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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 November, 2004, 15:51 GMT
Q&A: Changing energy supplier
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UK consumers could save 1bn a year on energy bills by switching supplier and installing better efficiency measures, the UK government has said. Consumers are being urged to shop around and get themselves a better deal. BBC News explains how you could save.

What are my switching options?

The domestic energy market opened up to competition in 1996.

This means most UK households, apart from those in remote areas, can switch suppliers.

There are about six major gas and electricity suppliers and a range of smaller suppliers which customers can choose from.

My energy bill has just gone up is this a common experience?

Many energy suppliers have already increased their prices this year.

EDF energy, Powergen, Scottish Power, and Scottish & Southern have all put up prices in recent months.

For example, a few weeks ago Powergen unveiled its third rise this year: gas is up 9.6%, while electricity will be increased by 8.9%.

EDF has increased electricity prices by 10.5% and gas prices by 8.1% since January.

British Gas is putting up the cost of gas by 12.4% and electricity by 9.4% from 20 September.

Npower is increasing bills by similar amounts. The cost of gas will rise by almost 12%, while the price of electricity will go up by 7.5%.

This is the second rise this year for Npower customers, following a rise of 5.2% for gas bills from 1 February, and a 5.8% electricity price increase on 1 April.

So, what's the point in switching?

Although prices are rising across the board, you can probably get a better deal if you switch, especially if you have never changed supplier before.

Industry regulator Ofgem calculates that a typical British Gas customer could cut 98 a year from their gas bill, 41 from their electricity bill or 127 a year from dual fuel if they switched to another supplier.

How can I find the best deal?

Comparing prices is easy.

Consumer group Energywatch provides price comparisons by area on its website. These show you in pounds and pence how much you could save.

A list of supply companies in your area can be obtained from Energywatch on 0845 9060708 or from its website (see link on right).

There are also a range of dedicated commercial comparison sites, where you can compare services and calculate how much you would save by switching supplier.

These sites include Buy.co.uk, Uswitch.com or Saveonyourbills.co.uk (see links on right).

Is it difficult to switch suppliers?

The first step in the transfer process is to sign up with a new supplier. The second is to inform your existing supplier of your intention to switch, preferably in writing.

The faster this is done, the smoother the transfer goes. On the day of the switch, customers are advised to take a meter reading to check against the final bill from their old supplier.

It is important to check the meter number to ensure the new supplier is billing you for the correct meter. For a detailed guide on switching, check the Energywatch website, where you can also check the customer service record of a particular company.

What if I don't want the hassle of switching?

It is worth checking with your existing supplier what special deals they offer.

Many offer so-called "dual fuel" deals, a combined price for electricity and gas, although these are not always the cheapest deal.

Some suppliers offer cheaper tariffs for older people while others offer capped or fixed price deals which enable customers to budget their fuel spending.

Are there any other ways I can save money on my bills?

According to the Energy Saving Trust, the average household could save up to 200 a year by being more energy efficient.

Its website offers information on energy efficient measures in the home.

You can also contact your local Energy Efficiency Advice Centre, which has 52 centres around the UK, on 0800 512 012.

The Energy Savings Trust has a search facility on its website which allows you to find out what grants are available in your area to help you be more energy efficient.




SEE ALSO:
Powergen hikes prices yet again
02 Nov 04 |  Business
Npower opts for second price rise
08 Sep 04 |  Business
British Gas rise 'is a body blow'
25 Aug 04 |  Business
British Gas puts up energy prices
24 Aug 04 |  Business
Why are power prices on the rise?
24 Aug 04 |  Business
Centrica warns on the cost of gas
29 Jul 04 |  Business
Disconnections - Know your rights
12 May 04 |  Business


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