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3.1 million British Gas customers have until Friday to switch to a cheap deal for winter - the easy way to find the best tariff for you

Mirror logo Mirror 13/09/2017 Emma Munbodh

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The race is on for British Gas customers as 3.1 million households on the energy giant's standard variable tariff have until Friday to switch to a better deal, before its 12.5% electricity price hike kicks in. 

The increase will add an extra £76 a year to customers' expenses, bringing the average annual dual fuel bill up to £1,120. However, according to GoCompare Energy , households could save as much as £256 by switching to a cheaper deal now.

But it's not just British Gas that's upping prices. This month, 43 fixed energy tariffs are set to expire - adding a potential £262 a year for households that do nothing.

GoCompare says many of these hikes will also see the cost of energy increase four times above the level of inflation, which has not been reflected in wholesale energy prices.

300,000 families face hikes of up to £400 on their bills - and most don't even realise

Ben Wilson from GoCompare Energy said: “Though it’s not surprising to see British Gas hike their electricity costs just as energy usage increases, it’s still incredibly disappointing for the millions of homes that will be impacted.”

“Energy providers are continuing to punish loyal customers year after year, rewarding their loyalty with higher prices and poor excuses.

"Simply put, if you’ve been with your supplier for more than a year then there’s a good chance you’re paying more than you should be for your energy and could save up to £256 by switching. For just a few minutes work, it should be a no brainer.

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“From Friday, if you’re a British Gas customer on a standard variable tariff, you will be paying more for your energy. Every single day after Friday, you’ll be throwing money out of the window needlessly.

"Nothing about your service will be different, other than you’ll be paying even more money for the privilege of being on a bad deal.

"Our message to people is clear, don’t pay British Gas’s £76 a year loyalty tax – get smart, get online and get a better deal.”

How to switch your supplier

You'll need:

  • Your postcode.

  • Your current gas and electricity supplier, and the name of your tariff

  • How much you use in kilowatt hours (kWh) on gas and electricity. You can find this on your recent bills or the annual energy statement sent by your supplier.

  • Your bank details, if you decide to switch and wish to pay by direct debit.

Check if you'll have to pay any exit fees

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Get in touch with your supplier to find out how long is left on your current plan. If you're choosing to switch early, you might have to pay a fee. 

However, under Ofgem's rules, if you've 42 days or less until your plan expires, you can exit penalty-free.

Am I allowed to switch?

Not everybody can switch their supplier. If you are in debt to a provider, you might not be able to move until the payments are cleared.

If you have a prepayment meter and you owe more than £500 for gas or electricity, you may also be refused the chance to switch.

Start comparing

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Once you've cleared all of the above and are ready to switch, it's time to start shopping around.

Energy regulator Ofgem has a list of approved and independent comparison websites that can help manage your search in an unbiased way.

Compare at least two websites to get a feel of the tariffs and a rough estimate of pricing. Remember, not all comparison websites cover the same suppliers (it's the same as car insurance quotes ) so shop around for quotes from as many suppliers as possible.

Here are Ofgem's suggested comparison sites (Citizens Advice also has a handy guide on how to compare prices here ), you can use this virtual notepad to make note of al prices quoted:

  • Energylinx , 0800 849 7077

  • uSwitch , 0800 6888 557

  • My Utility Genius , 0203 468 0461

  • Unravel It , (online only)

  • Switch Gas and Electric , 03333 700 600

  • Quotezone , (online only)

  • Money Supermarket , 0333 123 1983

  • Simply Switch , 0800 011 1395

  • The Energy Shop , 01259 220 270

  • Energy Helpline , 0800 634 3868

I've found a deal - now what should I do?

Once you've found the best deal and tariff for your household, it's time to secure it, by contacting the provider and letting them know.

Ring them up and give them the green light. They'll then start the switchover process with a 14-day cooling off period - you can cancel at any point during this time.

Your new supplier will ask for an up-to-date meter reading, they'll then hand this to your ex-supplier for your final bill (which should arrive within six weeks). If you're in credit, you'll probably receive a cheque in the post instead.

If you get Warm Home Discount (see below for how to apply for this), make sure your new supplier also offers the scheme.

If you have a smart meter, you’ll need to check your new supplier supports smart meters before you switch.

The switchover - how it works

In 2015, the government ruled that energy switching should take no longer than 21 days to complete (most switchovers will last 17 days). This means that once your 14 day cooling off period is complete, you should be up and running within three days.

In the run up to this, your new supplier will send you a welcome pack with details such as your switchover date and first bill date.

If you have switched both your gas and electricity, they may be moved at different times but your service should continue without interruption.

Can I get a discount?

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If you claim a means-tested benefit, such as Universal Credit or Jobseekers Allowance, you may qualify for a one-off £140 discount on your energy over the colder months. This is known as the Warm Home Discount, an initiative to support those most at risk of fuel poverty.

The discount is available to older Britons who are carers, disabled, are still paying off their mortgage or have housing costs and who have less then £155.60 a week in income (or £237.55 a couple).

It is not paid as a cash amount, but rather through a reduction in energy bills.

The 'big six' suppliers all provide rebates under the Warm Home Discount scheme. These include British Gas, Scottish Power, SSE, E.on, EDF Energy and npower. Firms are obliged to take part once they have 250,000 or more customers.

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If you were born on or before 5 August 1953 and don't qualify for the Warm Home Discount, you might be able to claim between £100 and £300 to put towards your heating bills. This is known as a ‘Winter Fuel Payment’.

If you’re eligible but don’t get paid automatically, you’ll need to make a claim . You have until 31 March 2018 to claim for next winter (2018).

The Cold Weather Payment is also available to older people claiming certain benefits for periods of particularly low temperatures.

How often can I switch?

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You can switch suppliers every 28 days if you want to, but be careful to check for cancellation charges.

uSwitch recommends checking your status once or twice a year to make sure you're still getting the best plan. You can also sign up for a service that checks (and switches) for you like Flipper - although this comes with a small fee.

If you're on a fixed term plan, with a fixed tariff rate until a given date, it's also worth making a note of the end date so you can switch around a month before.

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