Don’t turn down the thermostat, switch energy supplier – Martin Lewis

Don't turn the thermostat down this winter - try switching your energy supplier instead to save money
Don't turn the thermostat down this winter - try switching your energy supplier instead to save money
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Are you ripping yourself off? At least 11 million people in the UK are overpaying on their energy bills, usually by hundreds of pounds a year. Sorting it is one of the biggest and easiest savings you can make – yet the majority still don’t do it.

More so, even if you’re scared of switching firm, right now you may be able to save hundreds and stick with your existing provider. So as we’re in the core of winter, carpe diem (translation: get off your bum and try to give it a go).

– Are you one of the 11 million massively overpaying?

That’s anyone who’s with a big six company – British Gas, Eon, EDF, Npower, ScottishPower and SSE – and is on their standard tariff (which is almost everyone who hasn’t switched in the last year). Even if you’re not with them, as prices have dropped rapidly in the last year, many can still save.

One big issue here is that many people assume energy companies have just one price. They don’t. They can have lots of different tariffs – yes that does literally mean they charge different people totally different amounts for the same thing. So the key is to ensure you’re one of those being charged less, not more.

To prove the point, those on British Gas and EDF standard tariffs, as I write this, are paying around the price cap figure of £1,178 a year – for typical use (if you use more or less, you’ll pay more or less roughly in proportion).

Yet both providers, have another tariff at under £900 per year, for the same use, and they’re fixed deals – so you know the rate won’t rise for a year. That means it’s £280 per year cheaper for the same gas, same electricity, same safety and same service – just a different price. And better still, both these tariffs allow not only new, but existing customers too, to get them – as long as you do it the right way.

Of course, those willing to move company can save even more. Currently, the cheapest deals on the market are around £830 per year for typical usage. So if you’re willing to switch firm, move to that and you could be paying £350 per year less.

On the back of me talking about this on telly the other day, Melanie got in contact: “Just watched Martin Lewis and did an energy comparison. By staying with my supplier I can save £355/yr. Thank you”.

However, you can’t just get these deals – you have to do it the right way.

Energy firms don’t just move you to its cheaper deals. These are generally reserved for pro-active switchers. This is all about using a comparison site like my www.cheapenergyclub.co.uk, which is whole of market (and includes a “stick with my existing provider” filter). It also gives £25 cashback per dual fuel switch, which you wouldn’t get direct, or any www.ofgem.gov.uk approved comparison sites. For Northern Ireland use www.consumercouncil.org.uk.

– There are two reasons to do this:

1. There is no one cheapest provider. I’ve been talking average prices, but who your cheapest is depends on where you live and how much you use. A comparison site works it out for you and tells you the exact saving.

2. Some (though not all) cheap tariffs – including the cheapest from British Gas, EDF and E.on – are only available via comparison sites. You can’t just call up the firm and ask for it. This also gives you the advantage of seeing how the deal stacks up for you, as who is cheapest depends on where you live and how much you use. Though beware, as comparison sites are now allowed to only show you tariffs that pay them, which means you may not see all the deals (for the sake of transparency, my Cheap Energy Club defaults to all deals).

– Switching and saving tends to beat sticking and saving.

My point here isn’t that you should stick with your existing provider. Generally the best thing is to do a comparison. Often you’ll find it’s firms you’ve not heard of with no customer service track record that come top as they’re trying to build market share.

If that worries you, you can scroll down to find the cheapest company with a decent customer service reputation (or use “good customer service” filters if the site has them). There are lots of mid-sized firms with really good ratings and really cheap prices.

Yet the reason I started with the big six deals, is that I know many are scared of switching firm, and as right now we’re in a rare sweet spot where you can stick and save, that’s a decent option for action.

– Don’t worry if you’re short of info to do a comparison.

Even if you just know your address and existing provider’s name, you can do it. Of course, it’ll be more accurate if you have your exact tariff details and can plug your usage in too. But overall the sin of inaction is usually bigger than the sin of inaccuracy – so if you don’t know, the comparison site will estimate it for you. This will only take you a few minutes. Then it’s switched over in 17 days.

And if you’re worried about the practicalities of switching – well if you’re sticking with the same company, very little changes. Even if you do switch to another company, while it’s the same pipes, gas, meter, safety – you don’t lose supply – the only difference is price and customer service.

– Those on prepayment meters can save too – but not as much.

If you pay by a key or card meter, as many of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable do, then, outrageously, there’s nowhere near as much competition, and you pay more – though prices have been capped, which has helped a touch. If you do a comparison there are often savings to be made, but often less than £100.

If you can, try and switch to a billed meter. It’s free to do with one of the big six providers, and you’ll usually be credit scored to check you’re capable of keeping up with payments.

Martin Lewis is the Founder of MoneySavingExpert.com. To join the 13 million people who get his free Money Tips weekly email, go to www.moneysavingexpert.com/latesttip