In this guide, we have included some of the most common questions on energy, including how to set up and manage your energy, the UK’s energy infrastructure and a glossary of common key terms you’ll need to know – whether you’re new to the UK or you want to know more about your home.
In this guide:
Setting up energy in a new home
When you move into a new home in the UK the energy will already be set up and working. To ensure that you’re not left without power or heat, the previous occupant’s supplier will keep you connected, providing your energy on credit.
You need to inform this supplier that you’ve moved in as soon as possible. You can provide your opening meter readings, or ask these to be estimated for you. Your supplier will send you a welcome letter by post inviting you to set up an online account. They’ll bill you each month for your energy usage based on your meter readings.
If you have a pre-payment meter installed, you’ll pay in advance for your energy. You’ll still need to inform your supplier you’ve moved in and set up an account to add credit to your meter or you will lose power. Read more in the prepayment meter section below.
Energy billing in the UK
Once you’ve opened an account with your new supplier, you’ll be billed at the end of every month for your energy usage. Your bill is calculated based on your unit cost and the daily standing charge of your tariff. You’ll be charged the daily standing charge for each day in the billing period, and the per-kWh unit cost of each kWh of energy you use.
If you don’t submit a meter reading, your energy supplier will estimate your energy usage. Once they receive an updated meter reading, they’ll bill you for the difference or credit your account for any overpayment.
If your energy bill has a mistake or there’s anything you’re not sure about, let your energy supplier know right away. They can place a hold on the bill that’s been issued. Otherwise, not paying your energy bill promptly can lead to your account being sent to collections, affecting your credit score. If your energy bill remains unpaid, your energy supplier may fit a pre-payment meter
Pre-payment energy meters
A pre-payment or pre-pay meter needs to be topped up with credit or your home will lose power. You pay in advance for the gas and electricity you use, with your meter displaying your credit balance. As you use gas and electricity, the balance will count down. After the balance reaches zero, or lower if you have emergency credit, the gas or electricity will be disconnected and you’ll lose power until you top the meter up again.
Traditional pre-pay meters had a key or card you could add credit to at a local shop. Today, most suppliers allow you to top up your meter online or through their app.
How to read your energy bill
Your energy bill is full of essential info, but with so much going on it’s hard to find the details you need. This is our guide on how to read your energy bill, and where to find the most important figures.
We’ve marked what to look out for in our example below. Not all energy bills are identical, but they will have the same key details located in roughly the same place.
Click to learn about different parts of your energy bill:
1. Personal details
Before worrying about how to read your energy bill, make sure the bill you’re reading is really for you! Check the address given matches your property address, and that the bill isn’t addressed to a previous occupant or landlord. A bill addressed to ‘the occupier’ or ‘resident’ will usually mean your registrations are still being processed, or that you haven’t told your new supplier that you’ve moved in.
2. This month’s bill
You’ll find your current account balance at the top of the billing section. this is made up of the payments you have made this billing cycle, minus your recorded energy usage so far.
Unit Rate and Standing Charge
These figures are one of two parts that make up your monthly bill calculation. Your unit rate is the amount you pay for each kWh of energy you use, and your standing charge is a daily fee you pay for continued energy supply. If you’re on a standard variable tariff, your unit rate and standing charge together shouldn’t exceed the energy price cap.
Meter readings or estimated readings
Alongside your unit rates, these figures make up the second half of the calculation. Your readings record how much energy you’ve used this month. After they’re received, this figure is multiplied by your unit rate to calculate your monthly bill. If you don’t provide meter readings every month your supplier will use an estimated reading – these are usually marked with an [E]. Estimated readings are usually higher than actual usage, so submit meter readings early and often.
3. Account Details
Your account number will appear in the top right corner of your bill. You’ll need this to open an online account, or if you ever need to reach out to your supplier’s customer service.
4. Your next payment
Finally, at the bottom of the bill, you’ll find your next payment. This might not match your usage exactly – because households use more energy in winter, energy companies bill based on your expected usage over 12 months. Your payments over the year will match your usage, and you can adjust your monthly payment through your online account if you think your supplier is overestimating.
