When your energy company puts its prices up, it can be easy to end up accidentally paying more than you should. Avoid unnecessary charges and get the best service from your energy company by following our five steps.

1. Don't pay increased prices or exit fees to your supplier

If your energy company raises prices you shouldn't have to pay a penalty for switching away from them, as the price change is effectively a change in the contract you originally signed up to. If it tries to charge you an exit fee or says you will have to pay the higher rates until your switch goes through, then you should complain - refer your energy company to Ofgem's Standard Licence Conditions 23 and 24, which sets these rules out. You need to tell your energy supplier you wish to leave by the date the higher prices come into effect. Also make sure that your new supplier contacts your old one within 15 working days to tell them you're switching.

2. Read your meter on the day the prices rise

Unless your energy supplier happens to read your meter on the day your prices change, suppliers have to estimate how many units you have used up until the day of the price increase. That means you could potentially be charged too much for the period before the price rise comes into force.

To avoid this, submit a gas and electricity meter reading to your energy company on the day the price change happens, so it has an accurate reading of how much you've used pre- and post-price increase.

3. Query expensive 'catch-up' bills

If you've been getting estimated bills from your energy company you may run into trouble when you get your first metered bill after the price rises. If your estimates were too low, the new meter reading will be much higher, and you could end up paying the new, higher prices for energy you used before they went up. This is known as a 'catch-up' bill. If your supplier has changed the prices on your tariff during the time you were receiving estimated bills, contact them to make sure they properly spread the extra units over the entire billing period.

Of course, giving regular meter readings is the best way to avoid this problem.

4. Never underestimate the power of complaining

You do have some protection when it comes to price rises - not least the right to get out of a contract without having to pay the higher rates or any exit fees (see above). If you find your supplier is being unhelpful or obstructive when you're trying to break a contract or query the way you've been charged then don't be afraid to complain.

If your supplier doesn't give you a satisfactory response within eight weeks then you have the right to take your complaint to the Energy Ombudsman, which makes an award to the consumer in more than nine out of 10 cases - seven in 10 of which involve financial compensation.

5. If you're not getting a good deal, switch

The best way to keep energy suppliers on their toes is to vote with your feet and switch if you don't think you're getting a good deal.

Nine in 10 people say that switching is easy, but only a minority of us are active switchers. 60% of people say they've never switched, despite potential savings of a couple of hundred pounds for first-time switchers.

You can compare gas and electricity suppliers now using Which? Switch, the impartial, not-for-profit energy switching service from Which?. Our energy switching calculator enables you to see which energy deals are currently available - and if you could save by moving to a different energy company or tariff.

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