Switching energy suppliers: an expert guide

Could you save money by switching energy supplier? And if so, what do you need to do? Follow our easy, step-by-step guide to getting the best energy tariff

switching energy supplier: Gas bill
(Image credit: iStock)

Are you planning to cut your energy bills by switching energy suppliers? Autumn has arrived, with the dreaded 'switch on the heating day' already past us. If your last bill was higher than you think it should've been, it may be time to make the switch. But how do you go about it, and is it easy to do? 

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 on to 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 whether or not you should switch energy suppliers. Read our guide to get informed. 

Before you switch energy suppliers

Find out if there's a fee for the early cancellation of your current energy deal – not uncommon with fixed rate tariffs. 

How to shop for a better energy deal

It's really worthwhile ensuring you're getting the best price by checking energy tariffs and any deals on offer on a regular basis. According to Ofgem, shopping around like this could help you save up to £300 a year on gas and electricity bills.

Ofgem suggests that you consider some of the following factors when comparing suppliers and tariffs: cheaper rates; customer satisfaction scores; green energy tariffs; contracts with no exit fee; suppliers committed to a switching service guarantee; and offers particular to your type of meter. 

Energy comparison sites

These online price comparison sites comply with Ofgem's code of practice: The Confidence Code

To switch or not to switch?

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 date to change tariffs as you may be automatically transferred to the supplier’s standard rate. Shop around first – and be prepared to jump when it suits you.

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.’

How to switch energy suppliers online

Switching energy providers online couldn't be simpler. Here's how:

1. Visit an energy price comparison website

Ensure the website is accredited by energy regulator Ofgem. This guarantees a free, comprehensive view of what's on offer.

2. Enter your postcode

Suppliers tend to serve limited areas, which means gas and electricity prices are set regionally; as a result, the plans and suppliers available are dictated by postcode.

3. Enter your household's details

To get accurate comparison figures, have the consumption details from your latest energy bill and the latest meter reading ready. It's useful to have your current gas and electricity supplier, plus the name of your tariff to hand, too. You may also need your Meter Point Access Number (MPAN) and Meter Point Reference Number (MPRN); these should be visible on a recent bill.

4. Check the comparison results

You'll be given a list of options, which you can narrow down further. Perhaps you want to only see fixed rate energy plans? Or plans without an early cancellation fee (in case you want to switch again next year)? Or maybe you'd like to know more about the company's customer service?

5. Switch energy supplier (or not)

Happy with your new energy plan? Now it's just a simple case of providing your address and bank details (direct debit is generally the cheapest way to pay).

6. Wait to be contacted by your new energy supplier 

This will happen after the two week cooling off period; around three weeks' after you switch, you'll be given a service switchover date. If you change your mind in the cooling off period, you should be able to cancel the contract for free; after the two weeks, you may be charged for exiting. 

7. Make a note of your contract end date

Assuming you don't switch again in the meantime, make a note in your diary about a month before the end date of any fixed term plan or tariff rate so that you can compare, and perhaps switch again, in good time.

How does switching suppliers work in practice?

Switching energy suppliers is simply a case of changing the company you're with. There will be no interruption to the supply of your gas or electricity, and no one will need to visit your house to install cabling or pipework. 

How soon can you switch suppliers again?

Assuming you're not penalised by cancellation charges, you could switch suppliers every 28 days. This is time consuming, though, so in practice, comparing your energy bills annually or every six months should ensure you continue to get a good deal. 

Which energy tariffs are the cheapest?

As a general rule, a fixed-rate, 12-month tariff is always going to be the cheapest; however, it will only make sense if you stay at the property for a full year or more. The other option is choosing an Economy 7 tariff, which charges you less for using energy at night. This works especially well for people in full-time work who are not at home during the day. Standard tariffs, on the other hand, charge you at the same rate regardless of when you're using the energy: a better option for homeworkers.

When switching energy suppliers and comparing tariffs, it makes sense to make your final choice according to your routine and your longer term plans. 

Can I save money by switching to green energy?

Going 'green' can save you money, despite green energy suppliers' reputation for being pricy. 'Green' energy refers to energy generated from renewable sources such as wind, solar, or tidal power, and mainly refers to electricity, although 'green' gas provision is on the rise (usually generated from biowaste). After our own investigation, we found that switching to an Ecotricity dual-fuel tariff would save a couple living in a London flat £70 a year in comparison with a standard dual-fuel package from one of the Big Six suppliers. 

It is true that green energy cannot yet compete with the cheapest deals nationwide, but if it's a case of you switching from a standard tariff where you pay when the bill arrives, many green energy tariffs will be competitive or cheaper. The other thing you can do is research smaller energy providers that will often at least be able to reduce your electricity bill. And, the more people switch to green energy, the cheaper it will become overall. 

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

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