Cash in on the energy price war
Some of the UK’s biggest energy suppliers have embarked in an online energy price war that could help offset some of the huge price hikes seen last year.
At the end of last week, providers including E.ON and ScottishPower slashed their rates in a bid to snatch the top spot as the cheapest online provider.
E.ON kicked off proceedings by knocking rival First:Utility off the cheapest energy supplier throne. The smaller provider successfully hit back by slashing its online prices.
Meanwhile, ScottishPower attempted to take advantage of the situation by cutting its rates, but fell short of the mark. This leaves First:Utility as the cheapest supplier across 14 energy regions.
The cuts will come as a welcome surprise to households prepare themselves for the onset of winter. The weekend just gone will have seen tens of thousands of households switching their heating back on after the summer.
Gareth Kloet, head of energy at Confused.com, believes that the price cuts seen last week should prompt other providers into reviewing their tariffs. But he adds that this shouldn’t put households off reviewing their current supplier: “The message, as always, is to take advantage of these offers while they're available as complacency will not compel the energy providers to continue to come up with innovative new deals.
“With the winter round the corner there has never been a better time to review your tariff and make sure you are getting the best value for your situations.”
Kloet also warns that consumers shouldn’t mistake the “price tinkering” for across-the-board changes. Last year saw all the big six energy suppliers increase their general tariffs by as much as 50% but, so far this year, the majority has cut prices by less than 10%.
"Those customers who don't shop around for the best tariff to meet their needs are in danger of being left high and dry, continuing to pay well over the odds for their energy," says Kloet.
Will Marples, energy expert at uSwitch.com, adds: “Whether consumers will be completely appeased [by last week’s pricing battle] remains to be seen, but the key thing now is to move to one of these competitive plans to make sure you benefit from lower prices in time for winter.”
So if you've never switched tariff before don't hold back. There are lots of different price comparison sites on the internet that allow you to see if you could get a better deal elsewhere.
Your postcode and the amount of energy you use will determine the price you pay, so it's not easy to simply rate the cheapest deals on the market.
A word of warning though - sources from within the energy industry say that some providers are looking to introduce lock-in periods. These were outlawed until 2007 when the regulator decided that there was enough competition in the market to allow suppliers to put consumers on fixed-term contracts.
But being tied to one supplier might not necessarily be the best thing for you, so think carefully before committing to one.
If you are planning on switching then don't forget to take any charges into account, as these could mean the difference between a good and a bad deal.
If you are elderly, disabled or have a long-term illness, or are on a low income and spend more than 10% of your income on energy bills, then you could be able to get help paying for gas and electricity.
Mark Todd, spokesman of energyhelpline.com, says: "Pick up the phone and ask your supplier what you can get. Some may offer free lightbulbs or lower bills."
Finally, consider the ways in which you use energy around the house. Turning down your thermostat or just using the heating when you are in the house could save you money.
Making energy efficient changes to your house could also help. For example, cavity wall insulation or loft padding help keep heat inside your home - meaning you don't have to turn all the radiators on when it's cold outside.
The type of property you live in will determine the cost of your energy bills. Research by National Energy Services, commissioned by the New Homes Marketing Board, found people living in a new home saved up to £556 a year on energy bills compared with people living in older-style homes.