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ENERGY MARKET IN CRISIS
The energy market is in turmoil. Wholesale prices (those firms pay) are at unprecedented highs and 17 energy firms have gone bust since the beginning of September.
What's more, bills have just risen by a typical £139/year for millions, after regulator Ofgem hiked the price cap to its highest-ever level on 1 October 2021. However, due to the unprecedented state of the market, there are no deals you can switch to that are meaningfully cheaper than the price cap right now.
As a result, if you do a Cheap Energy Club comparison, you'll see prices a lot higher than you would usually expect and a lot fewer tariffs. For help navigating this tricky market, see Martin's video explainer below.
The clip above has been taken from The Martin Lewis Money Show on 7 October 2021, with the kind permission of ITV Studios. All rights reserved. You can turn on subtitles by selecting the keyboard image at the bottom right of the video. You can also watch the full episode on the ITV Hub.
Energy bills have just been hiked for millions, amid soaring wholesale energy costs
More than half of UK households are on standard tariffs, meaning millions have just been hit by huge hikes. That's because the regulator's energy price cap – which governs these standard rates – was hiked by a typical £139/year from Friday 1 October, with the biggest suppliers pricing their standard tariffs on or within a few quid of the cap (see the price cap explained below).
Sadly, as a result of rocketing prices, there are no deals meaningfully cheaper than the price cap. You can do a Cheap Energy Club comparison now if you like, but you almost certainly won't find anything cheaper, as explained by Martin in MSE's weekly email.
Energy switching Q&A
Worried about the potential pitfalls of switching? Here's a quick video on how to avoid them. You can turn on subtitles by clicking the closed captions icon at the bottom right of the video.Martin Lewis explains how to do an energy comparison, its pitfalls and how to avoid themEmbedded YouTube Video
Common switching questions
Q: Isn't switching a big hassle?
A: No. Switch, and you keep the same gas, electricity and pipes. Only service and, crucially, cost change. It typically takes about three weeks to switch.
All you need to do is take five minutes to do a comparison, find your cheapest deal and fill in your details. There can be hitches, but switching should be simple for most.
With our new MSE Pick Me A Tariff service, we can even do the hard work for you and help you compare and stay on a cheap deal year-after-year.
Q: I'm in debt to my supplier, can I switch?
A: If you're on prepay, you can if the debt's £500 per fuel or less. If you're on a credit meter, it varies by supplier and payment type. Some require you to pay off your debt before switching, while others may let you switch then pay it off – so it's best to check with you're supplier directly first.
If you're in credit when you switch, your old provider will give you the cash after it sends you your final bill.
Q: Suppliers are all the same, so isn't switching pointless?
A: You're right – in many ways they are the same. Yet switching isn't actually about suppliers. Just like one mobile phone firm has many different tariffs, so do energy suppliers. One supplier can have both the UK's cheapest and most expensive tariff.
So the aim's to find your cheapest tariff, regardless of the firm.
Q: How long does it take to switch energy supplier?
A: Energy suppliers have a cooling-off period of 14 days, which starts from the date you submit your switch, so no action is taken until this period is over. The switching process can take up to six weeks to complete, depending on the supplier, although most should now switch you in three weeks.
You won't lose your supply during this time. It should be a seamless handover from one provider to the other. All that's really changing is the billing, not the actual gas and electricity that you're being supplied.
Energy suppliers are supposed to keep you updated on your switch (via letter/telephone/email – keep an eye on your junk/spam folder). If you ever have any queries about your switch, you can always contact your new energy supplier for an update.
Q: How long does it take to get confirmation after switching?
A: You usually get a confirmation email from the comparison site within 24 hours (definitely via Cheap Energy Club). After that, you're due a welcome pack. It could take weeks (sometimes suppliers even deny that you've switched).
Q: Should I go for a short, cheaper fix, or fix long? I can't decide.
A: First, look at how much you'd save with each fix. Then ask yourself: "Am I the type of person who'll switch regularly?" Will you keep on top of this and remember to switch at the end of each deal?
If yes, then a shorter fix – which will generally be cheaper – is worth considering (our Cheap Energy Club will alert you when to switch again). Be aware though that if energy prices rise over the next few years, you could end up switching to a pricier deal when your short fix ends.
The less likely you are to switch, the more you should consider a long fix. You may not get quite such a good rate, but it'll stay relatively cheap, even if you're inactive.
If you are less likely to compare and switch each year, you can try our MSE Pick Me A Tariff tool, which can help pick you your top deal each year and switch you with a one-click switch verification.
Q: I've switched before. It said I'd save, but my bills weren't lower.
A: While it sounds strange, you may save money by switching, even if your bills go up. For example, during price hikes by suppliers, you might switch to a new deal to pay less, but then see the price of your NEW tariff increase slightly.
