How to beat energy price hikes


Electricity plugMillions of us face higher heating costs this winter, but there are ways to beat soaring energy bills.

Four of the big energy suppliers – SSE, British Gas, npower and Scottish Power - have now announced price increases that will bring the average gas and electricity bill up to nearly £1,350 a year, and the remaining providers are likely to follow suit soon.

You can avoid a winter of discontent by switching now onto a fixed online tariff, which will not only result in smaller bills now, but will protect you from further energy price hikes next year. You could save up to £280 a year.

Here, we explain how the switching process works, as well as looking at other ways you can cut costs. 

How do I go about switching suppliers?

We're paying about 17% more for our gas and electricity than we were 18 months ago. Yet around 50% of households have never switched to a cheaper deal.

One of the main reasons why so many of us seem willing to just accept the price rises is because we think switching will be a major upheaval. This couldn't be further from the truth – switching can usually be done quickly and with minimal effort. No new pipes or meters are needed and there's no gap in service, so you won't be left without gas or electricity.

The easiest way to find the best deal is to use an energy comparison site. You'll need to provide:

  • Your address, so the site can identify your supply region
  • The name of your current supplie
  • How you pay for your energy (for example, direct debit or cheque)
  • The name of the tariff you are on at the moment (if you aren't sure, check your last bill)
  • How much energy you're currently using, which is expressed as your annual kWh consumption (if you don't know your annual kWh usage, contact your current supplier or suppliers and ask for it)

You'll then be shown which tariffs are available to you, along with the potential annual saving you could make.

Options will include variable tariffs, which will fluctuate over time, and fixed-rate tariffs, where your price per unit for gas and electricity is set for a certain period of time.

You may also be able to choose a green energy tariff, where your energy comes from renewable sources such as solar energy, wind energy and hydroelectricity. 

Can I switch tariff if I'm on a pre-payment meter?

The best tariffs often aren't available to customers with pre-payment meters, so while you can switch, your options may be limited. To access the most competitive fuel deals, you may want to consider moving to a standard credit meter.

Under current rules, anyone who owes more than £200 to their energy firm is not allowed move to a standard credit meter, even if they want to. But, thanks to changes introduced by the energy watchdog Ofgem, as of 1 November 2012 this limit will be increased to £500, so more people will be able to make the switch to a standard meter. 

Some energy suppliers will allow you to move to a standard meter without any charge, others impose fees of up to £60.

Even if there is a cost involved, moving meters is still likely to be worthwhile, as you should easily be able to recoup your costs once you switch to a cheaper tariff. 

What happens when I've chosen a new tariff to move to?

Once you've compared the available deals and picked the tariff you want, you'll need to either fill in the application online or speak to a comparison site adviser who can help you complete the necessary forms.

This information will then be sent to the new provider. If you change your mind after requesting the switch, you'll have a 'cooling off' period or around 12 to 14 days in which to stop it going through.

If you decide to proceed, you'll receive the new contract and terms and conditions within 10 days of making the application.

The actual switching process takes between four to eight weeks, and you will be notified by your new provider when your supply will start and when the first payment is required.

Don't cancel your Direct Debit to your existing provider until you have settled your final bill based on your last meter reading.

How else can I reduce costs?

Make sure you pay your bills by Direct Debit, as most suppliers offer discounts of up to 10% to people who pay this way.

Try to be as energy-efficient as possible, too. Insulation experts at E.ON, for example, have calculated that the average householder can save up to £390 a year on energy bills by insulating homes with cavity wall and loft insulation.

There are a wide range of grants and discounts available to help with the cost of energy-saving measures. To find out what help you might be entitled to, visit the Energy Saving Trust website at or call your local advice centre on 0800 512 012 for information about any local schemes.

Don't forget that smaller measures, such as fitting draft excluders, using energy-saving light bulbs and ensuring appliances are switched off rather than left on stand-by can also make a big difference.

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Last updated: almost 2 years ago