Energy tariffs – your questions answered

If you haven’t switched energy provider for a while, or if you’ve never switched, you’re likely to be on an expensive standard variable energy tariff

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Millions of people are paying too much for their gas and electricity because they’re stuck on expensive standard variable rate tariffs.

It’s time to make sure you’re on the best possible deal – and the first step is to understand how energy tariffs operate.

Check out this Q&A and then see how much you could save by switching.

Help! I don’t know the name of my energy supplier!

You can find the details of your supplier on your latest bill. Check your emails if you don’t receive paper bills.

If you have recently moved into a property, the previous owner or tenant, or the estate or letting agent, should know the name of the supplier.

If you are still stuck, the Meter Point Administration Service (0870 608 1524) will give you the details of your gas supplier.

Your local electricity distribution service should be able to help with your electricity supplier. There are 14 local distribution companies and their contact details are below:


Scotland North

0800 048 3516

Scotland South & Central

0845 270 9101

North East England

0800 668 877

North West England

0800 195 4141

Eastern England

0333 202 2021

Central & Southern England

0800 048 3516

South West England

0800 678 3105

South East England

0333 202 2023


0800 028 0247


0800 375 675

Merseyside and North Wales

0330 101 0400

South Wales & Midlands

0800 096 3080

How do I work out my energy usage?

Your energy bill will show a figure for your energy consumption.  If you can’t put your hands on a recent bill, you can contact your gas and electricity supplier.

You can still switch supplier, even if you don’t have an accurate figure for your energy usage. MoneySuperMarket can estimate your energy consumption based on the type and size of your property.

How long does it take to switch?

Most companies aim for 17 days, but it can take three weeks.

Should I expect disruption to my gas and electricity supply?

No, switching does not affect pipes or cables so everything will carry on as normal. There’ll be no need for work at your property, inside or out.

What’s the difference between a variable and a fixed rate tariff?

When you sign up to a fixed rate tariff, you pay a set price for each unit of gas, electricity, or both, over a set term.

You are therefore protected from any price rises during the contract period. Of course, you won’t feel the benefit of any price falls, either.

With a variable tariff, the unit cost of your energy moves in line with any price rise or fall. Variable deals are often more expensive than fixed tariffs, but almost all suppliers charge a fee if you want to switch from a fixed tariff before the contract expires.

That said, a so-called ‘exit fee’ cannot be charged if you are close to the end-date of the tariff.

Your supplier is obliged to write to you between 42 and 49 days or the end date. If you switch after this, point, and exit fee will not be levied.

Will my payments stay the same on a fixed tariff?

The price of each unit of energy is fixed but you still pay for the amount of energy – the number of units – that you use. Your bills will therefore go up and down, even though the unit cost stays the same.

What if I change my mind about switching?

You can cancel the switch within 14 days of the start of the contract.

Are small suppliers safe?

Some people are reluctant to switch to a small supplier in case it goes out of business.

However, energy regulator Ofgem would ensure a transfer to another supplier if your own company went bust – and there would be no disruption to your supply.

Are tenants able to switch?

Tenants who pay their energy bills directly to the supplier can switch whenever they like. If you pay the landlord for your energy, the landlord would have to agree to any switch.

How do I read a meter?

Meters come in various shapes and sizes.

Older electricity meters have several dials, each with the numbers 0 to 9. You can ignore any dial with the numbers 1 to 10. You read the first five dials from left to right, taking the lower number. So, if the pointer is between 8 and 9, write down 8.

Digital meters are easier. Take the first five numbers from left to right, ignoring any other numbers, even if they are in red.

Some households have two rates of electricity, and so will have two rows of numbers. Again, read from left to right and note down the first five numbers only. The supplier will need the two readings.

There are three types of gas meter. A dial meter usually has four dials and you read the first four dials from left to right, again taking the lower number.

A digital imperial meter displays four black or white numbers followed by two red numbers. Ignore the numbers in red and write down the other four numbers from left to right.

There are five numbers on a digital metric meter, then a decimal point followed by some other numbers. You need only the first five numbers from left to right and can ignore any numbers after the decimal point.

What is a smart meter?

Smart meters allow the utility company to read the meter remotely, so you can say goodbye to estimated bills and pay only for the energy you use.

Can I have a smart meter?

All households in the UK are expected to be offered a smart meter by 2020. The roll out has already begun and your supplier can tell you more about its own plans and progress.

What happens if I pay by direct debit?

Energy firms usually give discounts to people who pay by direct debit.

A set amount each month is then taken from your bank account. But the monthly amount is based on an estimate of your annual energy consumption, so it might be too much or too little. You should therefore review your bills and your meter readings regularly. 

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