Outside of making changes to the way you and your household consume energy – which we recommend – one of the best ways to get lower electricity prices is by switching your tariff, or energy supplier. This is why it is important to compare electricity prices regularly. Gas and electricity is unique because they’re the only utility where spending less on your bills won’t correlate with a loss of service.
Last update: April 2022
As you may have heard on the news, the UK energy market is currently under an immense amount of stress as a result of a global gas shortage driving up costs and putting several energy suppliers out of business. To learn more about this and stay updated on a daily basis you can read our page on the UK energy crisis.
While customer service may dip if you start paying less (although, in our experience, the ‘big six’ have some pretty poor customer service feedback), the quality of the electricity provided to your home won’t change. So we always encourage customers to at least check compare electricity prices to ensure that they’re not paying over the odds.
How to compare electricity prices
If you’re not currently on a fixed-rate plan, the likelihood is that you’re paying too much for your electricity. And, when the market is down, fixed-rate plans may mean you’re spending more than you need to on your energy bills.
Energy prices can be volatile, and the ‘leaderboard’ of the cheapest UK energy providers isn’t stagnant – it’s constantly changing. It’s also affected by external things such as Ofgem energy price caps and the market rates for oil, so the cheapest supplier one week may not be the next. In fact, what we’re experiencing now (in December 2020) is extremely volatile pricing for customers looking to switch, as suppliers do their best to meet their annual targets, and are offering cheap tariffs for extremely limited periods.
Read on to find out some tips and tricks for accurately comparing electricity prices and tariffs.
What information do I need to compare electricity suppliers?
When getting started, it’s really important to compare tariffs that apply to your particular household and postcode, rather than advertised rates. Be mindful when comparing that the majority of energy quotes that you’ll see online are for fixed-rate tariffs in cheap areas that pay monthly by direct debit. There are several factors that can affect the ultimate cost of your energy, some of which are out of your control.
- Where you live: your region can affect your standing charges
- Your actual energy consumption, vs the estimates made on similar households of your size
- Your payment method.
To get started with your comparison, you’ll need to do some prep-work in advance to get the most accurate quotes possible. Things to have to hand, include:
- Your address (or new address if you’re moving home)
- Your current supplier(s) and tariffs
- Your preferred payment method
- Your household size, including number of adults and children
- Your monthly or annual energy consumption – find this on your latest utility bill.
What to look out for when comparing electricity prices
Now you’re ready to start, we’ll walk you through some of the phrases, jargon and acronyms that you’ll come across when comparing electricity prices. Your energy tariff will be made up of the following two components: unit rates and standing charges.
More than ever, our team of experts remain on deck to help you make savings on your energy. We understand how deeply the lives of many are affected by these trying times and we want to support you the best we can. More on your energy supply during COVID-19 in our article.
Unit rates and kWh
Your unit rate is the price you’ll pay per kWh (kilowatt-hour) of energy used. 1kWh is the amount of energy needed to power a 1,000-watt bulb for one hour. While hours are in the name, it doesn’t matter how long you use your energy for, just how many kilowatt-hours your energy consumption adds up to.
If you’re not sure how much energy a kilowatt-hour is – or you’re unfamiliar with 1,000-watt bulbs in the home(!) – a kettle uses between two and three kilowatts of energy each time you use it.
Your unit rate is a term that all energy companies use to describe this. So keep an eye out for unit rates when comparing energy. For electricity, while they vary, they’re often around the 17p to 25p mark.
This charge is to cover the cost of sourcing and supplying energy to your home and is charged every day, even if you don’t use any energy. For electricity only households, you’ll have one standing charge to pay. However, if you’re a dual fuel (gas and electricity) customer, you’ll have two to pay: one for gas and one for electricity.
Standing charges vary more in price than unit rates do, with ranges from 5-60p daily for electricity, and 10-80p a day for gas customers.
In the UK, a very small minority of energy providers are getting rid of standing charges completely from their tariffs. But don’t be fooled, because the costs of sourcing energy, pipe infrastructure and maintenance will still be prevalent, and the costs of this may be passed on in price hikes or higher unit rates to compensate.
