Don’t accept the price hike as big six raise energy costs by £100 per year - Martin Lewis

It's predictable, but depressing. The big six energy firms have all now announced they’re hiking standard tariff prices by nine per cent on April 1. This will hit over half the homes in the UK.

If you're on a standard tariff, which over half of UK households are, then you could see your bills jump this April. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Yet you Needn’t accept the price hike – sadly, in many ways it’s a fine on customers for apathy, inertia, confusion, or complex set ups. Instead, you can simply switch tariff. Everyone should be checking now. Many can save at least £200/year.

This is all about standard tariffsIt’s the default deals that energy firms put customers on who’ve never switched, haven’t chosen a special rate, or once that rate finishes. It’s always expensive. Yet for the last couple of years they have been governed by a price cap that’s set every six months.A few weeks ago it was announced that from April 1 the direct debit dual-fuel price cap would rise from £1,042 to £1,138 a year for someone on typical usage. Primarily due to the wholesale rate of energy (those the firms themselves pay) have gone up rapidly after bottoming out due to low usage in the first Covid-19 wave.

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A price cap isn’t really a price capIn truth while it’s called a price cap it’s actually the rate for each unit of energy that’s capped. There’s no maximum energy bill you pay. If you’ve high usage you’ve a higher cap, lower usage, a lower cap.

And whilst the cap may be a ‘fair’ price, it certainly isn’t a good one. In fact, over the past few years since the price cap has been in place, it’s been on average £200/year more expensive than the cheapest tariffs on the market for switchers.

And to show the size of the savings possible, here’s a tweet I got from Sarah: “@MartinSLewis just gone on to MSE energy saving and switched, saving over £400 on my energy bill, £500 with the price increase in April. Thank you.”

Now all the big brands – British Gas, SSE, Scottish Power, Npower, Eon, EDF, respond to the price cap change, and like sheep they’ve set their new standard tariffs within £1 of it. For those on prepay meters the price cap is going up by 8%.That means if you’re on one of these tariffs – which over half of UK households are – then you’ll see your bills jump.

This is the perfect moment to do a comparison

When the price cap rise was announced, many people flooded to comparison sites. Yet that was in some ways too early; compared then, and the savings you were shown would be against what you pay today – the rate before April – so it was likely undercalculating by over £90/yr. The small saving may have wrongly put some off switching.

Yet now all of the rate cards for big firms have been published, so comparison sites have the right details, and you can see an accurate savings figure, which should show the scale of savings available.

It’s worth noting that for those who have got a cheap tariff within the last 12 months, do a comparison and its likely you’ll find today’s cheapest tariffs more expensive than yours, because of that increase in wholesale prices – in which case unless your deal ends soon, stick where you are.

Don’t call up the energy firm – use a whole of market comparison site

Many big firms do not offer their best deals direct. They only allow you to sign up for the cheapest tariff via comparison sites. That way they hope to win new business from those who are looking to switch, but can keep their existing customer base on higher tariffs. These sites are also useful because there’s no one cheapest provider - your cheapest depends on your region and usage.

Comparison sites get paid if you can switch through them (including mine at www.cheapenergyclub.com – though if we get paid, we give you roughly half £25 as cashback which you wouldn’t get direct). Sadly, to aid profitability most sites then have a default setting which hides tariffs that don’t pay them so you don’t get a whole of market comparison (mine doesn’t, it includes all by default). There’s a list of comparison sites at www.ofgem.gov.uk (though for Northern Ireland as it has different tariffs use www.consumercouncil.org.uk).

There are also now sites that can automatically switch you each year. These tend to fall into two camps, those that charge a fee and look across the market, or those that are free but work off a very small panel of providers (which can mean you pay much more).

Not sure of your details, don’t let that stop you

Even if you just know your existing providers name you should still do a comparison. Of course, it’ll be more accurate if you have your tariff details and can plug your usage in too. Yet if you’ve not switched in years, you’re almost certainly on an expensive standard tariff, and overall the sin of inaction is usually bigger than the sin of inaccuracy – so if you’re struggling let the comparison site estimate for you.And if you’re worried about the practicalities of switching, other than who is billing you and service, very little changes. It’s the same pipes, gas, meter, safety – you don’t lose supply – the only difference is price and customer service.Are you having to choose between heating and eating?

Many are struggling right now, so as well as making sure you’re on the cheapest tariff and reducing your usage, simpleenergyadvice.org.uk (England), nest.gov.wales, homeenergyscotland.org and uregni.gov.uk (Northern Ireland) can guide you on what other help is available.

And if your financial problems are due to the lockdown or Covid-19, Ofgem has put in place new rules to help. Most importantly, your supply won't be cut off – disconnections of standard credit meters have been completely suspended, while new rules have been put in place to ensure prepayment customers get emergency or additional credit to ensure the lights stay on. Speak to your energy firm.