cheap Northern Ireland energy

Cheap Northern Ireland electricity

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With the energy market in crisis, the Government has intervened and introduced the energy price guarantee, reducing the rates households in Northern Ireland pay for their energy. Yet even with the reduction in energy prices, some can still save on their electricity by switching supplier or changing the way they pay for energy.

Energy prices have been reduced, but some can still switch and save on electricity

Over 800,000 households use electricity in Northern Ireland, with just over half on a standard credit meter and the rest on prepay (for example, topping up with a key or card).

Regardless of how you pay, you should have seen the rates you pay for energy reduce this month, with the introduction of Government's energy price guarantee scheme. Despite this, what you pay could still be higher than last winter, as prices have risen rapidly in the last year.

While there are just five electricity firms supplying households, it's still worth checking if you can save by switching. Despite record wholesale energy prices (what providers pay for gas and electricity) and Government intervention, based on typical use, some can still save £100s/year switching from the most expensive tariff to the cheapest.
 

Watch out for security deposits if switching provider. If you're on a credit meter, move firm and choose not to pay by direct debit, most suppliers require a hefty £125 to £150 security deposit.

You'll usually get this back after 12 months or when you leave your supplier – whichever's earlier – provided your account has been paid off fully and on time, but it does add to initial costs. See full security deposit info below.

illustration

Pay by direct debit and manage your account online for the cheapest rates

While it's always worth checking if you can save by switching to a different electricity supplier, if you have a standard credit meter (so not prepayment) the biggest savings can often come from simply changing how you pay. Paying on receipt of bills, by post, is by the far the most expensive way of paying.

Yet choosing to pay by direct debit and managing your account online can net big savings with most energy suppliers.

Households to get £400 to help with electricity bills this winter

Like the rest of the UK, households in Northern Ireland will get £400 this winter to help pay for their energy bills – on top of the recently reductions in unit prices under the 'energy price guarantee' scheme.

In England, Scotland and Wales, this is paid to everyone that has an electricity meter. It'll work the same in Northern Ireland – but while the scheme started for the rest of the UK in October, the Government still hasn't announced when this will happen for those in Northern Ireland. We'll update this guide when we know more.

On top of this, there are various other cost of living payments available to those on certain benefits. For full info, see our Struggling to pay your energy bill guide.

All households will now get an additional £200 to help with heating this winter

The Government announced in the autumn statement that ALL households in Northern Ireland will get an additional £200 to help with heating their homes this winter. Previously this was only for households that don't use main gas – such as homes with heating oil, LPG or biomass boilers, but this has been extended to all households. This is on top of the £400 support paid to everyone that has an electricity meter.

The Government has confirmed this money will also come from your electricity supplier, and will be added to your energy account as bill credit, but it hasn't said when yet. It has also said that if you don't have a direct relationship with an electricity supplier, you'll still get the payment, though it has yet to announce how this will be paid. We'll update this guide when we know more.

How to find and switch to a cheaper electricity deal

switch electricity

Five different firms provide electricity in Northern Ireland. How much you can save depends on whether you're on a credit meter or prepay, plus where you are and your usage.

Compare to find YOUR cheapest price

To find YOUR cheapest deal you need to do a comparison. To compare, you can use the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland's tool. It's free and offers a full market comparison – the Consumer Council is an independent organisation with a legal responsibility to protect consumers' interests.

Alternatively, you can try the Power to Switch tool. It's free and does a full market comparison.

How much can you save?

With wholesale energy prices at all-time highs and Government intervention in the market, suppliers are no longer offering multiple switchers' tariffs. However, most suppliers still offer significant discounts on their most expensive rates for opting to pay by direct debit and managing your account online.

What's more, there are considerable differences between each provider's cheapest rates (usually reserved for new customers as introductory rates for about a year) and their most expensive rate. While you'll need to do a full comparison to see exactly how much you can save, here's how the cheapest typical deals on credit meters compare with standard tariffs.

Important: The prices in the table don't factor in the £400 energy bill support payment that most households will get this year. However, the prices below do factor in the price reductions under the Energy Price Guarantee scheme from November.

Credit meter electricity tariffs by provider (based on typical use)

Supplier Tariff Direct debit e-bill (cost/year) On receipt of bill by post (cost/year)
Budget Energy Bill Pay £493 £1,125
Click Energy Bill Pay 24h £590 £590
Electric Ireland Billpay £432 (i) £555
Power NI Standard Rate / Energy Online

£796

£847
SSE Airtricity Home Electricity £457 £687

Tariffs correct as of November 2022. Based on typical usage of 3,200 kilowatt hours (kWh)/year, including VAT. Source: The Consumer Council. If you choose not to pay by direct debit, all suppliers apart from Power NI require a £125 to £150 security deposit. (i) Comes with a £100 credit on your first bill.

