Best buys: Switch and get cashback
In this guide
Time to switch! Save £200+ a year on energy bills
All the big six companies - SSE, Npower, British Gas, E.on, Scottish Power and EDF - have all now implemented 6%-11% price hikes (see all price moves).
So now's the time to switch. Typical users on a standard dual fuel tariff will spend, on average, £1,420 a year after hikes. But the same on the very cheapest pay £1,040.
Latest price changes
2012/2013 rises by provider
Price changes vary not just by company, but by region, so there can be huge variations. The following are the most recent average changes for each major supplier.
Remember that when you compare energy prices, if price rises have been announced but are yet to come into force, you'll get the 'after-rise' price. This is because comparison services incorporate new costs as soon as they get the info from suppliers, not when they happen.
- Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE). 9% gas hike, 9% elec hike (took place 15 Oct 2012).
Includes Swalec, Southern Electric, Scottish Hydro and Atlantic.
Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) hiked prices by 9% on both gas and electricity.
- British Gas & Scottish Gas. 6% gas & elec rise (took place 16 Nov 2012).
Also on 12 Oct 2012, British Gas announced an average 6% rise in its standard gas and electricity prices, effective from 16 Nov 2012.
- Npower. 8.8% gas, 9.1% electricity rise (took place 26 Nov 2012).
On 12 Oct 2012, Npower announced an 8.8% gas and 9.1% electricity rise, effective from 26 Nov 2012. Dual fuel customers were hit with a 9.4% increase.
- Scottish Power. 7% gas & elec rise (3 Dec 2012).
Scottish Power hiked average gas and electricity prices by 7% on 3 Dec 2012.
- EDF Energy. 10.8% gas hike, 10.8% elec hike (7 Dec 2012).
EDF hiked prices by 10.8% on both gas and electricity on 7 Dec 2012. This followed a 5% cut in gas prices on 7 Feb 2012.
- E.on. 8.7% dual fuel, 7.7% elec only and 9.4% gas only (18 Jan 2013).
After promising no hikes in 2012, E.on announced average price rises of 8.7% for those on dual fuel, effective from 18 Jan 2013.
- Fix for 3 years. The new Npower Price Fix* promises no hikes until Sept 2016 and is cheaper for those on bog-standard tariffs. If prices rise 10% a year as some predict (no guarantee), some will save £1,000+.
- Does it beat EDF Blue? EDF Blue Feb 2015*, while shorter, is much cheaper. Like Npower, it has no early exit fees, so if you want to leave early (for example, if prices elsewhere get cheaper) you can. It's available for dual fuel & electricity only (not prepay).
By the time EDF's fix ends, someone with typical bills would have paid it £200 less than Npower. So if you want to fix, Npower's longer deal would have to save you more than EDF would in its remaining 16 months.
That's likely, due to a huge price hike if you didn't switch again. But if you did switch again, say to the cheapest variable, that'd need to rise by 15% every year from now for Npower to be the winner. So it's a balance. EDF has far better short-term savings, but Npower protects from the worst-case scenario for longer.
- Always compare, get £30 cashback and FREE price monitoring. Always check how these deals stack up for you first. Your exact cheapest depends on your usage, postcode & current tariff. Our free MSE Cheap Energy Club will compare (both tariffs are in our 'top picks' tab). Switch via it and you get £30 dual fuel cashback (£15 elec only) on top, and it'll monitor your tariff to alert you when to switch again.
|Long-term gas & electricity fixed deals|
|Fixed until||Exit fee||Cost/yr|
|Avg standard tariff (1)||-||-||£1,420|
|Npower price fix* (2)||30 Sep 2016||None||£1,320|
|EDF Blue* (2)||28 Feb 2015||None||£1,190|
|Npower online price fix*||31 Aug 2014||£30/fuel||£1,040|
|Cheapest variable (2)||-||-||£1,040|
|(1) Quarterly billing, dual fuel customer. Source: Ofgem (2) Monthly direct debit, dual fuel. Varies by region.|
These are the headlines, but for full info on how to really slash costs, see the full guide below.
