Managing fuel bills as a tenant

With winter on the way, it’s natural to be thinking about the most economical way to heat and light your home. Most of us are aware that the different utility providers have a range of tariffs and that switching is possible. We know insulation measures can cut fuel costs, but as a tenant, what rights do you have to make changes?

Switching providers

If your landlord pays for the energy you use and then charges you, you will need the landlord’s permission to change supplier, but note that the landlord doesn’t have to agree to the change.  Landlords can only charge for the units of power you’ve used, a share of the standing charge and the VAT that’s applicable.

If you pay the energy supplier yourself, however, you can switch providers – even if the landlord has a preferred supplier named in the tenancy agreement. Shop around for a good deal and check suppliers who offer special deals for tenants. It’s courtesy to inform the landlord about your actions and you may need to transfer back to the preferred supplier when your tenancy ends.

Prepayment meters

Prepayment meters can help you budget and manage fuel costs. They are often installed by suppliers if you struggle to pay your bills on time, but they don’t suit everyone, and the actual fuel prices can be higher. The important thing is that whatever type of meter you have, your landlord cannot stop you replacing it with the alternative.

At the end of the tenancy, you may need to switch back to the original meter type and the supplier may charge for this.

Smart meters

The energy suppliers don’t care whether you’re a homeowner or a tenant. If you’re responsible for paying the fuel bills, you can have a smart meter fitted. There’s no charge for installation. If you move, the meter stays in the property and will help the new occupants manage their fuel consumption.

If your landlord is the bill payer, it falls to them to arrange for a smart meter, but as there’s no charge, there should be no problems. After all, helping you to manage your fuel costs leaves you better able to budget for your rent.

Making energy-efficiency improvements

In most cases, rented properties must reach Band E on the Energy Performance Certificate scale. When you agree to a tenancy, the property’s EPC must be included in the documentation. Band E is a minimum standard, and it’s often possible to make a property more energy efficient with improved glazing, extra insulation or a more efficient boiler.

If you want to go ahead with these measures, your landlord will need to grant permission as these represent substantial changes. However, it’s worth noting that if you can secure funding to make the improvements, your landlord cannot refuse what are deemed to be reasonable requests. If you’re the bill payer, your energy company may have schemes which offer grants for energy-efficiency improvements.

Managing the fuel you use

The Energy Saving Trust is a fabulous resource, packed with impartial advice and money-saving tips. Did you know that simply leaving devices on standby mode can cost up to £30 a year? Many ideas on their website cost nothing to implement and all the small savings add up.  There’s a list of quick wins on their website here.

Be proactive

You can’t predict whether the winter will be harsh or mild, but you can get into the habit of thinking about your fuel costs and consumption now. By taking action to ensure you’re getting a good deal and managing your gas and electricity usage, you’re less likely to have a nasty surprise when the bills arrive.