Unlike in England, Wales and Scotland, prepay users in Northern Ireland don't typically pay much more, so it's not necessarily worth switching to a credit meter (though you can – see how below). Here's how the cheapest prepay deals stack up:

Prepay electricity tariffs by provider (based on typical use)

Supplier Cheapest tariff Cheapest rate (cost/year) Standard tariff (cost/year)
Budget Energy Keypad 32% Discount Tariff £538 (1) £1,104
Click Energy Keypad 24h £599 £599
Electric Ireland Simpler Living Keypad £555 (2) £555
Power NI Keypad Discount £826 (3) £847
SSE Airtricity Keypad – Discount £545 (4)  £653

Tariffs correct as of November 2022. Based on typical usage of 3,200 kWh/year, including VAT. Source: The Consumer Council. (1) Comes with a 32% discount off its standard rate for 12 months. (2) Comes with £35 upfront credit and an additional £35 after 12 months. (3) Comes with free credit of between £1 and £4 on top-ups of £50 to £175 online or through its app. (4) Comes with a 10.5% discount off its standard rate for 12 months and £5 free credit.

How to switch to a cheaper deal

Once you've found a cheaper deal, actually switching is straightforward, and there'll be no break in supply. The precise process depends on what kind of switch you're making:

  • Switching to a different supplier? Contact the supplier you wish to switch to – you can call to switch or do it through its website. It'll sort out all the techy bits (and tell your current supplier you're leaving), then let you know when the switch is completed.

    You'll need your meter point reference number if you've a credit meter or your keypad premise number if you use prepay – both can be found on your latest bill. There's a 10 working day cooling-off period after you've started the switch, and after that you should be all switched over within a further 15 working days.

  • Changing the way you pay? If you're on a credit meter and want to stick to your current tariff and simply change the way you pay – which can still result in significant savings – simply call your current supplier or do it through its website.

    Quick questions

  • Will I be charged a security deposit?

    Many suppliers in Northern Ireland can charge security deposits, ranging from £125 to £150. These are mainly used for customers with credit meters who don't want to pay by direct debit – according to the suppliers, this is because you'll be paying for energy in arrears.

    Below is a list of what each supplier charges:

    • Budget Energy – £150 security deposit if you choose not to pay by direct debit.
    • Click Energy – £150 security deposit if you choose not to pay by direct debit.
    • Electric Ireland – £135 security deposit if you choose not to pay by direct debit.

    • Power NI – No security deposit, regardless of how you pay.

    • SSE Airtricity – £125 security deposit if you choose not to pay by direct debit.

    All suppliers say they can charge a security deposit if you fail a credit check, if you fail to pay or if you're late paying any money due.

    Most suppliers return the security deposit to your account after 12 months, provided accounts have been paid off fully and on time. You can avoid security deposits, for all suppliers, by paying by monthly direct debit or choosing a prepayment tariff.

  • What if I change my mind?

    If you change your mind after agreeing to switch supplier, or find a cheaper deal elsewhere, you have a 10 working day 'cooling-off' period, in which you can cancel the switch.

    The 10-day period usually starts from the date you sign the agreement, accept the contract over the phone or send an online application form.

    If you're just switching tariff with your current provider, you should be able to switch back just as easily – but make sure the supplier won't charge you exit fees before you do.

    Changing your payment method back should also be straightforward – although be careful: you may lose certain discounts with particular ways of paying.

  • Can I change my meter?

    You can change from a credit meter to a prepay meter, and it should always be free of charge – just contact your supplier.

    If you want to switch from prepay to a credit meter, it depends on your energy provider – it may offer it to you for free, while others may charge a security deposit. Check with your supplier first.

  • Can I switch if I'm renting?

    If you rent your property, and pay an energy provider directly for electricity, you should be able to switch supplier. This is because you have a contract directly with the supplier, so you shouldn't need to get permission from your landlord to switch, though it is a good idea to let them know.

    It may be worth checking your tenancy agreement as well. It may say the landlord has a preferred supplier, so you'll have to let them know before switching, and you may have to switch back to the preferred supplier at the end of your tenancy.

    Of course, even if you can't switch supplier, you should be able to switch to a cheaper tariff with the same provider or change the way you pay to save.

