Six energy bill ‘urban myths’ debunked

Think you can’t switch energy provider because you don’t own your home or because you’re locked into your current tariff? Think again!

We debunk six energy bill urban myths, and why none of them should stop you finding a better deal…

“You can’t switch suppliers if you’re renting”

You can, if the bill is sent to you and you’re responsible for paying it. Don’t assume choosing an energy supplier is the responsibility of your landlord and that you can’t have a say in which tariff you are on. Worth telling your landlord about your plans, though – there’s a chance they might have an arrangement with the current supplier.

Even if your landlord pays for energy bills directly and asks you to reimburse them, you can still let them know if you think you’ve found a cheaper deal somewhere else, although they aren’t obliged to switch.
Ofgem, the energy regulator has a useful guide to tenants’ energy rights here:

“You can’t change tariffs if you’re already on a fixed deal”

Locking into a fixed deal means that the unit prices for your gas and electricity won’t change for a set period of time – the longest of the current crop of fixes runs to 2017. However, there is a price to pay for this peace of mind, so often fixed deals look more expensive than other variable rate deals.

If you want to move to a variable energy deal, or you’ve found a better fixed deal than the one you’re currently on, you can switch, but watch out for exit fees that might be applied if you leave your tariff before the end of the fixed deal.

“If you move house, you’ve got to use the existing supplier”

Many people assume that when they move into a new property, they have to automatically take on the existing energy supplier. But you’re free to choose whether you want to inherit the old supplier, or you can arrange to move to a different provider.

The previous owner should have left details of their existing supplier and tariff, so you can use this information to compare deals with alternative providers. (Chances are there’ll be a letter to the ‘New Occupier’ on the doormat anyway.)

Don’t forget to arrange a final bill from your gas and electricity supplier at your previous property and take meter readings at your new home as soon as you move in.

“You’ll need new pipes and wires if you switch – and they’ll cut you off while they do the work”

Moving energy suppliers doesn’t involve any major upheaval such as installing new pipes, meters or wires, and you won’t see any interruption in your energy supply. In fact, all you have to do to compare quotes and switch is find a copy of your energy bill so you can see how much gas and electricity you currently use and how much you pay.

Once you’ve found a deal you want to move to, you submit an application to the new supplier. If you change your mind after requesting the switch, you'll have a 'cooling off' period of 14 days in which to stop it going through.

If you decide to proceed, you'll receive the new contract and terms and conditions within 10 days of making the application.

The actual switching process take around 21 days, and you will be notified by your new provider when your supply will start and when the first payment is required. You shouldn’t cancel your Direct Debit to your existing provider until you have paid your final bill based on your last meter reading.

“You can’t manage your account online”

If you find it hard to keep on top of all your paperwork, you might find it easier to manage your energy account online. You can let your supplier know that you want to switch to paperless billing, which means all your bills will be sent to you by e-mail rather than by post.

You should get a bill from your energy supplier at least every quarter, but you may get them monthly, so receiving them online should help keep your ‘paper pile’ to a minimum.

“You can’t switch energy providers if you’re on a pre-payment meter”

Don’t assume you won’t be able to switch energy suppliers if you have a prepayment meter.

You can still switch suppliers, provided you don’t have more than £500 debt owing on the meter. However, the best energy deals are usually only available to people with credit meters, so it might be worth asking your existing supplier if you can switch over to one.

Some providers will install a credit meter for a fee of around £60, while others may agree to install one free of charge.

* Up to 10% can save at least £244.64, MoneySupermarket data based on sales. June 2013

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