Energy bill payment methods
Depending on your tariff, your energy company should give you a choice of ways to pay your energy bills, and the option to pay quarterly, monthly or annually for your gas and electricity.
If you have a prepayment meter, you will pay for gas and electricity in advance on a 'pay as you go' basis.
The best way to see whether a different payment method could save you money is to compare prices. To get an impartial quote from Which? Switch, you just need your post code and a few details about your current supply.
Energy bill payment options
The cheapest way to pay for energy is almost always monthly direct debit, as most energy companies offer a discount to those who pay for energy in this way. Prepayment meters are usually the most expensive.
Your energy supplier may offer other discounts and incentives too, such as reward cashback schemes or discounts for managing your account online.
However you pay, make sure you give your energy company regular gas and electricity meter readings to ensure the bills you receive are accurate and not based on estimated use. If you think there's a discrepancy on your energy bill, see our guide on how to complain to your energy company.
How to pay your energy bills
Monthly or quarterly fixed Direct Debit
Your energy supplier will work out how much you spend on energy in a year and divide this into equal monthly or quarterly payments. Suppliers usually offer a discount to monthly Direct Debit customers, as their accounts are easier to manage.
If you pay for your gas and electricity by monthly Direct Debit , it's important to check your energy bills regularly to ensure you're paying the right amount.
Because energy use is not equal throughout the year, direct debit customers effectively underpay in winter and overpay in summer. It's normal to find your account a little bit in debit at the end of the colder, darker months of the year and in credit at the end of warmer, lighter periods.
Fixed Direct Debit is usually the cheapest way to pay for your energy. Start comparing prices now to see if you could save by switching to Direct Debit.
Variable Direct Debit
Your energy company will collect payments from your bank account at regular intervals, based on the amount of gas and electricity you've used in the previous quarter or six months.
Some energy companies offer a discount for paying for gas and electricity in this way, though the discount isn't usually as high as that offered to monthly direct debit customers.
A quarterly or monthly energy bill is sent out, which you pay by cash or cheque. This can be more expensive than paying by direct debit, though you may be eligible for a prompt payment discount if you pay on time.
Cheques can be sent through the post (make sure you leave enough time for postage and processing before the payment deadline) or paid in through a bank or Post Office. If you do not leave adequate time for post and processing, you may be charged a late payment fee. Some banks and building societies charge a fee for processing energy bill payments.
You can also pay in cash using a bank or the Post Office, or via a credit or debit card over the phone or online on your energy supplier's website.
Any prompt payment discounts you receive won't be as high as the ongoing discount given to direct debit customers, as setting up a direct debit guarantees you will always pay on time.
A set regular payment is sent directly from your bank account to your utility supplier. The amount sent by standing order is based on your annual energy usage divided into equal monthly payments.
Standing orders differ from direct debit arrangements as you, not the energy company, have control of the payment. Your energy supplier can't change the payments, even with your permission. Payment by standing order is no longer available for new customers signing up to most tariffs.
When using a credit or debit card you need to pay on receipt of your bill, just as you would when paying by cash and cheque. Some customers find it the most convenient way to pay if they have an online account but don't want to set up a Direct Debit, as you can normally just pay through your online energy account as soon as the bill arrives. You can also pay over the phone this way, so it's more convenient than having to post a cheque.
Prepayment meter customers pay for energy in advance by buying energy tokens or energy credit loaded on to a key or swipe card. Once the credit is low or runs out, you top up the card or key with more credit.
This is usually the most expensive way to pay for electricity and gas. Your energy meter will need to be changed if you want to transfer to an energy tariff that allows you to pay by direct debit or cash/cheque.
Most energy companies won't charge to change a prepayment meter, but you may have to pay a security deposit if you've had trouble paying for gas and electricity in the past.
Provided you have no more than £500 debt on your meter, prepayment customers can easily switch to another supplier. Use Which? Switch for a free and impartial prepayment price comparison.
Cut your energy bills with Which? Switch
The average saving when switching gas and electricity is £234 - compare gas and electricity tariffs now to find the best deal for you.
This figure is the average estimated annual saving for customers who applied to switch suppliers through Which? Switch between 1st October 2013 and 31st December 2013.