Guide to online energy tariffs
- Online tariffs tend to be amongst the cheaper options, or a supplier may offer additional discounts for managing an account online
- As online accounts mean less paperwork they may be seen as environmentally friendly
- Other advantages and disadvantages are likely to depend on how easily a customer finds managing their account through the internet
- As some of the most vulnerable customers struggle to access the internet, it has been argued that these are being locked out of some of the cheapest deals
Online gas and electricity tariffs do what they say on the tin; they allow you to manage your energy account through the internet.
This may be a gas-only account, an electricity account, or a dual fuel deal.
Online tariffs can be both a cheap and convenient option, but there are a few potential downsides to consider; everything will ultimately depend on how you like to manage your energy provider and service.
Advantages of online tariffs
Energy providers tend to like online tariffs because managing the account over the internet leads to lower administrative bills.
This means that you can typically expect a discount if you're happy for your account to be handled online, and it should also be good for the environment as there's less paperwork.
Although the day-to-day running of the account is handled online, you should still expect to be able to speak to the provider when you need to, and some may offer things like paper bills on request.
You shouldn't have to pay your bill via online banking if you don't want to; options like direct debit and card payment are typically available.
These sort of tariffs may be among the cheapest available; an alternative arrangement may be that a tariff is available to both online and off-line customers, but that those who choose to manage it online will receive an additional discount.
Other advantages of online tariffs will depend on the customer's own habits and preferences; if a customer is tech-savvy and often online, running their account through the internet may well be the easiest and most convenient option for them.
You're likely to be able to provide regular meter readings online, and this can help avoid the problems associated with estimated energy bills.
Being online may also gain the customer access to a provider's special deals and discounts, money-saving tips and other tools that could help them cut the cost of gas and electricity bills.
They should receive their provider's alerts telling them, for example, when an initial discount period on a tariff is coming to an end, giving them the nudge they need to shop around and avoid the biggest energy mistake of sticking on expensive standard variable tariffs.
If online tariffs are the only way to get access to the cheapest deals, it means that the cheapest deals may be unavailable to those in the greatest need
Disadvantages of online tariffs
An online tariff clearly isn't suited to a customer who isn't tech-savvy enough to use the internet easily.
It may also be awkward for someone who struggles to get access to broadband and/or a device for accessing the web.
Such people may well be some of the most vulnerable groups in society, and this has led to some of the biggest criticisms of online tariffs; if online tariffs are the only way to get access to the cheapest deals, it means that the cheapest deals may be unavailable to those in the greatest need.
Another common disadvantage is that you may want a paper energy bill as a form of identification. If you have an online tariff you may be able to print your own bill, but requesting a paper bill from your supplier may mean a charge.
You'll have little control over the energy provider's website, meaning that if the supplier doesn't run a slick online operation, your level of service will suffer.
As with the advantages of online tariffs, other disadvantages will depend on the customer's own habits and preferences; running an account online may not be the easiest, most convenient or preferred option for many.
One of the most important things to remember is that, if you don't pay attention to online notifications from your supplier, you may easily miss crucial information, such as when any introductory deal you're on is coming to an end. All such information is likely to be sent via email rather than in the post.
By Sean Davies