Winter's coming... the weather's turning, the thermals are coming out and the nights are drawing in. So now's the time to finally sort your energy bills and batten down the hatches with some top tips to help freeze (or cut) costs ahead of the bitter cold.

1. The clocks went back recently - remember to change your heating timer. There's no point in it coming on when no one's in. And if you're on Economy 7 or 10 it could cost. With both, electricity is cheaper at certain times of the day, so the clocks changing can mean you move to a higher, more expensive rate. Full Economy 7 & Economy 10 help.

2. Stop wasting £240/yr on energy bills - it's easy to lock in to a cheap fix. If you've not switched recently, you're likely massively overpaying. Switching's no big deal - it's the same pipes, gas, meter & safety. The only differences are price and customer service.

As prices can vary by usage and region, do a full comparison on our Cheap Energy Club BEFORE the high-use winter period hits; and BEFORE possible price hikes (see point 3). Nikki did: "Took 10 mins to compare and start a switch - cut my bill from £102/mth to £68/mth" [that's £408/yr saved]. Here's the killer point...

If you're one of the 66% still on a standard tariff with the Big 6 - Brit Gas, E.on, EDF, Scot Power, SSE & Npower - you're being ripped off. On typical use, these cost £1,063/yr. The market's cheapest is £822/yr - around £240/yr less.

The cheapest tariff right now is Economy Energy's 1yr fix, which costs £822/yr based on typical use. You can't switch to it to via Cheap Energy Club - so there's no cashback - and it's not portable (so you can't take it to a new home), but there aren't any exit fees. This is a small new supplier though, and we've had little feedback on it so far.

If you prefer a big, established supplier, Sainsbury's Energy - which is operated by British Gas - has a 1yr fix that's £877/yr based on typical use and is portable, plus via our Cheap Energy Club you can get £30 cashback. Exit fees are £20 per fuel.

With prices possibly rising, if you want the security of a longer-term fix, the top 3yr fix is from iSupply at £828 (+ £30 cashback via our Cheap Energy Club) based on typical use. There are exit fees of £30 per fuel, and it isn't portable.

All costs above assume you pay by monthly direct debit on gas & elec. But beware, these deals could be pulled at any moment.

(Update: All tariffs above checked and updated at 1pm on 1 Nov).

3. Warning: Price hikes likely this winter - do nowt and you'll pay more. There have already been hidden energy price rises this year as the cheapest deals now cost more for a typical customer than in May. According to Martin, this could just be the start...

"The drop in the pound and the increase in the price energy firms pay on the wholesale market means that I think there's a better than 50/50 chance of the Big 6 firms hiking energy prices by 5%+ this winter, probably by the end of January.

"So let me be plain, if you do nothing, and you're not on a fixed deal, you're already being hugely overcharged and your bill is likely to rise even more. This makes it vital for those who aren't on a good tariff to consider locking in now to a cheap fix deal which protects you against price hikes.

"And if you're the type who can't be bothered to switch regularly, you're probably better off locking in for longer, eg, on a cheap 3-year fix, which while not the very cheapest solution, is an easy one."
See above.

4. Get 'unlimited' energy for a fixed fee with this unique account. If you're on a big six standard tariff you can cut your bills and get unlimited energy. Green Star's Unlimited tariff* lets you pay a fixed amount every month regardless of how much energy you use - great for anyone freezing in their home and fearful of putting the heating on.

Prices are tailored to you - simply provide Green Star with past bills. It then calculates your flat monthly rate, fixed for 12 months. A typical price for medium users is £936/yr or £78/mth. Plus Green Star assures us it'll honour the deal even if your usage substantially increases. It's likely there are cheaper fixed deals, so you may need to balance price with price certainty, and there are £30/fuel early exit fees. See is Green Star any good?

5. Is it REALLY cheaper to leave the heating on low all day? We separate fact from fiction with this & 16 more common energy-use conundrums - eg, should you paint radiators black? See Energy Mythbusters.

