Trading Standards Institute Advice

Gas and electricity competition - information for consumers

In the guide

This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales

You could save money by switching tariffs or energy suppliers but comparing suppliers and choosing the right deal can be confusing.

Energy suppliers can offer you up to four core tariffs for gas and four core tariffs for electricity (a tariff means the rate you pay for gas and electricity). Check which tariff suits your circumstances then compare tariffs between suppliers. Find out which services the energy supplier provides and which discounts may be available to you.

You have rights and remedies under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 as the energy supplier is providing you with a service.

Energy suppliers must comply with the Consumer Contracts (information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 when they contract to provide you with energy off-premises (such as in your home) or at a distance and without face to face contact (such as online). You have the right to cancel most off-premises and distance contracts and the cancellation period is 14 days.

The law

When an energy supplier agrees to supply you with gas and/or electricity you are both making a legally binding contract that is covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This law sets out what you are entitled to expect from every contract that involves the supply of a service, such as the supply of gas and electricity. The 'Supply of services - your consumer rights' guide gives more information.

If you enter a contract because an energy supplier misled you or because he used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give you rights to redress: the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. See the guide 'Misleading & aggressive practices - your right to redress' for more information.

Choosing a supplier

The price charged for gas and electricity varies between energy suppliers. They can offer up to four core gas and four core electricity tariffs and contracts that give you a choice over how you manage and pay for your gas and electricity. To make it easier to understand your bill, there is only one charging structure made up of a standing charge and the unit prices of the gas and electricity. You should obtain as much information as you can on the different energy suppliers and their products before switching. Be aware that if one energy supplier cuts / increases its prices the others may follow. Wait until prices stabilise before going ahead.

It is important that you calculate how much energy you are currently using and how much you pay for it. This will ensure that any comparisons you make between tariffs, services and contracts are accurate. The method you use to pay for your gas and electricity (as in direct debit, prepayment or other payment method) will also be a financial consideration. You can check your online statement, your annual statement (if you still receive a paper copy) or ask your current supplier to help you work it out. You can then use this information to compare suppliers or to see if your current supplier can offer a cheaper deal.

There are price comparison websites that will help you find a better deal. Consider using price comparison websites that are signed up to the Ofgem Confidence Code. This code of practice, which is managed by Ofgem (the UK gas and electricity regulator), sets out the rules that member price comparison websites must abide by; they must be independent, impartial and the information must be accurate. For more information visit the Ofgem website

You can also receive advice and information on switching your supplier from the Citizens Advice consumer service.

Energy tariffs & discounts

Tariffs offered by energy suppliers take account of the type of meter you have (standard or prepayment) and may include:

  • standard tariff
  • green tariffs - support environmental schemes
  • fixed price - guarantees the unit price you pay for your energy for a specified time
  • capped tariff - guarantees the unit price of your energy will not rise above a specified level for a specified time
  • feed in tariff - If you generate your own electricity, by having solar panels installed for example, you will be on a feed in tariff where you are paid by your energy supplier for the electricity you have generated

Your energy supplier can also offer a discount for having a dual fuel account (you get your gas and electricity from the same supplier) or managing your account online.

What should I ask before signing a contract?

It is an important element of a contract that the energy supplier must give you specific pre-contact information as set out in the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. The 'Buying from business premises - on-premises contracts explained', 'Buying by internet, phone & mail order - distance contracts explained' and 'Buying at home - off-premises contracts explained' guides explain what these pre-contract requirements are. If an energy supplier does not provide the required information, you can make a claim to have your costs (if you have any) reimbursed. Ask your prospective new supplier to go through the main points of the contract before you sign.

Process of switching supplier

The transfer process, which is organised by your new supplier, should take about 17 days but can take up to three weeks after your cancellation period has ended. You should inform your current supplier that you intend to switch. Your new supplier will contact you for your meter readings. Always keep your own record of these readings. Your current supplier has the right to object to a transfer (if you are in debt with them, for example). Ask about arrangements for paying off outstanding debts.

Will I be able to change my mind once I've agreed a contract?  