    If you pay your landlord for electricity, you may not be able to switch. If you think you're paying too much, it could be worth talking to your landlord – they're not allowed to charge you more for energy than the supplier is charging them. The landlord may also agree to switch if it saves money.

  • Can I switch supplier if I'm in debt with my current firm?

    All electricity suppliers allow customers to switch even if they're in debt, although whether or not you will be allowed to switch depends on how long you've been in debt for. This varies between suppliers.

    If you've less than £100 debt you should be able to switch, according to the code of practice for suppliers set out by the Utility Regulator.

  • Will I have to pay a standing charge?

    A standing charge is what you pay to have a gas and electricity supply, and on top of this you pay usage charges. Standing charges are very common in the rest of the UK, but in Northern Ireland it depends on your supplier and type of meter.

    If you're with Budget Energy or Click Energy, or on a time-of-use tariff, such as Economy 7, then you most likely will pay a standing charge.

  • What if my energy supplier goes bust?

    According to the Utility Regulator, if a supplier goes bust, or exits the market, their customers will automatically transfer to a new provider, with no loss of service, in a process called 'supplier of last resort'.

    If your supplier does go bust, you'll likely be placed on the new provider's standard tariff, but you're free to switch if you find a better deal elsewhere once you've been transferred.

    If you're in credit when your provider goes bust, you won't lose it. For those on credit meters, you should get the money back directly from the bust supplier or it will be transferred over to your new account with the new supplier. If you prepay for your energy, you'll keep any credit you have on the meter when you're moved across.

Most can't save much by switching gas

There are currently only two gas suppliers in Northern Ireland: Firmus Energy and SSE Airtricity. However, only some have the option of switching between these suppliers.

Whether you can switch depends on what area you're in, as supply in Northern Ireland is split into three regions: 

  • The Greater Belfast area. This covers the Greater Belfast, Larne and East Down areas. SSE Airtricity and Firmus offer gas in this region, so you can switch. SSE is currently £100s cheaper than Firmus, so it's worth checking if you can switch.

  • The Ten Towns area. This covers Londonderry/Derry, Limavady, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine, Portstewart, Newry, Craigavon, Antrim, Banbridge and Armagh – gas is only supplied by Firmus, so you've no alternative.

  • The West area. This is set to cover those in Artigarvan, Coalisland, Cookstown, Derrylin, Dungannon, Enniskillen, Magherafelt, Omagh and Strabane. Gas is fairly new to these areas, with only about 2,000 homes connected so far. Gas here is only supplied by SSE Airtricity.
  • How do I switch gas (even if I can't save by doing so)?

    If you live in the Greater Belfast area, you are able to switch gas supplier, unlike those in the Ten Towns or West areas.

    While switching at the moment might not save you money, if you do change supplier, the process is largely the same as for electricity. You have the same rights, including the 10 working day cooling-off period, and the same guarantee that the switch will be completed within 15 working days after the cooling-off period.

  • I'm in debt – can I still switch gas?

    Yes. For gas, if you've debts of more than £100 and haven't paid your bill for more than 28 days, the new supplier is able to transfer the debt from the old supplier if you agree repayment terms. You can pay this by direct debit or through your prepayment meter. The new supplier will also allow you to switch if you clear the debt within three working days before you switch.

    If you owe less than £100, you can still switch supplier – if you're on a prepay meter you'll simply pay off your debt to the new supplier through the meter, while if you're on a credit meter the debt will be added to your account and you'll need to agree repayment terms.

Haggle or swap supplier to save on heating oil

Heating oil is the most popular heating fuel in Northern Ireland – more than two-thirds of households use oil rather than gas. Using and buying heating oil in Northern Ireland works in much the same way as it does in the rest of the UK. For full help, including brokers and comparison sites, see our Heating oil prices guide.

However, those on heating oil won't fully benefit from energy bill reductions this winter through the energy price guarantee. That's because it's a discount on the rates people pay for mains gas. However, the Government has announced an additional £100 this winter for those on heating oil – though we don't yet know how or when this will be paid.

You'll still get the £400 energy bill support payment, as this will be paid to every home with an electricity connection. You'll also benefit somewhat through the energy price guarantee, as the rates you pay for electricity will be reduced.

Heating oil prices

fireplace

The heating oil market in Northern Ireland is not regulated. However the Consumer Council, along with the Northern Ireland Oil Federation (NIOF), has developed a 'customer charter' that sets out minimum standards of service for consumers. To find a distributor that follows this charter in your area, check the NIOF's directory.

