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Question: I’m worried about the rising cost of gas and electricity. Is now a good time to choose a fixed-rate energy tariff or should I stick with my provider’s standard tariff?
Answer: Energy prices have soared through the roof in the last year and as Prime Minister, one of Liz Truss’s first measures was to cap the price paid at £2,500 for the next two winters.
But while this sounds like good news, it’s still a lot to pay and significantly higher than even six months ago.
Many people like you are now questioning whether to fix their energy bills or to keep paying their provider’s standard tariff. While it depends a bit on your personal circumstances, my advice is not to fix yet.
This is because while fixing was a great idea in the past, now it’s usually the most expensive option.
To make sense of it we need to look back on the last year. In April consumers with a variable tariff saw their bills rise by 54% on average to £1,971 a year. They were set to go up again, by 80%, in October before the government announced the latest price cap.
The price cap, managed by regulator Ofgem, means the amount paid per unit of energy won’t change for those on a standard tariff.
However, even with bills at an average of £2,500, many people will struggle to pay and are trying to work out if they should fix or stick with a variable tariff.
Just a year ago, fixing was a great idea, as it meant you were protected from fluctuations in the price of energy in what has always been a volatile wholesale market.
But with the energy crisis in full swing, fixing has become exceptionally expensive. Fees for leaving the contract early (exit fees) have hit astronomical rates too, increasing tenfold and costing up to £600.
When you ‘fix’ your energy bill, you are entering into a contract with the energy provider to pay a set amount each month for the energy you use.
This isn’t a flat rate – like £150 per month. The fix is based on the unit price for the energy you’ve consumed, though you may get ‘guide prices’ so you have an idea of what people living in a similar property are paying.
The government has suggested that all consumers should ‘get the benefit of the new £2,500 price cap’, not just those paying their provider’s standard tariff.
But although people who fixed energy prices at an expensive rate will get a discount, the way this is calculated is enormously complicated and many people may find they will still lose out as a result.
So, if you’re trapped in to an energy deal that’s way more expensive and feel you were pressured in to taking it out, ask the firm to remove the exit fee or make a formal complaint.
For now, my advice is not to fix a deal unless you are absolutely sure it’s good value. We don’t know all the details of the government’s plans yet, or what the future might hold.
Therefore, it’s worth biding your time, keeping an eye on the news, and using trusted, free guides, like MoneySavingExpert to find out about your rights and the best deals out there.
Martyn James is consumer rights expert, campaigner, presenter and journalist
About our expert: Martyn James is consumer rights expert and campaigner with over two decades of experience covering every business sector in the UK, from finance to utilities. As a broadcaster and presenter, he appears on all the national television channels and is a regular guest and presenter on Rip Off Britain, Morning Live and The One Show, as well as commentating on breaking stories for all the news channels and bulletins. As a journalist, he has written for all the national newspapers and regularly features in the news.
Mouthy Money Your Question Answered compiled by Rebecca Goodman
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Martyn James is consumer rights expert and campaigner with over two decades of experience covering every business sector in the UK, from finance to utilities. As a broadcaster and presenter, he appears on all the national television channels and is a regular guest and presenter on Rip Off Britain, Morning Live and The One Show, as well as commentating on breaking stories for all the news channels and bulletins. As a journalist, he has written for all the national newspapers and regularly features in the news.