Back to basics: All you need to know about energy bills

Energy price hike season has started in earnest, making it more important than ever to switch energy provider and find the most competitive deal possible. Why pay more than you need to for your gas and electricity?

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Here, we explain everything you need to know about energy bills, so that you can keep costs to a minimum by switching and fixing to the most competitive tariff…

How do I find out who supplies my energy?

energy smart meter

Assuming you’ve already got an account with an energy provider, you simply need to look at your bill – which might arrive quarterly or be sent to you online.

If you’re on the property ladder and moving house or flat, you’ll be invited by the previous occupant’s supplier to continue using them – there’ll probably be a letter addressed to the ‘New Occupant’ in among the fast food delivery leaflets and junk mail.

Remember, you’re under no obligation to stick with the existing supplier – it’s at this point that you need to start thinking about finding the most competitive tariff from all the providers on the market.

If you’re renting, you have the right to switch if the bills are sent to you, and you’re responsible for paying them. If your landlord sorts out the energy (either by passing on the cost to you or by building the cost into your flat rent), then you’ll need to talk to them if you think you can find a cheaper deal.

If you can’t find out who your supplier otherwise, call the Meter Number Helpline on 0870 608 1524 to find out your gas supplier. You’ll need to call your regional electricity distribution number to find out who supplies your electricity.

How do I find out which plan or tariff I’m on?

The details of your tariff will be included on your bill. If you’ve never switched provider, or if you’ve inherited the provider relationship, then you’re probably on a standard tariff, which is usually one of the most expensive deals. This should make switching a priority – some fixed rate tariffs are cheaper than standard ones, and they also insulate you against price hikes during the length of the fix.

If you’re already on a fixed rate tariff, there are a number of things to take note of, such as when the fixed term ends, and whether there’s a penalty charge for switching within the term.

Just before your fixed term comes to an end – or well before, if there are no penalties for early termination – you should shop around for your next competitive fixed rate. If you come to the end of your fix and don’t move, you’ll probably be shunted onto your current provider’s more expensive standard tariff.

How often will I get bills?

You should get a bill at least every quarter, but you may get them monthly and they will either be sent by post or e-mail. If you tend to manage your finances online, then you will probably find it easier to opt for paperless billing. Many providers offer a 5% discount if you opt for an online account settled by monthly direct debit.

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What should my energy bill show?

Your energy bill will show your reference or account number, as well as the particular dates your bill relates to, and the last payment you made. It will tell you how much you owe for the latest billing period, both excluding and including value added tax (VAT), which is charged at 5%.

It should also give you a breakdown of your energy usage, including the kilowatt hours (kWh) used, the cost per kilowatt hour and your latest meter reading, either actual or estimated. Any discounts you might be eligible for should also be shown. You can find out more about how your energy bill is calculated here.

What if I haven’t received a bill from my supplier for ages?

You should let your supplier know as soon as possible that you haven’t been billed for the energy you’ve used. If they still don’t send you a bill, then they cannot charge you for energy you used more than 12 months ago.

However, if you don’t let your supplier know that you haven’t received a bill, or you didn’t send them meter readings when requested, you will have to pay off everything you owe, although you cannot be charged for more than six years’ worth of back-billed energy.

How much is my gas and electricity going to cost?

That will depend on exactly how much energy you use, as well as which tariff you are on. Costs have gone up around 8% on average in last 12 months and more increases are on the cards this winter, with some providers already having announced hikes this winter.

Currently the average standard tariff if you pay quarterly by cheque or cash for a typical gas and electricity user costs around £1,343, or £1,263 for those paying monthly by direct debit, but the best deals cost about £200 a year less than this, which is why it’s so important to shop around.

Whichever deal you go for, check out any discount you might get for getting gas and electricity from the same firm – known as a ‘dual fuel’ deal. But also check the total cost of getting each fuel type from a different provider - this might work out cheaper.

How can I pay for my energy?

Most people find it easiest to set up a direct debit so that the money is automatically deducted from their account. However, if you don’t want to do this, then your bill will have a payment slip at the bottom, and you should be able to send in a cheque or make a payment by cash or cheque at the Post Office or a bank.

Won’t it take ages to switch suppliers?

Switching is really simple and it only takes five minutes to find a cheaper tariff online. Remember that you are only changing supplier, it is the same gas and electricity you’ll receive, so you don’t need any new wires or pipes. All you need to switch is a copy of your energy bill so you can see how much gas and electricity you currently use and how much you pay.

What if I’m struggling to pay my bills?

You’re not alone. According to the Money Advice Trust, National Debtline has received a record 15,502 calls from people seeking help with energy debts in the first six months of this year. This is up 10% on last year, and 111% compared with five years ago.

Speak to your supplier as soon as possible and let them know you are finding it hard to pay for your energy. Older people and anyone on a low income may be eligible for help under the Warm Home Discount Scheme – your provider should be able to let you know if you qualify.

Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct

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