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2nd November 2007 at 00:00
This winter your money could burn out faster than your back garden fireworks. Changing energy providers is the answer, says Alison Brace.We all know that buying a box of fireworks and lighting the blue touch paper is tantamount to watching your money go up in smoke.

But at least Bonfire Night comes round only once a year and, for your money, you get to feast your eyes on all those phosphorescent flourishes.

Imagine if your gas, electricity and water bills were burning up as much cash on a daily basis as that last Roman candle or Catherine wheel? Without all the whooshes, bangs and whizzes, you could be shelling out hundreds of pounds extra every year for your basic heat, power and water.

So, as the nights draw in and the bills go up, take a moment or two to look at your tariffs. If you are paying too much - switch provider. It's that easy.

OK, don't groan. You have heard it all before, but really it is - and it could save you a fortune. If you've never switched, there's a strong chance you will save up to 20 per cent on your current bills. That's because your provider is probably letting you languish on a high tariff, while promoting top deals to new customers.

One comparison service, SimplySwitch, claimed that one in 10 people who contacted them between March and May this year saved at least pound;238. And there are plenty of sites to choose from: UK Power, Energylinx, Energyhelpline, SimplySwitch and uSwitch to name but a few. There's also moneysupermarket.com, unravelit.com and fool.co.uk.

There's no doubt that the arrival of these comparison services has upped the competition between utility providers themselves - competition that is further fuelled at this time of year as energy consumption goes up.

Last month, for instance, British Gas and its Click Energy 4 deal and Scottish and Southern's Price Fix 2008 undercut each other five times in 12 days. "With so many new deals on the market, my message to customers is simple - change tariffs now or you will be forking out more than necessary this winter," says Paul Schofield, the head of utilities at moneysupermarket.com.

But even if your existing provider is offering great deals, it's down to you to take advantage of them. "You won't be put on a new deal automatically if you're an existing customer," says Paul.

When it comes to choosing a comparison service, it's worth checking if it is accredited by Energywatch, the independent watchdog for gas and electricity, and follows the body's code of practice.

But if you start to overheat every time you look at a price comparison website, then it is worth contacting one with a customer offline service. With your latest bills to hand, they will talk you through the rest.

Many of the websites offer cashback payments if you switch through them. Moneysupermarket pays pound;30 if you change your gas and electricity provider using their service. That's your gas and electricity taken care of, so what about water? Although you cannot switch water companies, there are ways of bringing down your bills.

If you have more bedrooms than people in your property, then it's worth considering having a water meter installed. According to moneysavingexpert.com, savings can top pound;200 a year. Only 26 per cent of homes have a water meter, and yet the average metered bill is pound;268 while un-metered bills average pound;305.

Uswitch offers a water calculator online. It asks you about the number of showers and baths taken weekly by your household, and the number of times you use your washing machine and dishwasher. The calculator then works out if it would be cheaper for you to be on a meter.

A more accurate, but time-consuming way, according to moneysavingexpert, is to ask your water company to help you carry out the calculation.

Of course, when it comes to saving money on household bills, it's worth going back to basics to save money: insulate your roof space, cut your energy consumption, drop a save-a-flush bag in your loo cistern and turn off the lights.

Otherwise, this Bonfire Night, you may as well be setting fire to wads of your own cash - or flushing them down the pan.

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