With average household spending on energy bills now around £1,923 per year for a typical household and the vast majority of GB customers remaining on a default tariff (which is historically more expensive for the same energy consumption compared to other tariffs) according to the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem), a significant proportion on consumers could save money by switching to a better energy tariff.
- How to Switch Energy Supplier
- Information Necessary to Switch
- Answers to Common Energy Switching Questions
- Tariffs Explained
- Types of Meters
- Green Energy
Can I Switch Energy Supplier Right Now?
There is generally no energy comparison available right now from energy comparison sites (although you might find a handful of deals on these sites, you won't find deals from the broad market) but you can still switch suppliers now in August 2023—it's just that you'll have to contact your new supplier directly instead of going through an energy switching site. And you're not likely to save much (if any) money switching now as all providers pretty much have the same prices due to the Energy Price Cap/Energy Price Guarantee. However, some people still want to switch, perhaps in an attempt to move to a company with better customer service.
In the chart below you can see how energy switching essentially fell off a cliff back in November 2021 due to the energy crisis, when prices skyrocketed and energy comparison shut down. Even so, people do still switch now—but this is now done by contacting your new supplier directly, not going through an energy comparison company.
The quarter with the lowest number of switches was October 2022 when there were just 64,903 electricity and 37,121 gas switches. Compare those figures to the first half of 2021, when there were an average of 450,000 electricity and 317,000 gas switches. That's a drop of around 87%.
While switching is still not widely available from comparison sites, switching is slowing picking up again, with 121,335 electric and 74,902 gas switches in Feb 2023. We expect that number to continue rising from here. And once energy companies are able to offer slightly varied deals as wholesale energy prices continue to fall, energy comparison companies should be back in action at which point the number of switches will jump up.
Below we discuss how traditional energy switching works. But remember, right now you'll contact a new potential provider directly, instead of going through an energy comparison site!
How to Switch Energy Supplier
Ofgem is encouraging consumers to check competing energy tariffs and switch to a better deal, if one exists. To facilitate this process, Ofgem have even offered accreditation to some price comparison sites—this means that Ofgem approves these sites for displaying accurate and fair pricing/tariff information. As Ofgem is the government regulator tasked with protecting UK consumers interests when it comes to energy prices, these eleven Ofgem-accredited price comparison sites should give you the best chance of finding a cheaper energy deal. Check energy tariffs for your area on two or three of the sites to get the best deal.
Ofgem Approved Energy Switching Sites
Once you find the cheapest energy deals available to you, call your current provider. Confirm the details of your current tariff then ask if they can match the best deal you can find online at a price comparison site.
Hopefully your existing company can offer you a cheaper tariff, if they have one. One benefit of staying with your current provider is that they may waive any exit fees associated with leaving your current tariff early. The chart below shows why it is so important to be an active price checker—in a normal market there is a significant difference in tariffs across the market which means people on a default tariff may be leaving a lot of money on the table. (Not currently the case, of course.)
What Information do you Need to Switch?
Before you check the price comparison sites, gather some information from your energy bill to get the most accurate quote. (If you don't have a bill at hand, the price comparison sites will help you get a quote regardless—but it won't be as accurate.) If you’ve just moved and you haven’t received your first bill yet, call your energy supplier for the information and energy usage projections.
Information Needed to Find a Cheaper Energy Tariff
- Your postcode
- The name of your current supplier (e.g., British Gas, EDF Energy, Npower, etc.)
- How you pay (e.g., monthly direct debit, quarterly direct debit, pay on receipt of bill, prepayment meter)^
- The name of your current energy tariff (e.g., standard variable, etc.)^
- How much you spend (£) or use (kWh) on gas and electricity^
- Any exit fees
Additional Information Needed to Execute a Switch
- A current meter reading
- Your Meter Point Access Number (MPAN) and Meter Point Reference Number (MPRN) - find these on a recent bill
- Bank details (if you'll pay by direct debit)
If you've never compared tariffs or switched energy suppliers before, the process may seem overwhelming until you understand it. Here are answers to some common questions about energy switching.
