Four energy cons to avoid as firms try to trick you into paying more

BRITS are facing sky-high gas and electricity bills and there are some tricks you should be aware of to avoid paying even more.

We explain how to make sure you're getting the best energy deal as prices continue to rise.

Bills are already at record highs and are set to rise even further in April when the new energy price cap is introduced.

Millions of households have been pushed onto the cap when their supplier has gone bust or their fixed deal ended.

Switching energy firms used to be the top tip to save money, but there are now no fixed deals on the market that are cheaper than the standard variable tariff.

Most suppliers will warn customers that fixed tariffs are currently more expensive as wholesale energy costs have soared.

But there are some tricks to watch out for that could mean you end up paying more.

We explain how to make sure you're getting the best deal.

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Trick 1: Estimated usage

Suppliers will often offer you deals based on your estimated usage, but you could end up paying a different price.

You might also be sent bills based on estimated usage.

While it might be easier to go with the figure you're given, you should work out how much energy you're actually using.

Peter Smith, director of policy and advocacy at fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA), said: "When a customer has a smart meter, it accurately records their energy usage, but we are seeing many customers still getting estimated bills or having requests to increase their direct debits that don’t correlate to their actual usage. This must change."

How to avoid it

Check your meter regularly so you know how much energy you're actually using.

That will also help you see where you can cut your bills, and will help you budget so you know how much your bills should be.

A smart meter can help you track your energy usage and will send accurate information to your supplier.

If you don't have a smart meter, you can work out how much energy you're using in a week by reading your meter, making a note and checking again in a week.

Make sure to regularly give these readings to your supplier.

Adam French, consumer rights expert at Which? said: "No matter what tariff you're on, you should check your meter regularly so you know how much energy you are using to make sure your supplier is making accurate estimations about your usage.

"Keeping an eye on your energy consumption also means you can try to cut your usage if necessary and will give you a better idea of how much your bill should be in advance."

Trick 2: Different names for standard tariffs

The standard variable tariff (SVT) is currently the cheapest energy deal on the market, unless you fixed before prices soared.

But each supplier calls their SVT by a different name, and it's not always clear which one it is.

For example, Octopus Energy's standard deal is called Flexible, E.On's is called EnergyPlan, Bulb's is called Vari-fare and Ovo's is Simpler.

The various names can make it hard to tell the difference between price cap protected tariffs and fixed deals, which are much more expensive at the moment.

How to avoid it

Companies aren't breaking the rules by using different names but you should take your time to look for the SVT.

Check the unit rates and standing charges on the tariffs you're offered to make sure it's the cheapest deal.

Mark Bennett, energy expert at energyhelpline.com, said: "Currently the cheapest energy deal you will be able to find on the market is the price capped standard variable tariffs that your supplier will offer.

"These can come under a number of different names, so make sure you double check what the unit rates and standing charges are on any deal you are offered."

These are the rates until the end of March:

Electricity

  • £0.21 per kWh
  • Daily standing charge: £0.25

Gas

  • £0.04 per kWh
  • Daily standing charge: £0.26

The price cap will change from April 1, and these will be the new rates:

Electricity

  • £0.28 per kWh
  • Daily standing charge: £0.45

Gas

  • £0.07 per kWh
  • Daily standing charge: £0.27

Trick 3: Hiding variable tariffs

Similarly, many suppliers don't display their standard variable rate tariffs as prominently as the more expensive, fixed deals.

We looked at the websites of several major suppliers and struggled to find the price cap protected deals.

A new rule announced this week means companies will have to advertise all deals, which should make things clearer for consumers.

But other companies such as Shell Energy and SSE have removed fixed deals and recommend that prospective customers stick with their current suppliers.

How to avoid it

Don't just go for the first deal you see and make sure to look for the SVT.

If you can't find it online it's worth calling the supplier to check.

Trick 4: Fixed deals

Most firms are still offering fixed deals, even though they're more expensive than the standard variable tariff.

Some people may prefer to fix, as it offers certainty and you'll know exactly how much you'll be paying.

But latest advice from Moneysavingexpert founder Martin Lewis is to stick with the price cap.

How to avoid it

Martin said earlier this month that the cheapest fix on the market at the moment is 68% more than the current energy price cap, which is set at £1,277, a year.

Even if the price cap rises again in October, as experts have predicted, the current fixed deals are still more expensive.

Stick with the price cap tariff for now, but keep an eye out for good value fixed deals.

Adam French added: "While new fixed-rate tariffs are more expensive than variable deals at the moment,  it’s worth keeping an eye out in case better deals become available in the next few months, now that the price cap has been announced."

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