The energy price cap: what is it and how does it impact your energy costs?


The energy price cap will drop once again in October, meaning lower bills for many of us – but what is the price cap and why does it matter when it comes to your energy bill?

Ofgem, the energy regulator, has announced that the energy price cap is to be reduced to £1,923 a year for a typical household from 1 October. It’s the second straight cut to the price cap and means that millions of households will pay less for their energy each month, even without switching to a new tariff through an energy comparison. However, it’ll still be a tough winter for many as without the £400 Government support we all got last year, many will actually be paying more – see help with gas and electricity bills.

But how does the energy price cap work?

What is the energy price cap?

The energy price cap was introduced in January 2019 by the energy regulator, Ofgem, to stop energy customers on standard variable tariffs being overcharged for their gas and electricity, while reflecting changes in wholesale energy prices. Ofgem reviews the energy price cap every three months.  

The price cap is supposed to be a backstop preventing customers on standard variable tariffs from being overcharged for gas and electricity while encouraging customers to snap up fixed deals to pay less for their energy. But the energy crisis has turned this on its head. 

Rising wholesale prices actually meant the cost of energy was rising quicker than the price cap could keep up – so much so, it resulted in a number of energy companies going bust in 2022. 

That led to the government launching its own energy price guarantee (EPG), because of how high the energy price cap was getting ‒ for the first three months of 2023 it was set at a typical  £4,279 a year for example, a level that is simply beyond most households.

It also capped the unit cost of gas and electricity that energy suppliers can charge us for our energy use and has been the default rate for most households, setting out the maximum price per kilowatt hour (kWH) energy firms can charge you for the gas and electricity you use, plus standing charges.

The EPG was set at £2,500 for households with typical energy use, but with the energy price cap dropping below that level earlier this year the price has taken over once more as the main factor limiting what suppliers can charge us for our energy use.

It’s important to remember that the eventual size of your bill will be determined by the amount of energy you use as it is the unit rates and standing charges that are capped.

The new energy price cap of £1,923 a year based on typical use will kick in from 1 October and run until 31 December. Until then the existing energy price cap of £2,074 a year for households with typical usage will apply.

What are the unit rates (kWh) and standing charges for energy?

There is no total limit on the amount we pay. It’s the rates of gas and electricity that are capped. The unit rate (kWh) is the charge for the energy you actually use. It can vary by where you live, your energy supplier, payment method and meter type.

The standing charge covers the cost of supplying your property with gas and electricity. It is a fixed daily amount you have to pay, regardless of how much energy you use. It is even applied to properties that are empty for part of the year, like a holiday home.

It is up to energy firms how they break down unit and standing charge prices below the overall cap. So, higher standing charges mean lower unit prices, but lower standing charges mean higher unit prices.

Here’s how the rate caps will look, according to Ofgem, from October. Note that these are just averages ‒ the actual rate you pay will depend on your location, how you pay your bill and your meter type.

Energy Price Cap rates from 1 October to 31 December 2023 Current Energy Price Cap rates from 1 July to 30 September 2023
Gas Unit rate: 6.89p per kilowatt hour (kWh). Standing charge: 29.62p per day Unit rate: 7.51p per kilowatt hour (kWh). Standing charge: 29.11p per day
Electricity Unit rate: 27.35p per kWh. Standing charge: 53.37p per day Unit rate: 30.11p per kWh. Standing charge: 52.97p per day

Why is the energy price cap going down?

The energy price cap rocketed last year, as a result of the worldwide demand for gas, which pushed prices up to unprecedented levels on the wholesale markets.

The war between Russia and Ukraine also added to the rising costs.

However, the wholesale prices have been falling for some time, which is likely to start feeding into the energy price cap and therefore our energy bills. For example, data from Ofgem shows that the price per therm (a unit of energy) of gas has fallen from its peak of almost £6 last year to around £1.31, while electricity has moved from £5.11 to £1.12. 

Those wholesale prices play a big role in the setting of the energy price cap.

There is now hope that households could see the return of competitive fixed-price energy tariffs that would make switching suppliers worth it. See how to do an energy comparison to find the best gas and electricity deals.  

How can I keep my energy bills low?

The best way to keep your costs low at the moment is to reduce your overall energy consumption.

Small steps can help – such as turning off lights, not boiling more water in the kettle than you have to (see how much does it cost to boil a kettle?) and cutting down your shower time.

Bigger measures will also make a difference, such as improving the insulation in your home or switching to more energy efficient appliances.

If you are struggling, there is help with gas and electricity costs if you are unable to pay your bills.

What costs make up your energy bill?

There are all sorts of different elements that contribute to your energy bill – see energy bills explained for full info, but here’s a summary.

Wholesale energy costs

Wholesale market costs of gas and electricity are the most influential in determining the size of your bill. It’s the steady increase in wholesale prices that are behind the dramatic rise in our bills and now accounts for around half of the figure on the statement you get from your provider.

Energy providers usually buy their gas and electricity in advance, so Ofgem tracks the wholesale price over six months to determine the next price cap period.

Network costs

Network costs make up around a fifth of the average bill. It’s another substantial cost factored into your bill to provide and maintain the infrastructure that delivers gas and electricity to your home. We’re talking about the gas pipelines and energy pylons here. 

But it also includes the cost of bailing out failed energy firms. Energy providers that take on customers after the collapse of another firm can claim additional costs of doing so. 

Operating costs

Energy firms claim around a tenth of the average annual bill in operating costs. This includes the energy regulator Ofgem’s allowance for supplier profits which is set at 1.9%. 

Policy costs

Policy costs come in at around 8% of your bill. 

These pay for several things: the energy company obligation scheme which upgrades home insulation on low-income households, the renewables obligation that sources renewable electricity, the warm homes discount which pays vulnerable customers £150 over winter and specially-designated feed-in-tariff payments that are made to households who have installed solar panels.

Previously some backbench Conservative politicians have called on the government to scrap the ‘green’ policy costs. It’s not quite so straightforward. The feed-in-tariff payments must contractually be made and the renewables obligation payments would still have to be made and likely have to come from our taxes.


VAT makes up 5% of energy bills. There have been calls on the government to temporarily cut VAT but so far it’s been ignored.