There are now 73 licensed domestic energy suppliers on the market, vying for your monthly utility bill, and savvy consumers can reap the rewards of a crowded, competitive market. Compare gas and electricity tariffs and you can find the lowest costs are the market, but is a bargain-basement deal really the best option? Should you opt for an upstart energy supplier you’ve never heard of or stick with the old faithful, one of the Big Six? What about a green provider?
All these options can be daunting. Energy comparison sites can help you navigate them but don’t immediately spring for the lowest price. You’ll also want to consider the customer service, fuel mix, and bonuses offered by any provider. We run down what to look for in an energy provider, beyond the price tag.
In signing up for an energy tariff, you’re entering an at least 12-month agreement with the supplier. How responsive are they to customer service enquiries? Are their bills clear and how does the company handle billing disputes? Are other customers satisfied with their service? How many complaints have existing customers logged about the provider to Ofgem, Citizens Advice, or the Ombudsman?
Smaller providers like Octopus and Bulb have recently outpaced the more established Big Six in customer service rankings. But exercise caution because small providers have also set new lows in customer satisfaction this year, with beleaguered—and now shuttered—provider Iresa logging the most complaints to Citizens Advice for a provider ever. In fact, customer service standards among some upstart providers are so dismal that Ofgem is renewing its licensing procedures for new energy providers, especially after the collapse of three small suppliers into administration this year.
Before committing to an energy tariff, check out how the supplier performs in customer service polls conducted by industry regulator Ofgem, consumer watchdog Citizens Advice, and consumer magazine Which?, and read reviews of the company on Trustpilot.
Energy suppliers generate electricity from a variety of resources, including coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind, and solar. You can find the breakdown of each company’s supply on their websites, or you can consult , listing the fuel mix of most domestic energy suppliers in the UK. If you’re concerned about greenhouse gas emissions and our changing climate, you might want to opt for a green provider, like Bulb, Ecotricity, or Good Energy, which rely exclusively on renewable resources to generate electricity, and are incorporating increasing amounts of biomethane into their gas mixtures in addition. Alternatvely, you might be able to find a 100% renewable tariff from other suppliers, like Cooperative Energy, which use different fuel mixes for other tariffs.
Smart Meters and Thermostats
All homes in the UK will have been offered a smart meter by the end of 2020, but if you want to get a head start on tracking your energy usage—or at least avoid taking manual meter readings—check the smart meter roll out plans of any energy provider you’re considering.
And energy tech doesn’t stop at your meter box. There are now a bevvy of smart thermostats and plugs that can help you more carefully monitor and manage your energy use. Some suppliers sell these smart home products or even throw them in for free when you sign up for a tariff. For instance, EDF offers a tariff that comes with a Netatmo smart thermostat and Engie bundles a Nest thermostat with its Control tariff.
If your boiler fails in the dead of winter, it won’t matter how cheap your gas tariff is: you’ll be freezing. Some larger energy stalwarts like British Gas, SSE, and Scottish Power sell boiler cover with their gas and dual-fuel tariffs, covering a call-out repair service if your heating suddenly surrenders.
You might be used to bundling your broadband and TV services but have you considered looking to your energy provider for an internet connection? Energy and the internet might seem like strange bedfellows but SSE and First Utility are selling them as packages, with discounts for customers who take on both.
Local Energy Companies
Nottingham Council pioneered the establishment of locally-owned energy companies with the launch of Robin Hood Energy in September 2015. Now Bristol, Islington, Leeds, and other areas have followed, with local authority-owned not-for-profit energy companies providing energy to local residents (although sometimes just to council tenants). If you live in one of these areas, you might want to consider staying local for your power.