Martin Lewis on how to beat energy price increases
With news last week that energy company Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) has decided to increase its prices by a huge 8.2%, Martin Lewis is here to answer all your energy-related questions.
So if you struggle to understand your bills, need help on how to secure yourself the best deal, or simply find the whole process of switching tariffs a nightmare, then stay tuned! Martin has some top tips to make sure you keep warm and toasty while protecting your cash.
On 15 November, Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) will hike both gas and electricity prices by an average 8.2% (includes Atlantic, Scottish Hydro, Southern Electric, Swalec and M&S).
Energy companies' herd mentality means SSE’s almost certainly kicked off energy price hike season and the rest of the big five are almost certain to follow suit.
Should I switch?
Contrary to what you’ll hear many shout – now isn’t the moment to simply use a comparison site and switch to the cheapest provider – as that’ll be a variable tariff - so you risk moving out of the frying pan and into the fire, possibly shifting to a firm that puts its prices up even more. If that’s your plan, best hold until all of them have announced their rises.
However, there is a chance to lock in your current price or even cheaper by fixing for up to four winters and guaranteeing yourself no price hikes.
The average dual fuel user on a standard tariff pays £1,420 according to Ofgem, so I’ve used that as my benchmark below. This isn’t all about price though, bias yourself towards tariffs with no exit fees so you have the freedom to leave if things don't go as predicted.
Below are my top picks, but go quick as they might not be around for long:
Longest fixes (no exit penalties): Both EDF Blue+Price Freeeeze and Npower Price Protector are fixed until March 2017 and cost about £1,340 a year, so you get no hikes for four winters.
Cheapest no-exit penalty fix: Npower’s Online Price Fix is fixed until 30 November 2014 at £1,180/year.
Cheapest fix: First Utility’s iSave v9 is fixed longer, until April 2015, at a slightly cheaper £1,170/year. But it carries up to £60 in exit penalties.
OK, so do I just switch to one of those?
Hold your horses, there are a few more things to know first.
- ALWAYS do a comparison: Who’s your winner and how much you can save depends on your usage and region. Don’t just rely on the tariffs above - you should do a comparison using an Ofgem Confidence Code comparison site - they list in price order though, so you’ll need to search for the fixes, especially the longer ones. To see your exact prices and savings for the top pick fixes above, use my special Cheap Energy Club comparison link and switching tool.
If you're not online, use a comparison with a phone service, such as Energyhelpline on 0800 074 0745 or uSwitch on 0800 051 5493.
- Is it worth fixing? Only a crystal ball will show you whether this is right or wrong – though if it’s only a little more, with prices going up, savings are likely. Overall though you need to decide based on your attitude to future hikes. The more that big price rise would hurt, the more seriously you should consider fixing.
- You could be due a lump sum. If you're in credit when you switch, your old provider needs to give you cash (put it aside, winter's coming, so usage is higher). Though if you’re over £100 in debt, you’ll usually need to pay that off first.
- You can take your fix if you move. All the above fixes are portable (check if others are).
Doesn’t fixing involve changing providers? I don’t like change.
The comparison may show your current provider offers the cheapest fixed tariff. If not, switching really isn’t usually a big deal. You keep the same gas, electricity and pipes. Only service and, crucially, cost changes. Yet it will take two months to switch across, which is why doing it now before big winter bills is so crucial. These days, switching is pretty simple, but, of course, for some there can be hassles.
I’ve heard some people switch to a cheaper price but have a bigger direct debit.
Direct debits are based on an estimate of your usage. Some find they switch to a cheaper tariff, but their direct debit rises. This is usually because the new firm over-estimates, or the old one under-estimates. If it's too high and means you overpay, you'll get the money back later. If it's a problem, you've a right to ask them to lower it.
I’m on a prepaid meter, can I switch?
While some of the more competitive deals and fixes aren't available, it's still possible to switch and save. Though you may want to wait until there’s a level playing field and all the big six have announced. Use a comparison site to find your best.