The consumer has the choice between buying from their local utility (Local Distribution Company - LDC) or from one of the deregulated suppliers. There is a large range of contract options from a variable price to 1,3 or 5 year fixed prices. Electricity provider switching is difficult once the consumer is in one of these contracts, unless they are close to the end of a fixed price contract. However, as of January 2010 there is a maximum termination penalty allowed.
Variable rate plans are always month-to-month, save for three-month intro specials in which your rate stays the same for those early months. Fixed rate plans, on the other hand, are available for periods ranging from six to 36 months. The contract lengths, and how that length influences the price per kWh rate, varies enormously from company to company. Some companies offer lower rates when you enroll for longer periods. Others raise the rate slightly. The competing rationale: You will be paying them for longer so you get a break, or you have that price locked in when energy rates inevitably rise. One rule of thumb — the longer the contract, the higher the cancellation fee.
It’s worth noting that you can switch for free with no exit fee 42-49 days before the end of your contract. Under Ofgem’s standards of conduct, energy firms have to give you between 42 and 49 days’ notice of your tariff ending. You can use this time to decide whether to stick with them, or switch. If you decide to switch, you won’t be charged an exit fee.