Switch Energy Supplier
Why should I Switch?
In a nutshell, because the government in its infinite wisdom has privatised the energy sector. Unfortunately, it's a natural monopoly, so this not-so-great idea isn't working well – energy suppliers just rack up their charges as high as they can get away with – they love customer apathy. In order to force them to compete and bring their prices down, customers must vote with their feet by switching to one with a lower tariff. Never think you're being rewarded for loyalty because you've been with the same supplier for years.
Aren't All Suppliers the Same?
No. There are two differences: (a) "green" vs. "fossil fuel" energy, and (b) price. Suppliers entice customers with special offers, usually lasting for one year. You can save up to £300 per year, so it really is worth bothering. (Or vote Labour, so we can dump this artifical enforced so-called "competition" and stop having to switch.)
How Do I Switch?
1. Gather the following together:
- The name of your current supplier
- The name of your current tariff
- The date your current contract expires
- Whether your current supplier charges exit fees for terminating your contract
- An up-to-date meter reading
- How many kilowatt hours (kWh) you've used in the last year of electricity / gas
- Your supply reference number. The gas reference is called the Meter Point Reference Number (MPRN), and for electricity it's called the Meter Point Administration Number (MPAN). They will be printed somewhere on your bill. Note these are not the same as your Customer Account number or your Meter Serial number (printed on your meter).
2. Compare Tariffs
You can do this either by telephone, or online. The following comparison websites are all accredited by OfGem and give accurate and impartial information about tariffs. If a website isn't on OfGEM's list, you can't be sure the information you are given is impartial, because energy switching companies operate on a commission basis, where they are paid a fee by a supplier for each customer that they persuade to switch.
|My Utility Genius||www.myutilitygenius.co.uk||0203-468-0461|
|Quote Zone||www.quotezone.co.uk||online only|
|Run Path Digital||www.runpathdigital.com/gas-electricity||online only|
|Switch Gas and Electric||www.switchgasandelectric.com||0871-711-7771|
|The Energy Shop||www.theenergyshop.com||0845-330-7247|
3. "Sign" the Contract
When you've picked the supplier you want, enter your bank details to set up a direct debit (this gives you the cheapest deals). The new supplier will arrange the changeover process; you’ll be asked submit meter readings, then your old supplier will send a final bill. The whole process takes between 2 — 3 weeks.
You'll have 14 days to cancel a switch. After this, there may be a cost to exit the contract (exit fee), depending on your agreement. You must contact your supplier to cancel the contract.
Make a note on your calendar of when your tariff ends; you can also find this information by logging into your account, or on a bill. Also make a note of the date 4 weeks before the end date, as this is when you should look for a new contract.
Resolver is highly-recommended by 1.7 million users for removing much of the pain from contacting your supplier, from a simple change of address to a complex billing problem. Resolver explains your rights, creates a case file for you, and guides you through the process. Their website is here: Resolver.
Alternatively, you can DIY. OfGEM have a good overview here: Complain about your gas or electricity bill or supplier.
- Contact your supplier by telephone or email. The Citizens Advice Bureau has a very helpful page: Complain to your Energy Supplier. If your problem has not been resolved after 8 weeks, then:
- Contact the Energy Ombudsman. Again, see the Citizens Advice website: Complain to the Energy Ombudsman.
If you rent your home, you have the right to switch supplier if you pay your energy supplier directly for your gas or electricity. This includes if you have a prepayment meter. If you pay energy bills to the supplier, but your tenancy agreement says you can't switch, challenge it. Preventing a tenant from changing energy suppliers may be viewed as an unfair term in a tenancy agreement. Talk to Citizens Advice to see if it can help.
Check your tenancy agreement to see if the landlord has a "preferred supplier". This won’t stop you from switching, but you should tell your landlord or letting agent. You may have to return the account to the original supplier at the end of your tenancy. Ofgem's guidance states: "If a tenant is directly responsible for paying the gas and/or electricity bills, they have the right to choose their own energy supplier and the landlord or letting agent should not unreasonably prevent this." See the OfGEM website for more.
If your landlord pays your energy supplier and then charges you, you don’t have the right to switch. You will have to ask your landlord to do it - but they don't have to. If you think your landlord might be charging you too much, read the Citizens Advice guidance on what they're allowed to charge you: What your landlord can charge you for energy.
It's worth thinking about the type of tariff you need before you switch. For example, you might want:
- A flexible tariff that you can get out of at any time
- An environmentally-friendly tariff
- The cheapest tariff available
You should also check whether you need a specific tariff for the type of electricity meter you have - for example, if you have a Prepayment meter or an "Economy 7" meter. If you get the Warm Home Discount, check whether your new supplier offers it before you switch - you'll lose it if they don't.
If you want to do your bit for the environment, there are plenty of 'green' tariffs available – but you'll usually pay more than non-green. However, you can still save £100s/year over the Big Six standard rates. Tariffs come in 'different shades of green'. Some suppliers promise to match your usage with energy generated from renewable sources – such as solar, wind or hydroelectric – while others will put money into renewable energy developments to boost the amount of green energy in the UK's national network. Typically, it's only electricity that's fully renewable. A few suppliers have started to offer 100% renewable gas, but it's rare.
Fixed tariffs are popular because they offer discounted prices. When the fixed tariff ends, your supplier will automatically switch you to their standard rate tariff, which is never the cheapest option. You should take action quickly or you'll soon be paying more than you need to.
If you're near the end of a fixed deal, you cannot be charged exit fees for moving to a new deal – provided your switch completes within 49 days of your current deal ending. OfGEM introduced new rules in 2013 to protect people on fixed tariff deals, which include banning suppliers from charging exit fees in the last seven weeks of fixed-term deals.
