What is an energy budget payment plan (aka Equaliser or Level Pay)?
An energy budget payment plan is a payment method which allows customers to spread the cost of their annual energy bills over 12 equal monthly instalments.
Many energy suppliers now provide the option of a budget payment plan. All work in a similar way but go by different names.
How do budget payment plans work?
This can lead to big swings in how much you're paying for energy at different times of the year, making it difficult to budget effectively.
Enter budget payment plans, which are energy suppliers’ way of removing the unpredictability from your energy bills.
When you sign up to a budget plan, your supplier will estimate your bill for the next 12 months based on the amount of energy you used the previous year calculated at today's unit rate. They'll then add a tolerance figure to your estimate.
What is 'tolerance'?
A ‘tolerance’ is when your supplier adds a percentage on top of your estimated annual bill to allow for unforeseeable increases in your consumption. For example, this may be due to abnormally cold weather, or the purchase of a new appliance.
This ‘tolerance’ can amount to as much as 20% with some suppliers.
The good news is that a ‘tolerance’ is merely a safety net:
- If your actual bill turns out to be less than or greater than the estimate, you can carry the surplus (or deficit, as the case may be) over to the following year. It will then be factored into your new annual estimate.
- If your consumption estimate is over €200 (or €250 with SSE Airtricity) greater than your actual annual usage, you'll be refunded the extra payment.
Once 'tolerance' is factored in, your estimated bill for the year is divided into 12 equal amounts, which are each paid on a monthly basis, thereby removing the fear, unpredictability and shock that energy bills often bring.
I use less energy in the summer. Is this factored in?
Yes, it is. Suppliers understand that during the summer you will use a smaller amount of energy in comparison to the winter months.
This means your monthly payments during summer will be higher than your actual energy usage.
However, you need not worry, as the excess money you pay in summer will act as credit to subsidise and balance out the amount you pay in winter.
This is because with Level Pay, the bills you pay in winter will be lower than the amount of energy you actually use.
Are there any catches?
Not really, but it's important to remember that budget payment plans won't save you any money over the course of a full year. You'll still pay for what you use - the cost is just evenly spread out so in certain cases it can help people to budget more effectively.
Also, suppliers reserve the right to increase (or decrease) your monthly payment amount if it looks like the initial estimate was wrong.
For example, SSE Airtricity will review your plan every four months and adjust your bill if necessary. However, you'll always be informed of any changes to your bills in advance to avoid those nasty bill shocks.
One watch out: if you live in rented accommodation and share with several people, a budget payment plan might not be right for your household.
This is because you could receive a bill for underpayment at the end of the year, by which stage the renter who was living in the property when the underpayment occurred may have moved on.
In these situations, paying each month for exactly what was used might be better.
What if I move to a new supplier?
If you move to a new supplier you will need to inform them of your previous usage as accurately as possible, as they won’t have any historical data for reference and this will affect how much you pay each month.
If you don’t know how much energy you’ve been using on average your new supplier can work out an accurate payment plan with you regardless.
At any rate, most suppliers will regularly review your account and how much you pay so if you’re over or underpaying you will always be notified by your supplier.
Does every supplier offer Level Pay?
Level Pay is available from most suppliers. However, depending on the supplier you move to, it may not be offered upfront.
If this is the case, you will need to contact your new supplier directly and request it once you have signed up for their plan and received a gas and/or electricity account number.
It’s important to note that Level Pay may not be an option for each plan your supplier has. For instance, Level Pay is not available for customers on Bord Gáis Energy’s Smart or Green plans.
You should do your research into your options before signing up for a new plan or moving to a new provider.
How do I pay?
Once you’re on a budget payment plan, your estimated monthly consumption will be paid by direct debit. You'll then receive a monthly bill detailing your usage, unit rate and account balance just like normal.
How do I sign up to a budget plan?
Signing up to a budget plan is completely free with all suppliers and more and more people are taking up the option. Currently, if you're a Bord Gáis customer you must choose this payment option though.
Before getting in touch with your supplier to sign up, it's recommended that you ensure your account isn’t in arrears and that you check your meter reading. This will allow you and your supplier to make as accurate an estimate as possible, which is in everyone’s interest.
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Check out our other energy articles
If you are thinking about switching energy supplier or just want to learn more about your energy bills, check out our range of helpful energy guides and blogs.
- Our Quickstart Guide series will walk you through every step of the energy comparison and switching process here.
- Are you struggling to pay your bills? Take a look at the different supports available to you.
- You will need to provide a gas and electricity meter reading if you want to sign up for Level pay, learn how to read your meters here.