Understanding energy contracts
15 What information should I ask a potential supplier before entering a contract?
Your contract is your agreement with your supplier, and it is protected by law. So you should get all the information you need to make the right decision about whether to sign a contract with an energy supplier.
The best way to carry out a price comparison is to use a Confidence Code accredited switching site. They will have information about all of the tariffs offered by suppliers. See Question 26.
You should ask a potential supplier for information about:
- the terms and conditions of tariffs
- length of contract (if fixed term)
- unit prices of gas and electricity
- penalties – for example if you want to end your contract early
- cancellation rights
- standing charges
Always consider every bit of your contract carefully before you agree to it. This includes the terms and conditions. If you find them difficult to understand, you can ask the supplier or an independent adviser to explain what they mean.
If something is not in your contract it is not part of your deal. Never let sales agents force you into signing a contract immediately. Ask for all the information you need and ask them to come back or telephone another day once you have had time to read through the details.
When agreeing a contract with a face to face sales agent, make sure that the sales agent does not leave any blanks. Take time to check the whole document.
Your supplier should give you a short period of time (usually two weeks) to change your mind about the contract you have signed.
16 What is the maximum length of time a supplier is able to tie a consumer into in a contract?
There is no maximum length. Some suppliers do offer fixed term contracts (contracts for a specific period), but these generally last for one to two years.
17 Once I have signed a contract will I be sent a full copy of it?
You should have a full contract either at the time you sign or as soon as possible after. You should not sign a contract if you believe that any part of it may be missing. If a sales agent says that part of your contract will be sent in the future, do not sign until you have received all the information you need to make a decision about whether this is the right agreement for you.
You can ask your supplier to send you a copy of your contract at any time.
If you agree to a deal online, your supplier will send you a copy of your contract in the post. Or it will send an email that includes the terms and conditions of your contract or a link to the website where you can find this information.
18a Will I be asked for a deposit or connection charge when I sign a new energy contract?
There are many reasons a supplier can ask you for a deposit (a lump sum of money) before it supplies you with gas or electricity. For example, you may have had problems paying bills in the past or you may not be on the electoral roll (the list of people who can vote in this country).
There is no maximum deposit, but it has to be a reasonable amount. You do get the money back with interest after a year as long as you pay your bills on time.
Before it asks you for a deposit, a supplier has to give you other options, including:
- a prepayment meter
- fuel direct scheme (taking payment from your benefits)
- Direct Debit scheme
- regular payment scheme
If none of these options are right for you, you can try proving to the supplier that you have a good credit history or giving the name of someone who will guarantee to pay your energy bills if you fail to pay them. You can also look around for a supplier which doesn’t require you to pay a deposit.
You will not have to pay a connection charge if you already have a meter in your home. See Question 37b for getting a new electricity or gas connection to your home.
18b What steps should I take if I think that one of my contract terms has been changed without adequate notice? Who should I contact?
Your supplier should give you 30 days advance notice of any significant variations to your contract such as price changes.
If you are unhappy with your supplier’s actions you should follow the complaints procedure explained in Question 30b.
19 Is there a minimum level of supply quality? Am I entitled to compensation if the predetermined quality of supply is not met?
Yes. There are:
- minimum standards and standard compensation amounts for gas transporters and electricity distributors
There is also compensation available if certain standards are not met by suppliers, for example missed appointments:
These apply to all consumers.
If you think your supply does not meet these standards, you should follow the complaints procedure set out in Question 30b.
20 How often does my supplier have to read my meter? How often should I be provided with a bill based on actual meter readings?
Gas suppliers have to take all reasonable steps to inspect your meter every two years. This applies even if you start a contract with a supplier towards the end of the two years. They are still responsible for making sure the meter is read on time.
With electricity, suppliers also have to take all reasonable steps to inspect every two years from the date they become your supplier.
Most suppliers will try to read your meter quarterly or at least annually. You can provide a meter reading at any point. Contact details for doing this are usually provided by suppliers on their bills and other communications with you. If your bill is a lot more or less than it should be, you can contact your supplier with a reading and ask for a new bill. If you do not read your meter yourself, your bills may be less accurate and you may have to ‘catch up’ on payment with future bills.
If you have problems reading your meter, you can ask to go on your supplier’s Priority Service Register See Question 5. You can ask them to read your meter four times a year free of charge.
21 When and how is my meter read?
You can read your meter yourself, but at least once every two years your supplier will send an agent to check the meter.
All agents should have a card with a photograph that proves they are from your supplier. There are no situations in which an agent should turn up without this card.
If somebody says they have come to read your meter but they do not have an identification card from your supplier, do not let them into your home.
If it makes you feel safer, you may be able to arrange an appointment for your supplier to come to read your meter at a specific time.
22 How and when should I be notified of price changes by my supplier?
Your supplier has to give you 30 days notice if it is going to change its prices.
If you know your supplier is going to increase prices, you can switch to another supplier with cheaper prices. You should not be charged to leave your contact early under these circumstances if you give notice before or on the day the price goes up.
23 What happens if my supplier goes out of business?
There is no reason to be worried if your supplier goes out of business (goes bankrupt). You will still get your energy supply.
But you may notice that your bills come less regularly. This is because a new supplier will buy the business or be put in charge of the company by Ofgem.
This may take a while to organise, so you should make sure you put enough money aside to pay for the energy you are using.
If Ofgem puts a new supplier in charge you will go on a deemed contract with a different price. If there is a trade sale the price will stay the same at the start but the supplier will change.
You should also take a reading as soon as you hear your supplier is going out of business. You may need this to check bills in the future.
You may want to look at your contract to check what it says about ending your contract early and termination fees. Your energy supply will not be cut off, so there is no need to accept the first deal that sales agents offer you.
Organisations that help energy consumers (Questions 1 -10)
Understanding your energy bills (Questions 11-14)
Switching supplier (Questions 24-33)
Moving home (Questions 34-36)
Gas and electricity network issues (Questions 37-41)
Resolving complaints and problems with energy companies (Questions 42-43)
Additional support for households (Questions 44-48)