But if you hadn't switched during the price hikes, your bills would've gone up even more on your OLD tariff. So while you're paying a bit more, it'll still be less than if you hadn't switched.
Q: I'm moving home, can I take my fix with me?
A: If you're moving, some providers will allow you to take the fixed tariff to your new home. Costs vary by region, so if you're moving to a new one, you may pay new prices.
Therefore if you're fixing right now, it's best to compare based on your new postcode (if you know it) as you'll be there longer – and, of course, check the fix is portable (ie, can be moved).
Q: Should I call my existing provider to fix?
A: No, no, no. This isn't about grabbing any fix. That could leave you locking in at a high cost – it's about locking in on the cheapest fix, which may be with another provider.
Q: Must energy providers give notice of price rises?
A: Yes, 30 days' notice, so you'll know when it's coming.
Q: Does switching affect my credit rating?
A: Suppliers often carry out credit checks when you apply that show on your credit file. Lenders can see these. Each application can have a minor effect on a future credit score. It's usually not an issue unless you're applying for lots of credit cards and loans around the same time.
Q: I've just moved home, how can I compare?
A: If you can get an idea of usage figures from the previous homeowners, brilliant. These figures will give you the most accurate comparison.
If not, some comparisons offer a movers' service. Answer some basic questions about the house, such as size and appliance use, and it'll tell you the likely cheapest provider.
Until you switch, the energy supplied to the home will come from the supplier the previous owners used, usually under an expensive standard variable tariff. So make sure you switch as soon as possible.
Q: I fixed but prices have gone up. Will I still get the fix?
A: The point of a fix is you're not affected by price rises.
If you've switched to a cheap fix that has since been pulled, you'll likely be fine – you should get the prices advertised at the point you applied (whether directly or via a comparison site).
Things can go wrong, though. You could fail a credit check, or maybe you're heavily indebted to your supplier and it tries to block you. If so, you should be told within about two weeks.
Q: I'm already tied in, is it worth asking my current supplier if I can switch to a fixed deal?
A: The only way it can lock you in is with an exit penalty that wipes out any savings you'd make by switching. So first ensure your provider's fix is competitive. If you'd save more than the exit penalty by switching elsewhere, there's no point in fixing with your current supplier anyway.
If not, while we've never heard of this happening, it's certainly worth seeing if your current company will waive your exit fee and switch you to its fix – you can always push hard by threatening to go elsewhere if not.
Q: My friend says Utility Warehouse promises to be cheapest.
A: Utility Warehouse/Telecom Plus is a network marketing firm, so its users can be very keen to sell it on.
As its prices are covered by comparison sites, just like others, to see its price for you, do a comparison (scroll for it, as it usually isn't near the top). However, some do like it for getting multi-utility discounts (ie, energy and phone together). The problem is you're normally locked into the energy and phone elements to get the full benefit.
Q: I'm only going to save £10. Is it worth switching?
A: Remember, by fixing you're not just saving now, the aim is to get a guarantee against prices rising. You could also get cashback on top of the tariff-saving via Cheap Energy Club.
Q: How do I switch – will the new company contact the old?
A: Yes. There's no need to contact your old provider (unless, perhaps, you are in debt with it and want to discuss how you pay it off).
Q: I've heard some people switch to a cheaper price but have a bigger direct debit?
A: Direct debits are based on an estimate of your usage. Some find they switch to a cheaper tariff, but their direct debit rises.
This is usually because the new firm overestimates, or the old one underestimates. If it's too high and you're overpaying, you'll get the money back later. If it's a problem, you've a right to ask your supplier to lower it. See Energy Direct Debits.
Q: I'm renting, can landlords dictate which provider I use?
A: If you pay the gas and electricity bill directly (not via the landlord), you can and should compare and switch. Don't stick with the previous tenant's supplier as often it's costly. Always do a meter reading as soon as you move in.
You have a right to do this without your landlord's permission, though it's worth checking your tenancy agreement just in case it's a breach. If it is, communicate with the landlord – nothing changes for them if you switch, so it shouldn't be an issue.
Even if your tenancy agreement says you can't switch, challenge it. Preventing a tenant from changing energy supplier may be viewed as an unfair term, so talk to Citizens Advice to see if it can help. If you pay your landlord for energy, it's their choice.
Q: I only use electricity – can I switch and fix?
A: Yes, use Cheap Energy Club to find the cheapest electricity prices for your area. Just select 'electricity only' and it will show your top fixes.
Q: Is it true that paying by direct debit is cheapest?
A: Yes, but specifically by monthly direct debit, which can be up to £85 cheaper a year. Your bill is then estimated, so make sure you do regular meter readings.