6. Paying by monthly direct debit is cheaper. Suppliers offer discounts of around 6% if you pay this way. Always give regular meter readings to get accurate bills. If estimated, you could end up with overly inflated monthly payments or face a bill shock if you've not paid enough. And if you think it's too high, you've a right to challenge it - see Fight Unfair Energy Direct Debits.

7. If you've switched check if you're owed £100s from your old energy firm. If you pay by direct debit, you've likely built up credit over the low-use summer period. Most providers give it back automatically, but if they don't, ask.

If you've switched in the past six years, your old supplier may still owe you. Our Reclaim Energy Bill Credit guide shows you how to get it. Forumite Lorna said: "Just rang E.on - getting a refund of nearly £300. Thank you."

8. Loyal to British Gas? Switch to BG-operated Sainsbury's Energy to save a typical £167/yr. See BG vs Sainsbury's for full info. Richard tweeted: "@MartinSLewis Switched from BG to Sainsbury's on gas and electricity, saved nearly £600."

9. Switch without switching to save up to £175/yr. If you think moving firm is a hassle (it's not), at least move to your provider's cheapest tariff. The biggest saving is for those with Scottish Power - someone with typical usage on its standard variable tariff could save a massive £175/yr by moving to its cheapest fix. See switching without switching for full help.

10. Skewer your spuds & stop screensavers... plus more quick tricks to cut energy usage. For why and many more electricians' tips see, 16 easy ways to cut energy use.

Everything you need to know about energy

11. Don't get burned by boiler cover, get it from just £5/mth. Many energy providers use fears of losing your heating or hot water to charge hefty insurance. One provider charges £17.50/mth (as a special offer) but for similar service, cover from a standalone provider can be as low as £9.50/mth - a £96 annual difference. See our Cheap Boiler Cover guide to insulate your wallet from mega costs.

12. Stock up now on heating oil before prices soar further. Heating oil prices have risen for an average three-bed house from £616/yr in April to £676/yr in July (the latest available figures). This is because the weaker pound makes buying oil in dollars more expensive for suppliers. As prices tend to jump further each winter, peaking in December, beat the hikes now with our Cheap Heating Oil guide with full info on slashing costs.

13. Stay toasty with a sausage dog. Keep warm this winter with our thrifty heat-saving tips, including DIY sausage dog draft excluders, Chimney Sheep and lining your curtains with cheap fleece. Plus forum old-stylers give tips in the Winter Prep thread.

14. Are you entitled to extra winter help? Winter can be a tough time. But there's help available, especially for those on low incomes...

a) Winter Fuel Payments. If you were born on or before 5 May 1953, regardless of your income, you're eligible for the up-to-£300 one-off winter fuel payment. If you get certain benefits, eg, state pension, pension credit or jobseeker's allowance, you'll usually get it automatically - otherwise you may have to claim. See Winter Fuel Payments info.

b) Warm Home Discount. If you were on pension credit on 10 Jul, you'll get an automatic one-off £140 rebate on your electricity bill sometime between Oct and Apr, unless you're with some smaller energy firms. If you've a prepay or pay-as-you-go meter you won't get it automatically, but you can apply by 28 Feb 17. Check if your provider pays the discount.

c) Cold Weather Payments. Anyone on certain benefits, eg, specific income support/jobseeker's allowance/pension credit, gets £25 for every 7 consecutive days it's sub-zero from 1 Nov. It's paid automatically. Full details: Cold Weather Payments.

d) Choosing between heating and eating? If you're seriously behind, or in general financial hardship, you may be eligible for special tariffs/help. Try the Energy Saving Trust on 0300 123 1234 for England, Wales & NI or Home Energy Scotland on 0808 808 2282. Also see our Housing & Energy Grants & Debt Help guides.

This article first appeared in the weekly email on 26 October. Tariff prices and other product info were updated on 8 November.