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Getting the best from your energy supplier

Do a meter reading every time

Every time you receive a bill, check your meter. Most bills are still based on estimates, and these can be extremely inaccurate. If your bill has been overestimated then you are paying for fuel you haven’t actually used; if it’s been underestimated then you won’t be paying enough and may face a large debt when the meter is eventually read

Avoid prepayment meters if you can

Prepayment meters work on a pay-as-you-go basis. You top up a key or a card at a pay point and then stick it in the meter which tops up your available credit. Some people like prepayment meters because they help with budgeting and they do not allow you to build up a big debt (emergency credit is usually limited to £5). However, credit can run out at inconvenient times and you may find it difficult to get to a pay point.

Prepayment customers don’t benefit from prompt-payment or other discounts, so it usually pays to switch to a billed credit meter. You’re supplier may charge to change your meter, so you may want to switch to a supplier who can do this for free.

Some suppliers have begun to offer smart pay-as-you-go meters which offer more convenient top-up methods and a range of other advantages over standard key or card meters.

Are you on the best tariff?

If your existing supplier hasn’t put you on the cheapest option (or ‘tariff’) you may be paying more than you need to for your gas and electricity. You can phone them to check; the number will be shown on your energy bill. Some suppliers may offer you a smart meter as part of your deal. This will automatically provide accurate meter readings to your supplier.

If you live in a rental property and your name is on the bill, you have the right to switch to the energy supplier of your choice even if your tenancy agreement says otherwise. You also have the right to change your meter from a prepayment to a credit meters (or vice versa), although you may be obliged to change it back at the end of your tenancy. The exceptions to this are if your landlord’s name is on the bill. If your landlord or lettings agency is unreasonably preventing you from switching you can contact Citizens Advice for guidance.

Direct debit

Customers who are prepared to pay by direct debit will often pay less for their fuel and have the greatest choice of tariffs. Energy suppliers can no longer offer discounts for customers who pay by direct debit but they still restrict access for many of the most competitive tariffs to those prepared to pay by direct debit. Sometimes suppliers also offer lower unit rates on tariffs for direct debt customers. Paying by direct debit also spreads the cost of fuel evenly over the course of the year, avoiding high winter bills.

Even with a direct debit it is important to take regular meter readings and check your bills. Direct debit payment figures are only ever based on estimates of how much energy you will use and these are frequently over or under estimated. Your supplier is only obliged to attempt to read your meter once every two years so, to avoid shock bills or accumulating large credits, send a meter reading every time you receive a statement. Your direct debit should be reviewed at least once a year.

Dual fuel

Buying both your gas and electricity from the same supplier is convenient but it is not always the cheapest option. If you have one supplier for gas and a different one for electricity then you can check with both to see which would offer you the better deal to become a dual fuel customer. However, to find the cheapest available tariff it’s better to use an independent comparison service and check tariffs from separate suppliers as well as dual fuel options.

Internet tariffs

Switching to an online tariff can save you a further 10% on your bill. The only thing that will change is that you will get your bills by email rather than through the post.

Fixed deals

Most competitively priced tariffs available nowadays are fixed-priced deals. This means the rate you pay for each unit of gas or electricity you use, and for your daily standing charge, won’t go up for the duration of your contract (though your what you actually pay may still go up or down depending on how much energy you use).

If you do switch it’s worth weighing up whether you want to be locked in to today’s prices for the long term – though cancelation fees are usually little more than £20 per fuel and in some cases it’s free to exit a fixed contract.

To get the best savings you need to check independent price comparison websites every year, or at least whenever your contracts end. If you can’t, or don’t want to do this, 3 or even 4-year fixed price deals can be available. These may not offer the cheapest option, but compared to your supplier’s standard or default tariff they can save £500 or more over the lifetime of that contract.

Switching to a new supplier?

