10 things you need to know about gas and electricity tariffs
You could save hundreds of pounds a year by switching from your current home energy price plan to a cheaper deal.
However, many Britons aren't even sure what energy tariff, or tariffs, they are on, and even those who do are often befuddled by their suppliers' jargon.
It does not have to be difficult, though. Here are 10 things you should know about your gas and electricity supplies...
1. More than 12 million households have never switched supplier
Some 21.6m UK homes receive both mains gas and electricity. And of these, figures from industry regulator Ofgem indicate that 58% have never switched their gas supplier, while 57% have never changed to a new electricity provider.
This means that at least 12.3m households have never changed energy supplier and are therefore missing out on potentially huge savings.
2. You could save more than £200 a year
The average amount that people save by switching tariffs is £220 a year.
However, the savings on offer could be even bigger if you have never switched before, or if you are moving from standard plans with two different providers to a dual fuel plan with one company.
It can be confusing because the cheapest deals will depend on where you live and the amount of energy you consume.
You can do this quickly and easily using a comparison site. In less than five minutes you'll be able to find the best deal for you and see how much you can save.
3. Online plans are the cheapest
When looking for a new tariff, it is worth knowing that the best deals are usually those you manage online. These tend to offer cheaper rates due to lower administration costs incurred by suppliers and should therefore be at the top of your list when you're looking for a new tariff.
Don't be put off because you won't receive bills through the post - you can log in to your account at any time, so an online tariff actually offers a more efficient way of keeping track of your energy usage.
You can also provide meter readings this way to ensure you are being billed correctly and are not paying more than you need.
4. Dual-fuel tariffs offer better value for money
Energy providers want customers to buy both their electricity and their gas, so they reward those who take out a dual-fuel plan by offering 'loyalty' discounts that make them better value than standard, single-fuel tariffs.
Another advantage of being on a dual-fuel plan is that you only have one company to contact should you have any enquiries.
If your home only uses electricity, or your energy is provided by electricity and oil, you will not be able to sign up to a dual-fuel (electricity and gas) tariff.
5. Direct debit is the best way to pay
Energy companies reward customers who pay by monthly direct debit with further discounts. What's more, paying by direct debit is also the best way to ensure that you do not risk damaging your credit file by forgetting to pay on time.
6. Smart meters are coming
The government plans to install so-called smart meters, which will send information on real-time electricity and gas use directly to utility companies, in every home in the UK by 2020. A mass roll-out is due to start at the end of 2015.
This should make it easier for consumers to work out exactly how much energy they consume, and to switch suppliers or payment methods if they wish, while also enabling providers to send out more accurate bills.
In the meantime, however...
7. Regular meter readings are important
If your energy supplier does not have accurate figures for your gas and electricity usage, your bills will be based on estimates. This could result in you overpaying for your supply, or underpaying and facing a large bill later on.
Even if the company does not send someone round to take meter readings, you should send the correct readings to your supplier regularly.
8. How your gas is delivered makes a difference
Most of the UK's gas is delivered by National Grid (formerly Transco), Northern Gas Networks, Scotland Gas Networks, Southern Gas Networks or Wales & West Utilities.
However, about 870,000 British homes - mostly those built after 1995 - receive their gas via independent gas transporters (IGTs).
This should make no discernible difference to the supply. In fact, you may well not realise that your gas is delivered this way. It can make a difference to the cost, though, because most utility companies charge an extra fee if you are with an IGT.
Of the big six energy firms, for example, Scottish Power, npower and E.ON all levy annual charges (adding between about £40 and £70 to your annual bill) if you are with an IGT.
You can find out how your gas is delivered by looking at the Meter Point Reference Number (MPRN) on your gas bill. If it is 10 digits long and begins with 74 or 75 then you are supplied by an IGT.
9. There are organisations that can tell you the identity of your supplier
If you have recently moved into a new property, you may well receive a letter from the energy companies supplying the house or flat.
This will be addressed to 'The Occupier' - as long as the previous tenant informed the supplier that he or she was moving out - and should provide any details you need about your supplier.
If this is not the case, and you do not know which companies are supplying energy to the property, you can find out by contacting your local electricity distribution company and/or the Meter Point Administration Service line on 0870 608 1524.
10. There are procedures to follow if you have a complaint
If you have a complaint on any aspect of the service you are receiving from your gas or electricity supplier, the first step is to contact the company directly.
If you are sending a letter or email, clearly label that it is a complaint. If you are complaining over the phone, keep a note of the time of the call and the name of the person you spoke to.
Your energy provider has eight weeks within which to respond to your complaint. If you don't hear anything within that time, or are unhappy with the resolution proposed, don't give up. At that point you can take your complaint to the Energy Ombudsman Service.
It is worth keeping copies of any letters or emails you send or receive and a log of any phone conversations regarding your complaint in case you have to escalate it to the Ombudsman.
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