Find switching confusing? Use our Pick Me A Tariff tools to switch energy supplier
If you want help when switching your energy provider, rather than doing a standard comparison and having to choose from a long list of providers, we've two tools that can help (and most now prefer using these over the standard comparison).
- Pick Me A Tariff for now. Tell us your energy preferences (if you want a fix, a name you know, top service, a green tariff etc), or just select Martin's default choice, and we'll find your top tariff from the whole market, based on those preferences. We'll alert you throughout the year when you can save based on your preferences.
- Pick Me A Tariff Every Year. For those unsure or nervous about switching or choosing, this is best. Tell us your energy preferences as above and we'll find your top-pick tariff, you switch, then each year when your deal ends, we'll switch you to your new winner based on your preferences, with just one click from you to verify you're happy.
With the energy prices that firms pay at record highs, there are now no deals meaningfully cheaper than the price cap (which standard default tariffs follow). In fact, very few providers even allow switching at the price cap rate. As a result, there are no deals we can switch you to within our Pick Me A Tariff Every Year system right now.
We know these tools may not be for everyone, so if you know what you're doing or just want to see all tariffs on the market, you can still do a standard DIY energy comparison.
Who can and can't use Pick Me A Tariff?
It is completely free and works across the UK, except Northern Ireland (see Cheap Northern Ireland Energy for more). It isn't yet available for prepay tariffs (we don't want to switch people to firms they can't top up with, so are working on a solution to that – meanwhile, do a prepay comparison), nor for a few niche tariffs such as Economy 10.
If you're doing a complex switch (eg, electric-vehicle tariffs, or you have two meters in your home) or you want to interrogate all tariffs yourself, it also might not be for you.
To join Pick Me A Tariff Every Year, currently you need to be switching tariff (we're working on allowing you to join anytime), so if you find you're already on a great tariff, wait and join when it ends. See how our Pick Me A Tariff tools work below, and our full FAQs for more.
Here's how it works and how it differs from others out there.
1) Our 'Pick Me A Tariff' system selects your best tariff. We don't just switch everyone to the same deals – we use our unique new Pick Me A Tariff system. Here, after telling us your details, you're given 21 preference points.
You then allocate them across six categories: price, service, green, fix, name you know and exit penalties, depending on your priorities.
- Not sure of what's important? You can use the 'Martin's pick' option of a balanced tariff, to help start you off.
Whatever you choose, our algorithm then selects your winning tariff and the next two closest – aiming to mimic what you'd pick yourself. So prioritise green and service and you'd get the cheapest top-service green deal.
2) Your deal is selected from the WHOLE OF THE MARKET. We don't ignore providers we can't switch you to. Pick Me A Tariff includes all providers whether we've a switching (ie, commercial) relationship with them or not.
If you want us to switch you each year when your deal ends, but your top pick turns out to be one we can't switch you to, we'll still show it as your top pick – but as choosing it means we can't switch you, we'll provide the alternative top switchable tariff so you can choose.
PS: Whole of market means every available open tariff. We can't always include other comparison sites' exclusives, and very rarely small firms don't provide their rates (or have them on 'beta test' tariffs such as Agile Octopus), so until they do, we can't include them.
3) You always stay in control, with a one-click verification. If you want us to switch you next time, a year after your current switch (or later if you're on a longer fix), we'll contact you by email or text with your new top tariff based on your preferences, which you can switch to with just a one-click verification. If you don't want to switch, just don't click. You can opt out at any point.
4) It's not just free – we give you cashback. The only autoswitch (there are no other Pick Me A Tariff) services that look across the whole of the market charge a fee. Yet with MSE, switch via the tool, and as we, like other comparison sites, get paid, we don't charge a fee.
Instead, we actually give you £25 dual-fuel cashback (£12.50 single fuel) – roughly half what we get. That means in effect it costs you even less than going directly to the provider. A win-win.
5) If there's a major market move, we've an editorial override. When building this a key concern was: "What if there's a huge market shift, or a 'top service' provider we've switched people to suddenly has an IT meltdown causing hideous problems?" So we've built in an editorial override rule.
If the worst happens, we can override the automatic 'wait a year' rule, and send you an earlier switching option. This is only for extreme circumstances – we'll try not to use it, and it'll always need signing off by MSE founder Martin Lewis (or in his absence, Marcus Herbert, MSE's Editor-in-Chief).
More info and questions are answered in Pick Me A Tariff FAQs.
Pick Me A Tariff Every Year is great if you just want to stay on a cheap energy tariff, with no hassle. To encourage many who don't like switching, we keep it simple, and (usually) will only switch you annually. Yet there are some for whom it isn't suitable...
