Since the domestic gas and electricity markets were fully opened to competition in the late 1990s, customers have been free to sign up with any supplier. However, only 40 per cent of people have done so. It is estimated that someone in a typical house who has never switched could save Â£200 - Â£300 a year, meaning many people are currently paying too much for their energy. In the past there have been some instances of mis-selling, which has deterred some, but there are now regulations to prevent this happening. However daunting it may seem, switching supplier is quite straight forward - there is no electrical work involved and the same pipes and meter will be used. The only changes will be in the cost and the customer service.
Finding the Cheapest Supplier
The energy companies have not made it as easy as it could be to switch. Currently there are around 30 suppliers (though we only tend to hear about the 'big 6'). There are also countless different plans and tariffs. Additionally, tariffs vary from one region to another. It is therefore not possible to say that any one company is the cheapest overall. There is only the cheapest supplier for you, and this will depend on where you live and how much energy you use. In general though, online tariffs offer the best value. Before shopping around, it is worth contacting your current supplier to check that you are on the best tariff they can offer.
Luckily, to compare prices you do not have to contact all the suppliers yourself. There are several independent online price comparison services who can do this for you. The Consumer Focus website lists all those accredited with their Confidence Code, giving you the assurance that they can be trusted. Most comparison sites do not include every energy supplier, so you may wish to try 2 or 3 different ones. You may find that there are variations on the prices quoted by different comparisons, but these are usually only slight, and due to the variations in the way that different services do their calculations.
Before starting your comparison, you will need details of your existing tariff and energy use. An annual statement or the last year's bills should give you these. Once you have opened your comparison website, the process is very simple. You first need to enter your post code (so they know which supply region you are in) and an email address. Next, enter details of your supplier, the plan you are on and your fuel consumption. The consumption figures can be either the amount you are paying each month or year, or your annual use in kilowatt hours (kWh), though the latter will give a more accurate comparison. You will then get a list of the plans available showing the annual cost, your saving and any particular features or conditions. It will be possible to then go straight on to switch, but you will probably need some time before deciding, as you could get as many as 80 different plans to consider.
Once you have signed up to the new supplier, you don't need to do anything else. The supplier will manage the whole switching process. It can take some time however, so expect to wait for up to 8 weeks. If you change your mind, you have 14 days from the date of signing the new contract to do so without incurring charges.