How to understand your energy bills

·6-min read
 (Pixabay)
(Pixabay)

Find energy bills a bit baffling? You’re not alone. Bills can be complicated, and they contain a lot of information, often couched in unfamiliar language. So what do all the numbers and jargon mean?

Here we help you get to grips with your gas and electricity paperwork jargon – and the key things you need to know.

Tariff

This section of your bill gives details of your contract with your energy supplier - or suppliers, if you have different ones for gas and electricity.

You can also find out information about your tariff via the QR code (see below). Here are some of the types of tariff you might be on:

  • Standard variable tariff – if the name has ‘standard’ in it, you could be on your provider’s ‘standard variable tariff (SVT), also known as a ‘default’ tariff. If so, you should look to switch, as SVTs tend to be among the most expensive on the market

  • Variable tariff - Not all variable rate tariffs are expensive. Indeed, they can be among the cheapest. You just need to make sure you have elected to be on a variable tariff that is priced competitively and is not just a default option for those who have never switched or who have come to the end of a fixed-term contract

  • Fixed-rate, fixed-term tariffs – these rates tend to be a cheaper option than an SVT. They enable you to lock into the price you pay per unit of energy for 12 or 24 months, shielding you from general energy price inflation. Variable rate tariff prices can move at any time

  • Dual-fuel tariff – with this type of tariff, you get both your gas and electricity from the same supplier with a single bill for both. Typically, a dual tariff can be cheaper than two single tariffs, though don’t assume this is always the case.

Tariff end date

If you’re on a fixed deal, this is the date on which your plan finishes. After this date, you could be moved onto a ‘default’ tariff chosen by your supplier, which could be the costly SVT.

You should make a note of this date in your diary so you’re ready to switch again at that time. Give yourself a month before the tariff end date to allow enough time for switching.

Method of payment

There are various ways to pay your energy bills, including:

  • Monthly direct debit – suppliers tend to offer lower prices if you pay this way

  • Payment on receipt of bill – you wait for your supplier to send your bill every three months and then make your payment by cheque or cash

  • Paperless billing – this is where you pay online and tends to be cheaper than getting paper bills

  • Paper bills – this is where you send payment in the post or pay in person at the Post Office

  • Pay by phone – with some suppliers, you may also be able to make payments over the phone or via an app

  • Prepayment meter – this enables you to pay for your gas and electricity before you use it. You can top up using a card, key or app.

Exit fees

This part of your bill will give details of any charges you will have to pay if you decide to leave your fixed term deal before the end date. Note that, in line with rules from regulator, Ofgem, your provider can’t charge you exit fees if you switch within 49 days of the end of your existing tariff.

Annual usage

This will show you how much energy you use in your home per year, measured in kilowatt hours (kWh).

Typically, you will be charged ‘per unit of gas or electricity’ – per kwh used. As a rough guide, one kWh is capable of boiling a kettle 10 times.

You can also find out information about your usage via the QR code (see below).

Meter reference numbers

A meter number is unique to your meter. Your bill will show either your electricity supply number or your gas meter point reference number (MPRN) – or both, if you’re signed up to a dual-fuel tariff.

The electricity supply number begins with an ‘S’ while the MPRN is a 10-digit number.

What if you want to switch?

If you want to move to a new supplier to get a cheaper deal, you’ll need details about your tariff. You’ll also need to enter information about your usage over the last 12 months.

For the most accurate comparison results, you’ll need to provide as much detail as you can. You can find that information on your most recent bill – or by scanning the QR code.

QR codes

QR (quick response) codes provide easy access to information via code readers on your smartphone. They were made mandatory on energy bills in 2014. The aim is to help consumers engage with their energy usage, and to make it easier to switch.

The code has all the key details you need to compare and switch providers, including the name of your supplier, the tariff you’re on, and your annual usage.

You can feed the information from your energy bill’s QR code into a price comparison website to ensure you’re on the best rate. Simply scan your bill, and you may be able to save hundreds of pounds.

Regulator Ofgem, stipulates that consumers should receive regular and accurate bills. It’s a requirement that bills must include information about your tariff and usage in kWh via a mandatory QR code.

Balance

This bit of your bill will show whether you are in credit or debit to your supplier. Look at this figure to help work out whether you need to increase – or decrease – your monthly direct debit to cover the amount of energy you use.

It’s quite common to overpay during the summer months, meaning credit can accrue on your account. While you can request to get this refunded, you may be better off leaving it to help cover additional energy usage during the winter.

The best way to keep your balance as accurate as possible is by giving regular meter readings to your supplier. You can also ensure your bills are accurate by getting a smart meter fitted, as this device will send information about your usage straight to your provider.

All homes in England, Scotland and Wales must be offered a smart meter by the end of 2025.

Discounts

If you are signed up to a dual-fuel tariff, there may be a ‘dual-fuel discount’ which will be applied to your bill.

There may also be discounts for opting for ‘paperless billing’ and paying by direct debit.

Priority Services Register

If you have particular needs when it comes to reading your bills, perhaps due to poor sight, suppliers must make provision for this.

These extra services will usually be offered for free to those on the Priority Services Register, a database of customers who are in vulnerable circumstances, such as the elderly and disabled.

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