You should also see how your next payment will be taken – automatically if you have a direct debit, or by making a payment online or by phone.
How are UK homes supplied with electricity and gas?
Energy Supplier vs Distributor
Multiple companies are involved in providing your home with energy, including the network distributor(s) and the energy supplier(s).
Your network distributor is determined by the area you live in. You can’t change network distributors, and you won’t have an account with them. Your network distributor is responsible for the network that transports your energy and its infrastructure. You will have one local distributor for electricity and one for gas.
Your energy supplier is the company you have an account and contract with for the supply of your electricity and gas. These companies either generate or purchase energy and then sell it to UK consumers via the networks managed by energy distributors.
Energy suppliers include companies like British Gas, EDF, E.On, Octopus Energy and Scottish Power. You can have one supplier contract for electricity and gas or a different supplier for both fuels. Having gas and electricity supplied by the same company is almost always cheaper.
You can choose your energy supplier in the UK – read more about how to choose an energy supplier below. However, in March 2023, there are currently no tariffs available cheaper than the standard variable tariff.
The default tariff is used when you first move into a property and when an existing energy tariff expires and is protected by the government’s Energy Price Guarantee.
If you want to switch energy suppliers, make sure the EPG covers your new tariff.
Switching energy suppliers
Switching energy suppliers in the UK is simple. Once you’ve chosen the supplier and tariff you’d like, contact your new supplier to request the switch. They’ll inform your previous supplier of the change and close your account with them so you don’t have to. You’ll just need to provide a meter reading on the day of the change over so you aren’t charged for the same energy use twice.
Energy suppliers in the UK can seem similar. To help you choose, decide which of these factors is most important to you.
Your tariff determines how much you pay for your gas and electricity. Some customers will opt for whichever suppliers have the cheapest tariffs. Right now, the best value tariff is the same across all suppliers and is determined by the Energy Price Guarantee.
When choosing a fixed rate tariff, the tariff length determines how long your energy prices will remain the same. As energy prices trend upwards in the UK, as a general rule of thumb the longer a tariff is the better. A slightly cheaper 1-year tariff that then increases in price after 12 months may cost you more than an initially more expensive 2-year tariff that becomes cheaper once energy prices go up.
Currently, energy prices are so volatile that it’s hard to guarantee a longer tariff will provide the lowest overall cost. We currently recommend staying on a variable tariff until energy prices fall.
Customer service & ratings
An energy supplier’s review and customer service ratings give you an idea of the support you’ll get if you have any problems with your energy. Independent consumer advice services like Which? compile customer feedback to recommend particular suppliers based on their service.
If you’d like to switch to another supplier we would recommend Octopus Energy. Octopus Energy is Which’s No. 1 recommended supplier, and you can sign up for their flexible Octopus tariff while staying protected by the EPG.
Some suppliers offer a guarantee that your electricity will be generated from renewable sources or matches renewable certificates. If reducing your environmental impact is important to you, choosing one of these tariffs is an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint.
A tariff may have an exit fee in place that you’ll be charged if you try to change suppliers within a certain period. The terms of these exit fees vary between suppliers and tariffs, but if you expect to switch suppliers regularly you can opt for a tariff with no or low exit fees.
Why are there no tariffs on energy comparison sites in 2023?
Energy comparison sites use your estimated energy usage to compare existing energy tariffs to the default ‘standard variable’ tariffs customers are automatically placed on. These used to be some of the most expensive energy tariffs available. However, since 2021, these are actually the lowest-priced tariffs on the market.
As the default tariff is the cheapest available, energy price comparison sites are not finding any results when searching for a cheaper option. If you are on the standard variable tariff, which would be the energy tariff that was in place when you first moved in, then there are currently no cheaper energy tariffs available.
This applies whether you’re using an automatic comparison or a bespoke service like Please Connect Me to find the best rates – right now the tariff in place by default will be your cheapest option.
What to do in a power cut
What is a power cut?
