Guide to paying your energy bill

This is the page where we tell you how to pay your electricity bill. And how to pay your gas bill. In fact, how to pay energy bills full stop.

A vital part of understanding your bill, and knowing if your energy bill is too high involves knowing exactly how much you’re going to pay and when you’re expected to pay it.

It also means deciding which payment method is best suited to your circumstances. There’s not much point learning how to find out who your supplier is, how to read your energy meter and even what Economy 7 means if you then choose a payment method that leaves you struggling to manage your budget.

When we say we’ll tell you how to pay your energy hills, we don’t mean we’ll explain where to find the money. We’re good, but we’re not quite that good.

Or are we?

Well, since you asked, perhaps we are. We can point you in the direction of help with gas and electric bills, from the Winter Home Discount Scheme to free loft insulation. We can also offer tips like not leaving your appliances on standby and we can explain how to find your supplier and ask exactly what kind of tariff they’ve got you on. Because once you know that, you can start thinking about finding a tariff that’s better.

But before we do any of that, we’ll explain how to set about paying your energy bill.

Choices, choices

As with every other aspect of the energy market, there are a range of options when it comes to paying your bill. And as with the other choices on offer (such as suppliers and tariffs) the number you get to choose from can sometimes be a bit daunting. There was a time when you received a bill every three months and had to take the whole of the amount specified down to your local gas or electricity shop and hand it over. Luckily, things have changed a bit since then.

Direct debit

The exact opposite of having to drag a big sack of money down to a shop, paying by direct debit puts the emphasis on convenience. You make an arrangement with your provider to have a set amount taken out of your bank account once every month or on a quarterly basis. As long as there’s enough money in your account to cover the direct debit, your bill will be paid.

Monthly direct debit

You get to choose a specific day of the month – most people opt for their pay day or a day or two after – and on that day a set amount is taken from your account. The amount taken will be based on your providers’ estimate of how much energy you’re going to use over the next 12 months and how much that usage will cost you on your current tariff. That amount is then divided up into 12 equal payments, which means you avoid the worry of a large bill after a cold winter, and can budget with the security of knowing exactly what your energy is going to cost every month.

Since the amount is based on an estimate, it pays to check your meter regularly and make sure that you’re not using much more or less then you were expected to. If you overpay then your account will be in credit, which could be used to lower the monthly payments, or to cover colder parts of the year when the amount you spend on energy rises. This is clearly not a huge problem (nobody ever shouted ‘Help, my monthly electric bill is going to have to be cut!’), but underpaying could be, as it means you build up a debt, and your payments will have to rise to cover the debt you’ve run up.

Quarterly direct debit

These direct debits work in the same way as monthly direct debits, except that the payment is only taken once every three months. Again, it’ll be calculated using an estimate of how much you’ll use over 12 months, so each payment will be bigger, but the total should be similar to monthly direct debits.

In both cases, paying by direct debit often lets you access the cheapest tariff a provider is offering. That’s because energy providers (and this may shock you) like the idea of a regular income stream and not having to make any effort chase up payments. That’s why the answer to the question ‘Is it cheaper to pay monthly for gas and electric?’ is a resounding yes.

Prepayment meters

Using a prepayment meter means paying for your gas and electricity before you use it, rather than having to foot a bill after you’ve used it. The method involves topping up a payment card, key or electronic token with an amount ranging from a few pounds to 20 or as much as you can afford. In many cases you’ll have to have the card topped up physically at a local retailer or Post Office, but more and more providers are now offering payments via an app or their website.

The advantage of a prepayment meter for some people is that it lets them see very clearly exactly how much money they’re spending on energy. If you start having to top up your gas meter more often than usual, for example, you might decide to look into cutting heating costs by investing in insulation. The downside of prepayment metres is that the prepayment tariff is often amongst the least attractive that a provider offers. When the time comes to switch providers, you’ll find your choice of alternative tariffs limited by the fact that you use a prepayment meter.

Upon receipt

If you prefer the way things used to be done, then you can opt to pay each bill you receive in full when you receive it. You can pay using cash or (if you want to keep things super traditional) cheque at a post office, or by sending the cheque by post.

Can I pay my electric bill online?

Most suppliers offer the option of paying for electric and gas via their website using a payment card, while some allow you to download an app which can be used to make payments and monitor your account.

No matter which method you use, switching with Look After My Bills is the way to make sure that you’re not paying a penny more than you have to, both now and in the future.