. The more efficient your boiler, the more heat it produces from each gas unit.
Depending on your boiler's age, a shiny new efficient one could save you up to £340/year. New boilers typically cost £2,300 – a fabulous freebie.
Cavity wall insulation. Most homes built since 1920 have a gap between internal and external walls. Filling the cavity with insulating mineral wool and foam means cold air's kept out, and warm air stays in. It can save an average three-bedroom home up to £160/year.
Loft insulation. Up to a quarter of your home's heat escapes via the roof, but you can solve this by laying mineral wool under the rafters, saving up to £140/yr.
If you don't have a gas supply, don't think the rules are different. If you only have electricity you can still save serious cash using the comparisons. Use Cheap Energy Club or the other comparison sites listed above to compare electricity prices.
Green Star unlimited* is a 12-month dual fuel tariff which means your cost is fixed regardless of usage - while not that cheap, it's great for those, including many elderly people, who want peace of mind that they can turn the heat on constantly and not worry.
To see how it stacks up read Martin's Green Star unlimited energy - any good? analysis.
While a push from the Government means it's getting better, those on prepayment (key/card) meters are still pretty hard done by, certainly compared to those who pay by direct debit. If possible, switch to a billed meter. You may have to pay, but the savings are usually worth it.
Often they won't let you though, due to credit score or income difficulties. For full info on how to ditch a prepayment meter for a credit meter, or if you can't, how to save on a prepay meter, see the full Cheap Prepaid Gas & Elec guide. If you can't get a normal meter, you can switch and save (compare prepay tariffs).
Energy complexity is frustrating. Switching at a time when price hikes aren't looming can save people big money. But it can feel the opposite if the direct debit goes up.
Direct debits are based on an estimate of your usage. So some find they've switched to a cheaper tariff, but their direct debit rises. This can be the new firm over-estimating or the old one under-estimating. If it means you overpay, you'll get the money back later.
Since we've been lobbying on direct debits, rules have changed. Suppliers' licences now say they must ensure direct debits are reasonable. If yours isn't, see the full help guide Energy Direct Debits.
If you rent your home, you could save around £190+ a year by switching. You don't need to own the property to do it, so don't just stick with the previous tenant's gas or electricity firm.
Tenants can print out our factsheet to give to landlords. It explains the rights that renters have to switch energy supplier. It also helps landlords understand that allowing tenants to switch won't cause them any problems. Let us know if the factsheet helped you in the Energy factsheet forum thread.
When renting, you're free to switch, providing you pay the energy supplier directly (rather than paying your landlord).
You should also check your tenancy agreement – but even if your contract bans switching, Ofgem's guidance on this states that if you pay the energy bill, you're still entitled to change supplier any time. You can still compare on Cheap Energy Club if you don't have the former occupants' bills, just hit the "don't know" button when you enter your usage.
We'd love to hear your experiences of switching as a renter on the Switching when renting forum discussion, especially if you've successfully challenged your landlord. In our October 2013 poll, 52% told us they switched with no problems and didn't consult their landlord.
If you're a renter, here's some more info on your switching rights.
Pay the energy company directly? You CAN switch supplier
This is because you have a contract directly with the energy supplier. You don't need to get permission from your landlord to do this, but it's a good idea to let them know in writing so they're aware. It is worth checking your tenancy agreement just in case it is a breach. If it is, talk to your landlord.
My tenancy agreement says I can't switch, help!
Even if you pay energy bills to the supplier, but your tenancy agreement says you can't switch, challenge it. Preventing a tenant from changing energy suppliers may be viewed as an unfair term in a tenancy agreement. Talk to Citizens Advice to see if it can help.
If there's a default supplier clause in the tenancy agreement – where a landlord has a tie-in with a particular supplier – Ofgem says you can still switch.
Ofgem's guidance states: "If a tenant is directly responsible for paying the gas and/or electricity bills, they have the right to choose their own energy supplier and the landlord or letting agent should not unreasonably prevent this." See the Ofgem website for more.
Even if you pay your landlord for energy, you may still be able to switch
It's still worth talking to your landlord to see if they'll switch to a cheaper supplier – after all, they'll get to pay less on energy bills too. However, your options are limited to just asking, because the landlord is the account holder. Put simply, the account holder is the only person with the right to switch.
Landlord says you can't ditch supplier? Try a cheaper tariff
If your landlord won't budge, ask if you can be switched to a cheaper tariff with the same energy supplier. If the landlord allows this (here's hoping they will), you'll start paying the cheaper prices the same day you switch.
You may be able to switch from a prepay to a normal meter
If you've got a prepay meter and you're renting, you can still switch your energy supplier, providing you pay the company directly (check your tenancy agreement too – though if it says you can't switch, challenge it).
