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Energy bills - understanding your electricity bills

Energy bills - understanding your electricity bills

YouGov research on behalf of uSwitch found 60% of people find their energy bills confusing. They find it hard to understand the gas and electricity unit pricing and costs, and voted energy suppliers the worst offenders of confusing bills, beating water companies, mortgage lenders, councils and phone providers.

Lock in a fixed energy deal today

Although energy prices are due to fall slightly in October, you can save more by switching to a fixed deal today. Enter your postcode below to get started.

You can get help reading your British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, npower, ScottishPower, SSE, First Utility or OVO bill below with our handy bill breakdown guides. Alternatively, you can watch our short video on how to get the info off your bill that you need to switch, and get helpful insight from our Energy Expert, Tom Lyon.

If the idea of trying to decode your energy bill is too much, learn more about the uSwitch app for iPhone or Android. You can use it to scan your energy bill's QR code for an instant, bespoke energy comparison.

How do I read my energy bill?

Help me read my bill

We've put together a sample of the most popular suppliers' energy bills. These energy bill breakdowns might not look exactly like your bills — because you may pay differently than the sample, have a different meter, or only have one fuel — but the bill layout for your supplier should generally be the same, making it easy to spot key items like your annual consumption, plan name, early exit fee info and annual usage.

The key information on major suppliers' energy bills

Finding the key information on your British Gas energy bill

Finding the key information on your EDF bill

Finding the key information on your E.ON bill

Finding the key information on your npower bill

Finding the key information on your ScottishPower bill

Finding the key information on your SSE bill

Finding the key information on your Ovo bill

Finding the key information on your First Utility bill

Energy bills explained video

  • Read the Transcript

    Amy: Hi Tom, I’ve got my energy bill here. It’s very confusing. I need some help because there’s a lot of numbers. I don’t know what information I need to get from it. And, I want to switch but I don’t really know where to start.

    Tom: I’m not surprised. It’s incredibly complicated, there’s loads of different terms that no normal person really understands. The good news is, though, if you do persevere, and we can help go through your bill and pick out some of those important facts, the good news is that there are hundreds of pounds worth of savings available if you can manage it.

    Amy: That’s good. I could do a lot with that haha.

    Tom: So is this your bill?

    Amy: Yes.

    Tom: Cool. Okay, I see you’re with British Gas. They’re the largest supplier, and they’re one of the example bills that we’ve got on our website. Do you know what tariff you’re on?

    Amy: No, I don’t think so.

    Tom: Okay, cool. So, it tells you here (points at bill). It says that you’re on their standard tariff. Now, a supplier’s standard tariff is essentially their most rubbish tariff that you’re going to be on if you’ve never done anything about it. So, if you’ve never switched, it’s their kind of default tariff. There’s no benefits, there’s no security, and the prices aren’t particularly cheap. So, if you can, it’s good to get off that as quickly as possible.

    Amy: Right.

    Tom: Do you know how you pay for your energy?

    Amy: Yes. I know I pay by Direct Debit but I don’t really know how much.

    Tom: Okay, well it tells you here. You’re paying a monthly direct debit, which is good. That’s one of the cheaper ways to pay, and you’re paying £116 per month.

    Amy: Okay.

    Tom: This is the one to really pay attention to. This is your actual usage of gas in the last 12 months. So that’s 16,266kWh. Now that’s slightly above average use, but it’s generally consistent with what people do use. And, that’s what you need to switch. So you don’t need your unit rate, you don’t need your standing charge, but it is helpful to know how much you’ve used over the last 12 months. And then all of that information we’ve just discussed; there’s another page and that gives you all of the same information for electricity.

    Amy: Right.

    Tom: So, again you have your annual consumption, you have your standing charge, and you have your unit rates.

    Amy: Okay.

    Tom: I imagine this is a bit of a mind boggle but the very last thing which I want to show you, which you sometimes need, very rarely but you sometimes need, are your meter numbers.

    Amy: Okay. Why would I need that to switch?

