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24 January 2021

British Gas

British Gas is the UK’s largest domestic energy firm, supplying around a quarter of homes in Great Britain with gas. But is the biggest also the best energy supplier?
British gas big six 480402
SI
Sarah Ingrams

As its name suggests, British Gas is British owned and based. It's still the biggest energy company in the UK, and says it services nine million homes, although it has been losing customers for a while, including close to 300,000 in 2019.

It's a subsidiary of Centrica, a multinational energy and services company, which also owns utility suppliers in the Republic of Ireland and North America.

It's known as Scottish Gas in Scotland and claims to be ‘bringing Britain the smooth-running homes of today and tomorrow’. As well as gas and electricity, it also sells boilers, smart home products from the Hive brand and HomeCare insurance.

Its British Gas Rewards scheme gives customers personalised offers, which can include films on Sky, days out at UK attractions, O2 show tickets, Wilbur the Penguin toys and discounts on restaurant meals and days out.

In September 2020 customers of Robin Hood Energy and Ebico were transferred to British Gas after Robin Hood Energy stopped trading.

Can British Gas save you money? Use our independent switching site, Which? Switch, to compare gas and electricity prices and find out.

British Gas customer score

British Gas came joint 18th out of 25 energy companies, as rated by 7,330 members of the public, in the annual Which? customer survey – the biggest independent view of energy suppliers. It was joint with prepayment-focused supplier Boost.

Customers gave it OK ratings for many aspects of its service, although they don’t consider it good value for money, but do think its customer service is better than some similarly-ranked firms.

So far it has been quite good.

British Gas customer

I think it's probably more expensive than some providers but I trust it.

British Gas customer

British Gas score breakdown 

The graphic below shows the breakdown of British Gas’s score from our survey.

Scroll down to read our full verdict on British Gas, plus how its electricity fuel mix compares with the average across the country.

Find out how British Gas compares with other energy companies – click to see our full results of the best and worst energy companies.

Which? verdict on British Gas

Although it remains the largest energy supplier in Britain, British Gas is still neither the best loved nor the cheapest. Customers continue to leave it in their thousands, suggesting they’re looking for better service or prices elsewhere.

Customers consider it poor value for money – although it was among five suppliers to receive this rating and another three were considered worse value for money. It does sometimes offer cheaper fixed deals, but its out-of-contract variable tariff has consistently been in line with the maximum permitted by Ofgem’s price cap. Most of the biggest suppliers charge the same for their out-of-contract tariff, however.

Switching away from a tariff at the level of the price cap to one of the cheaper deals available can consistently save a household using a medium amount of gas and electricity £200 per year, according to our research.

British Gas offers tariffs including a 'green future' tariff (matching your electricity use with renewables, 6% or your gas use with biogas and offsetting the carbon footprint of the rest of your gas use), a tariff designed exclusively for Electric Vehicle drivers (with cheaper energy for five hours overnight to charge your car) or with boiler cover included. Some of its tariffs have exit fees of £30 per fuel if you want to leave before the end of the fixed term.

Some British Gas customers have stuck with it since privatisation. Our survey found that 44% of British Gas customers have been with it for five years or more. Some 18% of the British Gas customers in our survey said they had been with it for more than 20 years.

But loyalty doesn’t equate to high satisfaction levels and British Gas customers' feedback gave it three stars out of five for customer service. While no firms achieved the full five stars this year, just one firm gained a lower rating for its customer service.

It's accurate at billing just as my smart meter reads.

British Gas customer

British Gas’ highest customer rating was for the accuracy of its bills, for which it achieved a good four-star rating. Overall, 80% of its customers in our survey said they considered the accuracy of its bills 'good' or 'excellent'.

While this is close to the average across suppliers (78%), the best firms had more than 85% of customers rating their bills high for accuracy.

British Gas' customers found its bills slightly less clear than some others, resulting in a three-star rating for how easy its bills are to understand. Around half of the energy firms included in our survey scored the same.

I understand most of each bill but some of the technical terms are beyond me.

British Gas customer

The weakest area for British Gas was value for money, according to customers in our survey. It was one of five firms to score just two stars for value for money. The top-scoring firm managed five stars. But British Gas wasn't the worst for value - three firms were rated one staron this measure.

Quite expensive compared to other providers.

British Gas customer

British Gas' customer service is ok, but not excellent. Its three-star ratings for both customer service and complaints handling put it on a par with many other large suppliers, but lagging behind the highest-rated brands.

According to official data, British Gas received six complaints per 1,000 customers in spring last year. This is half the number received by some other big firms – such as Npower and Scottish Power –  though it resolved less than 90% of them within eight weeks.

Our snapshot investigation into energy companies' customer waiting times in September and October 2020 found it took 23 minutes 32 seconds, on average, to get through to a human in British Gas’s customer services. 

This was the second longest median average wait time across 31 firms we called. The average time across all firms was just under 6 minutes, with several answering in less than 2 minutes.

When we tested British Gas’s live chat, it took 10 minutes 47 seconds on average to respond to us, making it the third-slowest firm included to respond. The average wait time for the 18 firms with live chat that we contacted was just over 3 minutes.

British Gas has installed the most smart meters of any supplier, and the most second-generation models. It has an app which lets customers send meter readings, pay bills, set budgets and book repair appointments. It also owns Hive and sells its smart thermostats, smart plugs, smart light bulbs and smart locks.

Pros: Has accurate bills according to customers.

Cons: Rated poor value for money by customers; one of the slowest to respond by phone and on live chat in our investigation.

British Gas electricity sources

British Gas in the news

British Gas in 2020

September: British Gas has acquired Robin Hood Energy and all the energy companies on its network, including Ebico. Customers with these energy companies will be switched to British Gas and the company has assured customers that they will match their current tariffs. 

August: British Gas paid out £1.48m to around 270,000 prepayment customers for failing to tell them when it changed their top-up provider on 1 January 2020, energy regulator Ofgem announced. 

Some customers may not have had electricity or gas supply during cold weather as a result and they couldn’t phone British Gas on 1 January as its general enquiries line was closed. 

British Gas told most of its customers in December 2019 that it was changing its top-up provider from Paypoint to Payzone, and increasing the minimum top-up from £1 to £5. But some customers weren’t told until late January 2020. 

Ofgem said that none of these customers were given enough time to switch supplier if they didn’t like the new arrangements. 

British Gas in 2019

December: Breeze Energy customers were transferred to British Gas after it was chosen to take on customers of the smaller failed supplier. 

November: British Gas revealed that it lost 107,000 accounts in the past four months. While this sounds high, it said that the rate of customers switching away was ‘significantly lower’ than the same time last year. 

May: British Gas announced that 183,000 households had switched away from it in the first three months of 2019. It said the price increase in the cap on variable and default tariffs had led to a spike in customers switching in March and April. 

April: British Gas and Sainsbury's ended their partnership, which begun in 2011.

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