If the electricity in your home suddenly stops it could mean you are having a power cut. A power cut is an interruption to the energy supply of a single area. It’s usually caused by emergency works in the area, an accident involving infrastructure, or extreme weather. If you experience a power cut in the UK, don’t panic! The average time to be without power is 30-50 minutes, so your electricity should be back on shortly.
You might be tempted to contact your energy supplier if you have a power cut, but the company you pay your bills to will not be able to give you any information. In the UK we buy energy from energy suppliers – British Gas, SSE, Octopus energy, and Bulb are all energy suppliers – but our network is managed by energy distribution network operators (DNOs). Your DNO is the organisation to contact in the event of a power cut, and there’s a single convenient line you can call for help and advice.
How can I tell if there is a power cut in the UK?
If your electric or gas supply stops suddenly, it might not be because of a power cut. The first thing to confirm is if the problem is only at your property. Check if the power is out in all the circuits in your home by checking the sockets and lights in every room. Look outside to see if your neighbours have their lights on, or call any local friends to check. If there is a power cut, the homes closest to you will also be affected.
If you’re unsure, energy network operators display the power cuts that they’re tracking on their website.
Who should I call when there’s a power cut in the UK?
The support line for a power cut in the UK is 105. This will connect you directly to your local DNO. You can inform them of the problem, and they should be able to estimate how long you will be without power. This is also the line to call if you see anything dangerous related to the power network, such as cables that have come down.
If you are having a gas emergency, such as a smell of gas in your home, you should call 0800 111999.
How can I prepare for a power cut?
It’s a good idea to have an easily accessible place in your home for emergency supplies. Set aside candles, matches, a torch and a power bank so you’re not left fumbling in the dark.
A power cut won’t affect your gas supply, but if you have electric heating you can include hand warmers in this emergency drawer. If the weather’s hot, keep the freezer stocked with ice packs and move food from your fridge to a cool box to keep it from spoiling.
If you have medical equipment that won’t run without power or another accessibility need then consider signing up for your supplier’s ‘priority service register’. This is a registry of households that would be more vulnerable in the event of a power cut.
Homes on this register are given advanced notice of planned power cuts and priority support in an emergency, as well as situation-specific support depending on your needs.
What should I do if it isn’t a power cut?
If you lose power in your home but it isn’t a power cut, for example if your neighbours still have energy, there are a few things to check. First, make sure a fuse hasn’t been tripped. If an electrical surge could cause damage to your home, your fuse box will instead trip a fuse, closing a particular circuit to protect it. Check your fuse box to make sure all the switches are facing the same way as the master fuse. If any fuses have tripped, flip them back and your power will be restored.
All the switches on your fuse box should face the same direction.
If your fuses are fine but you have no power, speak with your landlord or property manager about the issue. Your energy supplier should never disconnect you without notice, so it is more likely that work being done at your or a neighbour’s property has interrupted your supply. If your property manager does not know why you are without power, they will be able to arrange for an electrician to visit and inspect the property for faults.
There’s an exception: if you have pre-payment meters installed. If you run out of credit on your pre-pay meters the gas and electricity to your property will be paused until you add more credit. Most suppliers have a small emergency allowance to keep your power on when you first run out of credit.
You can usually add credit online or through your supplier’s app, but some older model meters may require you to add credit to a key in person at a local business. The details of your meters, and how you can top-up, will be included in your move-in inventory and in your online energy accounts.
Taking energy meter readings
Finding your meters
Before you can take a reading you’ll need to find where in your property your meters are located. This should be recorded in your property inventory, if not the best places to check are hallway or kitchen cupboards, near your fusebox or in your cellar or basement.
If you live in a flat your meters may be in a shared part of the building like a hall, landing or basement. The meters should be labelled with which Flat they record, but if you’re unsure you can check the serial number of each meter with your energy company to find the one for your flat.
How to take energy meter readings
There are a few different kinds of energy meters, but the most common types are:
All of these meters take readings in the same format, a five or six-digit number, with mechanical and digital meters also giving decimal readings.