    Tom: So your meter number is a number that uniquely defines your meter. So, it makes absolutely certain that your electricity meter is switched rather than your neighbour’s.

    Amy: Okay.

    Tom: Which is good. So, in 99.5% of cases, we can just look up your meter number and find it and you won’t have to worry about it at all. So chances are you’ll never have to worry about this. But in the rare occasion that we do ask you for it, it’s here on the last page of your bill.

    Amy: Oh right so I don’t have to go and find my meter in my house.

    Tom: Oh no, no, it’s on your bill. You don’t have to go hunting in dark, cold cupboards anywhere.

    Amy: Okay good.

    Tom: So this is your gas meter number here. And then this is your electricity meter number here.

    Amy: The whole thing, like that?

    Tom: The whole thing, just like that. And actually, when you go through our site it will be presented like that and there will be little bits for you to fill in.

    Amy: Okay, that’s clear.

    Tom: Yes.

    Amy: Thanks Tom, I feel like I understand my energy bill a lot better now.

    Tom: Great, and if you have any other questions you can probably find the answers on our website, or you can give us a call.

Still have questions about your bill? Check our Energy bill jargon buster section for definitions for everything from "calorific value" to "NSC".

Lock in a fixed energy deal today

Although energy prices are due to fall slightly in October, you can save more by switching to a fixed deal today. Enter your postcode below to get started.

Why do I have a duplicate electricity bill?

The two most likely reasons you have received a duplicate electricity bill (or back bill) are:

  • Errors from your supplier
  • You've underpaid due to estimated billing

Errors from your supplier

It is not uncommon for energy suppliers to send additional bills to households in an effort to recoup money lost due to their own internal system errors. In 2017 alone, uSwitch found that 1.3 million customers have been overcharged due their supplier's mistakes.

These mistakes include tariff details being wrong, incorrect fees being applied, submitted meter readings provided not being applied and incorrect direct debit taken, to name a few.

The worst part? These mistakes go unnoticed as customers rarely read their electricity bills — mistakes that cost an average of £79 per household in 2017. For more help, read our guide to energy back billing.

Estimated billing errors

Estimated billing is when your supplier has to estimate your energy usage because you haven't supplied them with regular meter readings. And when a meter reading is eventually collected (usually annually), the supplier may find you've not been paying enough to cover your actual usage.

In this case, you do in fact owe your supplier. So to avoid shock bills such as this, be sure to submit regular meter readings. Watch our video about how to read your meter below:

  • Read the Transcript

    Taking energy meter readings sounds needless and complicated. But in fact it’s an important and simple way to understand your energy usage and get accurate bills.

    If you don’t take meter readings, you’ll get an estimated bill. This can lead to overpaying or underpaying. No-one likes to overpay but underpaying sounds nice, right? Don’t be fooled. Your supplier will want their money, leaving you with a surprise bill down the line.

    There are four main types of gas and electricity meters: single rate, dual rate, dial meters and smart meters.

    Gas is measured in cubic meters or cubic feet, and electricity is measured in kilowatt hours.

    Your meters may look a little confusing now, but we’ll help you make sense of them.

    For single rate meters, write down the numbers from left to right. Ignore any red numbers, or numbers after the decimal point.

    Dual rate meters are for those of you on two energy rates, for different times of the day. Write down the numbers from left to right. Ignore any red numbers, or numbers after the decimal point. Some dual meters have a single display where you might have to press a button to view each rate. Write down the numbers from left to right. Press the button to see the next reading and then write that down too.

    Dial meters have up to 5 dials, each with numbers 0-9. There may be a sixth dial on the right, sometimes in red, or with one tenth next to it. Ignore this. Write down the numbers the pointer has just passed from left to right. If the pointer lies exactly on any number, underline it. Now look at your five numbers. For any that are underlined, look at the number following it. If it’s between 9 and 0, reduce your underlined number by 1.

    That’s all there is to it. Send your readings to your energy supplier at least once every four months and your bills will be spot on.