According to the energy industry regulator, Ofgem, switching supplier could save you £130 per year, and more than this if you’re on your supplier’s standard or default tariff. The switching process is easy; you can usually begin the switch with a phone call or a few minutes online, finalising the switch normally involves completing a small form that will receive in the post.

For accurate, independent advice, use one of the price comparison and switching services listed below. These are all accredited under the Ofgem Confidence Code:

www.energyhelpline.com  |  0800 074 0745

www.uswitch.com  |  0808 1783 492

www.moneysupermarket.com  |  0845 345 5708

www.theenergyshop.com  |  0845 330 7247

www.simplyswitch.com  |  0800 011 1395

www.energylinx.co.uk  |  0800 849 7077

www.myutilitygenius.co.uk  |  0203 468 0461

www.switchgasandelectric.com  |  0871 711 7771

www.ukpower.co.uk  |  0808 250 7341

www.unravelit.com  |  0800 862 0021

www.which.co.uk/switch  |  01992 822 867

www.runpathdigital.com/gas-electricity | online only

www.Quotezone.co.uk | online only

The industry regulator Ofgem has a website with lots of useful information about switching. See www.goenergyshopping.co.uk

It’s very important to bear in mind that an offer from your new supplier may be only temporary, and that in due course you’ll be put on a more expensive tariff. You should check this before making any commitment to switch.

Once you’ve switched, your old supplier is not obliged to reimburse you any credit left behind on your old account unless you specifically ask for it. You can claim credit back from an old account no matter how long ago it was. If you think your old supplier owes you some money back following a switch visit www.myenergycredit.com.

What information will I need?

In the past 2 years changes have been brought in to simplify switching energy suppliers. One of these changes has been to ensure all bills contain all the information you need to accurately compare energy suppliers, all helpfully packaged in one section of the bill, generally called “About your tariff” or something similar. This section informs you of:

  • The name of the tariff you are on
  • How you pay for your energy
  • If you have to pay any fees to exit your tariff
  • How much energy you use per year in kWh

Elsewhere, your bill or annual statement will tell you the name of your current supplier and your electricity or gas supply number. Every gas and electricity supply has a unique reference number. For gas this is known as the Meter Point Reference Number (MPRN). For electricity this is known as the Meter Point Administration Number (MPAN). Note that these are not the same as your customer account number or your meter serial number (printed on your meter).

If you switch suppliers, make sure you give your new supplier these numbers when you switch or during your two week cooling-off period afterwards. This will help to avoid any mistakes or mix-ups during the switchover. Your MPAN and MPRN will be printed on an old bill or statement, or your old supplier will be able to tell you what it is.

All of these details, can be found somewhere on your bill.

Warm Home Discount

If your energy supplier has 250,000 customers or more then they are obliged to offer the Warm Home Discount. This is a rebate on the household electricity bill, which for the winter of 2014-15 is worth £140. It is available to customers who receive the guarantee credit element of Pension Credit.

Suppliers also offer this discount to a broader group of customers, with each supplier having its own specific eligibility criteria. So if you receive any type of benefit or are on a low income it’s worth calling your supplier to check. See www.gov.uk/the-warm-home-discount-scheme

Priority Services Register

If you have a disability or a longterm health issue that means you rely on a constant electricity supply, e.g. for an oxygen machine or stairlift, you should contact your District Network Operator. This is the company that owns and runs the wires in your area (in most of the London it’s UK Power Networks). They can put you on their Priority Services Register so that you’ll receive emergency help in the event of a powercut, like providing you with a generator or sending the Red Cross to help you. Your energy supplier will also have a Priority Services Register. Being on this will entitle you to help like:

  • Quarterly meter readings to keep on top of bills
  • Free gas safety checks
  • Moving your meters to a more accessible place
  • Special controls for appliances and meters
  • Password protection scheme to deter bogus callers
  • Getting your bills sent to friends, relatives or carers
  • Services for deaf or visually-impaired customers
  • Advance notice of disruption to supply

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