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Understanding your gas and electricity bills

There’s a lot of information on your energy bill and some of us find this confusing. Checking your bills can help you understand your usage, make savings and make sure you’re paying the right amount.

If you’re struggling with gas and electricity arrears or need help with rising gas and electricity bills, read our guide to gas and electric arrears.

In this guide we’ll cover:

  • What information is on your energy bill
  • How your bill is calculated
  • Why you should take regular meter readings

What information is on my energy bill?

Most energy bills contain the same information:

  • Your name and address
  • Your customer account number
  • The name and contact details of your energy supplier
  • The name of the tariff you’re on for your gas and electricity
  • How much gas and electricity you’ve used since your last bill
  • Your latest gas and electricity meter readings, or estimates
  • Your estimated annual cost
  • Your payment method
  • The amount of money you need to pay your energy supplier
  • Your gas and electricity meters’ reference numbers

Check your details

It’s important to check that your details are up to date or you could be paying for more than your own energy use.

You should:

  • Make sure the name and address on the bill is right and it isn’t just addressed to ‘the occupier’
  • Make sure the billing period is correct and doesn’t include time before or after you lived in the property. If you’re moving house, make sure to take a meter reading the day you move out, and provide a new reading for day you move in
  • Check the meter reference numbers match those on your bill

Energy tariffs

The tariff is the price you pay per unit for the gas or electricity you use. This also includes a standing charge. This is a fixed daily amount you pay for energy, regardless of use.

Types of tariff

There are two main tariff types, fixed rate and variable. Your supplier may also offer other tariffs.

Your energy use

This should show a breakdown of your usage over the last period. This could be monthly, quarterly or yearly.

Bills need to show the cost of your energy for the last 12 months, unless you’ve been with your supplier for less than a year.

Estimated annual cost

This predicts the cost of your energy for the next year based on what you've used in the last twelve months. It assumes you stay on the same tariff and use the same amount of energy.

Terms and conditions

Suppliers should outline the terms of your contract. This should include exit fees and tariff end dates.

Tariff end dates

If you’re on a fixed-rate tariff at the moment, you’ll automatically roll over onto your provider’s standard variable-rate deal when the tariff ends. 

Early exit fees

With some plans you may need to pay an early exit fee if you want to change suppliers or move onto a new tariff. Your provider can’t charge you any exit fees if you switch within 49 days of the end of your current tariff, so it’s important to know when your tariff ends.

How your bill is calculated

Unit rate

The unit rate is the price for each unit of gas or electricity you use. Units are calculated as pence per kilowatt hour (kWh).

Different tariffs may have more than one unit rate – for example, day, night and weekend rates. These should be shown separately on your bill.

What does 'kWh' mean?

A kilowatt hour is the measure used to explain how much energy you use.

Energy is measured in watts, 1,000 watts is equal to one kilowatt (kW).

If you use an appliance rated at 1,000 watts for one hour, you’ll be billed for 1kWh.

Examples of appliances and their kWh energy usage:

  • Electric kettle - 0.1 kWh
  • Electric oven - 1.56 kWh
  • Washing machine - 0.63 kWh
  • LCD TV - 0.21 kWh

Standing charge

A standing charge applies to both gas and electricity. It is a fixed daily charge which is not affected by the amount of energy you use. The standing charge is used to cover the costs that your energy provider incurs supplying you gas and electricity.

What Credit and Debit means on your bill

Credit (or ‘CR’) on your bill means you’ve overpaid, debit (or ‘DR’) is when you owe the supplier.

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Why do I need to take meter readings?

You should give a meter reading when asked and every time you receive a bill. Relying on the energy supplier’s estimate can mean you’re at risk of overpaying or underpaying. If you underpay you could end up owing a lot at the end of the year.

Smart meters

You usually won’t need to give a meter reading if you have a smart meter installed. You may still need to take a meter reading if:

  • You’ve switched suppliers or moved into a new house
  • Your supplier is unable to take automated reads

If you received a higher bill than expected, check if it’s based on estimated readings. If it is you can supply an accurate meter reading and ask for a revised bill.

Meter reference numbers

Check your meter numbers match the ones on your bill. Your energy provider can use it to make sure that they’re supplying the right property. Meter numbers are registered to your property, so if you switch suppliers or have a new meter fitted, the number will remain the same.

For your electricity meter, there is a 12-digit code, sometimes referred to as the MPAN (Meter Point Administration Number).

For your gas meter, there will be a code between six and eleven digits. This is known as the MPRN (Meter Point Reference Number)

If any of these details are wrong, contact your supplier and ask them to update your details.

How to pay and payment dates

You can usually save money paying by Direct Debit. Fixed Direct Debit payments (also known as a payment plan) allow you to spread the cost over the year. This means in summer, when your energy use is low, you can build up credit on your account to help cover your bills in winter, when your usage is higher.

Contact details

You should find details of how to pay and contact information for the energy supplier listed on your bill.

There should be details about who to contact if you have a complaint or a problem with your supply.

If you have a complaint about your bill

Contact your energy supplier and follow their complaints procedure. If you’re not satisfied with the outcome, there are organisations you can contact if you need a complaint investigating and resolving

Help is available

If you’re struggling to pay your bill, it’s worth contacting your supplier and see if there’s any help available. You can also read our guide to getting help with your water bills.

You should be able to negotiate a payment plan if a bill is too much for your budget.