When buying heating oil, it's worth trying a few different suppliers and haggling to find the best available price. Prices are typically quoted per litre for 300 litres, 500 litres and 900 litres, and the more you buy, the cheaper per litre it will be. Be aware though, that the price of heating oil is likely to go up in winter due to higher demand.

Here's an idea of what you're likely to pay, according to the Consumer Council:

Typical heating oil prices

TABLE_CELL_STYLE 300 LITRES 500 LITRES 900 LITRES
Average £272 £439 £780

Correct as of 3 November 2022. Source: The Consumer Council.

Quick question

  • Can I switch from heating oil to gas?

    If you're in an area that can be connected to gas, you can contact your area's network owner – for Greater Belfast it's Phoenix Natural Gas; for the Ten Towns areas it's Firmus Energy; and for the West area it's SGN Natural Gas. It should be free, but you'll need to pay for a new gas boiler and any internal plumbing and radiators that may be needed. Check with your local gas network operator to see if switching is right for you:

    • Firmus Energy – call 0330 024 9000 or check its website and select your town to see if it can connect you.

    • Phoenix Natural Gas – call 03454 55 55 55 or head over to its website to check if you can be connected.

    • SGN Natural Gas – call 0800 975 7774 or head over to its website to check if you can be connected.

    If you do connect your home, ensure you pick an installer that is a 'Gas Safe registered installation' company. Phoenix and Firmus maintain a list of such suppliers, or you can find a registered installer for your area on the Gas Safe directory. These installers have all demonstrated that they meet certain standards.

    Once you've been connected, you can get your gas supplied by either Firmus Energy or SSE Airtricity, depending on where you live. Phoenix and SGN are network operators and don't supply domestic properties.

Energy efficiency grants and discounts

energy efficiency discounts

With energy prices at all-time highs, the Government has introduced a range of payments to help with the cost of living this winter. Some are available to all households, depending on how you use fuel, while others are only for those on certain benefits.

See our Struggling to pay your energy bills guide for the full rundown of the help available.

Energy efficiency can also help cut bills massively. There are various schemes on offer from suppliers and the Government – depending on your circumstances, you could get anything from a new boiler to better insulation, or a raft of other improvements.

Here are some of the main grants and offers available:

  • Affordable Warmth Grant. If your annual household income is less than £23,000, you could be eligible for a grant to install a range of improvements, from insulation to heating systems and controls, and even a full conversion from heating oil to gas heating. You can find out more on the NIdirect website.

  • Boiler Replacement Scheme. This is open to everyone in non-rented households, with a total annual income of £40,000 or less and who has a boiler that is at least 15 years old. If you're eligible, you can get a grant of up to £1,000 to help pay for a condensing oil or gas boiler, to switch from heating oil to gas, or to switch to a wood pellet boiler. Find out more on the NI Housing Executive website, or check you're eligible by calling it on 0344 892 0900 or register by email.

How to complain if things go wrong

First complain to your supplier. According to Northern Ireland's code of practice for the energy market, suppliers are required to resolve complaints within three months. We've listed the contact details for each supplier below.

Supplier contact details

SUPPLIER PHONE OPENING HOURS
Budget Energy 0800 012 1177 Mon to Fri: 9am-7pm, Sat: 11am-3pm
Click Energy 0800 107 0732 Mon to Fri: 8am-8pm, Sat: 9am-4pm
Electric Ireland 0345 600 5335 Mon to Fri: 8.30am-7pm
Firmus Energy 0330 024 900 Mon to Thu: 9am-5pm, Fri: 9am-3.45pm
Power NI 0345 745 5455 Mon to Fri: 9am-5pm
SSE Airtricity 0345 601 9093 Mon to Fri: 8am-8pm

You can try calling your supplier initially – though if you get nowhere, try sending a formal email or letter. If the provider doesn't resolve the complaint, or you're not happy with the response, raise it with the Consumer Council – it has legal powers to act on your behalf and investigate your complaint.

While the Consumer Council isn't an ombudsman and can't make a ruling on your complaint, it can advocate on your behalf and work with the supplier to help reach a resolution. Electricity companies are required to respond to the Consumer Council within 10 days – so you should hear back shortly after this.

If that doesn't work, or the Consumer Council was unable to deal with your issue to your satisfaction, you may be able to refer your complaint to the Utility Regulator. The regulator can investigate the dispute and issue binding decisions on each complaint.

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