Switching fixed energy tariffs

Summer may seem a strange time to worry about heating and power bills, but experts warn that many thousands of households currently should waste no time in shopping around for a cheaper plan
Summer may seem a strange time to worry about heating and power bills, but experts warn that the many thousands of households currently coming to the end of a fixed- or capped-rate energy deal should waste no time in shopping around for a cheaper plan.

These special tariffs were very popular a year ago when gas and electricity costs were soaring, but the price guarantees are now expiring.

Moneysupermarket.com, the comparison service, says that households whose 12-month NPower One fixed tariff has just expired face an automatic price hike of £210 a year with the supplier’s standard offering. Those on Scottish Power’s Fixed Price 2009 deal, which ends this month, could see bills rise £135 a year.

But aren’t utility bills always going up? The good news is that a price war has broken out among online energy plans, according to uSwitch.com, another comparison service. New deals offer average savings of about £200 a year on standard plan prices; they can also be cheaper than the fixed-rate tariffs that have been protecting households in the past year.

Should I switch now? No, hold on. Coming off a fixed-rate deal early can incur a termination fee of up to £75. However, since switching providers normally takes six weeks or more to take effect, it’s worth starting the process a few weeks before your deal ends.

How do I choose? Use an online comparison service. Unhelpfully, most only compare on the basis of the capped rate, but Energyhelpline.com will show the potential savings against the "go to" tariff that kicks in after the fix. It also offers a £15 cashback for switches via Moneysavingexpert.com, the consumer website.

Which? says the best energy deals are generally online and involve payment by monthly direct debit. But don’t assume that ‘dual fuel’ plans will always be cheaper - separate gas and electricity providers may work out a better deal.

Finding the best tariff through a comparison service but then making the switch through a cashback website such as Topcashback.co.uk may also offer extra savings. Such websites can offer cashbacks of as much as £80 for moving energy firms.

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