To take a reading from a digital or mechanical meter, just make a note of the digits before the decimal place. If you have two rates for energy, usually a day and night rate, make a note of both the high and low readings and the total of the two. You may have to press a button next to the display to show both readings.
If you have a dial meter, make a note of the number the needle has passed on each dial. Check which direction the numbers of the dial are printed, they can be clockwise or anti-clockwise, to see which number has been passed. This should give you a five-digit reading. Occasionally there will be a sixth dial, coloured red and labelled 1/10ths – you can ignore this just like the decimal readings on other meters.
Disregard the numbers in red – the reading for the top meter would be 12345 kWh
How to take energy meter readings if you have an economy 7 meter
An Economy 7 meter is an energy meter that measures your usage at two rates, a higher day rate and a cheaper night rate. You should be able to see both readings by pressing the button on the front of the meter. Some Economy 7 meters have one button, and pressing it will cycle through Day, Night and Total readings. Alternatively, there may be two buttons labelled A (Day) and B (Night). Make sure not to report your total reading as either your day or night read!
Smart meters: what are they and should you install one?
A smart meter is a special model of digital meter that takes readings automatically, submitting them to your energy supplier every day. This saves you from having to take and submit manual meter readings while keeping your bills accurate. Another advantage of smart meters is that they allow you to see how much energy you’re using in real-time. Many homeowners use this feature to find vampire appliances that use energy even while they’re on standby and notice when they’ve left unused lights or heating switched on.
A smart meter won’t directly save you money – it’s up to you to use the information that they give you to cut your energy consumption. However, as you can claim a free smart meter directly from your energy supplier it’s worth requesting one if you think it will save you time taking meter readings or help you spot devices that are wasting energy.
Submitting your readings
Once you’ve made a note of the readings and the date they were taken you can submit them to your energy supplier. It’s easiest to do this through your online account or the supplier’s app, but most suppliers will also let you do submit readings by phone.
We’d recommend submitting meter readings every month where possible. This will stop you from building up more credit than you need over winter, or paying too much for your energy based on an overestimation.
Testing your energy meters
How to test your meters
There are two simple tests you can perform on a standard energy meter to check they’re working properly. These are known as the Creep Test and the Load Test.
How to perform a Creep Test
- Turn off your home’s power at the fuse box
- Wait five minutes and, then check your energy meter. If the reading on your meter is still increasing it’s highly likely the meter is faulty. It will still need to be tested by your energy supplier.
- If the numbers don’t increase then it’s less likely there’s a fault with the meter itself. You should perform a load test to see if a particular appliance in your home is causing an increase in energy use.
How to perform a Load Test
- As you turn the appliances in your home back on, power them on one by one leaving 10-15 minutes between each device.
- Each time you turn an appliance back on, check the meter and see if one, in particular, causes a large jump in energy use. If there is, it’s likely it’s this appliance that’s faulty rather than your meter.
Testing other types of energy meters
If you don’t have a standard credit meter, testing your energy meters will work slightly differently.
How to test if a smart meter is faulty
It’s usually easier to tell when a smart meter is faulty compared to traditional credit meters. Smart meters give you real-time information about how much energy you’re using at any time. This makes performing a creep test and load test much simpler as you can immediately see the effect of turning off your power, and each device as you reconnect it.
You can also check your smart meter is working correctly in smart mode, sending up-to-date readings to your energy supplier automatically. To do this, use the Citizen Advice Service’s automatic checker on their website. With a few details about your meter, this automatic checker can determine if your meter is reporting properly.
How to test faulty pre-pay energy meters
You can test pre-payment meters using the same methods as a credit meter. The only difference is that you need to watch for the credit balance on your meter decreasing, rather than your usage to increase.
How to check if your gas meter is faulty
You can perform a creep test on your gas meter by turning off every gas-powered appliance in your home, including your boiler or heating system.
If your meter read increases with everything turned off, you might have a gas leak – report it immediately to the National Grid Gas Emergency line on 0800 111 999.
What should I do if I have faulty energy meters?
