How to get the best energy deal
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 you’re happy with.
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 – the same number of 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 not) 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 a comparison site's initial recommendations, you might miss out on the cheapest tariffs.
You might find a cheap deal that’s exclusive to one particular website, or available only if you contact the supplier directly. By default, some price comparison websites only show you a limited selection of deals – for example only those they can switch you to directly, or just deals from the biggest companies.
Check what the site says about which deals it displays by default; you may be able to use the site's filters to see a fuller range of deals than is initially displayed.
Bear in mind that you will need to contact the supplier directly if you pick a deal the website cannot switch you to.
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, continuously comparing and, with your permission, switching you to deals they calculate to be the best (based on information you provide) 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. If you want to be able to get a better energy deal with minimal effort, they could be worth a try, though be aware that you may not get the very cheapest deal on the market.
Before using an autoswitching service, check the following:
- Its terms and conditions, so you know how they pick which tariffs to switch you to.
- The energy suppliers it works with. Some autoswitching services don't compare every deal available. If owned by a price comparison website, for example, they may only display deals from companies they have financial agreements with.
- Its policies on switching you to companies with a poor reputation for customer service. Some autoswitching services won’t switch customers to suppliers they don’t feel are up to scratch. They may use external sources, customers’ feedback and their experiences of dealing with suppliers 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 to find out more.
- 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. Sites that charge subscription fees typically cover the whole market, so may include cheaper deals than sites that are tied to specific suppliers, but you'll need to balance this off against how much the fees could eat into your savings. Switchd also offers a free version that only switches you to providers that pay Switchd commission.
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 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.
Can oil price changes help you predict the best time to switch?
The price of oil is one of the factors that affects the cost of energy tariffs so if oil prices fall energy prices are likely to follow. You can see in the graph below that this was broadly the case over the two years from September 2018.
Although our research has found that it's not usually worth switching more than once a year, if you see in the news that oil prices have dropped in between or you haven't switched for a while it's worth checking whether you could save money by switching at that point.
Oil vs energy prices
Refer-a-friend and switching incentives
Many suppliers are now offering financial rewards for switching to them, including via refer-a-friend schemes that reward both the existing and new customer. In our latest survey of over 8,000 energy customers in September 2020, 10% of people said they receive a financial incentive of some sort from their supplier for recommending others to them.
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 the supplier’s customer service is. Check the .
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 on 16 November 2020, 41 of the cheapest 50 widely available 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 £219 over a year by switching from a deal set at the level of the price cap to the cheapest deal on the market (correct November 2020).
To complicate things further, while most of the cheapest tariffs we found in November 2020 were fixed deals, some of the most expensive ones were also fixed tariffs 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 for safety reasons, 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 that 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 £50 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.
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.
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 , , or a .
- 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 about being overcharged.