- Those doing complex switches (eg, electric-vehicle tariffs, homes with two meters).
- Those who know what they're doing and want to interrogate all tariffs themselves.
- Frequent switchers – those who like to keep on the perfect tariff constantly, so switch more than once a year.
For all those, stick with our DIY energy comparison – like all MSE energy tools, it's free, whole of market, and you get the £25 MSE dual-fuel cashback (£12.50 single fuel) – as you do with Autoswitch.
We also have a halfway house Pick Me A Tariff for now tool – where you still use the 21 preference point tool to select a tariff, but we won't switch you after a year (though can choose to opt in to that at a later date).
There are a number of autoswitching companies – such as Look After My Bills and Weflip – which promise to continuously switch you to cheap deals, without you having to do anything. However, these services usually can't offer all deals on the market.
The idea of automatic switching is that it constantly keeps you on a cheap tariff. These services use computer algorithms to constantly track and identify potential savings based on your energy use, meter type and current tariff. When you can save a certain amount, they will automatically switch you.
What to watch out for
There are a few things to watch out for when using automatic switching firms.
As we've said, these services usually can't offer all deals on the market – only those that they can switch you to. If they don't have a relationship with a supplier, they won't be able to move you to one of that supplier's tariffs and won't tell you about these tariffs either, so you could miss out on certain cheaper deals. If it is whole of market, it'll likely charge a fee.
They also tend to be limited in the preferences you can set, meaning you can't adjust the minimum savings that you'll switch for, or choose only to move to providers with decent service or green tariffs.
Most also base any savings on your projected costs for the next 12 months. This method assumes you'll roll on to your provider's standard tariff if the deal you're currently on ends in the next year.
For example, if you've six months left on a fix, your projected costs for the next 12 months will include the remaining six months on your current deal, and six months on your provider's standard tariff, which is usually much more expensive.
Comparing this way, rather than just against the rates you're currently paying, means automatic switching could see you switched from a cheaper fix to a more expensive deal.
Other comparison sites also offer to do energy comparisons, though bear in mind though that some only show you tariffs you can switch to via them (ie, where they're paid commission) by default. This filters out some results – Cheap Energy Club shows you ALL those available by default.
It's also possible to get rewards for switching from comparison sites. Here's a summary of how you can switch via other major comparison site:
Six-bottle case of wine to switch
We've blagged MoneySavers six bottles of wine from Naked Wines if you switch gas and electricity via this uSwitch* link. After your new supply goes live, you'll be emailed a voucher for a case of wine containing six bottles which it says is worth £60. Please be Drinkaware.
It can take up to four months from the date you switched to get the voucher and you must use it within six months.
It may be possible to INCREASE the cashback
Occasionally, you can get even more if you switch via cashback websites. Therefore, for the ultimate finesse, first use the comparison services to find the cheapest, then check if you can get more going via a cashback website.
When is the cashback paid?
Cashback's usually paid automatically 45 to 90 days after you sign up, but remember it's only paid when going through the cashback site's specific link. In some cases, it can take as long as six months.
However, things can and do sometimes go wrong with these sites, so don't count the cash as yours until it's in your pocket.
How do comparison sites work?
The cheapest supplier for you is calculated by a complicated algorithm. It depends on where you live, how much energy you use, and the type of energy you use. Web and phone-based comparison services do this for you.
Just plug in your address and usage (use the kilowatt hours on the bill rather than the cost, to improve accuracy) and they tell you which supplier is cheapest. If you don't have a bill or have just moved in, most comparison services can still estimate for you.
How do they earn their money?
Comparison services are paid between £20 and £70 per switch by the energy companies. In other words, they're referral businesses. In itself this isn't actually a problem, as it doesn't add costs to the consumer.
Yet these are commercial beasts, and and so there are differences between them, such as the suppliers they compare by default and how they treat discounts or promotions.
Overall, it's better to use them than to listen to the energy companies when they shout "we're cheapest".
Why do I get different results from comparisons?
It's common to use different comparison sites and get different results. While it can be annoying, not much can be done to standardise it. The main reasons it happens are:
These sites make a number of assumptions. If you haven't provided your usage in kilowatt hours, which gives the most accurate comparison, your usage will be estimated. Each site makes assumptions to work this out, so slight differences in those assumptions can affect the overall recommendations.
Even if you do put kilowatt hours in, other assumptions are made, as some sites add in seasonal usage weightings and more slight variances to how the calculations are done. Of course it's very frustrating, but ultimately it's likely the actual difference in what you pay will be small.
Check you've selected exactly the same current tariff. Annoyingly, when asking which tariff you're currently on, comparison sites often list almost identically-named products for each provider – something that should be cracked down on – so make sure when you're picking your current tariff, you get it exactly right.
