Can I pay less for my gas and electricity?

 I’m working from home and can’t afford to keep the heating on.

Answer

Heating our home is a common problem for renters - not just because of rising energy costs, but also due to inadequate insulation. And it has become more of an issue as we spend more time in our homes because of coronavirus.

There are a few things you could consider: how you pay for your energy, if you can claim back tax, how to improve insulation and other ways to save on your energy bills.

Just moving in or moving out? Take a meter reading

This should be part of your first thing you do, but take meter readings as soon as you move in and also when moving out. This prevents you paying for energy that was consumed when you weren’t living in the property. By having a record of each amount, the energy supplier can tell how much energy you have used throughout your tenancy and bill you accurately. This can also mean you might get back any overpaid bills when you close the account.

How you pay - switching supplier

If you are directly responsible for paying the gas and/or electricity bills, you have the right to choose your own energy supplier. Landlords can only choose your energy provider if they are directly responsible for paying it, for example by rolling energy, rent and internet into one monthly payment from you, and then using this to pay the energy bill.

If you're already on a standard meter, it is fairly easy to switch to a cheaper supplier and there are several websites that can help with this. Note that it can be tricky to compare deals before you've lived somewhere for more than a year and so have an idea of how much energy you use.

Before you start your search, check if your rental agreement has any stipulations about the energy supplier you can use, or leaving the meters or energy account the same as you found them. Some contracts have a ‘default supplier’ clause where landlords or letting companies have a preferred supplier for the building. See if you can renegotiate this from the outset, but even if you can’t, you are still allowed to change your energy supplier if you directly pay the energy bill (Citizens Advice has more here). Be aware that even though this is a legal right, landlords do not need a reason to end your tenancy (see our FAQ on evictions). 

Don’t go straight for the first energy company you find. If you shop around, you can find a whole host of deals that make your energy payments more manageable, whether these are cut price costs when using a comparison website like Uswitch, or being able to build energy credit through sharing your referral code. Also be aware of exit fees, customer service reviews, and the Warm Home Discount Scheme, which may help if you receive benefits.

How you pay - switching from prepayment

Overall, prepayment meters (which you top up at the shop with a card or key) are more expensive than paying for your gas and electric with a standard meter. Since 2017, there has been a price cap for prepayment meter plans which is reviewed twice a year. But when you have a standard meter with a number display and pay for your energy on a monthly or quarterly basis, you benefit from lower prices and wider options. If you have a prepayment meter, you should consider switching to a standard meter.

You can switch from a prepayment meter to a standard one without your landlord’s permission. You can also change from a standard meter to a prepaid one. You might also need to switch back to the meter plan that was in place when you moved to the property when you move out if your landlord asks you, at the risk of losing your deposit. So it’s best to keep them informed to avoid any surprises.

All energy suppliers have their own system in place for making the switch. Most of the biggest energy suppliers will switch plans free of charge, as long as you pass their credit checks - including Octopus Energy, Bulb, British Gas, EDF, E.ON and SSE. Some companies charge new customers or take a deposit - so look at these policies before switching payment plans.

While most energy suppliers require a good credit/payment history before they’ll install a standard meter, there are a few circumstances in which you can switch even if you’re in debt. This includes situations where it is not safe or practical to use a prepayment meter - Citizens Advice has more

If you’ve finished paying debt and you don’t want to be on prepayment anymore, your supplier must remove your old-style prepayment meter and give you an old-style credit meter or smart meter instead. If you’d prefer to stay on prepayment, your supplier must reset your meter so you're not paying too much.

Tax break for working from home

You may be able to claim tax relief for additional household costs if you have to work at home on a regular basis, either for all or part of the week (you cannot claim if you choose to work from home). This includes if you have to work from home because of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Additional costs include things like heating, metered water bills, home contents insurance, business calls or a new broadband connection. They do not include costs that would stay the same whether you were working at home or in an office, such as rent or council tax.

You can either claim tax relief on:

  • £6 a week from 6 April 2020 (for previous tax years the rate is £4 a week) - you will not need to keep evidence of your extra costs
  • the exact amount of extra costs you’ve incurred above the weekly amount - you’ll need evidence such as receipts, bills or contracts

You can either:

  1. Ask your employer to apply for the reimbursement of your costs going back to when you started working from home, or
  2. Claim it yourself online through the Government Gateway system

Further information is available here.

Inadequate insulation

If you’re already on the cheapest tariff you can find, and are claiming back everything you can, find out what steps you can take to keep your home cosier. You can type in your postcode at Simple Energy Advice, a government website, answer a few questions, and get given recommendations for you and your landlord.

A home that is difficult to heat properly is also at risk of condensation and mould - we have more information here.

Other ways to save on your energy bills

Now you’ve got your energy deal, don’t squander it! Even if you have a fixed tariff you still get charged for the amount of energy you use, so look out for ways you could reduce your gas and electricity consumption. Make sure you know how to use your home’s heating controls. This can cut your heating bills straight away, and you may not feel any difference. If there are no heating controls, consider asking your landlord to install some.

One easy way to cut down on electricity is to make sure your TV and appliances are turned off properly and not left on standby as this leads to unnecessary energy usage. This is especially true of large computers and video games consoles, as this is a standard setting and they are heavy energy users. Also compare energy efficiency ratings when you purchase new appliances, and make sure you’re using energy efficient LED bulbs. Octopus Energy has more tips here.

Having a smart meter installed helps you understand your energy usage and where you can cut back. You can ask your energy supplier directly for a smart meter but keep your landlord informed. Smart Energy GB has more here.