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Managing energy when you rent your home

By Nicole Wilson

Your landlord is responsible for lots of things (hooray!) but energy isn’t always one of them. Find out how to take charge of your energy account if you’re a tenant or student.

Illustration of four toothbrushes on a bathroom shelf.

Am I responsible for the energy at my new address?

First things first, ask your landlord or check your tenancy agreement to find out who’s going to pay for the energy you use at home. 

If your landlord pays your energy supplier directly, or your rent includes utility bills, then the energy account will be in their name and you don’t need to set one up. 

If you’ll be paying your own energy bills, then you’ll need to set up an account with your energy supplier once you move in. You’ll need an account in your name even if you have prepayment meters which you top up with a key or card. 

How do I set up an energy account as a new tenant?

When you move into a new property, you can use the lights and heating straight away. That’s because an energy supplier is already providing your property with gas and electricity. As a new tenant, you have a ‘deemed’ contract with this supplier, so you need to tell them you’ve moved in, and set up a way to pay for the energy you’re using. 

Most suppliers offer a way to set up your new account online. Once that’s done, you might decide to shop around and switch suppliers. You need to set up an energy account with whoever supplies your home, even if you plan to switch suppliers straight away. That’s because a switch takes around 21 days, so there will be a few weeks of energy usage to settle up for. Having an account set up at your address makes the switching process easier, too. 

If you’ve moved into a property supplied by Bulb, you can set up your account online

We know there’s loads to think about on moving day, but the only thing you really need to remember is to take meter readings, if you can. This will help your new supplier to generate an accurate first bill and start your account fresh – so you’ll only ever pay for energy you’ve used since moving in. If you’ve never read an energy meter before, don’t worry. It’s easy. We’ll talk more about your energy meters later.

Who should set up the energy account if I live with flatmates?

Illustration of a paperchain of people.

If you’ve moved into student digs or you’re sharing a flat with other people, you only need one person to set up your new energy account. Before you volunteer for this prestigious role, bear in mind that the account holder will be the only one who’s able to act on behalf of the account and they’ll be responsible for the bills, too. 

If you’d like to share responsibility for your energy payments, you can add each flatmate as a secondary name on the account. That way, everybody’s liable. If you’d like to pay for your energy by Direct Debit, your payments for the property will still need to come from a single account. 

How do I find out who my energy supplier is?

If the last tenants didn’t leave anything from the energy supplier behind, then the easiest way to find the name of your supplier is to check with your landlord. Failing that, here’s how to look up the supplier at your new address. 

To find out who supplies gas to a property:

  • use Find My Supplier by searching the property’s postcode, or

  • call the Meter Number Helpline on 0870 608 1524 (calls to this number cost 7p a minute, plus your phone company's access charge)

And to find out who supplies electricity to a property:

  • find your Distribution Network Operators (DNO) and their contact details by popping your postcode into the Energy Network Association search tool

  • contact the relevant network operator, and they’ll tell you who supplies the electricity meter.

Getting to know your gas and electricity meters

Energy meters keep track of the energy you use at home. If you get gas and electricity, you’ll have separate meters for both. Your meters measure the amount of energy you’ve used, in kilowatt hours for electricity, and cubic feet/cubic metres for gas. 

Your meter readings let your energy supplier know how much energy you’ve used, so that they can give you an accurate energy bill. Energy meters come in lots of shapes and sizes. Some of them can communicate your readings directly to your supplier, and others leave that job up to you.

It’s a good idea to ask your landlord about which kind of meters you have before you move in - it’ll make getting to know them a little easier. (Your meters, that is, not your landlord. Though it’s not a bad icebreaker, either.)

Standard / traditional / credit meters – these are all names for average gas and electricity meters which have an analogue or digital display for you to take readings from. 

Smart meters – these are an upgrade to a traditional gas or electricity meter. Smart meters send your readings to your energy supplier automatically. They usually come with an In-Home Display (IHD), a screen to help you see your energy use in real time. 

Prepay / Pay As You Go / Top up meters – these are different names for meters that come with a physical top-up key (for electricity) or card (for gas). You’ll take these to a shop to top up, then put them straight into your meter. Your meter will display your balance on a screen so you can keep track of the energy you use, as you use it. 

Two rate / Economy 7 / Economy 10 electricity meters  – these meters measure your electricity usage during peak and off-peak hours. Sometimes these will be labelled ‘day’ and ‘night’ hours on your energy bills. When you submit an electricity meter reading, you’ll need to give your supplier both figures to keep your statements up to date. Two rate meters are more common in rental homes with storage heaters

How do I find my energy meters?

Energy meters are important, but they aren’t particularly glamorous. So you’ll usually find them in a box mounted to a wall and tucked out of sight. Think under the stairs or in a utility room, basement or attic. Remember, your gas and electricity meters are separate, so they might live in different places.