Was the difference just in the amount saved? If your cheapest tariff is identical across different sites, but the saving isn't, this is likely to be about assumptions.
What about when there are genuinely different answers? That's very annoying and really it shouldn't happen, but occasionally it does. The only way to get PERFECT accuracy is to get a spreadsheet out and do your own comparisons. But unless you're a maths whizz with a lot of time, that's virtually impossible.
The actual answer here is to remember the differences are only at the margins, so overall if you're making a saving it's still a good move.
Why do we suggest comparison sites if this can happen? While comparison sites aren't perfect, they are accredited by Ofgem and those standards mean the differences are small.
In 2005, we took the decision (having made a big fuss about it) that ultimately it was more important to encourage people to save big money by getting the best tariff easily and switching at the right moment, than to berate comparison sites for small differences.
We accepted comparison sites were the 'least worst' way to do it. Overall, they provide a good service and tell you roughly the cheapest provider. We hope they'll improve, but they're much better than sticking with an expensive supplier and watching prices rise.
What does the price cap mean for my bill?
The cap on standard variable and default tariffs is set by regulator Ofgem and came into force on 1 January 2019. If you've not switched in the last year or so, it's likely you're on one. The price is updated twice a year, and is currently set at £1,277/year for a typical user, after rising 12% on Friday 1 October – its highest-ever level. For clarity, this doesn't mean that is the most anyone will pay. It's the rates that are capped, so if you use more, you'll pay more, use less and you'll pay less.
Having always been among the most expensive deals, in these unprecedented times price-capped variable tariffs are now the cheapest – cheaper than the cost price of energy. There are no deals for new customers that are meaningfully lower. In fact, very few providers even allow new customers to switch to their price-capped tariffs at the moment. And the cheapest fixed deal is 35% higher (around £450/yr more for someone on typical bills).
As this new cap will last until 1 April 2022, you could treat it as a six-month fixed rate, which you have the freedom to leave whenever you want (hopefully because cheaper deals return).
This price cap is based on average wholesale prices for the six months until the end of July. Yet the wholesale price has exploded since then. We're now a third of the way through the next assessment period (August to January), which determines the cap from April 2022, which is why analysts at Cornwall Insight have predicted a 30% jump to £1,660/yr on typical use.
Price cap FAQs
We've seen lots of confusion over how the price cap works – so here we answer some of the key questions we've seen and take you through some of the quirks of the new rules.
According to Ofgem, about 11 million households are still on expensive standard tariffs, often paying £100s more for the same gas and electricity than those on the very cheapest tariffs.
To try to prevent these customers from being further ripped off, the Government ordered Ofgem to set a maximum level that suppliers can charge on their standard and default tariffs. This cap initially came into force on 1 January 2019.
Ofgem updates the maximum charges allowed under the cap every April and October, based mainly on wholesale costs (what suppliers pay for gas and electricity) over a six-month period leading up to the energy regulator's review.
Initially, the cap was set to remain in place until at least the end of 2020, although the Government has the option to extend it on an annual basis until 2023 at the latest. It has since been extended until at least the end of 2021.
No, unfortunately it's not that simple, as the price cap varies with your usage and where you live.
The current £1,1277/yr figure is based on a particular level of usage – what Ofgem deems a 'typical' user – for gas and electricity, averaged across all regions.
Don't worry too much about typical use though, as the price cap simply sets a maximum charge for each unit of gas and electricity you use – so if you use more, you pay more – and a maximum daily standing charge (what you pay to have your home connected to the grid).
What you pay also varies by region – on typical use, it can range by as much as £70/yr.
The level of the cap also depends on how you pay. On typical use, the cap for someone paying by monthly direct debit is £1,277/yr.
If you pay by any other method – such as quarterly direct debit, cash or cheque – it's higher. According to Ofgem, this is down to the higher costs to suppliers for providing energy to these customers.
No. Only 'default tariffs' are covered by the cap – so any tariff that you don't make an active choice to be on. This includes standard variable tariffs (SVTs) and 'default' fixed-term deals.
Fixed or variable deals that you have chosen to switch to, rather than being rolled onto automatically, are NOT covered by the cap – so suppliers can still offer tariffs that charge more than the cap.
Yes. If you prepay for your energy, your prices are also capped. The cap generally works the same way for those on prepay, although the level it's set at is usually slightly higher. Currently it's £1,309/yr, after rising 13% from 1 October 2021.
Also, the cap covers all prepayment tariffs, not just standard and default tariffs. See prepayment prices are capped for full info.
Had a switching problem? You may be entitled to automatic compensation
While most energy switches should be fairly smooth, problems can happen occasionally. If you do experience an issue while switching supplier, you may be eligible for automatic compensation.