The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulation 2013 give you a right to cancel most contracts. If you agree a contract 'off-premises' (such as on your doorstep, at home or at your place of work) or at a 'distance' and without face-to-face contact with the supplier (such as via the internet or by phone or email) you may have a 14 day cancellation period. The 'Buying at home - off-premises contracts explained'  and 'Buying by internet, phone & mail order - distance contracts explained'  guides give more information.

Double charging

The process of switching suppliers does not always run smoothly. Watch out for an overlap where your old supplier continues to charge you when a new supplier has taken over your supply. If this happens, try to resolve it directly with the supplier that has incorrectly charged you. Provide details of the new supplier's contract and start date and ensure it has your final meter readings, as agreed with the new supplier.

See the 'What can I do if I have a complaint?' section of this guide for details of who you can complain to.

Energy misselling

All energy suppliers are required to meet standards set by Ofgem that deal with how gas and electricity is sold to you.

The energy supplier or their representative may fail to meet their obligations - you may have been subjected to high pressure selling, been misled over features of a particular service, given false information on potential savings, had your contract falsified or progressed without your consent. You may only become aware of this when you receive a 'welcome' letter or copy contract from a new supplier. You have the right to complain. The 'What can I do if I have a complaint?' section of this guide gives details of who you can complain to.

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 prohibit commercial practices that are unfair to consumers. If an energy supplier misleads you or engages in an aggressive commercial practice and you make a decision to make a contract that you would not otherwise have done, the supplier may be in breach of the Regulations.

Some suppliers have moved away from cold-call doorstep selling as a method of persuading consumers to switch, as they recognise that consumers do not like being pressured on the doorstep.

If you have been transferred by mistake or without your consent, you can switch back. Ofgem has introduced the Erroneous Transfer Customer Charter. It recommends best practice for suppliers, including writing to a consumer to verify that they do want to switch before going ahead. In the event of an erroneous transfer, you can contact either the old supplier or the new one to complain. Within five working days you should be given clear information on the steps that will be taken to resolve the matter and, if you request it, details of compensation arrangements. Within 20 working days you should be informed that you are being returned to your old supplier.

What can I do if I have a complaint?

In the first instance contact your energy supplier to give them the opportunity to resolve your complaint. Check your bill or visit the energy supplier's website for details on where to direct your complaint.

You can contact Ombudsman Services: Energy. This organisation is approved by Ofgem to deal with consumer complaints about energy bills, misselling, problems with energy supply and problems with switching supplier. The service is independent and free for consumers.

If you have been misled or the energy supplier has behaved aggressively, report your complaint to the Citizens Advice consumer service.

Gas & electricity competition - consumer checklist

  • beware of bogus callers - always ask for and check identification. If you are unsure do not open the door 
  • if you are asked to sign any document, such as an introduction form or proof of visit form, check that it is not an agreement. If you have any doubts, do not sign
  • if you have any special requirements such as a prepayment meter or arrangements for paying bills, check that the supplier can accommodate you. The supplier is not allowed to refuse your business on the basis that you have special requirements
  • how much will the gas or electricity cost? If you are looking at price comparison tables check that the same level of service is on offer
  • check to see if you have to pay your supplier an exit fee to leave your fixed-tern contract
  • how long is the contract? Will you be tied to that supplier for a number of years? What about cancellation charges?
  • are there any standing charges? If so, how much?
  • what payment options are there?
  • how often will you get a bill or statement?
  • what other services are on offer? Are there any energy saving measures that could reduce the bill?
  • be aware that you can switch suppliers if you have a smart meter but your new supplier might not offer all the smart meter services such as remote meter readings
  • are there any dual fuel deals that could reduce the bill?
  • what help can the supplier give to repair or service your boiler, gas or electricity appliances?
  • what help can the supplier offer if you have difficulty paying your bills?
  • give your existing supplier 28 days' notice of your intention to switch
  • take a meter reading on the determined date of transfer to ensure that you are not charged twice for the same fuel
  • sales representatives can be very persuasive so be careful. Don't commit yourself until you are totally satisfied that you have all the information you need and never sign a document until you have read the small print

Key legislation

Last reviewed/updated: August 2016

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit the Citizens Advice website or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.

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