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How to save on your energy bill

How to get the best energy deal

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How to get the best energy deal

One of the easiest ways to cut your gas and electricity bill is to make sure you get a good energy deal in the first place. Find out how to choose the best tariff for you.

Choosing the right tariff could save you several hundred pounds a year. 

The more you know about the kind of energy tariff and features you’re looking for, the more likely you are to find an energy supplier and deal that you’re happy with.

Keep reading to find out more about the different types of energy tariff on offer. Or find out how to switch energy supplier, including a step-by-step guide through the process.

Once you've read our tips, use Which? Switch to compare gas and electricity prices and see how much money you can save.

Comparing gas and electricity prices to find the best deal 

Price comparison websites are the most popular way of looking for energy deals. Over half of switchers used them, according to our latest research. Going directly to an energy company is the next most popular.

Most popular ways to switch energy firm

New automatic switching services are only used by a small proportion at the moment – more people said they switched after being approached by a salesperson either in-person or by phone.

Keep reading to find out about each switching method, including its pros and cons. Plus keep in mind how easy (or less so) those who switched using each method found the process.

How easy did you find the switching process?

Price comparison websites 

These display a range of tariffs in price order, but they don’t have to show every available tariff on the market. So if you don’t venture beyond its initial recommendations, you might miss out on the cheapest deals.

You might find a cheap deal that’s exclusive to one particular website, or available only if you contact the supplier directly. Some price comparison websites automatically show you a limited selection of deals, for example only those they can sell you, or just deals from the biggest companies. Check the settings to make sure it shows you all available deals.

Though bear in mind that you will need to contact the supplier directly if you pick a deal the website cannot switch you to.

Our independent energy price comparison service, Which? Switch, includes deals that it can’t sell – so you know you’ll see the best deals and where to get them from.

Energy autoswitching services 

Automatic switching services are becoming increasingly popular and there is more and more choice. They do more of the legwork for you than price comparison websites, continually comparing and switching you (with your permission) to a deal that they calculate to be the best (based on your preferences) and keeping you on a good rate.

Well-known names include Flipper, Look After My Bills, Switchcraft, Switchd and WeFlip, though more are launching all the time.

Like price comparison websites, some of these aren’t necessarily able to compare every deal available. If owned by a price comparison website, deals may be similarly limited to those with which they have agreements.

Some autoswitching services won’t switch customers to suppliers that they don’t feel are up to scratch, to help you avoid poor service. For example, they use external sources, customers’ feedback and their experiences dealing with the supplier to determine this.

This can help you avoid some poorly performing companies, but means you might save less than picking a deal yourself using a price comparison website. See the results of our snapshot switching investigation to find out more.

Check their terms and conditions carefully so you know how they pick which tariffs to switch you to.

Also check whether it’s a free or paid-for service. For example Flipper charges £30 per year, and Switchd charges between £1.99 and £4.99 per month, depending on the level of support you want.*

This means they can switch you to suppliers which they don’t have agreements with or which don’t pay them.

*Switchd also offers a free version but it only switches to commission-paying providers.

Switching directly with an energy company 

It might seem like the best way to get the inside track and the cheapest deals, but some big firms don’t sell their cheapest deals on their own websites. Our snapshot investigation found that this was the case for half of the biggest energy firms in December 2019.

This can be because their cheapest tariff is an exclusive deal with a third party, for example a price comparison website or autoswitching service. To access it, you’ll need to go direct to that service.

Refer-a-friend and switching incentives 

Many suppliers are now offering financial rewards for switching to them, including via refer-a-friend schemes. In our latest survey, of over 8,000 energy customers in September 2019, 37% of switchers said they’d received a financial incentive of some sort to switch. If you’re invited to switch via one of these, make sure you check:

  • the price of the tariff you’ll be signing up to – is it the supplier’s cheapest deal?
  • how the price compares with other deals on the market once the incentive payment is factored in
  • whether there are other conditions attached to the switching incentive – for example being a customer for a certain period, or getting a smart meter – and whether you're happy with these
  • if the supplier charges exit fees if you want to leave
  • how good is the supplier’s customer service is. Check the best and worst energy companies for 2020.

Fixed and variable energy tariffs: which is best for me? 

Energy deals come in two basic types: fixed or variable. Which one would suit you better will depend on how much certainty you want over the price you pay, and how often you want to switch.