    Energy suppliers are now offering smart meters for homes in England, Scotland and Wales. These meters use in-home displays and send digital readings to your supplier. They give you more accurate bills and a better understanding of your energy usage, all without taking your own readings.

    Whether you continue reading your old meters, or choose a smart meter, you’ve taken the first step towards accurate bills and understanding your energy usage. Aren’t you clever?

What is paperless energy billing?

Paperless billing is just as it sounds — you receive your monthly or quarterly bills through an online account you must set up with your supplier. Opting for paperless billing almost always comes with a discount (e.g. the same tariff can otherwise cost £30 more per year if you don't opt for paperless billing).

You may be less likely to check your energy bills if they're not coming through your letterbox, but don't be tempted to skip reviewing your costs. As outlined above, there are often mistakes that could cost you hundreds if left unnoticed!

Why do energy bills have QR codes on them?

Suppliers are required to put a scannable code on every bill. This code contains all the relevant info you would need to compare and switch energy tariffs, including supplier name, tariff name and your annual usage.

That means you can use faster switching tools like the uSwitch mobile app to "scan your way to savings". This little code takes the pain of hunting info out of your bill and makes it as easy as taking a snapshot for an instant energy comparison.

How can I get electricity without a deposit?

If you want to switch your electricity prepayment meter to a standard credit meter you will need to contact your energy provider.

Your energy provider might charge you for the installation, but you will also need to have cleared your account so that there is no debt to be paid.

Your energy provider might also run a credit check to make sure you will be likely to keep up with the bill payments on a standard credit meter.

Find out how to change your meter over. And, if your supplier makes it difficult to switch to a standard meter, then consider switching to another supplier who will do it for you at no cost.

Is electricity considered a utility?

Yes, electricity is a utility. Electricity, gas and water are all considered a utility. Utilities can also refer to any other essential bills you pay for, including broadband, your Council Tax and TV licence.

uSwitch helps you compare and save on utilities such as gas and electricity and on your broadband.

How do I find the latest electricity news?

uSwitch's Energy News covers the latest issues in the gas and electricity industry that could impact Britain's household bills, including price rise announcements, consumer tips and more.

You can also filter the uSwitch Energy News section to read up on matters relating to electricity, price rises, and by supplier, if you wanted to see what your provider was up to. It's a good idea to be informed so you're ready to make the switch in the event that electricity prices start to rise.

Who is the electricity regulatory authority?

Ofgem (the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets) is the electricity regulatory authority in the UK. Ofgem aims to regulate the market for the electricity and gas markets in a way that increases competition among suppliers and offers cheaper energy to consumers.

Read more about Ofgem.

Ofgem also manage the Confidence Code, which is a voluntary set of guidelines for energy price comparison sites such as uSwitch. The code requires comparison sites provide comprehensive and accurate information to consumers about energy suppliers and deals.

Bear in mind that not all price comparison sites adhere to the code, so it's well worth checking before you compare!

What electricity safety tips do you recommend?

Electrical safety in the home is important, yet often overlooked. Here are a few tips to keep you and your home safe:

  1. Avoid overloading electrical sockets
  2. Keep flammable items away from electric heaters
  3. Regularly check for worn cables and wires
  4. Take care when using electric blankets and portable heaters
  5. Always use a converter with foreign appliances

Get eight more electricity safety tips to follow in our guide to electrical safety.

Energy bills glossary of terms

Our glossary lists all the terms you're likely to find, either on your bills or across our site. Simply click on the term you need explained and we'll tell you what it all means.

Lock in a fixed energy deal today

Although energy prices are due to fall slightly in October, you can save more by switching to a fixed deal today. Enter your postcode below to get started.

Account number

Your account number is how you reference your specific account when contacting your current supplier. This number will be printed on your bill and may also be called your customer number.

Calorific Value (CV)

'Calorific Value' (CV) is a scientific term used to describe how much heat is generated when a known volume of gas is completely burned away.

Gas passing through the National Grid has a CV of 37.5MH/m3 to 43.0MJ/m3, but the CV for your specific area should be displayed on your gas bill.

