Know your rights with utilities
What You Need to Know
- Everyone is entitled to switch their gas and electricity supplier to find the best deal. Be sure to do so see our energywatch approved switching sevice.
- Always switch online. Doorstep salesmen and telesales will almost never offer you the best deal available to you.
- Check out individual quotes as well as those for duel supply deals. It can often work out cheaper.
- Consider fitting a Water meter to pay for the water you use rather than a single fixed price.
- Always check the accuracy of an estimated bill, and inform your supplier of any inaccuracies.
- If you think your bill is wrong, or you have been mis-sold a contract, complain to your supplier, and if you are unhappy with their response, take your complaint to the Energy Ombudsman.
- See what free energy grants and energy efficiency offers you might be entitled to.
Why our rights matter on utilities?
Your utilities bills are likely to be the single most expensive expenditure in your household budget apart from your mortgage or your rent. You would therefore think that most people would be inclined to scrutinise their utilities bills closely to make sure they are paying the right amount, and also ensure they are on the best value deal.
However this is not the case with many of us simply extending our existing utilities contracts because we are either too busy or two lazy to spend some time looking into the details. This can be a costly approach, because since the privitasation of the utilities markets, the consumers have a great deal of choice and rights in how we use the markets and how we are billed by our providers.
Picking up on these rights is important, for the simple reason that it can save each of us a huge amount of money if we engage with the energy market efficiently.
The current energy market for electricity and gas suppliers allows utilities companies to directly compete against each other for business all over the country. This means that you can now use Scottish Power in London, and Southern and Scottish Energy in Wales.
It also means that different providers offer a whole host of different introductory offers to try and lure your business. This in turn means that we should all be looking into switching our energy provider every time our contract comes up for renewal.
Energy Companies rely on the fact that people are too lazy to switch to increase bills for longstanding customers by stealth. Don’t fall into this trap.
If you are particularly keen to stay with your current provider (and remembers switching provider will not interrupt your service in any way), research the best deal available to you, and then contact your current provider and tell them what you have found. Once they know you are thinking of moving, they may well try to match, or even better, the offer you have found.
The best place to start looking for the best value deals is online, and nowhere offers a better range of deals than our own comparison pages to get you started. It is however always advisable to make use of at least three different comparison sites before making your decision, as you will on occasion find different deals on different comparison sites.
The Golden Rule of Switching – Always Online
Some Utilities companies still use the very outmoded concepts of telephone sales, or even door-to-door sales to try to attract new customers. The advice with both these methods is never to sign up to anything.
Remember, the people who you are speaking to are salespeople and it is their job to try and make as much money out of you as possible. The likelihood of them offering you the best deal you can get is miniscule.
As a rule, the best available prices are always available online, either through comparison sites or on the providers own website. If you are not comfortable buying online, research prices there and then ring up customer services and tell them what you want. Avoid getting into the situation where they are selling you a package, and you should be fine.
The Duel Suppliers Myth
Most gas and electricity suppliers’ offer both services and many of their most attractive packages will be duel packages. It can seem simpler and easier to have the same company providing both services, and in some cases it is the most cost effective option available.
But this is not the case every time, so avoid getting lulled into just searching for duel packages, but check out the best individual prices as well. Focus on the overall cost of your utilities, rather than the convenience of only having one bill, and you can save a lot. Remember, provided you are paying by direct debit, it doesn’t make any difference to you if you are paying one bill or two.
The Water Exception
Sad to say there is still one utility where the old fashioned monopolies still remain, and that is with water. Your water provider is still determined by where in the UK you live and the price you have to pay is fixed by them.
There are however still ways that you can save money on your bills. If you still pay a fixed rate water bill, then look into the cost effectiveness of having a water meter installed. These measure the amount of water you use and charge you by this amount. All water companies are obliged to fit these for free if you request one. If you are not sure whether you will save money, there is a simple rule of thumb you can follow.
If there are more bedrooms in your house than people, then you will almost certainly save money. If there aren’t, you may well be better sticking to fixed rate.
Many water companies also provide water-saving gadgets which can reduce your bills. Check out your provider to see what you can get your hands on.
Many utilities will bill you based on an estimated reading, rather than coming to your house to check the meter every month. This might be because your meter is located in the house and you were out at work or away, or simply that they don’t have the manpower to check all of their customers every month.
If you have received an estimated bill, always check that the estimate is close to your actual usage. If they have significantly overestimated, you should contact them immediately with an accurate reading, and they should refund you some money, or at the very least promise to cut your next bill.
It might be tempting if they have underestimated to enjoy saving a few pounds, but this will only catch up with you later on, when they do read the meter and you receive a much larger bill to cover your excess use. It’s wisest to tell your supplier about underestimates too, or you could suffer for it in the long run.
Mis-selling and Inaccurate Bills:
If you think you have been mis-sold an energy contract, or if you have received a bill which is way above what you are usually charged, or even from a company who don’t supply you, don’t worry. Both of these instances are far from unusual, and there is a tried and tested process in place to get your money back.
The first step is to make a formal complaint to your energy provider. You should give them up to eight weeks to respond to your claim, and of course you can engage in a dialogue with them if you think it will be possible to reach a resolution.
If that approach doesn’t get a satisfactory resolution, your next step is to contact the Energy Ombudsman.
They offer simple online complaints process, which will independently assess your complaint and decide what action needs to be taken. You can make a complaint to the Energy Ombudsman here, but remember to contact your supplier first.
There are plenty of examples of people being awarded hundreds if not thousands of pounds, so it is well worth contacting them if you think you have grounds to.
Energy Grants and free Energy Efficiency
The Government also offers a range of grants to help you if you are struggling with the cost of your energy bills. This includes help with bills, and a range of free energy efficiency products to help reduce bills. Some of the most popular offers include:
- Free energy efficient Boilers and Insulation
- Winter Fuel Payments – an annual grant of up to £300 available to anyone born before 5 January 1953.
- Cold Weather Payments – made to older people and those on certain benefits if the temperature is below 0°C for more than seven consecutive days.
- Warm Home Discount – energy suppliers are required to help vulnerable people pay their bills to the tune of £140 a year.
- Energy Fund Schemes – many big energy suppliers operate schemes to help those who have built up large arears in their energy bills.
To find out what you might be entitled to, run your details through the Governments Energy Grants Calculator.
- For more tips and advice on your utilities bills, check out our wide range of guides.
- TO find out more about how you can save money on your energy bills, visit the Energy Saving Trust website.
- Rememeber to compare prices with UK Net Guide's energywatch approved sevice (its provided by Energylinx)
- To learn more about the Energy Ombudsman service works, visit their website.