Variable tariffs, often also called 'standard' tariffs, can change price each time your supplier changes its rates. 

Your supplier’s default (or out-of-contract) tariff will usually be a variable deal. So if you have been with your supplier for a while, or didn’t switch after your fixed deal came to an end, it's very likely that you're on its standard variable tariff or default tariff.

Default tariffs are currently subject to a price cap. This is effectively a cap on the price charged for each unit of energy – not a cap on your total bill. 

However, some energy firms (generally newer ones) offer variable tariffs that are much cheaper than those from the large suppliers. They too can change their rates, but are still worth considering if you’re looking to pay less without the tie-in of a fixed contract.

Fixed tariffs set the rate you pay for each unit of energy you use for a certain period of time (one or two years, for example).

This means that you know the price you pay for energy won’t rise during the period of your contract. If your energy company raises its prices, you won’t be affected – but you won’t benefit if its prices drop, either.

Fixed and variable energy deals' prices compared

Fixed and variable tariffs: which is cheaper? 

The very cheapest deals on the market tend to be a mixture of fixed and variable. So it’s not as simple as picking one type to guarantee you get the cheapest rates.

But when we checked in February 2020, 43 of the cheapest 50 tariffs on sale were fixed deals.

These tend to be one-year fixed deals – you'll pay the same price per kilowatt hour of gas or electricity you use for the length of the tariff. Energy firms compete to tempt customers to join them on these tariffs, which is why they're attractively priced.

The risk of cheap variable deals is that companies can change the prices if, for example, the price of wholesale energy rises. So the cheap deal you sign up for in the summer might get more expensive in winter.

However, there's a price cap on some variable deals. This applies to out-of-contract or default tariffs, which you’re likely to be on if you haven’t switched supplier or changed your tariff recently. 

The cap limits the amount companies can charge customers on these tariffs. It doesn’t mean you'll get a cheap rate, though.

It’s still worth switching if your tariff is subject to the price cap, because it's probably not your supplier’s cheapest deal. You can save more than £350 a year by switching from a deal set at the level of the price cap, to the cheapest deal on the market (correct February 2020).

To complicate things further, while most of the cheapest tariffs we found in February 2020 were fixed deals, some of the most expensive ones were also fixed tariffs. These tend to be for longer terms, for example up to four years. So make sure you check energy prices before you switch.

Economy 7, Economy 10 and time of use tariffs 

Economy 7 and Economy 10 are the two most common time-of-use tariffs. If you're on one of these, you’ll probably have a special electricity meter that provides two different readings (also known as a two-rate meter). 

This will change, though – as smart meters become more widespread, special meters won't be necessary. This will enable all homes with smart meters to access time-of-use tariffs. A few firms are offering these already.

Time-of-use tariffs charge different rates for electricity used at different times of day. For example, a more expensive rate for electricity used at times of peak demand in the daytime, and a cheaper overnight rate.

  • Economy 7 gives seven hours of cheaper electricity. 
  • Economy 10 gives 10 hours.

To make the most of these tariffs, you need to use a certain proportion of electricity during the cheaper hours – such as heating your home with electric storage heaters, or heating your water or running some appliances overnight (though you shouldn't leave your washing machine, dishwasher or tumble dryer running when you're asleep). Use less than 30% on the cheaper rate and you might be better off on a single-rate electricity tariff.

If you have a time-of-use tariff and don’t think it’s the best deal for you, all energy companies with more than 50,000 customers must make their single-rate tariffs available to customers with restricted meters. This includes Economy 10 meters and white meters. 

If you think you’d be better off on a single-rate tariff, and your meter needs changing to make this possible, your supplier cannot charge you to install a new meter. For a faster fix, some suppliers are willing to add the peak and off-peak readings together and charge you a single rate.

Smart meter tariffs 

Some companies offer deals which use smart meter readings taken every half hour to offer tariffs tailored to different lifestyles or when electricity is cheapest for the supplier to buy.

Smart meters track the amount of gas and electricity you use, send this to your energy company automatically, and show you how much it’s costing you. Find out more about smart meters and how they work.

You might not need to have a smart meter already installed in order to sign up to one of these deals, but it will be a condition of the tariff that you’ll need to get one installed.

