How to save money by switching energy supplier

Consumer editor Lindsay Blair takes a look at how you could save money by switching supplier – and whether a migrating swan really means we’re in for a bitter winter

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Have you turned your heating on yet? A quick survey of the Real Homes office found the majority have already succumbed and reached for the thermostat, but I’m still standing my ground and reaching for an extra jumper instead.

With an energy price war raging, campaigns to make switching and billing clearer, and pressure being put on the Big Six to pass their wholesale savings onto customers, it’s no surprise that heating your home is a subject fraught with confusion. While wearing more layers, servicing the boiler and putting a winter duvet on the bed go some way to reducing energy consumption, the crux of the matter still lies with the energy suppliers.

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Coldest winter in 50 years?

Around mid October, the tabloids went mad for a story that this winter will see the lowest temperatures for 50 years – all because a migrating Bewick’s swan (now affectionately named Record Breaker) was spotted in Gloucestershire, said to have arrived early from Russia. Studies suggest that Record Breaker’s arrival was due to unusually cold temperatures in the east, which will move towards the UK, bringing snow and bitter temperatures in time for winter. While the Met Office has so far said that there are no signs that the speculation is true, most of us are already feeling the pinch from heating our homes during winter. Recent studies by uSwitch found 49 per cent of homeowners worry about high energy bills during winter – the second biggest worry after getting a cold.

A pricey winter

With Citizens Advice, uSwitch and Which? among those calling on energy suppliers to lower their tariffs to reflect the drop in wholesale energy prices, customers of the Big Six – British Gas, E.ON, SSE, EDF Energy, Scottish Power and npower – are facing another expensive season. The average dual-fuel tariff is still a hefty £1,265 per year – the same as 2014, according to the Building & Engineering Services Association. And while British Gas has made some progress, by lowering its standard plan tariff for the second time this year, other suppliers are yet to follow suit. And while the reduction from British Gas is welcome, the average customer’s bill has dropped by less than three per cent, while wholesale prices have dropped by double-digit figures.

Radiator adjustment closeup Woman s hand adjusting radiator temperature

To switch or not to switch?

If you listen to consumer organisations trying to save households money, it seems that switching between the hugely competitive suppliers may hold the answer to getting a better deal. If you’re on a fixed deal that’s ending soon, don’t wait until its expiry data to change tariffs as you will be automatically transferred to the supplier’s standard rate. Households on one of the 14 leading fixed energy deals, which expire on October 31, could see their bills rise by up to £186 a year unless they act now and switch to a new tariff, according to uSwitch.

Tom Lyon, one of uSwitch’s experts, says, ‘Almost half of consumers get annoyed by cold weather and high energy bills, yet just one in 20 switch energy provider to prepare for winter. Changing supplier only takes a matter of minutes and can save an average of £295 a year.’

So will you make the switch? My tariff with npower recently increased to compensate for a ‘predicted higher use’ of gas and electric, despite signing up for a fixed rate, so I am looking for a new, better price before the winter really bites.

SupplierPlan nameAverage annual cost (paying on receipt of bill)Average annual cost (paying by monthly Direct Debit)
British GasStandard£1,133£1,075
E.ONE.ON Energy Plan£1,149£1,079
SSEStandard£1,169£1,089
EDF EnergyStandard (Variable)£1,170£1,100
ScottishPowerStandard£1,193£1,113
npowerStandard£1,204£1,110

Source: uSwitch.com. Correct as of 20th October, 2015

Best buy energy plans paying by monthly Direct Debit

SupplierPlan nameAverage bill sizeTariff type
1GB EnergyPremium Energy Saver£799Variable
2E.ONE.ON uSwitch Fixed 1 Collective Oct 15£803Fixed
3Flow EnergyConnect 3£836Fixed
4Extra EnergyFresh Fixed Price Dec 2016 v4£837Fixed
5Go Effortless EnergyOctober 2015 v2£841Fixed
6First UtilityiSave Fixed December 2016 v4£843Fixed
7GnERGYGnERGY Fixed November 2016£849Fixed
8OVO EnergyBetter Energy (all Online)£857Fixed
9 Green Star Energy Rate Saver 12m Fixed 1510£865Fixed
10ScottishPowerOnline Fixed Price Energy October 2016£884Fixed

Source: uSwitch.com. Prices based on average energy consumption. Correct as of 22nd October, 2015

Simple bills

But what does this all mean, I hear you ask? With kWhs and cubic feet, it’s easy to be confused when deciphering a bill. This is why organisations such as Which? are calling on the Competitions & Markets Authority to urge energy suppliers to use simple language and directly comparable pricing, so that you can easily compare costs and make the best choice when switching. This comes as Citizens Advice found that nearly 20 times as many people complained about the worst energy supplier as they did about the best – findings from their quarterly energy supplier league table (April-June 2015), which sees SSE up top and Scottish Power at the bottom with 944 complaints received per 100,000 customers.

While I may consider turning on the heating come November, I’ll be spending some time weighing up my switching options – an extra £295 a year is better in my pocket, after all. Let me know your experiences with your energy supplier and the switching process – or indeed if you’ve encountered a Bewick’s swan in your area – because winter is definitely on its way.

If you’re thinking of switching to save money this winter, or have a query about an unclear bill, use these useful resources to find out more:

Photographer: iStock