Other Home & Energy Articles
Time To Switch alerts service: We'll warn you in the free weekly email whenever the switching status changes
The easiest way to find which is cheapest is to use a comparison site. Tell it where you live and as much info as possible about your energy bills, and it compares energy prices to tell you which company's cheapest. If you don't have your bills handy for usage figures, it'll estimate.
Yet don't go direct. Instead, click these special links to specific comparison sites, and within 45-90 days you'll get paid cashback or freebies on top, provided they can switch you (see why they pay). If you're confused about what type of tariff to pick, see the Q&A below.
Overall winner: £15 cashback per switch Energyhelpline
Our top pick, based on historical reliability, feedback and research, is Energyhelpline*. It pays £15 for a dual fuel switch or £30 if you switch to separate gas & elec suppliers.
Get permanently cheap energy with Cheap Energy Club Try our Cheap Energy Club tool
We've been shouting when to switch energy and when not to forever. Yet you tell us it's complicated and a hassle.
So you've inspired us to build Cheap Energy Club, which strips the effort out. We'll hold your hand through the process and make sure you're ALWAYS on the best tariff, so you're CONSTANTLY getting a cheap price (it's different for everyone). Plus if you switch via it you get £30 dual fuel cashback.
Try it, and let us know what you think at email@example.com.
While that's our overall top comparison, if you're going for dual fuel, which means getting gas and electricity from one provider, bigger freebies are possible (one per household).
Don't assume dual fuel is always cheapest. Check whether getting separate gas and electricity can undercut it, as it often can. These picks are based on a mix of feedback and freebies.
Dual fuel: crate of wine
Go via this uSwitch* link to compare energy prices and if it can switch you, you'll get six bottles from DropWines, totally free, to your door. Don't confuse this with its 25% off deal if you go to uSwitch directly and switch.
Previously the offer was for 12 bottles of wine, then eight bottles and four wine glasses.
You could get an equivalent case of wine for around £30 from supermarkets, we reckon this case is worth between £35-40.
You'll receive a code by email for redeeming your wine once your new supplier has taken over. It can take up to four months to get the code.
Dual fuel: £30 cashback
Go via this MoneySupermarket* link and if it can switch you, it will put £30 in your account. Expect it 6-12 weeks after your supply has gone live.
Dual fuel: £40 cashback
Go via this SimplySwitch* link and if it can switch you, it will put £40 in your bank account. Expect it 6-12 weeks after switching.
However, we've had reports that the cashback hasn't been paid. SimplySwitch says it's fixed, but please let us know how you get on.
Key things you need to know about switching
Paying by monthly direct debit is cheapest
Fixed monthly direct debit payments, where you pay a fixed estimate each month, save you 5-10%, as companies are sure you won't default and they earn interest on any overpayments. These should be refunded at the end of the year.
Little changes except the cost and customer service
Don't worry too much about switching. Only customer service, billing and, most importantly, prices change. The pipes, circuits, wires, safety coverage and actual gas and electricity flowing through your home are all the same.
The new supplier performs the switch, and all you do is take a meter reading. Of course, there've been many switching horror stories and sadly these still happen. But for most, it's a smooth process.
Savings are compared to 'what you would've paid'
A typical house paying £1,420 on a standard tariff can slash it to £1,040 switching to the very cheapest deal. This saving's based on what you'd pay in future, not what you were paying. So if we're in a period of price flux, the actual cash you need to shell out won't drop much (some not at all). This is one reason why people have felt diddled after switching in the past, even though they were actually much better off.
Prepay customers can save, too
Many on prepay meters think switching isn't for them. But there are still savings to be had - you may be able to ditch a prepay meter for free. See the Cheap Prepaid Gas & Electricity guide.
If you're in debt, you may need to pay it
If you owe anything to your existing provider when you switch, you may still need to pay it. While this doesn't increase costs, it can be a cashflow nightmare. If you're in debt with your supplier, you still may be able to switch if you have a prepay meter and a debt of less than £500, or if your supplier has made a mistake.
Full cashback info
More cashback info, top picks and possible cash boost
When is the cashback paid?
