11:22 25 February 2013
Millions of us who pay our energy bills quarterly may be dreading the arrival of what's usually the biggest bill of the year - the one after we've had the heating on more than at any other time of year - but there are quick and easy steps you can take to ensure it's the last bloated energy bill you ever get.
If you're dreading the bill's arrival, or if your recent quarterly bill was the last straw, here's what you can do to make sure it never happens again.
What to do
The good news is, if you're currently paying your energy bills on a quarterly basis, there's almost certainly money to be saved by changing the way you pay.
Paying for your energy with a monthly direct debit is cheaper because the energy companies prefer it. They actually offer preferential rates to encourage it - perhaps a 5% discount per fuel - because it reduces their admin costs. They also like it because it gives them a consistent and predictable monthly income.
You might as well take advantage of this by switching your quarterly payments to monthly direct debits. Not only will you get your energy for less, but it can help you to budget more easily throughout the year and it means you never have to fear the monster winter bill again.
How does direct debit payment work?
Move to this payment method and your energy firm will predict how much gas and electricity you'll use over the coming year, based on previous years, and divide that sum over 10 or usually 12 monthly instalments.
The longer you've been with a supplier, or the more meter readings you've given at your current property, the more accurate the estimate will be. If you're a new customer, the energy supplier will make assumptions based on how many people live in your home, its size and heating system.
This method might mean you're paying for more than you're actually using in the summer, but the difference is stored in your account so that, when the winter comes, your account will be in credit, funding your extra consumption during the darker and colder months.
The direct debit payments are taken from your bank account automatically on a given date each month, so you'll never miss a payment.
Some suppliers will let you decide when you want the direct debit to go out, so that you haven't got to worry about setting the money aside for later on in the month when your pay is dwindling.
But before you get on the phone to your current supplier to ask them to switch you to direct debit payments, it's worth seeing what else is available using our energy comparison service.
The service is free, only takes a few minutes and will tell you whether you could save even more money by switching to a different tariff or supplier.
All you'll need to do is enter your postcode, information from your latest bill (have it to hand) and your bank account details, and we'll do the rest, returning a list of the most competitive tariffs and how much you could save by switching.
How easy is switching?
Very, it's just a matter of filling in an application form. The actual switching process is handled by your current supplier and the new one in around six to eight weeks. The only difference you'll notice is that the bills start coming from the new supplier.
There's no need for any physical work to be carried out on your plumbing or pipework, and there won't be any interruption to your supply either.
Apart from those who regularly compare and switch their energy suppliers, almost everyone can save money by making some kind of switch, as I explained in my article 'Who should switch to save on energy bills'.
Other ways to save
Switching to monthly direct debits and changing your supplier aren't the only ways to save money on your gas and electricity.
If you currently get your gas and electricity from separate suppliers, you're missing out on a dual fuel discount. When you get both utilities from the same company, you'll get a discount on your rates.
What's more, it means only having only one bill and one company to deal with, should you ever need to make changes to your supply or payment details.
Many energy suppliers will also offer a discount for managing your bills online, eliminating the need for physical, paper bills. Online billing saves energy firms time and money on administration, and the savings are passed on to you.
If you're interested in making savings over a longer term and making your home more attractive to potential buyers, there are energy efficiency changes you can make all around your home to make sure your heating is optimised.
Things like upgrading your boiler, installing loft and cavity wall insulation, and draught-proofing can all save you money on your bills. You can learn more about this in my article 'Slash energy bills as cold snap bites'.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MoneySuperMarkH
Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.
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