While not strictly a part of your energy costs, keep your eyes peeled for exit fees. Exit fees come in fixed-rate contracts, so if you join a contract for three years, you would need to pay an exit fee to leave if you find a cheaper provider.
If you’re a frequent energy hopper, you may want to budget for exit fees when comparing electricity prices. The ones we’ve seen from UK suppliers go as high as £100 per fuel – that’s £200 for dual fuel customers if you decide to switch tariffs once you’ve agreed to a fixed-rate contract.
Who is the cheapest electricity supplier in 2020?
As we’ve mentioned previously in this piece, finding the cheapest electricity supplier is a nigh-on impossible task, because of the enormous range of factors that affects it. The cheapest electricity supplier is often an ongoing battle where the leader is never at the top for too long.
Having said that, here are some of the cheapest electricity deals we found in December 2020. Bear in mind, these are based on dual fuel tariffs, monthly direct debit payments and fixed-term contracts for 12 months.
GNE Essential Green V2Green Network Energy
Who offers the best electricity prices?
As of the time of writing in December 2020, Scottish Power offers the best electricity prices for UK households. Their Super Saver December 2021 tariff has a unit rate of 14.93p and a daily standing charge of 18.62p. Beating many others to the punch, including the big six!
However, if you’re looking for a ‘green’ or renewable energy tariff, the GNE Essential Green from Green Network Energy (GNE) is a good runner-up.
What is green electricity and can I compare it?
Green electricity means electricity that comes from a renewable source. Renewable sources include those which use the Earth (such as wind, water and sun) to generate electricity, rather than using finite resources such as fossil fuels or nuclear sources.
Green energy tariffs are usually comparable with nonrenewable energy tariffs, and most tariffs in 2020 include some form of renewable energy.But, if you’re looking for an energy provider who supplies 100% renewable electricity, there are plenty of green options available, such as from newcomers Octopus Energy, Green Network Energy (GNE) and OVO. Unfortunately, the big six are quite far behind the smaller brands in coming up with reasonable volumes of renewable energy sources.
So far, there are few who also offer gas from 100% renewable sources, so look out for this if this is important to you.
What is the energy fuel mix?
The fuel mix covers how much of an energy supplier’s energy comes from which sources. For example, an energy company may supply electricity from 80% fossil fuels, and 20% renewable energy sources. Others may do so with 100% renewable energy, or 100% from nuclear power stations.
If fuel mix is important to you, all UK suppliers must publish details of the fuel they used to generate their energy over the last twelve months. If you’re inclined to go for a more sustainable choice of energy supplier, be sure to compare energy mixes as well as pricing.
Why should I switch electricity suppliers?
While you’re under no obligation to, it’s silly to pay more than you need to for any of your utilities. Paying less for your internet or TV subscription may mean a loss in quality, but when it comes to gas and electricity, it all comes from the same grid – regardless of your supplier.
So, if you’re paying £100 a month when you could be paying £80 for what’s essentially the same service, why wouldn’t you switch? Savings of £20 a month add up quickly – to £240 across the course of a year. The process to switch is very simple, so we always recommend even reviewing the market and available tariffs every few months if you’ve been with your current supplier for a while.
How much can I save on electricity by switching energy suppliers?
According to the Money Advice Service, switching energy providers can save you up to £300 a year.
As the task of switching can take as little as ten minutes, it’s probably the biggest payday of anyone’s year! And, if you implement some energy-efficient measures in the home at the same time, you could save even more on your bills. Some of the easiest ways to cut back on your energy consumption quickly include:
- Unplugging any electricals that aren’t in use, particularly pesky chargers!
- Using natural light in the home wherever possible
- Turning lights off when you leave a room
- Turning down the thermostat by one or two degrees.
Alt: You can make big savings on your bills by comparing electricity prices
What do I have to do when I switch electricity suppliers?
Once you’ve switched energy suppliers, there is very little to do! You don’t have to facilitate any home visits or engineers popping round. The only thing is to take a meter reading on your switchover date and give this to your new supplier. Your new supplier will generally pass this on to your previous supplier, so they can generate your final bill.
