Special assistance during COVID-19

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the government has introduced measures with energy suppliers to support vulnerable people. These include giving you more time to pay bills, reviewing bill and debt repayment plans, giving you payment breaks and, in some cases, access to hardship funds. Credit meters will not be disconnected during the outbreak.

If you're finding it hard to pay your bills during this time, you should get in touch with your supplier to see what help you can get. See Ofgem’s website for more information.

Why switch?

Many people think switching energy supplier is a hassle and they don’t believe it will save them money. But you could make big savings, especially if you’ve never switched before. There are three basic steps:

  • compare your tariff with other deals on offer
  • choose the best deal
  • tell the new supplier you want to switch and they’ll organise the change for you.

It’s a fairly simple process but it can seem daunting and you need to make sure you have the right information before you begin.

Before you switch

Before you start, it's helpful to get a clear picture of what you need and what's on offer.

Understand your bill

You should check how much energy you use. Your energy supplier must give you personalised information on your bill which explains what tariff you‘re on, your energy use and details of any exit fees. 

Choose the right tariff

Different energy deals are known as tariffs and there are many types. The most common are:

  • fixed – the price of your energy is fixed for the duration of your contract
  • capped – the price may go up or down but it won’t go over a set limit
  • standard or variable – the price depends on the market and may go up or down
  • dual-fuel – includes both electricity and gas and some energy suppliers may offer a discount if you buy both fuels as a package.

Fixed and capped tariffs are usually the cheapest and can help you to budget better, but there may be a fee if you want to leave the contract early. There is no end date with a standard or variable tariff and no exit fee if you switch.

You may pay less if you pay by direct debit or manage your account online. You should check any deals or discounts carefully and consider the service offered by the supplier.

Compare prices

The best way to compare prices and deals is by using online price comparison websites. You should check two or three. Some price comparison websites have been accredited by Ofgem, the energy market regulator. You could also use the comparison tool on Citizens Advice or call one of the energy switching companies, such as uSwitch, for advice.

Be wary of sales people who offer deals face-to-face or on the phone. Don’t be pressured into signing anything and take your time to consider any offers. It is completely fine to say no to an offer.

If you find the deals on offer confusing, you can get help from your local Citizens Advice.

How to switch energy supplier

You can switch online or over the phone. You just tell the new supplier you want to switch and they'll contact your current supplier to organise the change. It shouldn’t take longer than 21 days.

You’ll need:

  • your postcode
  • the name of your current supplier
  • the name of your current energy deal and how much you spend
  • an up-to-date meter reading
  • your bank details if you’re paying by direct debit.

You may also need your Meter Point Access Number (MPAN) and your Meter Point Reference Number (MPRN). You’ll find most of this information on your bill.

Make sure you take a meter reading the day before you switch. You should receive a final bill from your current supplier within six weeks and if they owe you any money, you should get a refund soon after that.

There is a 14-day cooling off period in case you change your mind. If you cancel during this period, you’ll stay with your current supplier.

Some suppliers have agreed a voluntary list of commitments, called the Energy Switch Guarantee, which should make switching easier. Check to see if your supplier has signed up.

Things to be aware of

If a supplier offers to reduce your direct debit, this doesn’t mean they‘re reducing the amount you pay for your energy. If you use more energy than your direct debit covers, you could end up with a big bill later.

You could lose your Warm Home Discount if you switch to a smaller supplier. Suppliers with more than 150,000 customers are legally obliged to offer this, so check before you switch. You can find a list of suppliers that are part of the discount scheme here.

You might not be able to switch if you:

  • rent – check your tenancy agreement to see if you should ask your landlord first
  • owe money to your supplier.

Other ways to save

Switching supplier is not the only way to save money on your energy bills. If you think you’re paying too much, contact your current supplier to make sure you’re on the best tariff for you. They must give information about their cheapest tariff and how much money you could save. 

You could also ask your supplier what support they offer for older people. You may qualify for free services such as gas safety checks if you put yourself on their Priority Services Register. Some suppliers also offer financial assistance for people on a low income and you may be able to get a grant to improve your home insulation, for example. Contact your own supplier first, and see our factsheet Extra help with essential costs if you’re on a low income. Find out if you might qualify for a local or national grant scheme at Simply Energy Advice

You could also make savings if you:

  • use energy-saving light bulbs and switch off lights when you leave the room
  • don’t leave appliances on standby or on charge unnecessarily
  • close your curtains at dusk to keep the heat in
  • turn the radiators down - or off - in rooms that you don’t use very often
  • draught-proof your windows, doors and loft hatches
  • choose energy-efficient appliances.

You can find more tips on the Energy Saving Trust website.

Smart meters

Smart meters are new gas and electricity meters that measure how much energy you’re using. They automatically send meter readings to your energy supplier through your internet connection. They also come with a display that shows your energy use and what it costs in real time.

Whether you’ll save money by switching to a smart meter depends on the amount of energy used in your home. You’re charged for the energy you actually use rather than an estimated amount, which may help you budget better. However, for some, it may cost more in the short term. If you need to save money straightaway, it’s best to look into your options as there may be better ones available, for example, checking you’re on the best tariff or if you’re eligible for any benefits.

Getting a smart meter fitted is your choice – you don’t have to get one if you don’t want to. To find out more or to ask for one, contact your energy supplier. They may also offer to install one as part of the smart meter roll-out. Getting one is free, but you could be charged for it through your energy bills. You can still switch energy supplier if you have a smart meter, but you may have to go back to manual meter readings if you have a first-generation smart meter installed.

For more information on smart meters, visit Gov.uk.

If you’re having trouble paying your bills

If you’re struggling to pay your bills, contact your supplier. They must help you to work out a solution, such as a payment plan. They must also help during the coronavirus pandemic – see the top section for details.

You can’t have your energy supply cut off between 1st October and 31st March if you are a pensioner and you live alone or with other pensioners, or if you live with a child under the age of 18. Anyone who is eligible for the Priority Services Register is also protected.

Make sure you’re claiming all the benefits you’re entitled to, such as the Winter Fuel Payment.

Some energy suppliers offer grants and financial assistance to vulnerable customers. You don’t necessarily have to be with that supplier to qualify. Contact Charis Grants for more information.

Don’t ignore any debt recovery letters. If you’re in debt, get advice. You can still look for a better deal on your gas and electricity if you’re in debt, which could make it easier to repay what you owe. Ofgem has more information on how to switch energy supplier if you’re in debt.

Next steps

If you need help with switching suppliers or paying your energy bills, contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline.

You can find more information about switching energy supplier on Ofgem.

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