Understanding energy bills
Beat energy bill jargon with our guide below
Bills vary from supplier to supplier, but all show the same sort of information. There tends to be a lot of jargon, so you’ll find our guide to understanding bills below.
Whether you pay quarterly or by monthly direct debit, you’ll receive a regular bill. Many people still receive paper bills, or you may have to log onto your energy supplier account online to view yours. It’s important to get an understanding of how to read your bill so that you can see what you’re paying, find cheaper deals and switch.
Before you get a comparison and switch, it’s useful to find the following details on your bill:
- Supplier name
- Tariff/plan name
- Amount of gas/electricity you use in kilowatt hours (kWh), or failing that how much you pay per month/quarter
Whoever your supplier is, bills should contain the following pieces of information:
Usually found on the first or second page of your bill. There’s hundreds of tariffs on the market, many sounding the same, so it’s really important to know the exact name of your current tariff to get an accurate comparison.
Your bill should show you the most recent reading and the one before that, and also whether they’re estimated (shown by an ‘E’ next to the reading) or actual (‘A’ if your meter was read by someone coming to your house, or ‘C’ for customer if you submitted it yourself).
These reference numbers uniquely identify your electricity (MPAN) and gas (MPRN) meters and might be needed if your exact meter can’t be determined when switching.
This shows where your account is up to financially. If you pay quarterly you’ll be asked to clear this amount. If you instead choose to pay by direct debit, this figure is typically just for information to let you know whether you’re in credit or debit. Suppliers will let your account go a certain amount in debit before increasing your monthly direct debit amount. You can always question this amount or any large credits/debits with your supplier. It’s also worth noting that everyone generally underpays in the winter (when usage is high) and overpays in the summer (when usage is lower). The correct direct debit amount is one that evens itself out over 12 months, so that you pay the same amount across the year.
Can you pay less?
Suppliers are obliged to show tariffs that could be cheaper for you. However, it is important to be aware that they only show their own tariffs, not tariffs from other suppliers. This means that there may be much better deals out there from other suppliers. You should definitely still do a comparison to check the whole market.
Previous 12 months cost
This is a quick and easy figure to see how much you paid in the past 12 months.
Next 12 months estimate
This is what your energy supplier thinks you will pay in the coming 12 months, if you stay on the same tariff and use the same amount of energy and is useful to compare with tariffs that you might switch to.
These must be shown in contrast to standard tariffs, where payment is by direct debit.
There should be a summary of the terms of your contract, e.g. the date your current tariff ends, early exit fees, etc. This is very important to check if you’re considering switching, to make sure that you won’t pay high exit fees if you leave before the tariff ends. If your current deal has ended, it’s likely that you’ll now be on a standard (and probably expensive!) rate, so act quickly, get a comparison and start saving today.
Unit rates, standing charges and Tariff Comparison Rates (TCR)
Gas and electricity usage is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh). Your bill will show you how many you’ve used since your last bill and what you paid per kWh, which acts as a useful comparison. They’re not the full story however; you should also look at your standing charge, a daily fee that every supplier charges on top of your usage. You will also find a Tariff Comparison Rate on your bill. This was introduced by industry regulator Ofgem, to try and make it simpler for customers to compare tariffs. The TCR is a single figure that factors in unit rates, standing charges and any discounts that may apply to your current plan, the idea being that you can compare a single figure against other suppliers.