With winter fast approaching, we're going to be spending an increasing amount of time indoors – and that means using more gas and electricity.
Not only will we need to keep our homes heated throughout the colder months, there's a good chance we'll also be doing more cooking, baking, spin-drying and TV watching as we go into this period of hibernation.
All of that is going to ramp up our energy usage, so it's important to make sure we're getting the best deal that we possible can. This may mean having to switch energy supplier – but don't worry, as it's much easier than you might think.
According to an article by thinkmoney, the process takes under seven minutes – that's the time it takes to make a cup of coffee – and the average saving is a whopping £310 a year. In these troubled times, when the pandemic has put many jobs at risk, that could make a big difference.
You don’t even have to contact your existing supplier to tell them you want to switch, as your new supplier will do this for you. (Saying that, you might want to speak to your existing provider as a first port of call, because informing them that you intend to leave can sometimes prompt them to offer you a better deal.)
• Get your home ready for the winter with the help of DIY expert Jo Behari
How to find the best deals
If it becomes clear that you're not going to get a better deal from your existing energy provider, head to one of the Ofgem-accredited price comparison websites, such as Compare the Market, Energyhelpline, Moneysupermarket or uSwitch.
Typically, you'll need to provide a few simple details (such as your postcode, your current supplier and how much energy you use on an average month – you'll find this on your last bill). You'll then be given a rundown of the different energy providers, their available deals and how much money you might save with each. If you're given the option to view all available tariffs, accept it – this way you won’t just see the suppliers with which the comparison site has an agreement.
Don't let the fact that you haven't heard of a certain energy provider put you off, as all energy firms have to be regulated by Ofgem, meaning they'll be subject to the same quality control.
• Read our essential guide to buying a first home
Choosing the right deal for your needs
When choosing a deal, you'll need to decide whether you want your gas and electricity to be provided by separate suppliers or by the same one (as part of a 'dual fuel' tariff). Having one company provide you with both services can be less hassle, and may also come with a discount (note that some suppliers also offer discounts to customers who pay their bill by monthly direct debit, so this is something else to look out for).
You'll also need to choose between a fixed rate and a variable rate tariff. With the former, you'll normally need to sign up to a contract (which can be anywhere from 12 months to three years). Throughout this period, you'll be charged the same unit rate – price per kWh – regardless of whether general energy rates increase or decrease. This option is useful for people who like to budget, as it guarantees a similar bill each month. Note that if you wish to terminate a fixed rate contract early (more than 49 days before it's due to end), you may be charged a cancellation fee.
With a variable rate tariff, the amount you pay each month will depend on whether general energy rates go up or down. So your bill could be high one month but very low the next. With this kind of tariff, you're not normally required to sign up to a contract, and your energy provider is obliged to give you 30 days' notice of any changes to the unit rate, so that you have time to switch provider if you want to.
Switch without a hitch
Changing suppliers should be very simple. You can either give your new provider a quick call to tell them you wish to switch to them, or complete an online form on one of the price comparison websites. Your new supplier will set up the switch for you, and even inform your old supplier.
On the day of the transfer itself, you'll need to take a meter reading to give to your new supplier. You should then pay your final bill to your old supplier (or you may be entitled to a refund if you’re in credit). After the switch has been made, inform your new supplier of your meter reference (MPAN and MPRN) numbers. These can be found on any one of your energy bills.
The whole switching process can take up to 21 days – this includes a 14-day cooling-off period, just in case you change your mind. Your energy supply won’t be cut off at any point during the transition, and no work will need to be carried out on your home.
• Get money off your high-street purchases with a shopping discount card
Want to do your bit for the environment? More and more green suppliers are coming onto the market, making it easier than ever to reduce your carbon footprint through the amount of energy you consume.
Eco-friendly tariffs used to be the expensive option, but green energy companies have been gradually reducing their prices in order to compete with the more established energy suppliers.
Here are a few useful terms to help you get to grips with green energy and how it might help the environment:
This is electricity created by hydro, solar, wave or wind power. However, the energy coming into your home won’t necessarily all be created in this way. Your supplier will buy enough renewable energy from the network to replace the energy you use – so the overall effect will be the same as getting all your energy from a green source. This method also boosts renewable investment.
Picking a renewable gas tariff means that the gas you use will be replaced with gas created from 'anaerobic digestion', which involves the breaking-down of biodegradable materials. Green firms often invest in carbon offsetting initiatives to lessen the impact of burning natural gas.
In this instance, green firms offset the impact of using gas as energy – and specifically the emissions that burning it causes – by protecting rainforests and planting more trees, sponsoring renewable energy projects, and making other similar investments.
Making the switch with a meter
If you have a prepayment energy meter installed in your home, it's still possible to switch providers. Note, though, that to benefit from one of the most attractive online energy tariffs, you'll need to change to a credit meter. This will involve an engineer coming to your home and will cost you a small fee, but it'll be worth it in the long run.
Got a smart meter? Your prospective new supplier should be able to tell this when you contact them. They'll then inform you whether your model is compatible with their technology. It may be that you'll still be able to use your existing smart meter but without the 'smartness' – i.e. you'll have to send the energy readings to your supplier rather than the meter doing so automatically.
Photos: Getty Images