Cashback's usually paid 45 to 90 days after you sign up, but remember it's only paid when the comparison service actually administers the switch for you.
Otherwise it doesn't earn anything, so it can't cut you in (beware, as some of the comparison sites below will ask you to fill in a claim form to get your voucher). Things can and do sometimes go wrong, so don't count the cash as yours until it's in your pocket.
Detailed list of sites offering cashback
Our top picks are assessed on a mix of feedback from MoneySavers, cashback (or wine), inclusivity of tariffs, company strength (as the cashback comes from the comparison site, so you're reliant on it) and functionality.
The overall MSE top picks
Over the years, Energyhelpline* has consistently received good feedback, has some of the most inclusive functionality and delivers quickly when we suggest improvements.
It pays cashback of £15 per switch, so switch to dual fuel (gas and electricity together) and it's £15, or switch to separate gas and electricity suppliers and it's £30 (joint highest).
For dual fuel we also include SimplySwitch* (we've had reports of non-payment - it says it's fixed, please let us know how you get on), MoneySupermarket* which offers £30 cashback or uSwitch* which offers a case of wine (worth c.£30-40).
List based purely on freebie/cashback value
This is simply a list based on the promised cashback on offer, and excludes any company feedback or other criteria we use in our top picks.
Or again SimplySwitch* gives £40 (£20 per fuel) in cash. The cash will be sent out automatically within 90 days, one per household.
Dual fuel: This means you get gas and electricity from the same supplier. SimplySwitch* pays £40 cash, Energylinx* pays £34 in cash and MoneySupermarket* pays £30 in cash. Energyhelpline* only pays £15 in this scenario.
Get a voucher for six bottles of wine
Rather than cash, uSwitch* gives a voucher for six bottles from DropWines when you switch to a dual fuel tariff. You don't need to buy anything else from DropWines to redeem it.
Previously the offer was for 12 bottles of wine, then eight bottles and four wine glasses. You could get an equivalent case of wine for around £30 from supermarkets, we reckon this case is worth between £35-40.
Make sure you go via the link above to get the deal, because if you go directly to uSwitch, you'll get a different voucher. It looks similar, but it's just 25% off, rather than free wine.
|Cashback comparison||Switch to separate gas & electricity suppliers||Switch to dual fuel|
|uSwitch*||-||6 bottles of wine worth c.£35|
You may have noticed there's no mention of charity-donating comparison switch sites, such as Switchandgive, which pays £20 to charity for dual fuel switching.
That's because if you switch via the sites above, get the cashback and donate it directly to charity, the tax advantages of you donating mean the charity gets more (see the Increase Your Charity Giving guide).
It may be possible to INCREASE the cashback
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.
Important! Don't miss the best times to switch Get MoneySavingExpert's free, spam-free weekly email full of guides & loopholes
It's not just about doing a comparison. Who you use and how you pay can cut your bills substantially. Here are the eight key rules:
- Grab £1,000s of grants to insulate your home
Properly insulating your home can save around £180/year. See the Green Deal Mythbuster guide to see what you can get. There's a vast range of grants available for improving home heating and insulation. The best place to start is the Energy Saving Trust (EST). It has an advice and information helpline, call 0300 123 1234 (0800 512 012 in Scotland and Wales).
For more grants available for all types of home improvement, see the full Grant Grabbing guide.
Don't assume dual fuel is always cheapest
Logically, dual fuel (gas and electricity from the same supplier) should be cheaper and it often is, yet not always.
During your comparison, also compare the cost of the cheapest dual fuel supplier with separate cheap gas and cheap electricity suppliers.
Do a meter reading every time
Every time you receive a bill, do a meter reading. 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 at the end of the year. If they're over-billing, then they've unfairly got your cash.
If your direct debit is way off kilter, call up and request it's changed. You have a range of rights to ensure it's correct. See the full Energy Direct Debits guide for template letters.
Switch to your company's internet tariff
It'll usually save you up to 10% over the standard tariff, and all it really means is you get your bills emailed to you.