What is a dual fuel tariff and do I need one?
A dual fuel tariff is for households that have both gas and electricity in their home. If you don’t have both, you don’t need a dual fuel tariff!
While you can have separate agreements for each fuel, it’s generally easier to keep both utilities with the same provider. However, not all energy providers offer dual fuel tariffs, and some offer electricity or gas only. Look out for this!
The main benefits of a dual fuel tariff, if applicable to your circumstances, are:
- One payment, and one monthly bill
- Usually will have a discount or slightly cheaper tariff for both fuels
- There’s only one supplier to deal with, if there are any issues.
What is an Economy 7 meter?
Economy 7 meters are also known as multi-rate tariffs. Economy 7 households will have a day rate and a night rate for their energy, with the night rate being cheaper. You’ll need a particular kind of meter for this that measures both rates separately. As the name suggests, Economy 7 gives you 7 hours of lower-rate energy in a 24-hour period, according to GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).
It’s mainly suitable for those who use most of their energy at night time, because day rates for Economy 7 tariffs are often higher than standard unit rates on non-economy 7 tariffs. The night time or ‘off-peak’ rates usually run for 7 hours from 11 pm, and from 12 am in the British Summer Time.
So, if you’re particularly active with your appliances, laundry and cooking during these hours, you may benefit from paying less overall for your electricity. They also work well for those with storage heaters, as you can ‘store’ your energy at night, and have it release gradually throughout the day, using the cheaper of the two rates to heat your home.
What is an Economy 10 meter?
Similarly to Economy 7, Economy 10 works in exactly the same way. You get two rates, your day rate (peak) and night rate (off-peak), and one of the two major differences is that Economy 10 gives you 10 hours of off-peak electricity use, rather than 7.
The other significant difference is that, instead of a ‘block’ of 7 hours from Economy 7, Economy 10 customers get several blocks of time throughout the day. It varies based on where you are in the UK, and does change based on BST and GMT.
One big drawback of this is having to keep track of when your on and off-peak times are. Another is that the times can’t be changed, and may simply not work for your lifestyle. Finally, it can be easier to accidentally spend more in your peak times, due to simply misremembering your blocks!
Again, you can’t just switch to Economy 10. You’ll need to have a specific meter installed that knows the time and records both on and off-peak rates.Would you like to know more about electricity prices? Great! Check out our latest article on the cheapest electricity prices.
|Tariff Name||Provider||Unit Rate
|Super Saver December 2021||Scottish Power||
|100% Green 12m Fixed Nov20||Pure Planet||
|Simple and mSuperFlow12m||Avro Energy||
|Fix Online Exclusive||E.ON||
I’m a tenant. Can I switch electricity supplier?
There is a misconception that tenants can’t change energy providers. However, under consumer protection law, if you’re renting and are directly responsible for paying the bills, you are allowed to choose your own energy supplier.
One caveat to this is to check your contract if you’re unsure, as some landlords or letting agents have a ‘default supplier cause’, which means you’ll need to stick with the default energy supplier as part of your rental agreement.
What about switching with a prepayment meter?
If you’re on a prepayment meter, you’ll need to find a tariff that is able to take payments and supply energy using that method. Not all tariffs do this, as most suppliers prefer to take monthly direct debit payments, and some energy suppliers don’t offer tariffs for prepayment meters at all.
If you’re in debt on a prepayment meter, you can still switch suppliers if you owe less than £500 per fuel - so £1000 for dual fuel customers. However, you’ll have to ‘transfer’ this debt to your new supply and continue to pay by prepayment meter until the debt is cleared and you’re up-to-date with your bills.
I’m on a fixed-rate contract. Can I still switch?
You can switch, but exit fees might be payable when you’re in a fixed-term energy contract. This is because energy suppliers buy the energy in advance to cover you for the length of your contract - meaning that they ‘lose out’ if you leave early. You’re absolutely entitled to switch providers if you’re currently in a contract, you just have to take into account any exit fees applicable to your electricity, gas or both to end the contract early and switch providers.
Updated on 24 Jan, 2022
Energy Specialist & Copywriter