Direct debit costs are estimated based on your expected energy usage throughout the year. This means that in summer months you are likely to "overpay" (i.e., you build up a credit) and in winter months you will "underpay" (i.e., you'll use up the accumulated credit). If the energy company suddenly increases your direct debit amount, this probably means you're using more energy than they've estimated.
Types of Tariffs
Despite a standard (variable) tariff usually costing more, the majority of households are still on this type of tariff. The big switching push is basically encouraging people to move from a (typically) more expensive standard variable tariff to a cheaper fixed tariff. What are the differences between the two?
Standard variable tariff
On a standard variable tariff, the price you pay for each unit of energy consumed will go up and down with the market. When prices rise, households on standard tariffs may experience a large hike in energy bills. Standard variable tariffs do have one perk—you shouldn't be hit with an exit fee should you choose to switch to a different tariff or energy supplier.
On a fixed tariff, the price you pay for each unit of energy consumed is fixed and will not change. (Your energy bills may still rise, however, if you consume more energy. A fixed tariff does not mean you can consume all the energy you want for a fixed amount of money.) Fixed tariffs can be beneficial in a rising energy cost environment, but detrimental if prices fall. One downside to fixed tariffs is they usually charge an exit fee if you want to switch away.
Green tariffs are not usually the cheapest, but they may suit those concerned about the environmental impact of their energy use.
To be clear, being on a green tariff does not mean that you are receiving green energy (e.g., renewable energy generated by solar, wind, water, etc.) into your home. You still receive energy from the National Grid, just like you would on a regular fixed or variable tariff. The difference is that by signing up to a green tariff, your energy supplier will generate renewable energy on your behalf, adding that to the National Grid for everyone's use. Or they can contribute to environmental schemes.
Those with a prepayment meter are limited to prepayment tariffs, which essentially charge you before you consume energy. Prepayment tariffs may be required for those with poor credit ratings when energy companies won't grant you credit. According to Citizens Advice, a prepayment tariff used to cost around £235 a year more than direct debit tariff (another reason to try to improve your credit rating) but we've found that recently prepayment tariffs are more in line with direct debit payments.
You can ask your supplier if you can switch from a prepayment meter to a regular meter. If you are in debt to your energy supplier, they may turn you down.
And if your property is going to be empty for a while (e.g. if you're in the process of selling it), you can ask your supplier if you can get a reduction in your daily standing charge.
Types of Meters
The government wants most homes to have a smart meter, but has had to postpone the deadline from 2020 to 2024 due to some households not wanting them.
At the end of 2022, there were 31.3 million smart and advanced meters in the UK according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. This means around 55% of meters are smart or advanced meters.
Traditionally, homes had a standard (i.e., mechanical) meter, which calculates usage based on the number of physical revolutions made by the dial. Smart meters, on the other hand, display in nearly real time how much gas and electric households are consuming in pounds and pence. This usage information is sent directly to the energy supply company, eliminating the need for manual readings or estimated bills.
The general idea with smart meters is that households can be more aware of their usage and can better manage energy consumption, consequently leading to lower energy bills. The smart meter display can sit on your kitchen worktop in plain view, as opposed to hidden away in a tiny cupboard, out of sight. A quick overview of the smart and standard meters, as well as others, is illustrated in the table below:
|Meter Type||Quick Overview|
|Smart Meter||The most common meter in 2023. Digital display of real-time gas and electric charges, which can sit on your worktop. Energy consumption automatically sent to your energy provider; no readings are required.|
|Standard Meter||The most common meter in 2017. Revolutions of the dial track energy use. Readings need to be taken periodically.|
|Prepayment Meter||Need to pay for energy before you use it. Generally more expensive.|
|Economy 7 or 10||Cheaper energy for 7 or 10 hours a day, usually at night (Economy 10 will include 3 cheaper hours during the afternoon)|
|Dial (analogue) Meter||Confusing to read with six dials that move different directions. If you have a dial meter, perhaps ask your energy supplier if they will upgrade you to a smart meter|