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Price comparison website uSwitch is warning people to expect further increases in energy bills in 2013, after the 'big six' energy companies put up bills by an average of 7.4% this winter - an increase of £94 over the year.

The average annual energy bill is now £1,352 - more than two and a half times as expensive as in 2004.

With inflation-busting price rises, it's no wonder people worry about paying their bills. 59% of households are already going without adequate heating and 36% could be forced to turn their heating off entirely this winter, according to the research.

Latest energy prices rises by the 'big six'

  • EDF Energy increased gas and electricity for residential customers by an average of 10.8% in December 2012.
  • Scottish Power increased gas and electricity prices by up to 8.7% in December 2012.
  • British Gas raised gas and electricity by 6% in November 2012.
  • Npower put up gas by 8.8% and electricity by 9.1% last November.
  • Southern Electric put up their gas and electricity prices by 9% last October.
  • E.ON had a price freeze in place until the end of the 2012, but is the latest to increase prices gas and electricity (by 8.7%).

If you're concerned by your energy bills, using a price comparison website might help you find a better deal.

What to expect if you switch provider

The switching process is usually straightforward. If you find a cheaper deal online, you can normally apply directly through the website. Your new supplier will then get in touch to request meter readings. By comparing these with the last meter readings taken by your old energy supplier, they can estimate your usage and set your monthly payments accordingly.

If this information isn't available (e.g. if you've only been paying your own bills for a short time), they'll try to work out your usage by asking things like how many rooms you have and how many people live in your home.

It normally takes a few weeks for your energy suppliers to fully change over. You'll receive confirmation in the post (or by email if you've requested it) when it's done.

Energy bills - some advice

Make sure you provide regular meter readings, ideally monthly, to your energy supplier. This will give them a better idea of the energy you really use, instead of an estimate - which ensures you aren't 'underpaying'.

If you underpay, you run up a debt with your energy provider, which you will have to pay in a final bill if you want to switch. This could leave you stuck with your current supplier if you can't afford the arrears. Most energy providers allow you to spread the cost of repaying arrears on top of your regular monthly payments. In that situation, it's best to focus on repaying as much as is affordable every month.

There are contracts that can fix your tariff at that year's rates for a set period, sometimes more than a year. They generally cost more to begin with than variable tariffs, but it could be a good idea if you want to know exactly how much you'll be paying.

How do you save money on your energy bills? Have you switched or would you like to? Tell us about it on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

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