Energy prices are likely on the rise. Yet don't just take my word for it - British Gas has warned customers the price it pays will go up by 15 per cent, and this could push up people's bills by £50 come the end of the year.
While this may seem a way off, many can cut £100s off their bills and prevent hikes by acting now. Here are ten things you need to know:
1. Take two minutes to check what you can save - it's often more than £250
Millions of people are overpaying. A typical home on a standard tariff pays £1,320, the same home on the cheapest pays £1,030. Not checking is like chucking a wad of tenners on the fire to keep warm.
2. Compare. switch. get cashback. save £100s
Your cheapest deal depends on the tariff, region and usage.
The easy way to find what you can save is plugging your details into a www.consumerfocus.org.uk-approved comparison site.
Do this via the links on www.moneysavingexpert.com/gaselec and if they switch you, after three months you get cashback or freebies. Energyhelpline pays £15 per gas, electricity or dual switch. For dual fuel deals, MoneySupermarket pays £30 cash and uSwitch gives you a crate of wine. You don't get these perks if you go direct.
Those not online can these to compare: Energy Lynx 0800 849 7077 and Uswitch 0800 051 5493.
3. How to guarantee you don't face price hikes
A clever tariff launched last month. EDF's Blue is nearly, but not quite, the cheapest, so many customers save large amounts, but it is easy to miss in comparison results. I am highlighting it as it has three big advantages.
For one, the rate is fixed until Sept 2013, so it guarantees no hikes. There are slightly cheaper fixes, but the key is that there is no exit penalty for leaving before the fix ends.
Finally, it promises to email you if anyone launches a tariff that saves the average user over £1 a week (£52 a year).
4. Fix NOW if you can't afford the rises
With price hikes predicted, locking in to a cheap fixed tariff insures you against rises.
So if a rise would be unaffordable, you should do it.
Better still, EDF's fix above and Sainsbury's Online Price Freeze have no exit penalties. If other prices fall, you can ditch them.
5. If possible, pay by direct debit to save an additional 5 per cent to 10 per cent
Paying by direct debt gives a further discount. Although dual fuel deals (gas and electricity from one supplier) are usually cheapest, it is not always the case.
So, when doing comparisons, check the cheapest separate suppliers too.
6. FREE insulation - energy efficiency can seriously cut your bills
Installing loft and cavity wall insulation can cut £300 a year from bills. Each normally costs around £175, but currently EDF and Tesco Energy are giving and installing it free to anyone with a suitable home, not just their own customers.
Other suppliers will even pay you £200 to get insulation if you are on certain benefits, including pension credit.
7. what if i only have electricity, not gas?
If you don't have gas, don't think the rules are any different - you can still save. Use the comparisons previously mentioned.
8. What about those
on a prepay meter?
Over three million UK homes use prepayment meters that allow you to pay for your gas or electricity on a pay-as-you-go basis.
You top up your energy via a key or card, which you can credit at newsagents, post offices and garages or, sometimes, online.
They can help to budget, but you usually pay more for energy, so if you want to ditch them, follow these steps.
● A credit meter (where you get bills) is cheaper, so see if you can convert. Some allow it for free. See www.moneysavingexpert.com/prepayenergy for a list and more help.
● If it is unaffordable, compare and switch. Energyhelpline, uSwitch and Moneysupermarket all let you do comparisons for pre-payment tariffs.
● When switching, favour companies that may help convert your bills for free.
9. make sure you fight those unfair energy direct debits. Direct debits are the cheapest way to pay, but they are based on estimated usage. Providers can get them wrong, or hike them unnecessarily. If that happens, you have a right to know why your direct debit is set at the level it is, and if inappropriate, get it changed.
If the company won't play ball, you can take it to the energy ombudsman.
10. Eon has promised not to hike prices this year
Eon promises it will keep its tariffs where they are now until the end of the year - though if others do hike prices, I suspect it will follow suit in early January.
Don't assume that means you should stick with it.
If you are already paying over the odds, why lock yourself in? It really is worth doing a comparison to see where the land lies.
If you really want fixed prices, switch to a cheap fixed deal instead, as the guarantee will be longer.