If, like many tenants, your rental package is not bills inclusive, it will fall upon you to pick your own energy supplier. But how can you go about picking the best one, with the best value for money and the biggest impact on lowering your carbon footprint?
Below, we outline some top tips on the key things you need to be considering when choosing an energy supplier...
Use comparison sites to shop around
For better or worse, the adverts for these sites are now ingrained in our collective consciousness, but they do actually have a use – particularly when it comes to comparing things like the best energy deals on the market.
Picking the right gas and electricity deal could save you considerable amounts of money each year (hundreds of pounds off your energy bills, in many cases), so it's worth doing your research and shopping around for the best possible package before you commit yourself to a particular provider.
Sites such as Compare The Market and moneysupermarket.com allow you to compare fuel tariffs, while Which? Switch and uSwitch also allow you to compare a range of tariffs in your area.
Which tariff should you choose?
There are a number of things you should bear in mind when choosing your energy supplier. Do you want a fixed, variable or green energy deal? Do you want to combine your gas and electricity in a dual fuel package?
Do you want to be on a 'time of use' deal, which lowers rates for your electricity in off-peak hours – usually between midnight and 7am? If you use most of your energy during these hours, time of use is something you may want to consider. In most cases peak energy use will be outside these hours, but for some it might represent the right deal.
Meanwhile, in a similar way to mortgages, a fixed energy deal is often cheaper and more secure than a variable one – with prices fixed for the length of the contract, or fixed at different rates, at separate stages of the contract.
However, on a fixed deal, if energy rates go down, your rate will not be reduced. What's more, while fixed deals are often the cheapest, they don't tend to offer much flexibility in terms of switching. If you choose to change deals more than 42 days before the end of your contract, you are liable to pay a fee to do so.
A greener approach
With the growth in renewable energy and greater awareness about climate change, many consumers are keen to take a greener approach to many aspects of life. This includes energy deals, where green energy tariffs are an option. These tariffs use more renewable energy than standard gas or electricity deals.
This could cost you more than other tariffs, but there are certain green suppliers – including OVO Energy, Green Network Energy, Green Star Energy and Ecotricity – who offer cheaper green energy deals.
With BP recently suggesting that renewable energy will be the world's main power source by 2040, greener energy is likely to be more popular than ever in the coming years and is something you may want consider now to help the environment and, in many cases, secure lower bills.
Switching tariffs or providers
If you're already on one tariff, and want to switch to a cheaper one to save money on your energy bills, you can ask your supplier to move you to a cheaper tariff. Or, alternatively, you can switch to a totally new provider.
Switching can save you money and can also allow you to source a more energy efficient tariff and enable you to switch more easily at a future juncture.
Assuming you are not in debt to your current supplier, you can switch by phone or online. You can use the sites mentioned above to search for deals by postcode and compare tariffs, inputting your energy usage to ensure you get the most accurate results possible.
If you have a smart meter, information on your energy usage will be provided – or you could simply look at your latest bill.
Once you've found the right deal, you can confirm your switch by providing your new supplier with full bank and address details. It should take around three weeks for the switch to take place, and you may have to pay a small cancellation fee (typically £25 to £30 for each service) to your existing supplier, especially if you're on a fixed deal.
The Big Six – who are they?
When the topic of energy suppliers in the UK is raised, you'll often hear about the Big Six – the companies responsible for providing approximately 95% of the country's energy. But who are these firms?
- British Gas
- EDF Energy
- E.ON UK
While these companies provide the vast majority of UK homes with gas and electricity, there are a whole host of smaller suppliers on the market who may offer better deals, including local and green providers.
Often, these smaller companies have higher levels of customer satisfaction as they can offer a more personal service.
What's more, fears about issues being caused by a small supplier going out of business suddenly are misguided, with energy regulator Ofgem recently introducing measures to protect consumers from losing their energy supply if a small supplier goes bust.
Despite the possible benefits of switching suppliers, many are put off by the time, cost and hassle they perceive to be involved. As a result, less than half of the UK's population has ever switched their energy supplier, even with regular calls from MPs for people to browse around for better deals.
Paying for your energy
In some cases, people opt for a prepayment tariff, whereby you top up your energy using a prepayment meter. This means you pay for your energy in advance and swerve the prospect of monthly and quarterly bills, offering more flexibility and an effective pay as you go approach to energy.
While this ensures you are more likely to only pay for the energy you need, a prepayment meter typically makes gas and electricity more expensive.
If you don't have a prepayment meter, you can pay your energy bill on a quarterly basis (by cheque, direct debit or BACS transfer), or via a monthly direct debit. The latter option is very often the cheapest, with most suppliers providing discounts for those paying by direct debit.
One other option is to make regular payments via a credit or debit card, which can be done weekly, every two weeks or every month.
Splitting the bill
If you are part of a house share or living in a student property with your friends while at university, you will want to find a way of splitting the bills you owe fairly and easily.
Sites such as Glide simplify bills for students by combining all utilities into an equal monthly split for each tenant, reducing the possibility of disagreements over who owes what and who paid what when. It also means chasing housemates for money becomes less of an issue.
However you do it, you should decide on a system and stick to it. If one or two people use much more energy than others, they may be willing to contribute more to the monthly energy costs. Work things out fairly and remain consistent with this thereafter.
As you can see, there is quite a lot to get your head around when it comes to choosing the right energy supplier for your rental property. But there is plenty of help out there to help you pick the right package and provider, and you may want to seek advice from your landlord, friends or parents on which energy supplier they would recommend.
Remember, too, switching isn't as hard as you probably think it is, so it's worth regularly reviewing your energy package to ensure you're getting the best possible deal.