This is an urgent warning for anyone who pays an energy bill. Energy price hikes have started but there’s a window of opportunity for you to beat them and prevent any impact on your bills.
Yet the clock is ticking.
On November 15 SSE will hike both gas and electricity prices by an average 8.2 per cent (includes Atlantic, Scottish Hydro, Southern Electric, Swalec and M&S).
Energy companies’ herd mentality means it’s almost certainly kicked off energy price hike season and the rest of the big five are almost certain to follow suit.
Therefore, contrary to what you’ll hear many shout, now isn’t the moment to simply use a comparison site and switch to the cheapest provider.
That’d be a variable tariff, so you’d risk moving out of the frying pan and into the fire, possibly shifting to a firm that puts its prices up even more.
If that’s your plan, best hold until all of them have announced their rises. Instead, there is a chance to lock in your current price or even cheaper by fixing, for up to FOUR winters and guaranteeing yourself no price hikes.
Q. Sounds good, how do I prevent price hikes?
A. Many on standard tariffs can save and get no-price hike certainty with a cheap fix. Note the ‘cheap’. Don’t just call your own provider and ask – that risks locking in at high cost. You want to lock in on the market’s cheapest rate.
Even though prices are rising, there are still competitive fixed tariffs available, though they’re likely to be pulled soon. The average dual fuel user on a standard tariff pays £1,420 according to Ofgem, so I’ve used that as my benchmark below. This isn’t all about price though, bias yourself towards tariffs with no exit fees, so you have the freedom to leave if things don’t go as predicted.
Longest fixes (no exit penalties): Both EDF Blue+Price and Npower Price Protector are fixed until March 2017 and cost about £1,340 a year, so you get no hikes for four winters. Which wins depends on where you live – see below.
Cheapest no-exit penalty fix: Npower’s Online Price Fix is fixed until November 30 2014 at a cheaper £1,180/year.
Cheapest fix: First Utility’s iSave v9 is fixed longer, until April 2015, at a slightly cheaper £1,170/year. But it carries up to £60 in exit penalties.
Q. OK, so do I just switch to one of those?
A. Hold your horses, there are a few more things to know first. Always do a comparison: Who’s your winner and how much you can save depends on your usage and region.
Don’t just rely on the tariffs above - you should do a comparison. Use an www.Ofgem.gov.uk Confidence Code comparison site, though they list in price order, so you’ll need search for the fixes, especially the longer ones.
To see your exact prices and savings for the top pick fixes above, use my special Cheap Energy Club comparison Top Fix Picks comparison page and switching tool at www.mse.me/topfixes. If you’re not online, use a comparison with a phone service, such as Energyhelpline on 0800 074 0745 or uSwitch on 0800 051 5493. - Is it worth fixing? If the comparison shows you can save and get certainty, it’s a no-brainer with prices rises. Those already on a cheap tariff may need to pay more to fix. Only a crystal ball will show you whether this is right or wrong. Though if it’s only a little more, with prices going up savings are likely.
Overall though, you need to decide based on your attitude to future hikes. The more that big price rises would hurt, the more seriously you should consider fixing. - You could be due a lump sum. If you’re in credit when you switch, your old provider needs to give you cash (put it aside, winter’s coming, so usage is higher). Though if you’re over £100 in debt, you’ll usually need to pay that off first. - You can take your fix if you move. All the above fixes are portable (check if others are).
Q. Doesn’t fixing involve changing providers - I don’t like change?
A. Not always – the comparison may show your current provider offers the cheapest fixed tariff. If not, don’t worry it really isn’t usually a big deal. You keep the same gas, electricity and pipes.
Only service and, crucially, cost changes. Yet it will take two months to switch across, which is why doing it now before big winter bills is so crucial.