It pays to switch energy provider

Energy companies now have to tell customers about the cheapest tariff available. Sarah Moore explains what that means for your finances.

Good news as of 1 October, energy companies have to tell customers about the cheapest tariff available, irrespective of whether they're buying direct or through a 'white label' partner (where the energy provider teams up with a company such as Marks & Spencer which then provides gas and electricity via the licensed supplier).

Before this rule change, many providers offered cheaper tariffs exclusively to consumers buying through their partner brands, effectively hiding the best deals from their main customers. It's a step in the right direction towards transparency and competitiveness in a market dominated by a few firms (and subject to the usual consumer apathy), but it's also a good reminder to shop around to make sure you're getting the cheapest deal.

The Citizens Advice Bureau recently released data showing just how unhappy customers are with their energy providers. ScottishPower was the worst-performing supplier, receiving 944 complaints for every 100,000 customers, with Extra Energy close behind, receiving 769. SSE fared the best, with only 47 complaints per 100,000. Two-thirds of these complaints related to billing issues. Sarah Beattie-Smith of Citizens Advice Scotland notes that these figures show that "yet again, some of the biggest companiesin the market have fallen short of what consumers rightly expect accurate bills, accessible customer service and fair tariffs".

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But you shouldn't let the potential hassle put you off switching. This is an area where you really have to stay on top of things if you want to avoid paying more than necessary. For example, if you were on a fixed-rate energy tariff that ended in September and you've automatically been transferred to a standard policy, you could end up paying an average of £151 more per year, according to comparison siteGo Compare.

So if you're on a fixed tariff, remember to shop around once it ends. If you've never switched supplier before (strange as it may sound, there are people out there who haven't), then you could save a substantial sum according to This is Money, the gap "between the most expensive standard energy tariffs on the market and the cheapest fixed rates" could be worth as much as £400 a year to an average household.

Interestingly, customers in their energy firm's"home region" often pay higher prices, as providers historically "enjoyed a monopoly before energy deregulation" and so benefit from loyal customers. Comparison sites are good sources of information, but bear in mind that some get commission from certain providers, so use more than one when you're looking to switch.

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Sarah is MoneyWeek's investment editor. She graduated from the University of Southampton with a BA in English and History, before going on to complete a graduate diploma in law at the College of Law in Guildford. She joined MoneyWeek in 2014 and writes on funds, personal finance, pensions and property.