Switching energy suppliers – your rights
With energy suppliers, as with many service suppliers, it often pays for the customer to shop around and take advantage of any potentially cheaper deals available. Nearly all energy suppliers will publish their charges on their website and there are also customer help lines and contact email addresses should you have any specific cost queries.
How much are you being charged?
Before you consider switching energy suppliers you should make sure you are fully aware of how much you are being charged and on what basis by your current energy supplier. You should carefully check the bills you receive from your current supplier (often issued quarterly).
It is important, however, to note any future price rises that your current energy supplier may have in store and what time of the year it is (people tend to use less energy in the summer). As a result of this, comparison websites are a very useful guide for showing what different energy companies charge, and how they go about charging for it.
One important thing to note and calculate into the equation is whether you will have to pay a penalty charge as a result of leaving your contract with your current supplier. This should be detailed in your contract and, if you cannot locate this, the information should be provided to you on request.
Often such penalties will only apply shortly after you have commenced your contractual agreement with a new supplier and so it may well be beneficial to bide your time before you switch suppliers. Energy suppliers are not allowed to charge penalties for switching suppliers in circumstances where your contract is up for renewal and so it might be worth taking legal advice should your supplier insist on such a penalty charge.
Don’t get charged twice
If you do decide to change your energy supplier there are certain steps that you should take to ensure you are not charged twice for the same service. Generally, you are required to give your current energy supplier 28 days’ notice that you wish to switch suppliers. You should ensure this is done in writing and that the letter is dated (it may be beneficial to send using a recorded delivery service). It is also vitally important to take a reading of the meter on the first day of your contract with the new supplier. If you can evidence this then it will show both the new, and the old supplier, exactly what you should be charged by each and therefore reduce any conflict at a later date.
A person looking to switch energy suppliers must ensure they have paid the entire amount they owe to their current supplier. If you fail to do so, not only will a supplier potentially take proceedings against you, including a claim for interest, but also the supplier may actually prevent you switching suppliers as a result, which could cause a huge disturbance to your everyday life.
If you are unhappy with your ability to switch suppliers, or with an energy supplier’s behaviour towards you, you should contact Consumer Direct or complain to the Energy Ombudsman. A solicitor should also be able to assist in this area should you need to take the matter further.