How to switch gas and electricity

Why should you switch your gas and electricity?

How long have you been on your current gas and electricity plan? If it’s been a while, switching energy suppliers could help you save hundreds of pounds each year. The process is now easier than ever because you can weigh your options online using trusted energy comparison websites. 

All you’ll need is your postcode and a recent energy bill to find the best energy deals. 

When to switch your energy supplier

Whether you’ve come to the end of a fixed-term plan or have recently moved to a new house, any change in circumstances makes it a good time to consider switching. If you’ve been using the same supplier for more than a few years, the chances are very high that you’ll save by moving to a different plan. 

For instance, if you don’t take any action after coming to the end of a fixed term, you might end up spending a good deal more than you bargained for because you will be rolled onto a standard variable tariff - you should switch your electricity or gas supplier in good time to avoid this happening. 

With so many suppliers and plans out there on the market, you’re very likely to find a cheaper deal than the one you’re currently on. If you have a prepayment meter or smart meter, you should still be able to switch using an Ofgem-rated comparison website to compare plans that suit your situation. 

Getting started: what you’ll need

Are you ready to get started? There are a few bits of information to collect to make the process run more smoothly. You’ll need:

  • Your name and address

  • Your postcode

  • The name of your current gas and electricity supplier

  • The name of your plan

  • The amount you spend on gas and electricity

  • Your bank details

You’ll find nearly all this information on your latest energy bill, so it’s helpful to have it close to hand before you start. If you can’t find one, contact your current supplier to ask.

If you haven’t come to the end of a fixed-term plan, you should also find out if there’s a fee for cancelling your tariff early. Suppliers should give you a 49-day grace period to switch ahead of the end date without incurring a penalty. 

Step by step: making the switch 

Once you have all the details in hand, take the following steps to switch energy suppliers.  

1. Visit an energy price comparison website

Be sure that the website you’re using is approved by energy regulator Ofgem. It offers a full list of approved sites compliant with the Confidence Code standards. These provide a free, user-friendly switching service with detailed information for each tariff. They’ll also show you any relevant discounts.  

2. Enter the requested information

Because gas and electricity prices are different in each region, you’ll get more accurate results by entering your postcode into the website. This will show the plans that apply to your area. The comparison site will also request your household consumption details. If you don’t have a bill, you can usually answer a series of lifestyle questions instead. 

3. Compare your options

After inputting your details, you’ll be taken to a results page showing all the suppliers and plans available. These will usually be ranked with a clear outline of what’s included in each plan. There are many things to consider, including customer ratings and price. 

4. Select your supplier and tariff

Click on the new energy supplier and plan to set the wheels in motion. Your new supplier will then organise the switch for you. You’ll need to submit your full address and payment information, along with meter readings. 

How to compare energy prices 

When you’re offered a long list of results, that third step of comparing options can seem like quite a daunting task. You can narrow the field by using filters on the website to compare energy prices. Try viewing plans without cancellation fees or hide everything but fixed-rate energy plans. Most sites will give a detailed breakdown of everything you need to know about the plan, including how popular it is with other consumers in your area. 

When you compare energy suppliers, you can look beyond the price at factors like eco-friendliness, customer satisfaction scores and prepayment options to find the best fit. 

Types of plans to choose from

Another way to whittle down your options is to think about your personal situation. What’s most important to you in an energy plan? 

  • Lowest price

Look for a fixed plan if you want as cheap a tariff as possible. These lock you into a low rate for a set period. You won’t have to worry about fluctuations in price because your bills will automatically come out at the same time each month. The only downside is that you might need to pay a cancellation fee if you find a better deal later. 

  • Freedom and flexibility

Are you planning to move to a new house in the near future? Or maybe you want the freedom to switch suppliers as often as you like. In this case, a variable or standard plan is probably a better option as these don’t tie you down to any contract. You’ll be able to switch at any point without fees – but bear in mind that these plans can be more expensive. 

  • Prepayment meters

There’s a common misconception that you can’t change electricity suppliers if you use a prepayment meter. It’s true that you may not have quite as many options to choose from, but you should still be able to find a few plans to compare. 

  • Evening use 

If you’re out of the house for most of the day and use the bulk of your energy overnight, an economy or multi-rate plan could be a great fit. These offer discounts for energy used overnight, so you’ll pay more during the day and less at night. 

  • Green 

Most suppliers now offer green tariffs. These provide energy from renewable sources, like solar and wind power. They tend to cost a bit more than the cheapest plans, but if reducing your carbon footprint is at the top of your priorities it could be well worth it. 

Can you switch suppliers if you are in debt?

Prepayment meters are usually installed when a customer is in debt to their gas or electricity supplier. These require you to pay for your fuel in advance, with a percentage of the payment applied toward the outstanding debt. 

It’s a little trickier but not impossible to switch suppliers with debt, but this will depend on the timeframe and amount of money owed. For debts of 28 days or less, the amount will be added to your final bill. If the debt is over 28 days old, you’ll need to pay it off before you can switch energy supplier, unless the bill was generated in error. 

Changing suppliers as a tenant

If you’re responsible for paying your energy bills, it doesn’t matter whether you rent or own your home. You should still be able to change suppliers if your name is on the bill. Check your tenancy agreement to see who’s responsible for paying energy bills, and whether your landlord has listed a preferred supplier. If a particular supplier is listed, you will need to check with your landlord before switching and potentially return the account back to the original supplier when your tenancy has ended. 

If your landlord’s responsible for paying the energy company directly, you won’t be able to switch suppliers without consultation. Many landlords install prepayment meters to avoid any issues with paying energy bills. You have the right to replace this with a normal meter, provided that you’re not behind on your bills. The only thing to consider is that you might have to reinstall the original meters at the end of your tenancy. 

The transition period

So, you’ve selected a plan and sent over your information to the new supplier. What happens next? There’s a transition period while your details are processed. The new supplier will get in touch to confirm a date for the switch-over, which could take up to 21 days. You won’t experience any disruption to your gas and electricity service in the meantime, and there’s no need for an engineer to install new cables or pipes. 

Your new supplier will send you a welcome letter with all the information about your new plan, including what’s included and the rates. Read it carefully to be sure it’s what you’re expecting. To close your account with the old supplier, you’ll need to pay any outstanding debts and give them a final meter reading. 

What happens if you change your mind?

If you’re having second thoughts about switching, you can hit the brakes so long as you contact your new supplier. The cooling-off period lasts for 14 days, during which time you can cancel without incurring a penalty. 

Even if you’ve recently switched, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the cheapest gas and electric plans and compare energy suppliers from time to time. There’s no need to stay locked into a plan that’s not serving you - just be aware of cancellation fees, particularly if you’ve chosen a fixed term plan. 

Bjorn GriffithDec 9th 2019