Avoid prepayment meters if you can
While a push from the Government means it's getting better, those on prepayment meters are still pretty hard done by, certainly compared to those who pay by direct debit. If possible you should try to switch to a billed meter. You may have to pay to get one, 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.
Consider a financial hardship tariff
If you're in financial trouble, some companies offer special cheaper tariffs, which help. However you can't assume these will be the cheapest. As you're online (or you wouldn't be reading this), it's possible the cheapest web tariff will beat many hardship deals.
- Use less energy
It's not just which company 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.
Also check out the Green Deal Mythbuster guide, which advises on how to make your home more energy efficient, and pay for it out of the bill savings you make.
For more info, read the Energy Saving Hunt and see the Energy Saving Trust website. Plus see our Energy Mythbusting guide.
Questions and answers
Gas and Electricity: Q&A with Martin Lewis
Filmed on 28 April 2011
Picking the right tariff
A number of energy suppliers offer fixed or capped tariffs that let you lock into a fixed price for a set period. A cap ensures prices can't rise beyond a limit, though they could still fall. Of course, it's the price you pay for units of energy that are fixed, not the actual amount you pay, which still depends on how much gas and electricity you use.
Whether to fix or not is a personal decision, but two factors should influence your decision. Firstly, what's happening with prices and, secondly, whether you can afford a price rise.
What's happening with prices? (updated on 14 May 2013)
All of the big six providers announced price hikes early this year or late last year. According to the boss of energy regulator Ofgem, the need to import gas may mean prices rise. Industry insiders predict, unless wholesale prices change, there'll be of 5-10% price hikes by the year's end.
Can you afford a price rise?
Getting a fixed tariff is an insurance policy against prices rising. But you pay for that by the fact you're locked into the tariff for a set period, while you also pay a premium for the surety.
Therefore, the first major thing to consider is how important price surety is for you.
If you simply couldn't afford prices to rise any further, that makes fixing a much stronger proposition and you should consider it, even if you'll end up looking back with hindsight to see it wasn't the cheapest deal.
How much will you save by fixing?
The final bit of the decision is about the current cost of the cheapest fix (always compare - this isn't about any old fix). If you can save substantially by fixing, then you get the boon of a guarantee against prices rising and will shell out less.
Yet if the savings are smaller or you even have to pay more to fix, then it really does come down to your attitude. Remember though, in the worst case scenario that you fix and prices drop so much that your fixed tariff isn't competitive, you can usually pay an exit fee of £20-£40 per fuel to leave.
If you're on a standard tariff, then you're massively paying over the odds for your energy. While fixed tariffs sometimes cost a little more than variable tariffs, if you're switching from a standard tariff you can still save hugely.
Should I call my existing provider to fix?
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.
How do I find the cheapest fix?
The cheapest depends on location and usage, so use a comparison site and click 'show only fixed tariffs':
Top comparison: Energyhelpline* pays £15 cashback via this link per gas, elec or dual switch.
Dual fuel: MoneySupermarket* pays £30 cash, uSwitch* a crate of wine.
For much more detail on the top comparison sites, see the Switch & Get Cashback section.
The comparison showed me it'll cost MORE to fix?
If you're already on a super-cheap online tariff, this is likely to be the case. While the current fixed tariffs are more costly than than the cheapest fixes, you get the surety of knowing your prices won't go up again. You need to balance savings now against price certainty.
Can I beat exit fees and ditch my current fix to fix again?
Past fixes are likely to be much cheaper than current ones, so generally stick with them (always compare to check though).
Yet if you've only a short time left, the risk of waiting is that today's cheapest fixes will be replaced by costlier versions. You may also have exit fees, however if you're quick you can escape the exit fees by using a little-known loophole.
Where a supplier puts prices up, because that results in a contract change that's detrimental, rules from regulator Ofgem mean many consumers don't need to pay that penalty as long as they tell their power firm they want to switch before the increase. Find full details of how to do this are in the Escape energy lock-ins as prices soar MSE News story.
However, of course this doesn't apply to penalties for leaving fixed tariffs, as on these deals, prices won't go up.
