Fixed-rate, long-term (contract) plans provide stability in electricity rates. If market energy costs suddenly trend upward where you live, you can rest assured that you won’t have to pay more out of pocket. However, if you want to switch to a different, lower-cost plan before the end of the contract term, you’ll likely have to pay a cancellation or early termination fee.
 1.     Contracts:  Before, there were no contracts.  You signed up or you didn’t.  When it’s the only game in town, you have to play by their rules.  Nowadays, you’ll see these ultra-fabulous rates bandied about but it’s only by carefully scrutinizing the fine print that you’ll discover those wonderful rates come with a one-year lock-down or other catches.
It’s worth noting that you can switch for free with no exit fee 42-49 days before the end of your contract. Under Ofgem’s standards of conduct, energy firms have to give you between 42 and 49 days’ notice of your tariff ending. You can use this time to decide whether to stick with them, or switch. If you decide to switch, you won’t be charged an exit fee.
*Save Over £390 - Over 10% of the estimated quotations raised by users of the Simply Switch Website to switch their gas and electricity suppliers between 01/02/2015 - 01/06/2015 produced a predicted annual saving of £390 or more. Current combined spend for gas and electricity of between £84 and £6869. Savings may have included Direct Debit and online discounts. Energy prices vary by usage and postcode.
For example, shoppers for Texas electricity plans in the 77494 ZIP code in Katy, TX, could find 12-month plans for 6.8 cents/kWh in February; by June, electricity rates had increased 27 percent to 9.3 cents/kWh. As of early September, 12-month plans were up again, to 9.9 cents/kWh – a 6.5 percent hike from June and a 46 percent increase just since February.
Every single energy supplier in the UK is regulated by Ofgem, the industry regulator. This means that the smaller, lesser-known companies have to follow exactly the same rules as the bigger, more established ones. If a company goes bust, you’ll be covered by Ofgem – they’ll ensure your supply isn’t cut off, and they’ll appoint a new supplier to take over your tariff.

When you decide to switch, and have got the ball rolling with your new supplier, you should settle any outstanding debts. If you have bills that are more than 28 days old, you might find that you can’t change supplier until you’ve paid them. But there are some exceptions to the 28 days – for example, if you are less than £200 in debt, then your switch could still go ahead as normal
If you think switching is too much hassle (it isn't, but hey ho), just move to your current provider's cheapest deal. Yes that's right, bizarrely, even though it's the same gas, the same electricity, each energy firm charges a range of rates for using it. And no surprise Sherlock, it's the 'standard tariffs' that most people are on which are by far the most costly, as this table shows:

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