The tenants' guide to switching

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Renting and switching energy: it's easier than you think

Can tenants change energy supplier? There’s a common misconception that you can’t switch energy suppliers unless you’re a homeowner. But tenants have just as much right to find a better deal. Anyone who pays their own bills while renting a property has the right to compare energy tariffs and change energy supplier. Here’s a guide for tenants so you can figure out how to best manage your energy costs while renting. 

Can you change supplier if you rent?

You have the right to change suppliers under consumer protection law, assuming you are directly responsible for paying the gas and electricity bills. Therefore, in most cases, the answer to “can you change supplier if you rent” is “yes!”. If you want to compare your options and find a better deal, it doesn’t matter if you rent or own the property. 

The exception is if the bills are paid by your landlord. If your landlord is paying the energy bills, they have the right to choose which supplier they use. When you’re not sure who’s responsible for paying the energy, check the tenancy agreement to find out. 

Because there’s so much misleading information around this issue, energy regulator Ofgem issued guidance specifically stating when tenants have the right to switch. It found that in 2013, only 77% of bill payers in rented accommodation had ever switched energy suppliers, even though they could save an average of £190 by doing so.  

Understanding tenancy clauses

If you’re unclear about who is responsible for paying bills in your rented accommodation, your tenancy agreement should clear things up. Even if you have the right to change energy supplier, there could be a clause stating that you need to inform your landlord about it. 

There could also be a note about preferred energy suppliers called the ‘default supplier clause’. This lets you know if the letting agent or landlord has a supplier they prefer to use, set as the default. If you see a default supplier clause, you’ll need to talk to the landlord or agent to see if the supplier can be negotiated. Just note that this is more of a courtesy than a legal requirement if you’re the one paying the bills – you can still switch to a different plan with or without permission. 

Another situation that often arises in the tenancy contract is a clause stating you must return the energy account to the original supplier at the end of the tenancy. So, if you’ve changed the meters, they’ll need to be changed back as well.

What are your energy switching options when your landlord pays the bills?

If your landlord is paying the energy bills and they pay the company directly, you won’t have the same automatic right to change energy suppliers. However, it’s still worth asking for permission to switch. Many landlords are understanding and would prefer that you not pay more money than necessary.

Here are a few examples of situations where the tenant doesn’t have the right to switch:

  • The landlord has an energy account in their own name, paying the supplier directly and passing charges down to the tenant

  • The estate agent includes energy costs as part of the full accommodation charge

  • The building owner pays for the supply in between tenancies

You should still check to find out if the landlord is charging you the correct amount for energy. They can’t charge you more than what’s owed to the supplier or expect you to pay for communal areas of the building. 

What can your landlord charge you?

So, what can the landlord legally charge you for your gas and electricity? As before, the first place to look is your tenancy agreement. This is where all terms and conditions related to your payments will be listed. If the contract states that you need to pay energy bills to the landlord, there’s no need to deal with the energy supplier. This is common when you live in rented accommodation, as well as when you rent land for a caravan or pay a moorings operator while living on a houseboat. In any of these situations where there are multiple tenants, it’s often easier for the landlord to assume control of the energy bills. 

You can only be charged for your gas and electricity up to the maximum resale price of your energy. This fee is capped by law, but it can vary depending on how your energy use is recorded:

If your landlord calculates your energy use without a meter, then they should be able to show you how the costs are worked out. Otherwise, your meter will record exactly how much you’ve used in the rental property, so that you can be charged per unit for any relevant charges. The landlord must charge a domestic rate, whether or not they have their own business contract with the supplier. 

You’ll be exempt from some charges, such as electricity used for administration in the building or communal lighting. These will be billed separately and wouldn’t be subject to price restrictions like those mentioned above. If you think your landlord or estate agent is overcharging you for your energy use, go to Citizens Advice for assistance. 

Can a tenant change energy supplier as a student?

The same rules apply to students as they do to any other tenant. If students pay for their energy directly while renting a property, they’re entitled to change energy suppliers. Because many students are on a tight budget, it’s worth using an energy comparison site to see current deals. Switching suppliers could save £200 on average, which can make a big difference to a cash-strapped student. 

What information do you need to switch energy tariffs?

If you’ve found out that you’re responsible for energy bills and are ready to make the switch, the next steps are quite simple. You’ll need to gather some preliminary information, including:

  • Your postcode

  • The name of the energy plan and company currently supplying the property

  • A meter reading

  • The Meter Point Access Number (MPAN) and Meter Point Reference Number (MPRN)

  • Bank details (if you want to set up a direct debit)

Most of this information will be on your most recent utility bill, or you can contact the current supplier if you’re unsure. 

How to switch suppliers when renting

After plugging your information into the energy comparison site, you’ll see a list of suppliers and energy tariffs in your area. In addition to energy tariffs and prices, you may wish to look at factors like green friendliness, customer service ratings, and the lengths of the plans. If you’re a tenant planning to move within the next year, you may not want to get locked into a fixed term rate, for example. 

Switching with a prepayment meter

Do you have a prepayment meter installed in your rental property? Many landlords place these in their properties to avoid any issues with tenants falling behind on payments. They have no right to stop you from replacing a prepayment meter with a normal meter when you change energy suppliers. Standard meters offer better, more competitive rates than what would be available to you with a prepayment plan. It’s recommended to notify your landlord first, and you might have to put the original meter back when you move out at the end of the tenancy. This is because changing meters could qualify as altering the property. 

Whether or not you decide to remove the prepayment meter, you should inform the supplier about its presence as soon as there’s a change of tenant and you move in. Otherwise, you could end up paying the former tenant’s debt along with your own energy costs. 

Switching with a smart meter

Another option is to replace a regular meter with a smart meter. These are in the process of being rolled out into homes across the UK, carrying plentiful benefits both for the individual as well as the environment. They report your energy use in real-time to the supplier, ensuring your bills are more accurate. Smart meters feature displays and accompanying apps that let you keep track of your energy use, giving tips to become more efficient and adjust your habits. The result tends to be a lower bill. 

You should notify your landlord before requesting the switch, and be aware that like the prepayment meter, you might need to restore the property to its original state when you move out. 

Change of tenancy electricity – final steps when moving out

The end of your tenancy is another time for a close reading of the tenancy agreement. This will clearly lay out any actions you need to get your deposit back, such as replacing the original meters or switching back to the landlord’s preferred energy supplier. On moving day, don’t forget to take a meter reading before you leave. You’ll need to submit this to your supplier if you’re the one paying energy bills. If your landlord’s paying the bill, you can submit the meter reading to them. Keep a note for yourself in case there are any discrepancies on your final bill.

Bjorn GriffithDec 9th 2019