How long should I fix for?
Most fixes are 12-18 months, but longer ones exist.
In the very long term, say five to 20 years, energy supply issues and a push for environmental efficiency mean it is almost certain prices will rise substantially.
Therefore make the real decision based on your attitude to risk. If price surety's more important than the very cheapest prices, fix for a longer period.
We're due to move next month, how can we compare?
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.
I'm in the process of switching to a new supplier, but haven't fixed. Is it too late?
When you switch supplier, you have a seven-day cooling-off period (14 days if you're switching to Npower). So if you're within this timeframe, 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.
I am moving home, can I take my fix with me?
If you're moving, most providers will allow you to take the fixed tariff to the new house (Scottish Power doesn't). You usually have to pay the new region's prices, which may be different, but as you've locked into pre-price rise prices 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.
I'm already tied in, is it worth asking my current supplier if I can switch to a fixed deal?
The only way they can lock you in is with an exit penalty of around £80 for dual fuel. While it's tempting to try to wipe that, 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 of 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!
I'm currently on an expensive fix, is it worth leaving?
If you're on a capped tariff, there's usually a lock-in penalty. Therefore the equation is quite simple - will you save enough by ditching and switching to make up for the cap penalty?
The answer depends on what you're being charged and how long you have to go. To help, we've a full guide to take you through switching when you're on a fixed tariff, or if yours is coming to an end. Read the Capped Tariff Switching guide.
I'm only going to save £10. Is it worth switching?
Assuming this is about fiing, remember that you're not just saving now, the aim is to get a guarantee against prices rising.
So fixing could save you £175/year, for example, plus the extra £10/month. You could also get cashback or a free case of wine on top of the tariff saving via the cashback site links (though don't do it just for that).
I have a prepay meter. Can I fix - how do I save on the price rises?
It's not easy, I'm afraid, as the market is far less competitive.
See if you can switch to a credit meter, as fixed deals and far cheaper tariffs are available. Some providers may charge and check your credit or payment history to do this though.
If it isn't possible, you can still do a comparison and switch to your cheapest tariff. As with credit meters, tariffs vary and the best for you depends on your usage and where you live.
For full info on how to ditch prepay, or how to find the cheapest tariff if you can't, see the full Cheap Prepaid Gas & Elec guide.
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 on 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 green energy?
Luckily, green tariffs are now commonplace, and most suppliers offer them. Green tariffs are either ecologically-produced, or a proportion of the money is put towards ecological sources.
This is one area where going green and saving money diverge. The cheapest green 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 green, then it's a help to the environment, and all the main comparison services allow you to compare green tariffs.
What counts as green?
This has been disputed for a long time, and some companies made some relatively shoddy claims to being environmentally-friendly.
In 2010 a scheme launched to provide proper certification for green tariffs. To be certified, suppliers have to demonstrate their schemes are green to an independent panel of experts. You can see a full list of certified tariffs on the Green Energy Scheme website.
How often can I switch?
There is an open market rule, which means you can switch as often as you like (barring exit penalties on capped tariffs), though of course it's a hassle. Plus it can take up to two months for a switch to take place.
It's worth doing a regular check-up of your energy bill to see if you can save, and we'll include periodic reminders in the weekly email when it's a good time to switch.
It's also worth noting that until late 2007, energy companies weren't allowed to lock you in. The regulator Ofgem then decided the market was competitive enough so companies can now require you to sign up for a year's contract.
It said I'd save, but I pay more?
While it sounds strange, you may save money, even if your bills go up! In a period of regular price rises, switching often doesn't mean you actually pay less, despite what comparison sites will tell you.
If you're saving 10% when all energy prices are increased by 20%, you'll still pay more than you were, but you'll be paying less than if you hadn't switched.
Is it good to get direct debits lowered?
This is a nasty sales trick. They offer to cut your monthly outlay by lowering your direct debit, yet that DOESN'T mean you pay less. You should always compare on rate.
Lowering your direct debit just means less outlay each month, but you'll need a massive catch-up at the end of the year, and you could start to owe serious cash. See the Fight Energy Direct Debits guide for more.
