Everything you need to know about switching energy suppliers
Moving to a new energy deal could save you hundreds of pounds every year, and it's incredibly simple to do.
Why millions are paying too much for their energy
Gas and electricity bills are an inescapable expense, but the reality is that huge numbers of Brits are paying far too much for their energy use.
And a lot of that comes down to their failure to shop around and switch to a new tariff every couple of years.
Millions of households are on their supplier’s standard tariff. This is the tariff you move to once an initial fixed or variable tariff concludes, and these tariffs are the most expensive on the market.
To put this into context, most suppliers charge more than £1,000 on their standard tariffs for average energy use, according to data from Ofgem. Yet those same suppliers’ average cheapest tariffs are often at least £100 cheaper, a far from minor saving.
What about the energy price cap?
A few years ago Ofgem, the energy regulator, introduced a price cap on energy tariffs.
This sets out the maximum amount that a supplier can charge, and it is reviewed twice a year in February and August.
The cap currently sits at £1,042 for average households but is due to rise by £96 to £1,138 in April.
Importantly, the cap only applies to the variable tariffs run by energy suppliers, the most expensive tariffs.
So while the cap prevents suppliers from completely ripping off customers on these tariffs, the reality is that if you are on a tariff to which the cap applies, you are already paying more than you need to for your energy.
The best way to avoid being overcharged therefore is to make sure you shop around for a new deal and switch every year or two.
How to switch
A price comparison site is a great option when it comes to switching energy deals as you can swiftly get an idea of precisely what deals you qualify for, and what they will cost you.
While they are most useful if you have all of your documentation to hand, such as the name of the actual tariff you’re on, you can still compare deals even if you don’t know your supplier or tariff.
You can then go through the results and pick out the deal you want to move to. Your new supplier will then handle the switching process for you ‒ you won’t have to really do anything.
You have time to change your mind too, as you’ll have a 14-day cooling-off period in which you can cancel the switch. The actual switch itself will take around three weeks.
Thankfully you won’t ever be without energy during this process. As all the energy suppliers use the same pipes, meters and equipment to pump gas or electricity into your home, there is never any interruption in service.
Nobody is going to suddenly turn off a tap to your gas or electricity supply, and the only thing you should notice is a cheaper bill once you've completed the switch.
Get someone else to do it
You don’t actually have to go through the comparison process yourself.
Instead, you can now sign up with an auto-switching service. These firms basically monitor the market on your behalf and move you to a new deal as and when they spot a deal which will save you cash.
The idea is you'll always get the cheapest deal, whilst they get paid commission by energy suppliers each time they move you (and some also charge minor fees).
How to complain
Unfortunately, there are times when energy suppliers do a poor job.
There are all sorts of different ways that they can let down customers, from poor and inaccurate billing and issues with a switch to failing to communicate properly with customers.
As a result, it’s a really good idea to ensure that you do your homework on an energy supplier before you switch.
There’s no point moving to a supplier which promises a great headline price but which will be the cause of huge frustration.
Thankfully this data is freely available, with Ofgem publishing data on its website covering the number of complaints received by all of the big suppliers per 100,000 customers.
For example, in the most recent release, it found that OVO had attracted the most complaints at 2,293 per 100,000 customers, compared to 565 for Octopus Energy.
If you need to raise a complaint against your current supplier, then there are certain steps you can follow to ensure that you have the best chance of getting a positive response from the supplier.
For example, it’s really important that you are organised from the outset, and get together copies of all the relevant documents, including any correspondence you’ve had with the company and the names of anyone you’ve spoken to.
Email is particularly helpful here as it provides a paper trail of the communication between you and the supplier.
Next, it’s important to put your complaint in writing. Keep it polite ‒ there’s no benefit to losing your temper here ‒ and detail exactly what the problem was, and what you would like to see happen.
You can do this yourself, or make use of a complaints service like Resolver which is absolutely free and can help you keep track of how your case is progressing.
If your supplier doesn’t put the situation right to your satisfaction, then you can take your case to Ombudsman Services.
How to reclaim
When we pay our energy bills by direct debit, our monthly payments don't immediately match with the amount of energy we used in that month.
Otherwise, we would have massive bills in the winter months and much smaller ones during the summer, which would be somewhat tricky when it comes to budgeting.
Instead, energy suppliers make something of an educated guess on how much energy you are likely to use over a year, what that will cost, and then divide that cost by 12 so that you have identical direct debits each month.
Inevitably, that guess will often be off target.
That means you could end up either underpaying and needing to have your direct debit increased or handing over more money than you needed to.
If it's the latter, getting that money back from your supplier isn’t always automatic. All of the different suppliers have different rules over how that’s handled.
As a result, it’s a really good idea to check how your supplier handles these refunds, and to keep an eye on your account balance so you can get back your money if you end up significantly in credit.
Getting a refund
Here is a supplier-by-supplier breakdown of when refunds are available, and how to go about claiming them:
British Gas will put up to £75 of your credit towards cutting next year’s bills, but you can request that it’s paid directly to you through a livechat on its website. It will only refund you if there is still £5 left in your account after the refund though.
Submit a meter reading online and then email email@example.com requesting a refund. You'll need a month's worth of credit in your account to cover the next month's statement.
Submit a meter reading online to get a refund.
You’ll need to submit a meter reading and then contact EDF to request a refund.
First Utility (now Shell Energy)
Contact customer service on 0330 094 5800 or online.
Npower conducts an annual review for its customers. If you are more than £25 in credit, then the money will be refunded automatically.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a refund.
Check My OVO to see when a statement is due, then submit a meter reading online. Check the statement to see if the account is in credit then request a refund using MyOVO.
If at your annual review your account is more than £75 in credit, the money will be automatically refunded. You can request a refund at any time however by getting in contact.
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