Put simply - the CV measures how 'useful' your gas is, so your supplier can charge you based on the quality of the gas that is supplied to you.

For more information on calorific values and how they're calculated, please refer to the National Grid website.

Discounts

If you have any discounts such as dual fuel applied to your energy bills, it will be marked clearly near the final total.

In an effort to make your energy costs clearer, Ofgem places limitations on the kinds of discounts suppliers can offer. Therefore, the most common discounts are dual fuel discounts and direct debit discounts.

Dual fuel

Dual fuel is where you receive your gas and your electricity supply from the same energy company. You can often receive a discount from your energy supplier by doing this.

Read more about dual fuel.

Economy 7

Economy 7 is a type of electricity tariff that uses different prices for the electricity you use during the day and the electricity you use during the night.

Typically the electricity you use at night will cost you less than electricity used during the day. With Economy 7, the 'night' usually refers to the early hours, between around 1am to 8am, but these hours can vary between suppliers. Read more about Economy 7.

Economy 10

This structure gives you three off-peak hours in the afternoon, two in the evening and five hours overnight. The designated hours will change between suppliers. Unfortunately we cannot support Economy 10 switching on uSwitch.

Read more about Economy 10 tariffs here.

Estimated (E) or actual (A) readings

If your meter reading has been estimated that means your energy supplier has assumed your usage for the bill period based on your past consumption.

If they don't have information on your previous usage (you just moved or just switched), they will use national average figures to estimate your consumption and your therefore your costs.

If you have submitted a reading or your supplier has sent someone to take a reading, then this will appear as "actual" on your bill.

Where this info appears on your bill will vary by supplier. Check the sample bill links above for help.

Tip: To ensure your bills are as accurate as possible — and to avoid under- or overpaying for your energy — it is best to submit your own meter readings.

If you're not sure how to take a meter reading, read our guide on taking a gas or electricity meter reading

Fixed Monthly Direct Debit (MDD)

If you hold a monthly direct debit with your supplier, then you will pay a set amount to your supplier every month. However this does not mean that unit rate is fixed, as is the case with fixed price plans.

Your energy supplier needs to give you notice if they intend to change the amount of the monthly direct debit, which may occur during seasons change and your usage goes up or down.

How to convert units to kWh

On your energy bill, your gas units will be converted to kilowatt hours. Please note that the Calorific Value will change depending on your area - so please check your bill for the correct figure.

Use the following formula to convert units to kWh:

Total units used x metric conversion factor (2.83) x volume correction factor (1.02264) x calorific value /kilowatt hour conversion factor (3.6).

This works for meters that record hundreds of cubic feet where your gas meter shows 'ft3' next to the reading. If your meter measures in cubic meters with an 'm3' next to the reading, then go through the same sum while removing the metric conversion factor of 2.83.

Example for meter that records hundreds of cubic feet:

1 unit x 2.83 x 1.02264 x 39.1 / 3.6 = 31.43 kWh

IGT Network/charges

IGT stands for 'Independent Gas Transporter'. If your home is supplied by an Independent Gas Transporter Network, it means that it is not connected to the National Grid, which supplies most of the UK's home's with gas.

If your MPRN number is 10 digits long and begins with 74 or 75 then you are supplied by an IGT.

It used to be that IGT homes had an extra charge on their bills associated with this supply method, but recently this cost has been absorbed by the big six suppliers — though some smaller suppliers may still charge.

If you are being charged as an IGT home, you can call your supplier to discuss your options, and remember you can still switch energy if you are on an IGT supply.

Kilowatt hours (kWh)

A kilowatt hour is the standard measurement of energy that your energy supplier will use to bill you. A kilowatt hour refers to a person using 1,000 watts of electricity for 1 hour. Your prices will be set per kilowatt hour (kWh) of energy you use.

Loyalty points

Loyalty points will only apply to certain tariffs, and can come in different forms. These points can be earned on energy bills with suppliers that have a commercial arrangement with specific supermarkets or shops. The number of points you've accrued should be displayed clearly on your bill.

