Choosing a gas or electricity supplier
If you're thinking about changing to another energy supplier, bear in mind that prices, policies and services will vary. You can choose different companies to supply your gas and electricity, or one company to supply both.
To make sure you choose the best deal for your needs get information and terms and conditions from different suppliers and compare them with your current supplier. Energy companies should provide information for free. There are also free price comparison services that can work out who offers the cheapest deal based on your previous energy usage.
This page tells you key things to think about when choosing a gas or electricity supplier for your home.
What should you ask before you enter into a contract?
Your energy contract is a legally binding document. It’s important that you understand what you are agreeing to when you enter into a contract. An energy contract can be agreed over the telephone, online or signed face-to-face with a sales adviser. Your new supplier must provide you with written confirmation of your energy contract.
You should ask a potential supplier for information about:
- unit prices of gas and electricity
- standing charges
- the terms and conditions of the tariff
- length of contract (if fixed term)
- cancellation charges – for example if you want to end your contract early.
If something is not in your contract, it is not part of the tariff. Make sure the contract includes everything you have agreed to. Take time to consider the whole document. Your supplier will give you 10 working days to change your mind about the contract after you have agreed it. This is called the cooling off period.
How much does the supplier charge?
To ensure you get the best deal, shop around and compare the prices on offer by different suppliers. All domestic suppliers are required to publish their prices and they'll send you details if you ask. Use a price comparison service to create a comparison of all the tariffs across the market, and get the best deal available. To compare prices from other suppliers with the price from your current supplier, you will need to calculate how much you are currently paying for your fuel each year. You can work this out by looking at your last four quarterly bills.
Is there a penalty if you cancel the contract?
Check the details of the contract before you switch to make sure it meets your needs. Make sure you're clear about how much you'll be paying and how easily you can cancel the agreement. If it's a fixed or capped price contract, you may be charged if you want to cancel it before it expires.
Is there a standing charge?
The standing charge is a fixed amount you have to pay for each day you are connected to a gas or electricity network, regardless of what you use. A low standing charge is likely to be more beneficial if you use very little energy.
What are the payment options?
Check how you can make payments. Options usually include:
- quarterly bills – you pay for the amount you've used during the previous three months. You can pay by cheque, online or at a Post Office or other bill payment point
- monthly direct debit - you pay the same amount each month. This can help your budgeting from month to month and there may also be a discount offered by the supplier for using this payment method
- prepayment meters - you have to top up the meter before using your energy. This can help with budgeting but it's not always suitable for consumers with poor health.
Are there incentives or discounts?
You might be able to save money if you take a dual fuel contract. Other types of discount are also available, including internet tariffs and green tariffs.
What other service standards does the supplier have?
All electricity and gas suppliers must keep a Customer Care Register with the details and special needs of customers who are of pensionable age, disabled or chronically sick. Suppliers can provide free assistance and services to customers who register with them.
The Consumer Council has a list of Customer Care services offered by the different companies in Northern Ireland
How well does the company handle complaints?
Find out how many customers complain about their service and how quickly these complaints are resolved. You will find their Code of Practice on handling complaints on their website.
What are the company’s policies on debt and disconnection?
Find out how they would treat you if you fell behind on your payments. You will find this information in their Code of Practice on debt and disconnection, available on their website.
How do you find out the fuel mix of your electricity supply?
The fuel mix is the percentage of electricity generated from coal, gas, nuclear, renewable and other sources. Details are also provided on the amount of CO2 and nuclear waste produced. All suppliers have to give this information to their customers once a year and it is also available on their websites.
- A guide on how to go about switching your energy supplier
- Top tips for a successful switch
- If you need more help