Quick guide to affordable energy

At this time of year, we all rely on gas and electricity to keep our homes warm and comfortable. However, energy bills are often a worry as it can feel like the cost only ever goes up. Our colleagues from the Oddfellows Citizens Advice Line explain how you can potentially save money on energy bills.

Unfortunately, being loyal to one energy company might not be a good thing because existing customers frequently get worse deals than new ones. So, to get the best deals it pays to compare prices when your contract comes to an end and switch to a more affordable deal.

When a contract ends, the energy company continues to supply electricity and /or gas to your home, as it’s only the price you pay that is fixed by the contract. Usually, the supplier then moves the customer onto a variable tariff that is more expensive - the customer can then agree a new deal with the same company or switch supplier without having to pay a fee.

Therefore, people who have been with the same supplier on a variable tariff for many years should compare prices and consider switching. Bear in mind that fuel debts which are more than 28 days old can prevent a customer from being able to switch until the debt is paid off.

Step 1. Compare tariffs

To compare prices effectively you need to know the name of your current tariff, whether you pay one rate or have an arrangement like Economy 7 and how much fuel you have used in the last 12 months in kilowatt hours (kWh). Some customers have two figures for each fuel. Your existing energy company can give you all this information if you let them have your current meter readings.

Armed with this information you can use online switching tools such as https://energycompare.citizensadvice.org.uk to search for cheap energy deals. This site will also tell you which suppliers take part in the Warm Homes Discount scheme (see details below). Members who are struggling to compare fuel prices online can call the Oddfellows Citizens Advice Line for help.

Step 2. Contact the new supplier

Either call the new supplier or switch online. The new supplier will set up the switch and tell the old supplier.

Step 3. Take meter readings

On the day of transfer, read your meters and give the readings to your new supplier.

Step 4. Pay your old supplier’s final bill or get a refund

Later you’ll also need to give the new supplier your energy meter reference numbers, known as ‘MPRN’ or ‘MPAN’ numbers, which are on your old energy bill.

Priority Service Register

The Priority Service Register is a free service provided by energy companies and network operators to customers in need. This includes people with disabilities or long term health conditions, families with children aged under five and pensioners. To register, contact your fuel supplier.

The benefits are:
• Priority support in emergencies and warnings of planned power cuts
• A password that can be used by a representative to speak to your supplier for you
• Meter readings at appropriate intervals to ensure your bills are correct.

Warm Homes Discount

Customers on a low income may be entitled to this discount worth £140 a year, paid as a credit on their electricity account. Entitlement is automatic for those on means-tested benefits, and other people on a low income may also qualify. Contact your energy company as soon as possible as many are now closing their 2018 schemes. (Unfortunately, not all fuel suppliers take part in the scheme so check with them if they do or not.) This discount is different from the Winter Fuel Payment and Cold Weather Payments which are usually paid automatically to people who qualify.

If you're struggling to pay

Energy companies have an obligation to help customers who contact them to discuss difficulties with payments. However, some suppliers threaten disconnection or want to install prepayment meters that have to be topped up.

Companies cannot disconnect customers on the Priority Service Register and some people can refuse a prepayment meter, so make enquiries. Suppliers may agree a regular payments plan to cover ongoing costs and an amount for arrears. Sometimes, it is a good idea to complete a financial statement to show what you can afford.

For people on means-tested benefits, such as Pension Credit, the supplier may accept a very low amount to cover arrears, around £3.70 a week, taken directly from your benefits (known as a third party deduction).

Useful links:

Oddfellows Citizens Advice Line, please contact our membership team on 0800 028 1810 or get more information for our Members' Area.

The Citizens Advice website has helpful information at www.citizensadvice.org.ukconsumer/energy/energy-supply

uSwitch assist with comparing most energy tariffs and suppliers, call 0800 6888 557 or visit www.uswitch.com

DISCLAIMER: Links to third-party sites do not constitute an endorsement by the Oddfellows and use of the advertised products and services is entirely at your risk. The Oddfellows does not accept any liability or responsibility for any third party material on other websites.