Your first step when you find a problem with your energy meters should be contacting your energy supplier directly. From the day you reach out, your supplier has 5 working days to update you. When they come back to you, they need to include details in their reply of what they’ve done to investigate the issue and how they’ll be repairing it, as well as an offer to confirm everything in writing.
If your supplier doesn’t do this within 5 working days then they’ll have to pay you £30 compensation for each point they fail to address. They must do this within 10 working days or pay you an extra £30.
However, be warned – if your supplier checks the meter and finds that it’s not faulty they may ask you to pay a fee to cover the investigation.
If you’re not happy with the results of your supplier’s investigation, or with their proposed solution, the next step is to make a formal complaint. If you and your supplier can’t resolve things through their complaint service, you can then escalate the issue to the energy ombudsman.
Your energy meters are devices installed in your home to measure how much energy you’re using. You might have one each for gas and electricity, an electric meter and a heat meter or just an electric meter. There are several types of meters used in the UK which we’ve explained in more detail below.
A smart meter is a special model of digital meter that takes readings automatically, submitting them to your energy supplier everyday. This helps your supplier bill you accurately, saves you from having to submit meter readings manually and gives you real-time information about how much energy you’re using.
Standard Credit Meter
The most common energy meter installed in the UK. With a standard credit meter, you use as much energy as you would like, paying a bill based on your measured usage at the end of each month. Most credit meters require you to submit readings each month. If you don’t submit readings you’ll receive a bill based on your estimated consumption. You’ll be asked to pay the difference if your actual energy usage is less than this estimate.
Known as a pre-payment, pre-pay, card or key meter, these meters require you to pay in advance for the energy you’re using. Traditionally customers would load credit onto a card or key, although most suppliers have switched to a smart top-up system you can use from a computer or smartphone.
Your energy supplier is the company you buy your gas and electricity from. They’ll charge you for your energy use based on your current energy tariff. You can change your energy supplier at any time by setting up a new tariff. If you’re still under contract with your old supplier, you may have to pay an exit fee.
Your gas and electricity distributors manage the energy infrastructure around your home. Your distributor is determined by where you live and cannot be changed. You will not have an account or contract directly with your distributor.
A fixed-rate tariff is a contract with your electricity provider to supply you with energy at a set per-kWh cost and standing charge for an agreed-upon period.
Standard Variable Tariff
A Standard Variable Tariff is the default energy tariff customers are placed on when they have no contract for energy in place. It will be in place when you move into a new home, or if your previous energy tariff has expired. This tariff is variable in that energy suppliers can change the unit rates and standing charge at any time, but it cannot exceed the Energy Price Guarantee.
Currently, because of the high cost of energy and the price cap provided by the EPG, Standard Variable Tariffs are the best-value energy tariffs available in the UK.
Energy Price Guarantee
The Energy Price Guarantee is the maximum price an energy supplier can charge for a unit of gas and electricity. It determines unit cost and the standing charge, although it’s usually expressed as an annual total.
As of November 2022, the Energy Price Guarantee is currently set at £2,500 a year for the ‘average UK household’. This is an example household of 3-4 occupants using 12,000 kWh of gas and 2,900 kWh of electricity each year.
A power cut is an interruption to the electricity supply at your property. This can be caused by damage to your local infrastructure, or your energy distributor carrying out maintenance in your area. You can find out more about what to do in a power cut here.
Energy consumption in the UK is measured in kWh or kilowatt hours. This unit is not the amount of energy you use in an hour. Instead, 1 kWh is equivalent to the amount of energy you would use if you ran a 1000-watt appliance for one hour.
1kWh is the amount of energy used by 1000 (1 kilo) Watts over an hour. For example, a 100-watt lightbulb would consume 0.1 kWh/hour or a 2000 Watt dishwasher would use 2kWh/hour.
‘Green energy’ is a catch-all term used to refer to sustainable and renewable energy production. If you opt for a green tariff, you can expect your energy to either be generated through renewable methods or matched to renewable energy credits and offsets, although the details of what ‘green’ means vary between suppliers and tariffs.