Choosing an energy retailer can feel a bit like a lucky dip. Stick your hand in, swirl it all about a bit and then hope for the best as you randomly grab one of the packages on offer.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be like that. Most people end up with dodgy energy deals because they didn’t do their research.
But what should you be looking at when it comes to avoiding getting ripped off? What are the bits that matter and the bits that don’t? When it comes to working out the fine print and actually choosing an energy retailer, how do you know what to focus on?
Many people cite reviews as being a good source of working out which companies they should trust. Some reviews of energy retailers would give you the confidence to take the MD home to meet your Mum, others would have you running the opposite direction… but even then, you can’t always be certain reviews are written by real people can you?
Others often talk about using well-known comparison sites to find the best deals. However, many of the best known and most heavily marketed comparison sites don’t actually compare all offers in the market. Instead, they list only the companies that ‘buy’ customers from them at hefty prices. Guess who ultimately pays that bill?
Here’s what really matters when choosing an energy retailer.
What’s the real cost?
By ‘real cost’ we mean how much will your bill be both with and without discounts. When you’re shopping around and choosing an energy retailer, they will of course tell you their best price. And that will often be after they’ve added on anything they think might bring down your estimated costs. Make sure you check the following:
- Rate per kWh. That means rate per kilowatt hour. Sometimes referred to as usage charge, most retailers charge between 20 and 40 cents per kWh.
- Fixed supply charges. How much do they charge for actually supplying you with energy? That’s separate to the charges you’ll get for usage.
- Discounts: do these apply to the whole bill? Or just part of it? When the retailer mentions the various discounts they can offer, check if they’re included for both the fixed supply charges AND the usage charge or is it for just one of them? Equally importantly, check what you need to do in order to get the discounts. Most are conditional on you doing something.
- Late fees: if you fail to pay your bill on time, how much will they charge?
- Billing: How often do you receive your bill and how can you pay? Is one way cheaper than another? Direct debits can often be cheaper.
- Other fees. Do they charge to send paper bills? Or if you pay with a card?
- Any other terms and conditions. Ask them what other charges you could end up paying.
Before you begin.
Do some basic detective work.
By studying your past year’s bills you can work out an average monthly cost. This will be useful when you speak to other energy retailers and want to work out what your costs would be on average in comparison to your last year. If you don’t do this, it’s likely the retailer will use some average figures to quote a potential saving. Those averages may not be accurate to your position.
Prepare some hard questions.
Before you begin your search for the best energy retailer. You can ask them questions like:
- What’s the earliest date you could put up my prices?
- What’s the best deal for my circumstances and lifestyle?
- What happens if I can’t pay my bill?
Posted by Adrian Merrick
Founder @ Energy Locals