If you want to change the meter itself (perhaps you're changing a prepaid to a standard meter), then it's best to get written permission from your landlord first.
This is because it could be seen as a changing the property from its original condition, unless you arrange to change the meter back at the end of the tenancy. The supplier may charge to do this, so check first. See the Cheap Prepaid Gas & Elec guide.
You may be eligible for free insulation or a free boiler
Tenants can also get free insulation and boilers, as long as they meet suppliers' eligibility criteria and have permission from their landlord.
You may be able to qualify if:
- You get tax credits and have a household income of less than £16,010 OR
- You receive income-based benefits, such as pension credit or income support, and you've either, children, a disabled person in the household or are over 60. Full help in the Free Insulation and Boilers guide.
Check if you're one of 3.5 million owed refunds
In 2014 it was revealed that 3.5 million people are owed a refund by an old supplier. Energy regulator Ofgem "expects suppliers to do more" to return the cash, taken from customers who overpaid on bills before switching elsewhere.
Your previous supplier(s) will owe you money if you were in credit when you switched, and you didn't get that money back automatically. If that happened, you have to ask for a refund.
We've created a guide for you to check if you're owed any of the £200 million that providers are still sitting on. Plus, if you are owed, the guide will tell you how to claim. It's down you to get your money back.
See how to get your previous supplier to cough up in Reclaim Energy Bill Refunds.
It's not just which energy supplier you pay, but how much you use. Cutting energy is a mix of big and little things.
Turn down the thermostat and wear jumpers, turn lights off when you leave a room, use energy saving lightbulbs, defrost the fridge and check it's not on too high and don't leave electrical goods on standby. For more info, read the forum's Energy Saving Hunt and see the Energy Saving Trust website.
Some firms do a credit check when you apply to switch, as if you pay by direct debit, bills are estimated - if they under-assess you, you could owe them cash, so they want to know you’re good for it. There are two types of credit check done…
- Soft search - this is the best type, as you can see it on your file, but lenders can’t so it DOESN’T have any impact on your ability to get future credit products (like mortgages).
- Hard search - this DOES leave a mark on credit files lenders can see and can have a minor negative impact on future credit applications. This isn’t a big deal usually, but if you’re planning to apply for a mortgage within the next couple of months you may want to miss it.
If you don't pass the credit check, suppliers may ask you to pay a security deposit, eg, £200/fuel, or suggest a prepayment meter in order to take on your supply. You can stop the switch if this happens though.
Energy supplier credit checks
|British Gas||Hard check|
|Scottish Power||No check|
|First Utility||Hard check|
|Flow Energy||No check|
|GB Energy||No check|
|OVO Energy||No check|
Last updated: Nov 2015
If you're worried about your credit score, our Credit Scores guide has 25 tips on how to boost it.
Don't rely on your energy provider's estimate; these are often way out. If they're under-billing, you'll have a big whack to pay when your supplier receives your actual meter reading. If they're over-billing, then they've unfairly got your cash.
If your direct debit is way off kilter, call up and ask for it to be changed. You have a range of rights to ensure it's correct. See the full Energy Direct Debits guide for template letters.
If you pay different rates depending on what time you use your energy, you can still save. Economy 7 users can compare in exactly the same way as everyone else. See our full Is Economy 7 Right for You? guide for full info.
Economy 7 users can switch to cheap fixes too. In most cases Economy 7 users can also get the top fix tariffs in the Cheapest Fixed Deals table above.
If you've Economy 10, it's slightly more effort. However we've worked out a way to compare – see how to do it in our Economy 7 guide. Economy 7 and 10 tariffs are only worth considering if you've storage heaters, work shifts or can use appliances on timers.
If you use a heating oil tank to warm your home, our guide can help slash your bills.
1.5 million UK households rely on heating oil tanks. But many overpay due to an under-regulated market that gets too little political attention.
Our guide includes five simple steps to help cut costs, including how to haggle down the price, when to time your purchase, buying in bulk for big discounts and pay in the cheapest possible way.
Some could save £50-£100 on an average annual bill of £1,400. The guide's only for those using home heating oil (not LPG or renewable energy). See Cheap Heating Oil.
How to complain about your energy provider
The energy industry isn't known for having great customer service across the board, and while a provider may be good for some, it can be hell for others. Common problems include incorrect bills, switching issues, direct debits being too high, refund delays and more. It's always worth trying to call your provider first, but if not then…
Free tool if you're having a problem
This tool helps you draft your complaint and manage it too. It's totally free, and offered by a firm called Resolver which we like so much we work with it to help people get complaints justice.
If the complaint isn't resolved, Resolver will escalate it to the free Ombudsman Services.