Page last updated at 23:03 GMT, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 00:03 UK

Is it still worth switching?

Money Talk
By Graham Kerr

Npower bills
Household fuel bills have been shooting up again

We are all continually bombarded with messages telling us to switch our energy supplier and make great savings.

Switching rates have been breaking all records in the last few months.

So it looks like millions of us have been doing our best to keep our fuel bills down.

But with recent research from the University of East Anglia showing a third of us end up paying more after switching, how can we make sure we are making the right move?

Energywatch is an independent government watchdog charged with helping consumers get the best deal.

Should I stay or should I go?

Your first step should be to check if you can get a cheaper deal with your existing supplier.

Our research shows that, depending on how you pay your bills, you will save, on average, between 50 and 342 without even switching to another provider.

To find out more contact your energy company; you will find telephone numbers and email addresses on your most recent bill.

It is still too much, so what if I want to switch?

How much you will pay depends on where you live, your payment method, and, of course, how much energy you use.

It is not as easy for prepayment meter customers to compare prices

To find reliable, impartial and up-to-date price comparison information visit one of the 13 online service providers accredited with the Energywatch Confidence Code.

They are all regularly inspected, audited, and monitored to make sure they're giving consumers accurate information.

They also provide details of any commission deals they have with individual suppliers.

It is not as easy for prepayment meter customers to compare prices if they want to continue using that type of meter.

But if you want more information, or if you do not have access to the internet, then call Energywatch on 08459 060708 and we will send you average prices for your part of the country.

How can I save the most?

Most people will save money if they move to an online direct debit deal.

Average annual prices for consumers on those tariffs is 874, providing they take both gas and electricity from the same supplier.

The next cheapest set of prices is for those consumers on standard direct debit tariffs where average annual prices are 965.

Consumers who still want to receive a quarterly bill that they pay at a bank or post office will pay for the privilege; annual prices break the 1000 barrier and the average is 1048.

Consumers using prepayment meters get the roughest deal of all with average annual prices now running at 1089 but do go as high as 1144.

Anyone who wants to get rid of their prepay meter should contact their supplier and if the company refuses then contact Energywatch for help.

Can everyone switch?

Sadly no.

While most people can switch, and around half of us have done so, there are still some circumstances where you will not be able to switch.

You may not be able to switch if:

  • you have a particular type of meter found in some all-electric homes that has three separate readings on it
  • you have a debt with your existing company and you do not pay by direct debit.

Energy suppliers are entitled to block their customers from leaving if money is owed.

How often should I switch?

Energywatch recommends you check prices at least once a year.

Most switches go ahead without a hitch

New offers and deals do appear and, as we all know to our cost, prices do change.

You might decide against changing every time but it is easy to check and get peace of mind that you are not missing out on some savings.

There are millions of customer transfers taking place every year.

Most switches go ahead without a hitch.

And for those few people who run into problems then Energywatch is on hand to help you sort any problems.

How can I keep track of the latest changes in energy prices?

This month Energywatch launched a new price change alert service for consumers with internet access.

It is a free service and all you have to do is click to register and you'll receive email alerts about any price changes as they happen.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

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