Energy price hikes are back. The shock announcement by Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) that it will raise its gas and electricity prices by nine per cent on October 15 is an urgent warning for people to sort their bills now.
SSE trades as SWALEC, Southern Electric, Scottish Hydro and Atlantic - but is a clarion call for every company's energy customers.
Thankfully, while standard prices are rising, energy companies are still competing for active switchers by tweaking their best-buy deals to attract new custom via the comparison sites. This competition means it is possible to sort out your energy bills for the next two winters, so it really will pay you to take a look at your current deal.
Here are 10 things to consider when cutting your bills down to size:
● Do nothing, and you will pay way over the odds
Do not think that because your current deal was a good one when you signed up for it that it still is. Millions of people are paying more than they need to.
A typical home on a standard tariff pays £1,310, yet switch to a cheap tariff and it can drop to £1,040. The gas, electricity and safety are the same. The only things that change are customer service and the price. If possible, pay by fixed-monthly direct debit to get a discount. Do regular meter readings to keep it accurate.
● Fix prices cheaply for TWO winters
The new version of EDF's Blue tariff has three killer features that make it worth a look. Firstly, it is fixed until April 2014, so there will be no price hikes for a while. Secondly, it has no exit penalties, so if things change you can leave. Thirdly, it promises to email you if anyone launches a tariff that is £52-a-year cheaper.
● Fix shorter, cheaper
Scottish Power's shorter November 2013 fix is slightly cheaper and also has no exit penalties. So it is worth comparing to see which works, though compared to EDF, you are missing a winter's guarantee.
● The cheapest fixed deal, but it has exit penalties
First Utility offers the cheapest deal but there are exit penalties. It is about £20 a year cheaper than EDF's Blue tariff for a typical user who pays by monthly direct debit. It is fixed until December 2013, but if things change and you want to leave early, it has £30 gas and £30 electricity exit penalties.
● Compare for cheap deals
Look out for the three mentioned tariffs mentioned but still do a comparison. The cheapest company for you always depends on your region and usage. Ensure the comparison site is accredited under the Consumer Focus consumer code. Full list at consumerfocus.org.uk. Better still, visit the websites via www.moneysavingexpert com/energy page, and they will give you up to £30 cashback or a crate of wine if they switch you.
● Is it worth fixing now?
Normally cheap fixes are much more expensive than the cheapest variable deals, and as neither EDF nor Scottish Power have exit penalties, if things change, you can ditch. Plus with SSE's price hike, the trend looks to be upwards, so there really is no downside to fixing (unless you are already locked into another provider).
● What about prices?
Until SSE's rise, industry insiders were split when it came to predicting future prices - though the Bank of England had said it thought prices would rise by the winter. Normally, when one company hikes prices, others follow. If you can't afford a hike, fix.
● got electricity only or are you moving house?
You can still save. If you don't have gas, don't think the rules are different. You can still compare, switch and save, although cashback is lower. If you are moving home, you will first need to connect to the past occupier's supplier. After that, you can switch. Comparison site uSwitch.com can estimate your home's usage if you don't know.
● Prepay meter users
Just because you are on a meter doesn't mean you're locked in.
Generally, a credit meter (where you get bills) is cheaper, so first find out if you are allowed to convert and how much it will cost you. If you are not allowed or can't afford to switch to a credit meter, you can still save by using a comparison site to see if there is a cheaper prepay tariff. MoneySupermarket.com, Energyhelpline.com and uSwitch.com all have prepay comparisons. If you are fixing, favour companies that allow you to convert to a normal meter for free later. Full list at www.moneysavingexpert.com/prepay.
● FREE £300 insulation Installing loft and cavity wall insulation can reduce bills by £300-a-year. Each normally costs about £150, but some energy firms give it away to fulfil efficiency obligations.