Gas and electricity in the UK

Here at uSwitch we are often asked lots of questions about energy suppliers, bills and switching.

From 'what is a standard charge?' to 'What is an MPAN number?', here is our list of the most common questions we are asked - and the explanations you'll need to answer them.

Where does our gas and electricity come from?

More than 2,000 power stations across the UK generate our energy. They are powered by coal, gas and nuclear energy. Around 4% of our electricity comes from renewable energy installations including hydro power schemes and wind farms.

The UK is split into different regions for gas and electricity. Originally, each region had only one option for their energy supplier. However since regulation in 1999, consumers have been free to choose who supplies their gas and electricity.

How can I find out who my gas and electricity suppliers are?

Your gas and electricity bills will tell you who your energy suppliers are. If you don't have access to bills and need to find out who your gas supplieris, call the Meter Number Helpline on 0870 608 1524.

To find out who your electricity supplier is, you'll need to contact the distributor for your area.

What is dual fuel?

With a dual fuel plan you get your gas and electricity from the same energy supplier . This usually works out cheaper than a single fuel plan where you buy your gas and electricity from different suppliers.

This is because energy suppliers often offer discounts and reduced rates for dual fuel plans. Plus, with a dual fuel plan, you only have to deal with one energy company if you have any queries or problems with your gas and electricity. Compare dual fuel plans with uSwitch.

What gas and electricity plans are available?

Energy suppliers offer a range of pricing structures for gas and electricity, known as plans. It's possible to have a combination of these plans. As well as standard , or default plans, these include:

  • Economy 7 plans - where electricity used at night is charged at a cheaper rate
  • Green plans - which are designed to help combat climate change
  • Fixed plans - where the price of each unit of energy is fixed for a certain period. This does not mean that you will pay a fixed rate every month.
  • Capped plans - where the price of each unit of energy won't rise for a set period, but can go down if gas and electricity prices fall
  • Online plans - with these gas and electricity tariffs you can sign up online or manage your account completely via the Internet
  • Business energy plans - which are designed for commercial gas and electricity use. If you require a business tariff, simply contact our business energy team for a quote.
  • Social plans - energy companies must provide these to help the most vulnerable consumers pay their energy bills. Social tariffs have to be equal to the energy supplier's cheapest deal.

What is Economy 7 and can it help me save money?

If you opt for an Economy 7 plan, the electricity you use at night costs less than that used during the day. As a general rule, if you use at least 20% of your electricity at night, an Economy 7 plan can help you save.

To go on to an Economy 7 plan, you will need to change your meter to one with readings for day and night. Your energy supplier may charge you for this. If you want to switch from an Economy 7 plan, you'll also need to get your meter changed.

What is a standing charge?

This is a fixed charge made by your energy supplier for each day you are connected to the gas and electricity network. It pays for maintaining your supply and isn't related to the amount of gas and electricity you actually use.

Some energy plans don't have a standing charge - this is often referred to as Nil service charge / No Standing Charge. However, they may charge more per unit or you will have two unit rates i.e. a higher primary rate and a lower secondary rate.

What are online gas and electricity plans?

You can get online plans . These plans offer a way to make savings on your gas and electricity bills, with energy suppliers offering discounts for customers who opt for them.

Some plans only require you to sign up online to receive a discount, whilst with others 'online' means that you will get your bills online and enter your meter readings online too. You will usually be required to pay via direct debit with this type of plan.

What is green energy?

Green energy is electricity derived from renewable or clean resources such as hydro energy , wind energy , solar energy , geothermal energy and biofuels. Nuclear power plants do not emit carbon dioxide, and as a result are considered to be a green energy source.

Green energy plans work by providing electricity from renewable or clean sources to the National Grid, which will then be used to power your home.

How are my gas and electricity bills calculated?

Your energy bills are calculated on the basis of how many units of energy you consume. You may also pay a standing charge .

When your meter is read, the energy company will subtract the amount shown on the previous meter reading from the most recent one to work out your bill.

If your meter isn't read, you will get an estimated bill based on your past use or a standard rate. Units of electricity are measured in kilowatt hours . This is shown on your electricity meter .

Gas meters measure the volume of gas you used in cubic feet or cubic meters and the gas companies convert this into kilowatt hours. The price charged for each unit of energy varies according to what pricing plan or tariff you are on.

What information should my gas and electricity bills contain?

Your gas and electricity bills should give:

  • your current meter reading
  • your last meter reading
  • the amount of electricity or gas you've used
  • the period this covers
  • VAT charges
  • unit costs.
Further reading: how to read and understand your energy bill .

What are the options for paying my gas and electricity bills?

Energy suppliers offer discounts for customers who pay by direct debit, making this the cheapest way to pay your bills.

You can choose a fixed Direct Debit , where you pay the same amount monthly or quarterly, spreading your energy payments over the year, or a variable Direct Debit , where you pay at regular intervals based on the amount of gas and electricity you've used.

You can also pay for gas and electricity by:

How often should I read my gas and electricity meters?

To avoid inaccurate estimated gas and electricity bills, it is recommended that you call your energy supplier with your actual meter readings when you get your bill .

This ensures that you make any savings you're entitled to and don't get any nasty surprises when your energy supplier reads your meter.

What are MPAN and MPRN numbers and where do I find them?

MPRN (meter point reference number) and MPAN (metering point administration number) are the unique reference numbers for your gas and electricity supplies .

The MPAN is also called a "supply number" or "S number". You can find it on your electricity bill. If you don't have a bill, contact your energy supplier.

Your MPRN, also called an "M number" can be found on your gas bill. If you don't have a bill, contact the Meter Number Helpline on 0870 608 1524 and ask for your number.

What do the symbols next to my gas and electricity meter readings mean?

  • (E) estimated reading
  • (A) actual meter reading
  • (C) your energy supplier has used the reading you provided (or this can mean "company estimated read")
  • (R) a final reading from a meter that has now been removed
  • (N) the first reading from a new meter
  • (F) a final meter reading when leaving a property, discontinuing a supply or switching energy supplier.

Who should I contact if I have a complaint about my energy supplier?

First, you need to contact your energy supplier and go through their complaints procedure. If you need advice, go to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service. or call 08454 04 05 06.

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