Energy Switching Guide

Ofgem-Accredited Energy Comparison

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With average household spending on energy bills topping £100 per month, the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) estimates UK consumers could save up to £300 a year by switching to a better energy tariff. As a result of these potential savings, Ofgem—who works to protect UK consumers from unfair energy practices - is working to encourage consumers to be more aware of their energy tariffs and to switch away from high tariffs. Only 37% of consumers switched energy supplier or compared/changed tariffs in 2016, which means a lot of us are leaving £300 a year on the table.

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 twelve 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 found online at the price comparison sites. No company likes to lose a customer, so they should make an effort to 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 - there is a significant difference in tariffs across the market.

Chart showing the differences in standard and fixed tariffs across the bis six and other energy companies.
Retail Energy Prices across Different Tariffs and Companies

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
^You can find this information on a recent bill.

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)

Answers to Common Energy Switching Questions

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.

Do I Have to Call my Old Energy Supplier to Cancel my Agreement?

No. Your new energy supplier will terminate your previous energy contract on your behalf. This is one break-up conversation you get to avoid!

How Long does it take to Switch Energy Suppliers?

After the "cooling-off" period, it may take up to 21 days for your supply to switch to the new supplier. According to Ofgem, it usually takes 17 days.

What is a Cooling-Off Period?

From the date you enter into a contract with your new supplier, you may have 14 days to change your mind - if you decide you don't want to go ahead with the switch, you can back out of it without any exit fees during this cooling-off period. Not all contracts offer a cooling-off period. Ask before you switch, or you may be obligated to pay an exit fee to leave a fixed-term contract.

Paying with Direct Debit will Save Money

In most cases, you can find a cheaper tariff by agreeing to pay via direct debit. Besides lower energy bills each year, paying with direct debit has other advantages, such as automatic payments (you don't have to remember to pay your bill) and your expected annual energy costs will be spread out over the year in equal payments (avoiding much higher payments in cold, dark winter months). Be sure to have enough money in your current account to cover the direct debit, however, or you may face a charge from your bank and a mark on your credit report.

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.

Who Can I Contact for Help with Switching?

If you need help or have questions, you can contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline.

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 an 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. Prices have been rising lately, which means 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.

Fixed Tariff

On a fixed tariff, the price you pay for each unit of energy consumed is fixed - that is, it 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. One downside to fixed tariffs is they usually charge an exit fee if you want to switch away.

Green Tariff

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.

Prepayment Tariff

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, as the energy company won't grant you credit. According to Citizens Advice, a prepayment tariff will cost around £235 a year more than direct debit tariff - another reason to keep your credit rating in good territory. 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.

Types of Meters

The government wants most homes to have a smart meter by 2020. Most homes currently have 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 TypeQuick Overview
Smart MeterDigital 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 MeterThe most common meter as of 2017. Revolutions of the dial track energy use. Readings need to be taken periodically.
Prepayment MeterNeed to pay for energy before you use it. Generally more expensive.
Economy 7 or 10Cheaper energy for 7 or 10 hours a day, usually at night (Economy 10 will include 3 cheaper hours during the afternoon)
Dial (analogue) MeterConfusing 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

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