Illustration of somebody looking under their stairs with a torch.

Your meters might also be outside in a locked box attached to the side of your house. These boxes need a big plastic key (that’s usually bright yellow) to get in - if you can’t find your key they are easy to buy online, or you can ask your landlord for a replacement. 

If you live in a flat, it’s quite common for each flat’s energy meters to be kept in the same communal space. Each meter should be clearly labelled with your flat number so you can find your own meters easily. If you need to double check that you’re not submitting a neighbour’s readings, you can compare the Meter Serial Number (MSN) that’s printed on your meter to your energy bills.

How do I take a meter reading?

This depends quite a lot on which type of meter you have. We’ve got a guide to reading your energy meters over in our Help Centre. We recommend taking a reading from your gas and electricity meters once a month. 

Meter readings make your energy bills more accurate. If you (or your smart meter) haven't submitted a reading in a while, your energy supplier will use an estimate based on past readings to guess how much you've used since your last payment. Your account and balance will reflect your real usage again whenever you next submit a reading. 

When taking a reading, it’s important to know that gas and electricity meters show a ‘cumulative’ total. They don’t start again from zero every time you read your meter or whenever a new tenant moves in. 

Can I switch my energy supplier if I rent?

If you pay your supplier directly for the energy you use at home, then you’re free to switch suppliers or tariffs whenever you like.

Your landlord or letting agent might have a ‘preferred supplier’ that’s laid out in your tenancy agreement. This means it’s polite to let them know you’re changing your supplier, but it’s not a legal requirement when you’re responsible for your own energy bills. They might ask you to switch back to their preferred supplier when you move out at the end of your tenancy. 

Switching your energy supplier is easy. Your switch is all handled remotely by the supplier you’re switching to. A standard switch takes 21 days from start to finish, and your supply of gas or electricity will never be interrupted by the process. 

Switching might be easy, but choosing a new energy supplier to switch to is sometimes a bit trickier. It’s useful to have a recent energy bill to hand when you’re comparing energy prices and suppliers. For a fair comparison, it’s a good idea to look at standing charges as well as energy rates per kilowatt hour. And if you can’t decide on which tariff is best for you, we’ve written a guide about fixed and variable tariffs to help. 

Can I get a smart meter installed in a rented property?

Illustration of an in-home-display showing energy use from a smart meter.
The short answer is yes. If you’re responsible for your own energy bills, then you can get your gas and electricity meters swapped for smart ones. There are lots of perks to getting a smart meter, like automatic meter readings, more accurate bills, and a free digital screen to show your energy usage in pounds and pence. 

Your meters will be physically replaced by an engineer, so it’s a good idea to talk to your landlord or letting agent if you’re thinking about getting a smart meter. It’s unlikely, but there might be a clause in your tenancy agreement that says you’ll need to put the original meters back when you move out. Smart meter installations are free. But your supplier can charge you for swapping them back again. 

Find out what makes smart meters so smart (and what to expect on installation day) in our guide.

I’m paying my landlord for my energy. How much can they charge me?

If your landlord pays your energy bills directly, there’s strict legal guidance about how much your landlord can charge you. This is called the ‘maximum resale price’. Your landlord should use your meter readings to calculate how much you owe them each month and share their workings with you, if you ask them to.

You should only be charged for the energy you’ve used at home. Your landlord should bill you separately for any energy charges related to shared spaces in your building.

Can I make my rented home more energy efficient?

You can’t always choose your own energy-efficient appliances when you rent your home. And you’re less likely to invest in big home projects like adding insulation or double glazing, too. 

But there are still things you can do that will make a big difference to your energy bills. From moving furniture away from your radiators to blocking up draughts and cleaning the coils behind your fridge, we’ve got plenty of low-cost tips for saving energy at home and getting your home ready for winter.

You can check your property’s Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) certificate for more personalised advice about improving your home’s energy efficiency. And remember, your home must have an energy efficiency rating between A and E to be rented out in the first place.  

What do I do if my boiler stops working?

It’s your landlord’s responsibility to investigate and repair any faults with your central heating system. That’s one of the great things about being a renter. 

Your landlord is also responsible for any repair work needed on electrical wiring, chimneys, pipes and boilers. And they’re obligated to carry out any repairs in a reasonable period of time. 

They also need to do annual gas safety checks, and make sure that any appliances which came with the property - like your fridge, washing machine and oven - are in line with the latest safety regulations. 

As a tenant, it’s your responsibility to check the electrical appliances you own are safe, and to keep up minor maintenance like swapping your smoke alarm batteries or changing your light bulbs.

And that’s it! Hopefully now you feel like a pro at managing your energy account in a rented home. You can find more advice about keeping on top of your energy in our other guides.