Suppliers must send you notice between 42 – 49 days in advance that your tariff is coming to an end and you are entitled to request a switch up to 42 days before your tariff end date. Your supplier’s notice letter will probably suggest an alternative tariff that you could switch to, but cheaper tariffs may be available from other suppliers, so you should carry out a full market comparison.
The best way of keeping your direct debits stable is to submit a monthly meter reading. Direct debit payments are based on an estimate of your usage over a year, and these can be inaccurate. If you use more energy than the estimate, your payments will increase. Note that suppliers' licences say they must ensure direct debits are reasonable.
MoneySavingExpert.com also has a very good help guide on direct debits: Energy Direct Debits Help (but note they're not on OfGEM's accredited list).
You don't have to be in the black to be able to switch your tariff or supplier. A better deal can cut your utility bills and make it easier to repay what you owe. Citizens' Advice and OfGEM offer guides:
Some suppliers run a credit check when you apply to switch, because bills are estimated when you pay by direct debit, and they want to know if you're good for it. There are two types of credit check made:
- Soft search: you can see it on your file – but lenders can't, so it does NOT have any impact on your ability to get future credit products (like mortgages).
- Hard search: this DOES leave a mark on credit files which lenders can see, and can have a minor negative impact on future credit applications. This isn't usually a big deal, but if you're planning to apply for a mortgage soon you may want to give it a miss.
If you don't pass the credit check, suppliers may ask you to pay a security deposit or suggest a prepayment meter. You can stop the switch if this happens though.
Check your old account balance: If you are in credit when you switch, the money should be refunded to your account automatically, but it’s worth checking and chasing it up if necessary. Similarly, keep an eye out for any final payments that may be in arrears from your old provider.
If you switched energy firms before 2014, if you were in credit, you should've been given that money back. Yet for years, many energy firms pocketed the cash. Sometimes they claimed they couldn't contact you as you'd moved house, otherwise they just kept schtum.
In 2014 it was revealed that about three million people were owed a refund by an old supplier. Energy regulator Ofgem now "expects suppliers to do more" to return the cash when people switch away from them, so it should now be automatic.
Energy UK has set up the website My Energy Credit which aims to help people claim money back from their old energy companies, though it's mainly focused on the big six. Our quick questions should also help...
How do I get my money back? This is easy – basically, if you know you're owed, call your old supplier and ask for the cash back – it needs to refund you. The supplier will go through the process on the phone or will tell you to write in. Every big six supplier says past customers can go through the process on the phone.
There may be rare cases where you'll have to write, for example when you've given your name, address and other information, but the supplier can't trace your old account. Here you may need to include proof of ID such as a copy of a passport or driving licence.
Once you've gone through the process of either writing or calling, you should get the full overpaid amount. How long it'll take varies by supplier. You should get it within eight weeks, but some have had to wait months. Refunds will be paid by cheque or straight into your account.
If your provider doesn't resolve your refund query within eight weeks of your first request for it (although SSE has six weeks to resolve it), you can complain to the free, independent Energy Ombudsman. http://www.ombudsman-services.org/energy.html
Once you've contacted the ombudsman, if it agrees to take on your case it will send a response within six to eight weeks. If it rules in your favour, it will send a letter to your provider (and you) detailing what the provider needs to do. If the provider needs to pay you a refund it has 28 days.
- Once you've switched, your old supplier is not obliged to reimburse you any credit left behind on your old account unless you specifically ask for it. You can claim credit back from an old account no matter how long ago it was. If you think your old supplier owes you some money back following a switch, go to www.MyEnergyCredit.com, or phone them on 0370-737-7770.
- Are you owed money from your supplier? https://www.energyhelpline.com/fri/help-guides/how-to-get-a-refund-from-your-energy-supplier_4664
- Smart meter rights explained https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/energy
- Can I switch energy suppliers if I’ve got a smart meter? https://www.ovoenergy.com/ovo-answers/topics/smart-technology/smart-meters/can-i-switch-energy-suppliers-with-smart-meter.html
- Smart meters explained https://www.uswitch.com/gas-electricity/guides/smart-meters-explained/
- Smart meters: Your rights https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/consumers/household-gas-and-electricity-guide/understand-smart-prepayment-and-other-energy-meters/smart-meters-your-rights
- Some suppliers may offer you a smart meter as part of your deal. If you already have a smart meter which automatically sends meter readings to your supplier you may lose this functionality if you switch. This won’t stop you from switching; it just means you’ll have to send meter readings manually. Don't touch them with a bargepole.
- Smart meter guide: https://www.energyhelpline.com/fri/help-guides/smart-meter-guide_4598
- How to switch from a prepayment meter https://www.moneysupermarket.com/gas-and-electricity/switching-suppliers/
- Having prepayment meters removed or installed https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/energy/energy-supply/get-a-better-energy-deal/switching-energy-supplier-if-youre-a-tenant/
- Oct.11.2018: Profits slide at big six energy firms as 1.4m customers switch. Big Six profit margins for 2017 drop by 10% in face of competition from smaller challenger companies. Householders now have 73 energy suppliers to choose from, and switching rates are at a record high. The emergence of a new breed of middleman companies, who switch customers automatically, was putting additional competitive pressure on firms. The Guardian, Adam Vaughan.
- Jan.22.2018: Failing to switch energy supplier costs millions of UK households £1,500 over past six years. OfGem figures show that more than 33% of UK households have remained with the same gas or electricity provider for 5+ years. The Independent, Josie Clarke.
- Aug.01.2017: How to switch energy supplier. BBC News, Brian Milligan.
- Jan.12.2016: Are energy firms using new smart meters to stop you switching? A new device must be installed every time you change suppliers. The Daily Mail, Ruth Lythe.
- Feb.02.2015: The best energy companies you've never heard of. The Telegraph, Sophie Christie.