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What to Do When Changing Your Utility Supplier or Other Service Provider

A guide to switching to a different company.

You might be able to save money by switching your supplier of anything from electricity to internet services. However, before you switch, it’s a good idea to make sure you know your rights and are aware of exactly what is involved.

Switching energy suppliers

There are various rules in place to ensure that it is not too difficult to switch energy suppliers. To help you work out whether you would be better off with another supplier, your current energy bills should include information about how much energy you use, as well as an estimate of how much you will probably pay over the following year. If you don’t see this information on your bills, you can ask your supplier and they must provide it.

Picking a supplier and tariff

All energy suppliers are required to provide information on their pricing if you ask, so you can easily get details from various suppliers and find out where you could save the most money.

Energy suppliers will offer a range of different plans – known as “tariffs” – to suit different needs. However, in order to keep things simple, they can offer a maximum of four core tariffs each for gas and electricity, as well as the option of four additional tariffs with pricing which varies depending on the time of the day the energy is used.

Information about tariffs should include pricing for both standing charges and units of energy. A standing charge is the basic price you pay for being on an energy network, no matter how much energy you actually use. All tariffs need to include details of the standing charge, even though technically suppliers can choose not to have one at all. Units, on the other hand, reflect your actual use of energy; you will be charged on the basis of how many units you have used.

You should keep this in mind when choosing which supplier and tariff would be best for you. If, for example, you do not use a lot of energy or are away from home a lot, a tariff with a high standing charge would be a poor choice, as you will still have to pay the same amount regardless of whether you are using the service. However, if you pick a tariff which is instead weighted towards paying more per unit, this could allow you to save money.

Suppliers may offer discounts if you use them for both gas and electricity, if you pay in a particular way, or if you use the internet to manage your account.

Making the switch

Once you have decided on which supplier and tariff you would prefer, you should contact the new supplier and tell them you would like to switch. If they agree to this, they should let you know when your energy supply will switch over to them. You should then inform your current supplier that you are switching.

After you have agreed to a contract with a new supplier, you have 14 days during which you can change your mind and cancel the contract without penalty. This is known as a cooling-off period.

Once the cooling-off period has passed, it will probably take about three weeks for the suppliers to arrange the switchover. Your new supplier should come and take a meter reading on the day of the switch and then provide this to your old supplier so they can charge you the right amount for the period leading up to the change of supplier. After this, any energy you use will be billed under the terms of the new supplier. There should be no interruption to your energy supply.

Problems with switching suppliers

In general, any problems with a switchover should be dealt with by the suppliers, so make sure you have contact numbers for both. Your new supplier should carry out most of the arrangements with your old supplier to get things ready for you to switch.

Switching with debts

If you have owed money to your current supplier for 28 days or more, they may be able to stop you from switching to a new supplier until you pay this off. If they do, they have to supply you with advice about efficient use of energy, how to manage your debt and which of their tariffs would be best for you. You may choose to pay off your debt all at once, or set up a payment plan to make it easier to afford.

When you have owed money for less than 28 days, this debt will transfer to your new supplier.

If you’re on a prepayment meter, you can still switch supplier if you owe up to £500 for electricity and up to £500 for gas. This is because you can transfer the debts on these meters across to your new supplier.

When your debt came about because of an error on the part of your supplier – for example, if they billed you too little and now expect you to pay the extra – they can’t stop you from changing supplier because of it, although you do still have to pay any money you owe them. See our page on problems with bills for more information.

In cases where you are trying to switch supplier after your existing supplier raised their prices, if they block the switchover because you owe them money, paying this debt off within 30 days means that you will not have to pay the increased prices for any energy used in the intervening period.

Cancelling contracts

If you signed a fixed-term contract (a contract which ends at a certain time) with your existing supplier, you may be charged additional fees if you want to switch before this time is up. These are known as termination fees. Your supplier should provide information about any termination fees on your bills or their website.

However, your supplier must give you notice that your contract is ending between 42 and 49 days before the end date. At this point, you can arrange to switch to another supplier and you will not have to pay any termination fees. Your supplier must let you know when a fixed-term contract is coming to an end and they cannot put you onto another fixed-term contract without consulting you.

Switching energy supplier as a tenant

Even if you are a tenant, if you pay your energy bills to the supplier directly then you still have the right to choose which supplier you want to use. This is because the supplier’s contract is with you, not your landlord, and you do not have to own the property in order to decide who should be the energy supplier.

If you are a tenant and your landlord pays your energy bills, whether or not this is included as part of your rent, it is up to them to decide which energy supplier they want to use. If you are concerned that you are paying too much, you may want to ask your landlord to consider changing suppliers, but they do not have to.

Switching service provider

If you want to switch your supplier of services such as phone or internet, you will need to contact the prospective new supplier and give them any details they require. They will contact your current supplier and you will be told when the switchover will happen. There is the possibility that you will experience a break in service before your new supplier takes over, but if you discuss it with them you may be able to avoid this.

You will likely be given a cooling-off period during which you can change your mind about the change and cancel with no penalties. If you arranged the new contract over the phone or online, then you are legally entitled to a 14-day cooling-off period; in other circumstances, it is likely that your service provider will offer a cooling-off period of some sort.

If your current contract is coming to an end, your provider should give you the opportunity to cancel or switch without a penalty. If you want to switch before your contract ends, you may be charged for the amount you would have paid for the remainder of the contract. However, they can only do this if you were told that this charge would apply before you took out the contract.

Contracts taken out from the 23rd of January 2014 onwards can offer additional protection against price increases. Providers must give you 30 days’ notice if they plan to increase the cost per month of the service, and if this happens you can get out of the contract without paying a penalty. However, this does not apply if you were warned that the price increase would happen when you signed up to the contract.