Energy switching: tips on changing supplier and how to complain if it goes wrong

Complaints about switching energy suppliers have soared. Credit: PA

Rising gas and electricity prices could push up energy bills by almost £100 for 15 million households across the UK from spring, Ofgem has said.

The price rises could be potentially crippling for households already feeling the financial squeeze from the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Customers unhappy with their energy supplier or who believe are on the wrong tariff (this is what energy suppliers charge you for gas and electricity) and paying too much are encouraged to shop around.

If you are fed up with your current supplier but are worried about switching, what should you look out for?

Only complaints about bills top concerns about switching. Credit: PA
  • Why should I switch?

If you think you're paying too much for your energy, then you should definitely consider switching suppliers.

If you haven't switched before or for a long time, it's likely you will be on your current supplier's default standard variable tariff - and that's likely to be way more expensive than the cheapest tariffs on the market.

Regulator Ofgem sets its default energy price cap every six months; from April 2021 this will be set at £1,138 (until March 31 the cap remains at £1,042 per year).

This is not how much your bills will be capped at - you will pay if you're on an SVT - use more energy, and you'll pay more. Ofgem's cap applies to the price your supplier charges for each unit (kWh) of electricity and gas used, and your standing charge.

The annual cap is calculated based on the usage of an average household. Energy suppliers are required to price below that cap but most set their prices a couple of pounds below the cap level.

  • How do I go about switching then? What will I need?

It pays to shop around, so use comparison sites, such as uSwitch, Compare the Market, MoneySupermarket, Energy Helpline or MoneySavingExpert.com.

Ofgem has a list of accredited comparison sites.

Before logging on, make sure you have to hand your postcode, the name of your current supplier and the name of your current tariff.

You can find your tariff and supplier details on a recent energy bill.

If you don't know your supplier (you've just moved home, for example), you can find out your gas supplier through this Ofgem link.

There are a number of new automatic switching companies that promise to constantly switch you to the cheapest deal on the market, if getting the cheapest deal, regardless of service is your main driver.

Smaller companies often have the cheapest deals but a poor customer service record. Credit: PA
  • What company and tariff should I go for?

There are scores of energy companies, with dozens launching in the past four or five years.

Many smaller ones have gone bust over the last couple of years, as they came in with prices undercutting the market that were ultimately unsustainable.

So, while going for the cheapest tariff on the market might save you money, it may be better to go for a more recognisable, longer established name that has better feedback from customers.

Getting a fixed deal at a competitive price will give you peace of mind. You can lock in your rates for 12 months, 18 months or longer.

Alternatively, some suppliers offer cheaper, variable deals way under the market average but as they are variable, the price can rise at any time.

The supplier has to give you at least 30 days' notice - and you can switch penalty-free, if you're on a variable rate.

And, should the worst happen and the company goes bust, your energy supply is protected by Ofgem, so the lights won't go out.

It's also worth bearing in mind that often your current supplier will have cheaper tariffs available than its SVT, so check.

  • How long should the switch take?

Once you've identified your new supplier and tariff, you need to decide how to pay. Usually paying by direct debit works out cheapest.

The switching process will then start, and your new supplier will be in touch to confirm your switch-over date.

The switching process can take up to 21 days. In most cases, it’s around 17 days.

If you change your mind, you have 14 days to cancel from the date you agree a contract.

Households can often save £100s by switching supplier. Credit: PA
  • What if the switch goes wrong?

If your switch is delayed you will soon be entitled to automatic compensation.

Under Ofgem plans set to come into force from next month, suppliers will be required to pay at least £30 in compensation for each switching problem - such as being moved to the wrong company or undue delays in being refunded credit.

You can complain to your supplier in the first instance, but if still not happy then the Energy Ombudsman, Citizens Advice and Ofgem can help.