Moving into a new place means organising two essentials: the house warming party and all your bills. While sorting gas and electricity is entirely tedious, it’s a must-do and though it’s tempting to settle for the first company to pop up on Google, it won’t guarantee the best deal. You need to ask some question first.
Before wasting an afternoon on nothing, flick through your contract. Are you sure the rent doesn’t include bills? If it does, then you’re off the hook, though you may be able to bargain with your landlord; propose finding a cheaper provider and having the rent lowered accordingly. It’s a long shot but it could mean a saving a few quid each week.
1. How long is the tenancy?
If you move out in ten months, try not to pay for a year’s utilities. See if your provider can be flexible – or you’ll be paying for nothing.
2. How's the service?
Ring up a couple of companies and see what they’re like; look at user reviews and see how quickly they resolve problems. If something goes wrong, you’ll want your gas and electricity back on as soon as possible and you probably don’t want to waste years of your life listening to hold music. Sometimes (though not always!) the price you pay for a cheap tariff is poor service; a quick test beforehand will determine if this is true or not.
3. What fees are lurking?
Some tariffs have additional fees and you’ll end up paying more than expected. Everything you’ll be charged for will be hidden in the small print; the most common is a cancellation fee. Keep an eye out for it.
4. Package deal or individual pricing?
A lot of providers offer ‘dual fuel’ packages, meaning they’ll supply both your gas and electricity both at a slightly lower rate than if you purchased one alone. Often these can represent good value but don’t be too easily persuaded: there is no particular reason to get your gas and electricity from one supplier. Shop around, be choosy and pick the cheapest gas and the cheapest electricity –if they come together, terrific, but dealing with two companies is hardly the end of the world. How often are you going to be calling them, anyway?
5. Fixed rate or pay what you use?
Depending on how many of you there are in the house, how big your residence is and how heavily you use your utilities, paying for exactly how much you use may not always cost less. See how much you used last year -look at an old bill- and compare against providers' estimates. Companies have two tricks: they’ll either vastly over-estimate how much you use (so your monthly payments are way up on what they should be) or they vastly underestimate how much you use (hence they can hit you with fees and charges when you breach the tiny limits set).
6. Are there rewards?
It shouldn’t be number one on your list but companies do offer some tempting rewards; EDF energy offer an annual 6% discount for customers paying by direct debit. It all adds up.
7. Will I be ok with a credit check?
Providers tend to run a credit check on customers; it’s just their way of making sure you can pay for the utilities you use. It's not something to worry about but it’s worth being aware of. Investigate more than one company on the off chance you are refused. It happens sometimes – companies can be a little reluctant dealing with students.
8. Who's offering the best price?
Finding the best deal can be a daunting task as deals update so frequently. It makes sense to use someone like uSwitch, who make it their business to keep on top of every bargain going. Even better, they also sell various energy saving products too, which are useful for keeping you bills at a minimum.
9. Any chance of cutting a deal?
Remember, all providers offer a multiple tariffs, so have fun exploring. There are many providers out there and it's worth a quick search online to make comparisons. If you’ve the time, be sure to ring up a company as they may be able to offer a special deal online only – and if you’ve been loyal to the same company for a while, they may offer a rewards package, which can be as much as a 10% off goodwill gesture.
10. Does it all make sense?
Don’t be afraid to ask: if you don’t understand something, question it. A company should now automatically offer you the ‘best deal’ but it’s a tricky thing for them to get right as the ‘best deal’ for someone else may not be the most suitable for you, which is why a thorough comparison is the only way to be sure you’re saving wherever possible.
11. Whose name is on the contract?
if you’re the one setting up the bills and it’s your name on the contract, you’ll be the one liable for the money. Either sign up as a joint venture or have a formal agreement drawn up between you and your fellow housemates which ensures everyone is liable for their share. If not, your lovable but flaky best mate could end up a little behind with their money and you’ll be the one covering them, and heavily out of pocket. It happens more often than you’d think, sadly, and it can put a black mark on your credit history if you can’t afford to pay for everyone else’s share while they get their act together.