DO you find your energy bills impossible to understand?

If so, then Mark Gutteridge - from Nailsea-based energy switching site Flipper - says there are five things to check whenever you receive a bill.

There are four crucial bits of information found within the pages of your bill, he says, that show whether you are paying the correct amount.

Mark says it is especially important to make sure these details are right at this time of year, when energy usage is at its peak.

1. Is your bill based on actual or estimated usage?

The first thing to check is whether your bill is based on actual or estimated usage.

If you don’t provide regular meter readings, your supplier will calculate your bill based on estimated usage.

Estimated usage is the supplier's ‘best guess’ of the amount of energy you have used, based on the consumption of similar households to yours - but this could over or understate your actual usage by a significant amount.

If your bill is based on estimated usage, you need to take a meter reading and send it to your supplier ASAP.

2. What is your account balance?

If you pay by monthly direct debit, your account with your energy supplier is likely to show a credit or debit balance.

This is because your monthly payment isn’t the actual cost of the energy you have used in that month, but the cost of your estimated annual usage divided by 12.

While paying the same amount each month makes it easier to budget, it makes it harder to know if you are paying the right amount.

Usually, an account balance which is less than the value of two monthly payments is nothing to worry about.

However, if you have a large credit balance you should contact your supplier and ask for some of it to be repaid.

Or, if you have a large debit balance, you should - if possible - make an additional payment to reduce the debt.

Having a debit balance can stop you switching to a better deal, as your current supplier will ask for this to be paid off before you leave.

3. Is your monthly payment the right amount?

As well as checking your account balance, you should also check your monthly payment is set at the right level to cover your annual usage.

If your actual energy usage has been higher or lower than expected - and with many of us spending much more time at home than usual in 2020, energy usage has generally been higher than usual - your monthly payment may be set too low (or high).

So you should check your annual usage is being updated based on actual meter readings; check what the annual estimated cost of this usage is; divide this figure by 12; and if you get a different value to your current direct debit, ask your supplier to update your payment amount ASAP.

4. Are you on a good deal?

Even if your usage is based on actual meter reads, your account balance is minimal and your monthly direct debit is at the correct level, that doesn’t mean you are on a good deal.

But you don’t need to spend hours on price comparison sites looking at prices to find this out.

Check what your tariff is called. If it is anything like ‘Standard’, ‘Flexible’, ‘Simpler Energy’ or ‘The Energy Plan’, then you are on a standard variable tariff - which is an expensive rate.

Suppliers also have to say if you are on their best deal on your bill.

The information is normally somewhere on the first page but may not be easy to spot.

If you’re not on your supplier’s best deal, you’re definitely not on a great deal.

Finally, ask yourself when you last switched.

If this was more than 12 months ago, it’s unlikely you are still on a good deal.

5. Should you switch?

If the details above suggest you are not currently on a good energy deal, then it is definitely time to switch to a cheaper tariff... And even if you think you are on a good deal, it’s worth double checking!