Energy customers switched suppliers at the highest rate in six years in 2016, regulator Ofgem has confirmed, with 7.7 million such moves taking place.

Its data shows energy switching leapt by 30% in 2016 compared with 2015, as more households searched for a better deal on their gas and electricity.

In total, 1.7 million more switches took place in 2016 than in the year before – though two-thirds of customers still languish on expensive standard tariffs.

In about 47% of last year's switches customers moved to small- or medium-sized suppliers, rather than the traditional big six, British Gas, EDF, E.on, Npower, Scottish Power and SSE.

It comes as household energy bills continue to soar, with First Utility becoming the latest energy firm to unveil a price hike, on Friday (February 24), while Co-op Energy announced a similar move the day before. Scottish Power, Npower and EDF have all announced price rises in recent weeks.

Ofgem has repeatedly called for more to be done to stop customers overpaying on standard variable tariffs, and admitted today that despite the increase in switching, "the market is not as competitive as we would like".

Many of the market's cheapest deals are fixes, which guarantee you a lower price if you stay with a supplier for a set length of time.

If you're set to be hit by a price hike – or if you're on any firm's standard tariff – you're almost certainly paying too much. You can do a comparison to find your cheapest deal using our free Cheap Energy Club.

What does Ofgem say?

Ofgem chief executive Dermot Nolan said: "This welcome increase in switching should serve as a warning to supply companies. If they fail to keep prices under control or do not provide a good service, they risk being punished as customers vote with their feet.

"While today's figures show good progress, the market is not as competitive as we would like. That is why we have put a temporary price cap in place to protect people on prepayment meters who have the least access to competitive deals and why we are pursuing a raft of reforms which will make this market fairer, smarter and more competitive for consumers.

"Big savings of around £230 are available and switching has never been easier, so we would urge everyone to shop around for a better deal, especially if their supplier announces a price rise."

What does the energy industry say?

Trade association Energy UK's chief executive Lawrence Slade said: "With ever-increasing numbers of consumers switching, it's clear competition is working for more and more households.

"The industry is committed to ensuring the market works for everyone and is taking action to engage with loyal customers."