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Energy tariffs explained

Having trouble understanding energy tariffs? The choice doesn't need to be daunting. We explain the different types of energy tariffs on offer so you can focus on getting the best deal for you.
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Types of energy tariff

Standard variable tariffs (SVTS)

Standard variable tariffs (SVTs) act as an energy supplier's default tariff, and are usually the most expensive types of tariff on the market. When you roll off a fixed price energy tariff, you could end up paying hundreds of pounds more if you don't switch again; this is because you may get placed onto your supplier's SVT. Alternatively, if you've just moved home, this will be the type of tariff you start on with the property's current supplier.

As SVTs are variable, it means the unit rates of your gas and electricity can go up and down as your energy supplier dictates — though you'll have to be given notice of this happening. They are the type of energy tariff that are affected by price rises and the energy price cap, the level of which changes every three months.

Fixed price energy tariffs

Fixed price energy tariffs (also referred to as fixed rate plans) are a type of gas and electricity tariff that provide a set rate per kilowatt hour for a fixed duration — this is usually 12 months, but can be as long as three years. As the rate per kWh is set for the length of the contract, you would be protected from price rises on one of these tariffs. However, if the price of energy fell, you wouldn't benefit from a cut.

It's worth noting that this type of tariff does not protect you from your direct debit amount increasing or decreasing (your direct debit amount is determined by your usage), but it does fix the rate you pay per unit of gas or electricity. Fixed tariffs are usually the cheapest type of tariff available on the market, and make up the majority of competitive deals to be had from switching energy.

Dual fuel energy tariffs

Many suppliers offer the same tariff to switch both your gas and electricity to, so you wouldn't have to switch each fuel separately, and both your fuels are with the same supplier. For ease, many consumers choose a dual fuel tariff option, as it is convenient to only deal with one energy supplier. This also means there is only one point of contact for any issues with your usage, meters, and billing. Some suppliers offer a discount for having both your fuels with them so it can work out cheaper to be on a dual fuel tariff, however in some cases it can also be cheaper to have each fuel with a different supplier, depending on the deals available to you.

Prepayment energy tariffs

Most energy suppliers have at least one prepayment tariff available to switch to. Prepayment meters require a user to pay for their energy before they use it. This differs from a credit meter, where you are invoiced for the amount you have used after you've used it. To top up a prepayment meter you need to take the corresponding token, key, or smartcard that can be taken to a newsagent and topped up. Suppliers may allow you to make top-ups online via a website or app. Your supplier may have requested that you move to a prepayment meter due to debt on your account, or you may have inherited one at a property you rent or bought. If and when the debt on your account is settled with an energy supplier, they may be able to change your prepayment meter to a credit meter.

Prepayment tariffs are capped by Ofgem, so tariffs cannot charge more than a specified unit rate. The cap amount is calculated and updated once every three months. However, prepayment rates in general remain more costly than fixed energy deals.

Economy 7 energy tariffs

Economy 7 is a type of electricity meter and subsequent tariff which has a different prices per kWh for two times of the day (usually day and night). The price per kWh is often cheaper at night, when it's presumed there will generally be less usage from other homes.

If you're not sure whether you have an Economy 7 meter, then one easy way to find out is by looking on your bill. You will be shown two different rates for electricity and the Meter Point Access Number (MPAN) on your bill will start with '02' if you have Economy 7. You may inherit an Economy 7 meter when you purchase a property, but it may not suit your needs if you can't get the most out of the night time's cheaper usage. In this case, you can talk to your current supplier and arrange for a credit meter to be installed (this may cost a fee).

When running a comparison with an Economy 7 meter, it is important that you select this type of meter for your results as this will change what is available to you. It's also useful to know what proportion of energy you use at different rates, as this will make for a more accurate comparison.

Economy 10 energy tariffs

These tariffs are similar to Economy 7 in the sense that they depend on the time of usage. However, many suppliers do not support Economy 10, or may not offer tariffs to new customers. Uswitch doesn't support Economy 10 switching - you should directly go to suppliers to see which tariffs are available to you.

Green tariffs

Plans that are labelled as green often promise at least 100% renewably sourced electricity. However, some provide much more, including 10% renewably sourced gas.

With green tariffs, the supplier buys the same amount of electricity and gas that you use; your energy usage adds to the demand for renewably sourced energy. Green tariffs are now some of the cheapest in the market, following a drop in the cost of producing renewable energy.

Tracker tariffs

Though not a common type of energy tariff, tracker tariffs are offered by some suppliers, such as Octopus. Tracker tariffs directly follow a price index, for example wholesale costs. They can go up and down and are updated as often as daily. This makes it difficult to know whether or not they will work out cheaper for your home. It's still likely that a fixed deal would be a cheaper option so always run an energy comparison.

Finding the best energy tariff for you

Although there are fewer deals available at the moment because of continuing volatility in the energy market, switching to the ideal tariff for you on Uswitch would normally only take a couple of minutes. Keep an eye on the latest energy news to see when deals might become available again.

Read more:

Standard variable rate tariffs - Uswitch

What makes an energy plan 'standard variable rate' or 'standard rate'? Find out why this one of the most expensive domestic energy plans to be on.

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How do fixed price energy tariffs work - Uswitch

Fixed price energy tariffs or fixed rate plans are a popular type of gas and electricity tariff. Our guide explains how they work, why they're so popular and how they could help protect your energy bills from rising unexpectedly.

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My fixed energy tariff is ending - what should I do? - Uswitch

Knowing when your energy tariff is ending will help you save - don't get rolled onto a more expensive energy tariff when your energy plan ends.

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