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Don't get ripped off by your energy provider

John Fitzsimons
by Lovemoney Staff John Fitzsimons on 04 December 2009  |  Comments 17 comments

Ever received a huge bill from your energy provider that you weren't expecting? Here's how to make sure you never get ripped off by their sneaky tactics.

I've always found the concept of an estimated bill a bit confusing. You don't have a similar system with your phone bill - O2 don't guess how much I've been texting this month, and charge me accordingly.

To be honest, I want the money I have to hand over for my gas and electricity to be based on something a little more solid than a guess.

So I've been buoyed by two bits of good news on this front in the last few weeks which suggest we are getting closer to truly accurate energy bills.

A round of applause for British Gas

First up, British Gas announced they were introducing a new system allowing customers to submit how much energy they use online or by text.

The provider will be kitting out their customers with energy use monitors. Customers can then report back how much they've used. The firm claims it will ensure the bills are accurate.

British Gas also said its research had found estimated bills were somewhat unpopular. Who'd have thought?

Time to get smart with meters

This was followed by reports this week revealing that the Government is about to approve the rollout of a whopping 47 million new gas and electricity "smart meters". A survey last month suggested 57% of Brits have no idea what a smart meter is, but chances are that is all about to change.

As with the British Gas initiative, a smart meter will bring an end to inaccurate estimated bills and ensure you only pay for what you use. In addition, the meters will track when you are using your appliances, with the idea that energy providers will offer more competitive rates at off-peak times in much the same way they do with phone bills.

Unfortunately, such a programme is going to cost a fair bit - up to £9bn. And it's me and you that will be footing the bulk of the bill.

Don't hold your breath

It will also take a fair while, unsurprisingly, for the 47 million new meters to be fitted in every property across the UK. Chances are you won't see the benefit for about another decade.

In the meantime, the one way to ensure you get accurate bills is to be extremely vigilant and keep track of your own energy use. Once a month, make a note in your diary to read your meter and tell your provider, either online or over the phone. That way, your estimated readings will always be relatively accurate and so you shouldn't get any nasty surprises when the bill comes through each quarter.

Accurate doesn't equal cheap

In all honesty, it's a bit depressing that we should herald changes that mean we are actually being charged for what we use, rather than some estimate our provider has made.

But while accurate bills are something we should strive for, accuracy does not equal good value. Just because your bill from British Gas, or whoever, is completely accurate does not mean that it is the best value deal for you.

Thankfully there are some simple steps you can take to ensure that you are spending as little as possible on your energy needs.

Sign up for a cheaper tariff

The most obvious thing to do is to check that your deal is the most competitive.

The entry of two new players in recent months, First:Utility and OVO Energy, has shaken up the market somewhat, with the so-called 'Big Six' providers given a bit of fresh competition. Both have recently held the top spot for the cheapest tariff in the UK, so they are well worth checking out.

And now is absolutely the right time to switch your energy provider, as we head into the coldest months of the year. Chances are you'll be using more energy over the next few months than the rest of the year, so it makes sense to try and keep how much that energy costs you to a minimum.

It only take a few minutes to search for a new tariff on our price comparison tool, and it's well worth it - the average saving reported by readers is a cool £215. Not bad in anyone's book!

Easy ways to cut your bills

Of course, there are some very easy things you can do in your own home which can have a real impact on the size of your bill.

We've put together a comprehensive round-up of how you can reduce your energy expenditure, from things like energy-saving lightbulbs to fiddling with your thermostat, in this guide: Cut your energy bills.

It's an absolute must-read - so what are you waiting for?

More: Save a bundle with a broadband bundle! | Young drivers - slash your premiums today!

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Comments (17)

  • LateDeveloper
    Love rating 22
    LateDeveloper said

    Apart from the fact that these meters were designed over 10 years ago, the energy companies are only now installing them.

    I rang my supplier to get a price for a monthly direct debit, (EDF), their answer astounded me. They wanted me to pay nearly twice the amount of my usage (accurate figures) because, unlike in the past, they wanted me to have paid the bill before the meter was read. What used to happen was that your bill was worked out annually, then you would pay a monthly figure that would cover your annual usage, now however they have decided to increase the monthly amount so that no matter what bill comes in, you will have already paid them that money.

    It is not a bad deal, considering they are offering a 3% reduction in the price of the fuel used by this method, but it is only worth it when the banks are paying little to no interest, once isavings interest rates climb, then it would be time to bank the money instead.

    Report on 12 December 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • freespirit
    Love rating 1
    freespirit said

    After reading the article you go and read the comments and that's probably normal. Everyone's a critic, including moi, but threatening to unsubscribe means what? These meters have been about for years, funnily enough all technology has a release date because funnily enough development of products costs money so you have to control when products become available. People are just too lazy so it's their own fault if they pay higher bills. The computer made a mistake, no it didn't, the people installing the new meter made the mistake of not giving the old meter reading plus the new meter details to the power company. The meter runs faster? Please, the meter measures a unit of power consumed over an hour, it is a standard measurement not something that can just be changed because you change the meter. Why should we pay for meters being changed? The list just goes on and on. Does it really matter what you or I think? In our eyes yes, but in reality not a bit. Society has only one major driver and that is money. If you're on this site then whether you like it or not it's a major driver for you. Until this changes and it can change then you will be upset because you think someone else is getting your money, or you're not saving enough money, I'm really smart I knew this anyway, someone sells it cheaper etc. etc. The truth is if everyone was as good as the next person at saving and investing money then everyone would pay more.  It is those that aren't as good at saving and investing that allow others to get beneficial interest rates and better returns on their shares. Please try and look at the bigger picture of this and any other article someone takes the time to write (don't forget while you write comments for free they get paid for writing their article) and remember knowledge is good, utilising that knowledge is good, thinking you know something that someone else doesn't is naive, thinking that in today's or any other money driven society that we all don't pay the price one way or the other is only kidding yourself on and finally if you use this or some other forum to communicate your opinions and thoughts why is that most of these articles never ever seem to show recommendations from your fellow readers? Maybe it's because we all love to whinge, show how clever we think we are or just get to say our piece. People having opinions and wanting to share them is great but when you next write one of these please think about interacting a bit more with your fellow comment writers and just enjoy this interaction rather than just getting something off your chest. We all want a better life, we all deserve a better life but very few of us will get it by thinking me rather than us. If you imagine you think the way you do because you're special then think agian because everyone is just as special.

    Report on 12 December 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves

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