What you get depends on the problem, but automatic compensation is available for the following issues:
- If your switch takes too long to complete
- If your supplier takes too long to send you a final bill
- If your supplier takes too long to issue a credit refund at the end of your contract
- If you are switched to another supplier by mistake
You'll usually get £30 for each issue you experience – see how much could I get? below for the full list and what counts as "taking too long" in each case.
While the compensation should be automatic, the supplier can only pay you if it can identify an issue in the first place, so if you think you're eligible, contact your supplier to make a claim.
Most of these only apply to tariffs taken out after 1 May 2019 (unless stated). Here's a full rundown of the compensation providers have to pay:
- Switching. You can get £30 from your new supplier if it fails to complete the switch within 15 working days.
- Final bills. You can get £30 from your old supplier if it fails to issue your final bill within six weeks. This only applies to tariffs taken out after 1 May 2020.
- Credit refunds. You can get £30 from your old supplier if it fails to pay back any money it owes you within 10 working days of sending a final bill.
- Switched by mistake. There are a number of different deadlines for suppliers if you've been switched by mistake (known as an 'erroneous switch'), including:
- £30 if you're switched by mistake, from the new supplier (the one you've been mistakenly switched to), from 1 May 2020.
- £60 if your old and new suppliers fail to agree that you've been switched by mistake within 20 working days of you notifying either that there's been a mistake. You should get £30 from each supplier.
- £30 from the supplier you first notified that you've been switched by mistake – if it fails to confirm the outcome of its investigation into whether there's been an error within 20 working days.
- £30 from your original supplier if it fails to switch you back within 21 working days of agreeing that you were switched by mistake.
- Switching. You can get £30 from your new supplier if it fails to complete the switch within 15 working days.
The compensation is automatic, so your supplier should pay you into your bank account, by cheque or by issuing credit for your prepayment meter.
However, in some cases, you may be contacted to confirm payment arrangements.
While you should get compensation automatically, suppliers will only pay out when they identify an issue, so if you think you're owed money, contact your supplier and make a claim.
You should get the compensation within 10 working days after the supplier misses one of the deadlines. If it missed this deadline, you'll get an additional £30 payment, but that's where it stops – you won't get any additional automatic compensation for further delays.
If you think you're owed compensation and your supplier hasn't paid, get in touch with it, and if it still fails to pay, make a complaint. See how to complain about your energy provider.
There are some scenarios where suppliers are exempt from paying out the compensation.
- If the customer supplies inaccurate information to their supplier
- The supplier suspects fraud
- The supplier goes bust
- If your switch takes too long to complete
Switch to monthly direct debit to save £85/yr
Paying by monthly direct debit can cut bills by up to £85 each year, as companies are sure you won't default and they earn interest on any overpayments. So if you can do this, go for it.
Yet direct debits are usually based on an estimate of your usage. If that's wrong, you can end up over (or under) paying each month. Remember, even if you're on a fixed tariff, your direct debit can go up if your supplier thinks you'll use more energy.
Some find they've switched to a cheaper tariff, but their direct debit rises. This can be the new firm overestimating or the old one underestimating. If it means you overpay, you'll get the money back later. See the Energy Direct Debits guide for full help.
FREE insulation & boiler grants
Energy efficiency can seriously cut bills, and there are wads of freebies on offer from energy providers. It's all part of their efficiency obligations to people in certain groups.
What's more, homeowners in England can now get vouchers worth up to £5,000 for energy efficiency improvements, such as installing loft, floor and wall insulation, or double-glazing, under the new Green Homes Grant scheme. See our Green Homes Grant guide for full info.
Or, if you're on certain benefits, you could get free insulation or a grant to replace an old boiler. The Free Insulation & Boilers guide has more on what's available, but below's a taster of what you can get and what it'll save you:
Boiler replacement or repair. Heating accounts for around 55% of what you spend in a year on energy bills. Depending on your boiler's age, a shiny new efficient one could save you up to £315/yr.
Cavity wall insulation. Most homes built since 1920 have a gap between internal and external walls. Filling the cavity with insulating mineral wool and foam means cold air's kept out, and warm air stays in, which can save an average three-bedroom home up to £305/yr.
Loft insulation. Up to a quarter of your home's heat escapes via the roof, but you can solve this by laying mineral wool under the rafters, saving up to £250/yr.
Got electricity only? You can still save
How to save if you have a prepayment meter
When it comes to choice, those on prepayment meters are pretty hard done by, certainly compared to those on standard billed meters. So if possible, switch to one of these. You may have to pay, but the savings are usually worth it.
Often they won't let you though, due to credit score or income difficulties. For full info on how to ditch a prepayment meter for a billed meter, or if you can't, how to save on prepay, see the full Cheap prepaid gas & elec guide.
