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Energy watchdog condemns estimate gas bills

British Gas suffers a surge in customer complaints


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British Gas has seen a surge in complaints since it introduced a new billing system, an energy watchdog said.

Between October 2006 and March 2007, the company had 21,427 customer complaints, more than double the amount for the same period last year. Last month alone, more than 14,000 people complained.

The majority were from customers disputing their bill, including problems with incorrect meter readings and out-of-date account details, Energywatch said.

It said problems have occurred because customers are receiving estimated bills for greater amounts of gas or electric than they are actually using.

Estimated billing

Instead of having their meter read, customers are sent a bill, calculated by a computer, estimating how much they have used.

A British Gas spokeswoman said: ‘Our new managing director Phil Bentley, who started work in March, has made a personal commitment to putting our customer service level back to where it should be as one of the UK’s top rated energy suppliers and we’re already seeing clear signs of improvement, having recruited an additional 800 staff to help call answering.’

British Gas admitted that its service had not been ‘as good as it should be’ for some customers, and it ‘very much regretted’ that they have had a bad experience.

The company said it had installed a new billing system, which it claimed would ‘greatly improve service’.

Customer service

Karl Brookes, a spokesman for Energywatch, said British Gas had failed to tackle serious problems with the way it handles customer service.

He said: ‘Energywatch reported six months ago that British Gas had the worst customer service in the industry. Since then its service has slumped from bad to worse.

‘The events that led to chaotic customer services from British Gas could have happened to any company.

‘What consumers find unforgivable is the firm’s failure to deal with their problems and turn it around despite promises to do so.

‘Customers should not be left hanging on the phone or having to explain their circumstances to several different advisers, time after time.’

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