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Switching strategy checklist

Energy switching has become a bit of a dirty word recently. Politicians want us to believe that it is an incredibly hard thing to do! Bah Humbug.

Switching energy supplier is NOT difficult. It's just not incredibly exciting and it's certainly not cool.

Yes, we freely admit that talking about energy switching does not make good party conversation. We tried and went home alone.

But still, it's about money - your money - and that is important. So as you set out to find your next tariff deal, here are some of the things to bear in mind.

1) Fixed tariffs are better than variable tariffs. A fixed price tariff guarantees the price of the unit rates (what you pay per kilowatt hour) for a period of time. These tariffs tend to come at a premium - you'll rarely see them at the top of the savings table - so you need to activate the 'Fixed' filter to the left of the results table to see what is available.

2) Size matters. The longer the fixed price period the better. This is again a generalisation, but that is because it is a generalisation that is generally true. Consider that you'll be using about 70% of your annual usage in the 6 colder months of the year and then look for a deal that fixes you for as many winters as possible. It's a bit like the tortoise and the hare fable. Signing up to a cheap variable deal is the 'hare' - really cheap at the beginning, but not likely to last the distance. Our fixed price tortoise, on the other hand, will last the distance and stay cheap as prices keep on rising.

3) After the fix... Your fixed deal is likely to revert to an expensive Standard rate deal once it expires, which means it will be time to look again for a better tariff 1 month before the expiry date - because that is how long a switch takes. When that time comes, we recommend that you do not enter your expiring fixed tariff as your current tariff, but the supplier's standard tariff. It would also greatly help if you knew how much energy you use per year in terms of kiloWatthours (kWh) - your supplier can tell you that if you cannot find your annual statement - instead of what you pay. That way you have everything you need for an accurate forward-looking price comparison and a good basis to choose your next supplier and deal.

4) What do I need to know? Your address, the name of your supplier, the name of your tariff, how you pay and your annual consumption (best in kilowatthours). All of which takes less than ten minutes to find out (a call to your supplier will sort it out).

5) But I just moved in and I know nothing! OK, we thought of that. Tick the box that says "I have recently moved home" where you enter your postcode and we will automagically take care of that. Trust us, this works!

6) Will I be penalised for switching? If you are on a Standard rate - no. If you have signed up to a Fixed deal and want to switch away before the end of the Guarantee period - probably. If you're not sure, call your supplier. Takes minutes.

7) How often should I switch. You can switch every 28 days (the typical notice period for a Standard Rate tariff) if you wish. Bear in mind though that most Fixed Tariff deals lock you in via a penalty payment, should you choose to leave early. Our advice is to switch once a year for people on variable tariffs, and 1 month before the end of a Fixed Price tariff.

8) Tenant issues. A lot of tenants ask us whether they are allowed to switch supplier. Some of them find that the landlords or lettings agents have added clauses in their rental contract that seem to disallow them from switching to a cheaper deal. To clarify - unless the landlord pays the bills, which means the bill is not in the tenant's name, tenants cannot be legally barred from switching. You can be asked to switch back to the old supplier when you move out, but your landlord or letting agent does not have the right to tell you which utility you should use.

So there you go. If you come across a difficulty that we have not thought of - let us know . Otherwise, you know what to do.