Want renewable energy? There are 'green' tariffs available
If you want to do your bit for the environment, there are plenty of 'green' tariffs available.
Typically, it's only the electricity that's 'green'. A few suppliers have started to offer renewable gas, but it's rare. For more on renewable energy, see our Cheap Green Energy guide.
Don't want to switch supplier? Check your current provider's cheapest tariff
If you think switching is too much hassle (it isn't, but hey ho), in some cases you can simply move to your current provider's cheapest deal. Yes, that's right. Bizarrely, even though it's the same gas and the same electricity, each energy firm charges a range of rates for using it. And no surprise Sherlock, it's usually the 'standard tariffs' that most people are on that are by far the most costly.
Yet right now, among the major providers, there are very few cheaper deals on offer, likely due to a sharp rise in wholesale energy costs (what suppliers pay for gas and electricity) this year. We'll keep an eye out, and update this section when these deals make a comeback.
It's also worth noting that some suppliers now offer different tariffs to existing customers depending on which tariff they're currently on. So if you took out a cheap fix with your provider that's coming to an end, you'd be offered a different (often better) deal than someone who's been on its standard tariff for years – as an incentive not to switch away.
This means that many existing-customer deals are no longer available on comparison sites, so you'll need to see what you're offered, then do a full market comparison to make sure it's a good deal.
You can use the 'My Current Supplier' filter in our Cheap Energy Club to see all your supplier's deals and find the EXACT cheapest one for you. For some, you can also get £25 dual-fuel cashback.
In most cases, the supplier will also waive exit fees for switching between its tariffs (though some do still charge them, so do check).
On a fix? You can switch again penalty-free in the last 49 days of your deal
To protect people on fixed-tariff deals, Ofgem's rules mean suppliers can't charge exit fees in the last seven weeks of fixed-term deals.
So if you're near the end of a fix, you won't have to pay a fee to leave it and move to a new tariff – provided your switch completes within the last 49 days of your current deal.
Renters can switch too
If you rent your home you can save by switching, providing you pay the energy supplier directly (rather than paying your landlord). You don't need to own the property to do it, so don't just stick with the previous tenant's gas or electricity firm.
Tenants can print out our factsheet to give to landlords. It explains the rights that renters have to switch energy supplier. It also helps landlords understand that allowing tenants to switch won't cause them any problems.
Even if your tenancy agreement bans switching, Ofgem's guidance states if you pay the energy bill directly, you're still entitled to change supplier any time.
You can still compare on Cheap Energy Club if you don't have the former occupant's bills – just hit the "don't know" button when you enter your usage.
Some tariffs require you to have smart meters installed. If so, you should check with your landlord first and get written permission.
If you pay your landlord for energy, only they are able to switch, but it's still worth talking to them to see if they'll switch to a cheaper supplier – after all, they'll get to pay less on energy bills too.
You may be able to switch from a prepay to a normal meter
If you've got a prepay meter and you're renting, you can still switch your energy supplier providing you pay the company directly.
However, if you want to change from a prepay to a standard credit meter, it's best to get written permission from your landlord first as this could be seen as changing the property from its original condition. See our Cheap prepaid gas & elec guide for more.
Check if you're owed a refund
If you switch energy firms and you're in credit, you're due the cash back. Your previous supplier should pay this automatically following your final bill, yet for years many energy firms pocketed the cash.
Back in 2014, energy regulator Ofgem revealed that about three million people were owed a refund by an old supplier. Ofgem challenged suppliers, saying it "expects suppliers to do more" to return the cash when people switch away from them. While it has improved since then, it could be worth checking if you're owed anything from old suppliers.
Plus for switches since 1 May 2019, your credit must be refunded within 10 days of you receiving your final bill or you'll be owed compensation on top.
This is easy. Basically, if you know you're owed, call your old supplier and ask for the cash back – it needs to refund you. The supplier will go through the process on the phone or will tell you to write in. Every big six supplier says past customers can go through the process on the phone.
There may be rare cases where you'll have to write, for example when you've given your name, address and other information, but the supplier can't trace your old account. Here you may need to include proof of ID such as a copy of a passport or driving licence.
Once you've gone through the process of either writing or calling, you should get the full overpaid amount. How long it'll take varies by supplier. You should get it within eight weeks, but some have had to wait months. Refunds will be paid by cheque or straight into your account.
For any switches started on or after 1 May 2019, all energy suppliers have to pay automatic compensation a late credit refund.
You'll get £30 automatic compensation if your previous supplier fails to refund your outstanding credit within 10 working days of sending your final bill.
What's more, for switches from 1 May 2020, suppliers must now send you final bill within six weeks of you leaving.
