Skip navigation

Indymedia UK is a network of individuals, independent and alternative media activists and organisations, offering grassroots, non-corporate, non-commercial coverage of important social and political issues

British Gas Tricking Customers into Signing Contracts

a neighbour | 04.12.2005 21:34 | Birmingham

Having lost millions of customers after successive increases in prices over the last two years, British Gas now appears to be using 'dirty' marketing and selling methods to make up for its 'losses'.

British Gas' modified logo
British Gas' modified logo

A resident in the Halesowen area claims British Gas has tried to trick him into signing a contract to switch to the gas and electricity provider. The Council tenant, who had just moved into a one-bedroom flat in Andrew Road, said he was visited by a British Gas employee, who claimed the firm, as his electricity provided, needed to complete some information about the new occupier. "He then made me sign a piece of paper," the resident said, "which he said was only to confirm that the information I gave was correct." But after the salesman left, the resident was surprised to discover that what he had signed was actually a contract to switch to British Gas.

Luckily, he managed to ring up the firm within 7 days and cancelled the contract. However, there are reasonable grounds to suspect that this was not an individual case. The same employee was later seen walking around in the neighbourhood, “presumably hunting for new contracts,” the resident added.

Earlier this year, Centrica, which owns the British Gas brand, said it would focus on "winning back customers it had lost in 2004." British Gas lost almost one million customers last year, its parent company revealed. The gas and electricity provider, which has put up prices twice in 2004, lost 290,000 customers in the first half of 2004 and 630,000 in the second. Further 505,000 energy accounts were lost in the first half of this year.

Last September, the firm further increased residential charges across the UK by 14%, blaming rising oil prices and shrinking domestic gas reserves. It also flagged up further possible rises. Rivals Powergen and EDF Energy have recently announced similar price rises as commodity prices surged to records.

This does not mean, however, that their profits have been affected. Earlier this year, in February, Centrica reported a 16% rise in operating profits to £1.2bn ($2.3bn). Its overall profits rose by a fifth in the first half of the year, despite losing 505,000 energy accounts. Operating profits at the group's British Gas arm rose 64% to £337m, a figure that came in for criticism from consumer group Energywatch.

Centrica is cutting costs to protect its profit margins. It is also introducing measures aimed at luring users back. One such measure - a billing plan which allows customers to fix their energy costs until 2007 - has proved "very popular," according to the firm, as more than 600,000 users have signed up to this plan.

Furthermore, Centrica seems to be determined to stem the loss of custom. "We are optimistic that we will see no net customer losses in 2005," its finance director Phil Bentley is quoted to have said. The firm will offer a £60 rebate to 250,000 low-income customers to "help them pay bills over the winter."

Unethical selling methods are not very unusual in the industry. In September, 2005, energy firm Npower sacked one of its sales advisers after a widow complained her dead husband's signature had been forged. The forged document gave the go-ahead for Npower to replace British Gas as a power supplier to Mr Sykes' former home in Dewsbury, Yorkshire. The transfer document is understood to have been signed in June, several months after Mr Sykes' death.

Nor is British Gas foreign to this kind of practices. Last November, the firm was criticised for newspaper advertisements which "reminded" customers that its rival EDF Energy was a French-owned company. Two British Gas adverts referred to EDF Energy as "derived from Electricite de France," while a third said the company was "formerly known as Electricite de France". Following an investigation, the Advertising Standards Authority said the adverts were "denigratory to EDF Energy and breached an industry code."

It is worth mentioning that thousands of British Gas engineers are to stage five 24-hour strikes in a row over plans to close the final salary pension to new staff. GMB union leaders, meeting near Birmingham, agreed stoppages for 12, 19 and 21 December, 2005, and 6 and 9 January, 2006. Out-of-hours calls will also not be handled from 12-23 December and 4-10 January.

a neighbour


Display the following 2 comments

  1. This is an old trick — former phone centre staff
  2. Has happened many times before — Mike D