Meter point administration number (MPAN)

Your meter point administration number will often be referred to as your MPAN or your supply number. It can also be referred to as your 'S' number. This number is assigned to the electricity meter at your property to identify it, and can be found on your electricity bill. It is displayed in a very specific format as pictured below:

Supply number

If you can't find your MPAN or supply number, use our energy bill breakdown above for your supplier to locate it.

Meter point reference number (MPRN)

Your meter point reference number will often be referred to as your MPRN number. This number is assigned to the gas meter at your property, and can be between 6 and 10 digits long.

On your bill this number may be referred to as an 'M' number, but if you can't find it you can use our energy bill breakdown above for your supplier to locate it.

Metric conversion factor

An imperial to metric conversion factor of 2.83 is used in the calculation to convert units into kilowatt hours (kWh).

MPRN/MPAN

MPRN is the abbreviation for meter point reference number and MPAN is the abbreviation for meter point administration number. Please see above for further details on what this means.

NSC - No Standing Charge

If you are on an older energy plan, your bill may includes the abbreviation 'NSC' or the words 'No Standing Charge', which means your supplier does not apply a fixed daily charge to your plan.

In an effort to make your energy costs clearer, Ofgem banned "No Standing Charge" plans, requiring that all suppliers charge a daily rate. This rate is not set by Ofgem, so you can still get an NSC plan of sorts by finding a supplier with a "charge" of zero for the standing charge fee. Just be sure to check the kWh rate is also competitive.

To find your standing charge amount on your bill, use the energy bill breakdown link above for your supplier.

Plan/tariff name

The name of your energy plan identifies which tariff you are on, which in turn dictates the prices you are charged.

Although Ofgem has worked to reduce the "clutter" of plans on the market, there are hundreds of different plans available, and naming conventions will differ between suppliers.

You need to know your plan name in order to switch. You can find this info on your bill, and you can use our energy bill breakdown info above to quickly locate it for your supplier's bill.

Standing charges

All energy plans now include a standing charge — this has changed recently as part of Ofgem's efforts to simplify the market.

A standing charge is a fixed daily charge meant to cover the costs of keeping your home connected to the grid. The idea is that by separating out this daily non-energy-consumption related charge from your unit rate, what you are charged for is made more clear.

You can still effectively get a "no standing charge" plan by looking for a supplier that charges zero for their standing charge.

To find out what your standing charge is, check your bill. If you have trouble locating it on your bill, use our energy bill breakdown links at the top of the page.

Standing Order

If you hold a standing order with your energy supplier, you have arranged for a fixed amount to be sent from your bank account to pay your energy bill as often as necessary.

You have control of this payment method, so your energy supplier cannot change the payments at their end, even with your permission.

Supply number

Your supply number can also be referred to as your MPAN or electricity meter point administration number.

Tiers

Tiered energy pricing is yet another tactic that Ofgem has done away with to help clarify your costs.

Any plan introduced after April 2014 should not have a tiered pricing scheme. If you check your bill and see two different rates, this could be two things: you're on a variable rate plan and your supplier implemented a price change; or you are on an economy 7 plan

Units

Although your gas will be charged according to kilowatt hours (kWh) used, your gas will initially be measured in units. This is then converted to kilowatt hours on your bill using a standard formula. Find out how to convert kWh's into units.

Variable Direct Debit (VDD)

If you have a variable direct debit set up with your energy supplier, then you are giving them control over the direct debit. They will amend the amount taken each month to pay off the outstanding bill, and they do not have to give you notice before changing the amount.

VAT

VAT will be charged on top of your total bill at a standard rate of 5% instead of the usual 20%. It is important to note that your gas and electricity bills will show all unit prices before VAT, whereas uSwitch is required to display all unit prices with VAT included. This allows us to make the most accurate and relevant comparison for you.

Volume correction factor

The volume correction factor of 1.02264 takes into account the changes in the volume of gas based on temperature and pressure.

Read more …

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