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Tenants' guide to switching utilities supplier

Posted on 2021-07-15

After your rent, your utilities bills for gas, electricity and water are likely to be one of your biggest regular outgoings. As a tenant who pays their own bills, you are entitled to switch suppliers to look for a better deal.

 It's a common misconception that tenants are not able to change their suppliers, but consumer protection law means you are able to shop around, compare tariffs and choose the suppliers of your utilities.

With the cost of utilities important to many of us, as well as a growing desire to use more eco-friendly suppliers, choosing the providers that work for you is a key part of being a modern tenant. 

How do I switch to a cheaper supplier?

For the most part, switching utilities suppliers is extremely easy and can usually be completed online with the minimum of hassle. You'll need to provide a few details and documents but should be able to make the switch in a matter of minutes.

Price comparison websites are a first port of call for many consumers as they allow you to see all the options available, what they include, how much they cost and then compare them easily.

Swapping suppliers could also mean you have to pay a small cancellation fee, if you are locked into an agreement, which will usually cost under £30. If you are in debt with your current supplier, you'll need to get your payments up to date before you can switch.

Do I need to tell my landlord I'm switching suppliers?

It all depends on your tenancy agreement. There may be a clause in your contract which requires you to tell your landlord if you switch supplier. In some cases, it may state that you need to gain their consent. If so, then you will need to do so. However, the landlord can't unreasonably withhold or delay providing their consent.

In the majority of cases, you won't need to inform your landlord, although there is no harm in doing so. The golden rule is to check your tenancy agreement before switching.

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My landlord pays the bills - can I switch? 

If you are a tenant or student with a bills-included tenancy in which your landlord is responsible for organising utilities, you won't be able to switch suppliers. There is nothing to say, however, that you can't ask your landlord to look for a better deal or the services of a more eco-friendly provider.

You may also have signed a contract in which you are required to pay your landlord directly for utilities, meaning you have no contact with suppliers. Again, you won't be able to switch in this instance, but could always ask your landlord to shop around.

Common living situations where you pay the land owner for energy use are if you live in a houseboat or caravan park. In this scenario, landlords must adhere to a 'maximum resale price', which is set by law and depends on how your consumption is recorded.

If you use a meter, for example, you should be charged a domestic rate by unit, as well as your share of any relevant standing charges.

Do I need to check my tenancy agreement when switching?

As mentioned above, it's good practice to check your contract before switching suppliers. As well as looking for clauses which require you to inform your landlord or gain their consent, you also need to look out for clauses which name a preferred supplier.

If you are responsible for paying the bills and there is a preferred supplier in your contract, you are still entitled to change your utilities providers. If your landlord or letting agent has tie-ins with suppliers, they'll need to notify you from the outset.

There may also be a clause in your contract which requires you to return the supply of utilities back to the original provider at the end of the tenancy before you move out.

How can I get the best deal?

You need to think about what you want from your utilities - do you want your bills to be cheap, do you want a flexible agreement, or do you want to use an eco-friendly supplier?

There are plenty of tariffs out there from combined gas and electricity deals to off-peak options and fixed deals. Read up about the different tariffs and then work out what's best for you.

Once you've done this, it's wise to take a look at the comparison websites to see which providers offer the best prices for what you're after. We have partnered with Energy Helpline, who compare more energy suppliers in the UK than any other energy comparison service – run a comparison here to see how much you could save.

What do I need to switch providers?

Once you've decided on the best deal for you, it's time to organise the switch over. There are a few pieces of information you'll need:

  • The name of your existing provider
  • The name of your existing tariff/deal (you'll be able to find this on a recent bill)
  • Your postcode
  • The bank details of the bill payer if you are paying by direct debit
  • Your Meter Point Access Number (MPAN) and your Meter Point Reference Number (MPRN), both of which can be found on a recent bill
  • An up-to-date meter reading

Do I need a smart meter?

Smart meters are being rolled out by the government across the UK, with the aim of making energy readings more efficient and environmentally-friendly.

You don't need a smart meter to change energy suppliers, nor do you need one at all if you use a regular meter. That said, smart meters can be useful, helping you to track your energy use better and subsequently keep bills down.

They also provide real-time energy use information to your supplier, which means your consumption figures may be more accurate. If you don't have a smart meter and would like to get one, it's worth speaking to your landlord first.

It's likely they'll be happy for you to have one, but there may be a clause in your contract which requires you to go back to a regular meter at the end of your tenancy.

You can find out more about smart meters here.

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Moving out - what do I need to do?

Make sure that you adhere to any clauses in your tenancy agreement relating to utilities supply. For example, you may have to change meters or revert to your existing supplier.

By meeting these requirements, you give yourself a better chance of receiving your security deposit back in full. Before you leave, you'll also need to take a last reading of your meter and provide it to your supplier.

This means you will only be liable for the energy you have used up until you move out. After that, your landlord or new tenants will be responsible for paying for the utilities.

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