More about comparison services
I have an Economy 7 or Economy 10 tariff - can I still save?
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. If you've Economy 10, it's slightly more effort. Use a comparison to compare gas rates, but for Economy 10 electricity tariffs you'll need to ring round suppliers. Energyhelpline* has a good prompt in place to remind you to do this.
These tariffs are only worth really worth considering if you have storage heaters, water tanks, work shifts or are able to use appliances on timers.
I only use electricity - can I still switch?
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 - all the ones listed in the Switch & Get Cashback section offer electricity-only comparisons.
How do comparison sites work?
The cheapest supplier for you is calculated by a complicated algorithm which depends on where you live, and the quantity and 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. Yet even 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 £60 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, plus the official watchdog Consumer Focus 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 simply 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 me, "how can we be your top pick?" Flippantly, I 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 the phone service 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 quite 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 knocking at your door trying to flog you a new tariff, and they're just salespeople. While the comparison sites are far from perfect, they are accredited by Consumer Focus 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.
I accepted comparison sites were the 'least worst' way to do it. Overall, they provide a good service and tell you roughly the cheapest provider. I hope they'll improve, but they're much, much better than sticking with an expensive supplier and watching prices rise.
I'm a small business - can I save on energy?
We're being asked this a lot. We focus on consumers, so it's not really our bag, yet just like domestic energy bills, it's possible to compare and switch to cheaper providers. The right comparisons to use depend again on what type of business you are running.
Limited companies (or anyone with commercial premises)
Here you're limited to using special business tariffs, but luckily some of the top energy price comparisons have cottoned on to the small business market.
However while there are websites, for their business comparison services most tend to operate through callback systems (you ask for someone to call, then they go through the savings with you), not online.
Top comparisons for small biz
The possible savings are huge, though. For a sample postcode we tried in the north west of England with an annual electricity bill of £3,500 using the regional electricity company, it was possible to cut the bill to £2,300, a saving of £1,200!
The key rules for small businesses
- Be extremely wary of renewal dates. Most business tariffs are fixed contracts for 1-5 years. Sneakily, if you don't tell your supplier you want to move within 30 days of the end date of your tariff it will roll you onto another contract which you will be stuck with, usually at a higher cost.
- Get off default tariffs. If you're not on a fixed contract, you're on a supplier's default tariff which is hugely expensive in comparison. Use one of the comparisons above to get off it ASAP.
- A good credit rating gets better rates. Most suppliers require a fairly good credit rating before it offers you a deal. So the better your credit history, the more cheap deals you'll have access to. If you don't have one or are a start-up company, you may have to pay a lump sum upfront to secure a deal.
Sole trader? (working from a house)
If you are working on a small scale, eg, in your own or a colleague's home, and are a sole trader, you can usually deduct a proportion of your household bills as a business expense.
Switch the house to the cheapest gas and electricity providers using the top standard price comparisons (plus get cashback), using the normal Gas & Electricity switching technique.
HELP! I'm supplied by an independent gas transporter
Independent gas transporters (IGTs) are often used by constructors 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.
Previously you had to pay £30-£70 more on top of any comparison quote as the gas provider uses both pipes, so must pay National Grid and the IGT to supply gas to your house. This charge was passed directly on to you. Now, only Npower charges - it's £10 per annum per customer, for both pre-paid and credit customers.
How to tell if you have an independent gas transporter
If the MPRN (the 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.
What to do if things go wrong
Contact your energy provider. Keep a note of all the dates, times and people you speak to. If calling doesn't work, write a letter. Then if you've escalated it as far as you can and still don't have an adequate response, contact the Energy Ombudsman.
It will try to resolve complaints about billing, transfers, service and sales issues and can ask providers to award compensation of up to £5,000 (though less is usual). Ombudsman complaints are a no-risk system, so if you've got an issue, go for it. You can ring, write or complain to it online.
You can only complain to it if your energy company is a member. It currently includes Centrica (British Gas), EDF, Scottish & Southern Energy, E.on, Scottish Power and Npower.