Colder and Darker and Costly, Oh My – Planning Energy Costs Over the Winter Months
We are fast approaching that time of the year when the weather doesn’t know quite what to do. It’s sunny one minute, with bitter winds and lashing rain the next. The heating is on and off intermittently as the colder evenings draw in and electricity usage increases as we are forced to light our homes earlier. All of this means higher energy bills, with increased outgoings. Losing our control of expenditure on energy costs can happen all-too-easily.
Comparing available tariffs is important in ensuring you can avail of the best value deals around. There are many comparison sites that offer a one-stop-shop to compare energy costs in order to find the best deal. You should compare the standing charge (listed as a daily amount) and the unit price in the first instance, as well as the monthly or annual projected amounts as a secondary consideration.
Ways to pay – Prepayment vs Credit Meters
There are two ways to pay for energy – prepayment meters (where the user tops up as they go) or credit meters (where a bill is created monthly or quarterly). Generally, those on prepayment meters will pay more for their energy. However, this method of payment allows the user to effectively budget their usage and avoid incurring large and unexpected bills.
Prepayment meters can also be used when there is a debt owed to the energy company, with affordable repayment amounts subtracted from the amount which is topped up. Sometimes this can be beneficial for those owing the money, yet, care should be taken to ensure that this is not an unnecessary requirement on a prepayment meter. The Money Advice Service estimate that energy costs for those on credit (or billed meters) can be, on average, £226 per year more expensive than those on credit meters. This is a considerable amount, especially for those of us operating on a budget.
In addition to being faced with a choice between prepayment and credit meters, anyone obtaining a quote should also be careful to select the correct meter type as this can have an impact upon the unit rate that will be charged.
Meter Type & Consumption
‘Economy 7’ or ‘Economy 10’ meters charge different rates, often referred to as ‘day rate’ or ‘peak’ or ‘night rate’ or ‘off-peak’. To obtain the best and most accurate quotes, using the actual consumption figures from your current supplier will provide the most accurate answer.
Average National consumption figures are an average based on set criteria such as the number of rooms in a home and the number of people living there. Using this figure can mean that the projections made can be incorrect and potentially cause problems further down the line.
Energy suppliers set regular direct debit amounts based on the information supplied at the start of the contract and if supplying national average consumption figures, there is a risk of under-estimating and under-paying the monthly amount. This can, in turn, build a deficit in payments vs usage and can mean a hefty bill at the end of winter. Furthermore, the last time that these average figures were calculated and set was in 2015, so they may not accurately project your own costs.
The way to avoid this is by supplying the correct figures from day one. You can obtain your annual consumption figures from your current or previous supplier. Very often this information is supplied on annual statements (that’s the one that you get that’s not a bill – it’s probably in a drawer somewhere). You can also work this out as a monthly average but remember – winter usage is factored in as well and should always be considered (higher usage = more expensive).
Smart meters are moving us in a direction where bills can be more accurately monitored and calculated. Many can now be set to display daily budgets and usage and are an accurate way of tracking usage, both on a prepayment and credit meters.
Many suppliers offer free upgrades to smart meters. If you are interested in this option, you should contact your supplier directly to discuss.
The best way to avoid large surprise bills and take the burn out of winter energy costs is to be prepared. At consumeradvice.scot, we have put together our top 5 tips when planning and budgeting for energy costs over winter –
- Get your ducks in a row – Now is the time to sort out any outstanding balances and check what you owe! Communicate with your energy company and ensure that your meter readings are up-to-date.
- Shop around – Remember that even if you are on a prepayment meter, you may be able to switch to a cheaper tariff elsewhere. Check comparison sites for the best deals out there.
- Compare unit costs and standing charges – In addition to the overall monthly or annual figure, compare the individual unit costs.
- Know your own consumption – Ensure that you are armed with information on your electricity and gas usage as an annual figure when obtaining quotes. Using average national consumption figures mean that any quote obtained is never 100% specific to you. Smart meters are a good way of tracking and monitoring usage.
- Plan for winter – Remember that generally, more energy is used in the winter months and that this can impact your bill. So, factor increased costs into monthly budgets to avoid any surprises.
If you would like more advice on any consumer matter, you can contact consumeradvice.scot on 0808 164 6000. We are open 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday. You can follow us on social media – Twitter: @advicedotscot and Facebook at www.facebook.com/advice.scot, Instagram: @advice.scot, or get ahead by visiting our knowledge centre at www.consumeradvice.scot.