If it fails to do this, it will have to pay a further £30, also within 10 working days.
How will I get the compensation?
Ofgem has told us the method of payment is up to the supplier. It could be a bank transfer or credit card refund if it has your details, or it may send you a cheque.
If you have a prepayment meter, it can also add credit to that, which can be used with that supplier and any you may switch to.
Check your bill for contact details, but to make it easy we've compiled a list of contact numbers for all energy providers.
Many get vexed at being put on hold for an age, so avoid calling at the busiest times. These are usually any time on Monday, lunchtimes, month ends and starts, 8.30am-9am weekdays and when people get home from work.
If your provider doesn't resolve your refund query within eight weeks of your first request for it, you can complain to the free, independent Energy Ombudsman.
Once you've contacted the ombudsman, if it agrees to take on your case it will send a response within six to eight weeks. If it rules in your favour, it will send a letter to your provider (and you) detailing what the provider needs to do. If the provider needs to pay you a refund, it has 28 days to do so.
Your current supplier might be able to tell you who your old provider was by checking the UK database.
If not, you might have to do some digging – see if you can find any old bank statements or check your credit report. If you were renting, check with any old flatmates or perhaps even an old landlord to see if they remember the supplier.
What happens if my energy company goes bust?
Several smaller energy suppliers have stopped trading in recent years, but don't worry – you're never at risk of losing your energy supply and any credit you're owed will be returned. The primary risk is you'll lose your current deal if your supplier goes bust and will likely end up paying more.
Under regulator Ofgem's safety net rules, when a supplier fails a new one is appointed to take over, and once it does you'll usually be moved onto its standard tariff – the most expensive type of tariff. However, you're free to switch away without exit fees once your new account is set up, so make sure you do a comparison right away.
If your account is in credit when the supplier goes bust, the new supplier will either pay it to you or add it to your new account to pay for future energy use once it takes over your supply.
Use less energy to save on your bills
It's not just which energy tariff you're on that can cut costs, using less can really pay off and is simple to do. Turn down the thermostat and wear jumpers, turn lights off when you leave a room, defrost the fridge and check it's not on too high, use energy saving light bulbs and don't leave electrical goods on standby. For more info, read the MSE Forum's Energy Saving Hunt and see the Energy Saving Trust website.
Smart thermostats can also help some save on their energy bills. These gadgets give you greater control over your home's heating, letting you adjust it on the move via a mobile app or online, and set more complicated heating schedules than your traditional thermostat. They can be pricey though, so see the Smart Thermostats guide to check if they're right for you.
Some suppliers run credit checks
Some firms do a credit check when you apply to switch, as if you pay by direct debit, bills are estimated – if they under-assess you, you could owe them cash, so they want to know you're good for it. There are two types of credit check done...
- Soft search. This is the best type, as you can see it on your file, but lenders can't so it DOESN'T have any impact on your ability to get future credit products (like mortgages).
- Hard search. This DOES leave a mark on credit files lenders can see and can have a minor negative impact on future credit applications. This isn't a big deal usually, but if you're planning to apply for a mortgage within the next couple of months you may want to miss it.
If you don't pass the credit check, suppliers may ask you to pay a security deposit or suggest a prepayment meter in order to take on your supply. You can stop the switch if this happens though.
British Gas Hard check Bulb Hard check EDF No check E.on Hard check Scottish Power Hard check SSE Hard check Shell Energy Hard check Octopus Energy Hard check Ovo Energy Hard check Utilita No check Last updated: January 2021.
- Soft search. This is the best type, as you can see it on your file, but lenders can't so it DOESN'T have any impact on your ability to get future credit products (like mortgages).
Do a meter reading every time you get a bill
Don't rely on your energy provider's estimate, these are often way out. If they're underbilling, you'll have a big whack to pay when your supplier receives your actual meter reading. If they're overbilling, then they've unfairly got your cash.
If your direct debit is way off kilter, call up and ask for it to be changed. You have a range of rights to ensure it's correct. See the full Energy Direct Debits guide for template letters.
Smart meters can help stop this as they send meter readings automatically to your supplier, so you only pay for what you use. See the Smart Meters guide for more.
How to complain about your energy provider
The energy industry isn't known for having great customer service across the board, and while a provider may be good for some, it can be hell for others. Common problems include incorrect bills, switching issues, direct debits being too high, refund delays and more. It's always worth trying to call your provider to sort the issue first, but if not then…
Free tool to help you complain
This tool helps you draft and manage your complaint. It's totally free to use, and it's offered by Resolver, a firm we work with to help people get complaints justice.
If the complaint isn't resolved, the Resolver tool will help you escalate it to the free Energy Ombudsman Service.
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