Renewable energy tariffs 

There has been an explosion in the number of ‘green’ energy deals, since rules were removed limiting the number of deals energy companies could sell at once.

Some of these deals are among the cheapest on the market, while others are among the most pricey. There is no set definition of what a ‘renewable’ tariff must include. Some companies play a part in funding or generating renewable electricity or ‘green’ biogas, others simply buy the equivalent of what their customers use in renewable electricity. Companies also offer different proportions of renewable electricity, and some offer other social or environmental perks.

If you’re keen to support renewable electricity, check your potential supplier’s arrangement.

Default renewable tariffs from Ecotricity, Good Energy and Green Energy UK are not subject to the government's price cap owing to the support they give to renewables.

Should I bundle gas and electricity with broadband or boiler cover? 

You can buy multiple services from some energy firms, including broadband, mobile phone packages, boiler cover and smart home devices. Utility Warehouse was the first to bundle utilities contracts, but now British Gas, Ovo Energy and Shell Energy are among the companies selling multiple products and services.

Utility Warehouse customers value the convenience of having multiple services combined into one monthly bill. If you’re tempted to buy more than gas and electricity from your energy company, check whether it would be cheaper to buy the equivalent from separate firms. When we checked in 2018, it usually was.

See the best and worst broadband providers and find out whether boiler cover is worth it for you.

How to avoid exit fees 

Before you switch energy supplier, check the terms and conditions of your deal. 

If you want to leave a fixed-term tariff before the end of your contract, you may have to pay an exit fee. But don’t let this put you off. 

  • Not all fixed deals have exit fees. Choose one of these and, if prices go up, you are protected – but if they go down, you can switch at any time at no cost.
  • Your supplier can't charge an exit fee if you switch in the last 49 days of your fixed tariff.
  • You should not have to pay exit fees if you’re moving home, provided you keep your tariff but just change the address. 
  • If you switch tariff but stay with the same provider, some may waive the exit fee – it's worth asking.
  • Exit fees are usually between £5 and £30 per fuel, so it’s worth working out whether you'd still be better off switching and paying the exit fees.

Change how you pay energy bills to save money 

You can sometimes get a discount if you pay by monthly direct debit. The amount you pay each month will be worked out by your gas or electricity supplier. It's based on the amount of energy you use, or are likely to use, in each year, divided by 12. 

It often costs slightly more to pay when you receive your bill. If you pay as you go for energy, there’s another price cap in place, limiting how much suppliers can charge. Find out more, and whether a prepayment energy meter is right for you.

If you’re happy to view your bills online, opt for paperless billing. Requesting paper bills will often add to the cost of your tariff.

How to stop your energy company overcharging 

Whether or not you've just switched, there are several things you can do to keep your bills accurate.

Send your supplier regular meter readings to make sure you're being charged only for the energy you're actually using. Without these, your energy firm will estimate your usage. If you have a smart meter, it should send these automatically. You can choose between monthly, daily and half-hourly readings.

If you’re billed or pay monthly, and don't have a smart meter, it’s a good idea to send monthly meter readings. Some energy firms will send you reminders to do so, and you can often submit them online.

Know how to read your gas meter and how to read your electricity meter.

Besides sending regular meter readings, follow these steps to keep your energy bills in check:

  • If you think you may be eligible for extra help with your energy bills, check if you can get the Warm Home Discount, Cold Weather Payment or Winter Fuel payment, or a free boiler or insulation.
  • If your energy company increases prices, read your meter and submit the reading on the day the rise takes effect. This way, you get the lower price for the maximum period.
  • Question direct debit changes. If you don't agree with them, contact your energy company and ask it to explain how and why it has calculated the change.
  • If your direct debit payments are increasing, your supplier must give you at least 10 working days' notice before the new amount is debited – either by a separate letter or email, or as a note on your bill. If it doesn’t, complain and ask for compensation. You can also make a claim under the Direct Debit Guarantee.
  • If you are disproportionately in credit, ask for a refund. But remember that it's normal to be in credit in the summer if you pay by fixed direct debit.
  • Know the end date for your fixed tariff and switch to a new deal before it expires. This way you’ll avoid being moved automatically on to your supplier’s default tariff, which is unlikely to be its cheapest.
  • Use our letter template to complain to your energy supplier about being overcharged.

For more information, see: my energy supplier has raised prices, do I have to pay?

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