British Gas offer free electricity

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BRITISH Gas are offering eight hours of free electricity at weekends as part of a new tariff for those who have smart meters installed.

The HomeEnergy FreeTime tariff will give dual fuel customers the option to have free electricity - but not gas - between 9am and 5pm on either Saturday or Sunday.

The company say the deal will be the cheapest of their dual fuel tariffs, and that in trials it's saved customers an average of £60 on their annual bill.

Even so, it's considerably more expensive than many deals available, and while it's fixed until March 2018 anyone who wants to take advantage of a cheaper supplier will have to pay exit fees of £20 per fuel.

Eligibility

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British Gas are offering the FreeTime tariff as two separate deals, depending on which day we choose to get free electricity. To qualify for either, householders must agree to have a smart meter installed - which the company will do free of charge - and to manage their account online.

Single fuel customers aren't eligible, and neither are people with pay-as-you-go smart meters - and it appears not to be available to those who live in flats rather than houses.

Whichever day they pick, eligible customers will be guaranteed free electricity use between the hours of 9am to 5pm until March 2018, although they will still have to pay standing charges for the day - and for any gas they use.

The usual unit prices and standing charges for the tariff are 26.01p per fuel per day, 12.56p per kWh for electricity, and 3.86p per kWh for gas.

These are the same as those found with the British Gas Standard Variable tariff - and with the other three deals the supplier launched this month.

HomeEnergy Reward and HomeEnergy Capped both run until November 2017; Home Energy Fixed runs until November 2018.

Comparing quotes

It's no secret that British Gas are the UK's most expensive energy supplier - so does the new tariff do anything to change this?

For existing British Gas customers on the supplier's standard variable tariff - which is a very large proportion of them - the new deal does indeed offer better value than the standard tariff, simply because they can subtract the cost of eight hours of electricity usage per week.

That doesn't change the fact that they'd be better off switching to a different supplier.

Take the example of someone living in a house in North Devon using what Ofgem say is the average amount of energy per year - that's 3,100 kWh of electricity and 12,500 kWh of gas - and who pays by monthly direct debit.

If they went with British Gas's FreeTime tariff, they could expect to pay a total of £1008 per year (£569 for gas and £439 for electricity).

The tariff is fixed until March 2018, so the prices wouldn't change for some 18 months.

Using the Choose energy comparison tool, however, we've found a 15-month fixed deal from Flow for £787, and a 15-month fixed deal from Extra Energy for £793.

These represent savings of £221 and £215 respectively, even when we take into account the eight hours of free electricity provided with the British Gas tariff, which they say is worth about £60 - or £5 a month.

Conditions apply

British Gas suggest that to make the most of the tariff, customers should consider moving their most energy intensive activities to the free period - and, in a less than serious tone, they also say we could reward ourselves with "extra long showers" and binge watching TV shows.

The terms and conditions state, however, that those of us using an "unreasonably large" amount of electricity could be moved from the FreeTime tariff onto the cheapest variable price tariff instead - although they don't specify what unreasonably large means.

What is also a little unclear is whether a household will be eligible for a smart meter at all.

Those interested in getting the FreeTime tariff, or any other British Gas deal, will be asked if they live in a flat during the quotation process - and if they answer yes, they won't be shown a FreeTime quotation.

But for those who pass that test, British Gas say their engineers will determine whether a property is suitable for a smart meter or not - depending, for example on whether or not is has a good enough mobile signal for the meter to be installed.

This will only happen when they come to fit the meter - which itself can take eight weeks or more from signup.

Understandably, people in rural areas with poor reception might be a little wary of signing up to a deal that entails a two month wait followed by a potential rejection.

That said, smart meter technology is improving all the time - as is mobile signal coverage.

Smart meters

Ultimately, we should all have smart meters in our homes, regardless of where we live, as the Government have said they want one installed in every home by 2020 - although there have been various warnings that this deadline will be missed.

These meters allow suppliers to directly monitor how much energy we are using and when - thus allowing the nation's energy to be better managed.

The advantage for us is that we'll receive more accurate bills, and be able to monitor our own consumption much more easily.

The hope is that this heightened awareness could help us become more careful about when and how we use our energy, leading to reductions in our annual bills.

In the meantime, however, the biggest savings are available by shopping around and making improvements small and large to our homes, rather than by obsessively watching our usage tick over on a smart meter.

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