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E.ON stops doorstep selling

July 9, 2012 at 10:17 am

Doorstep selling by power companies could soon become a thing of the past after E.ON announced that it will be bringing an end to the practice in the near future. The announcement means that E.ON is the last of the Big Six energy companies to end the controversial sales practice.

Cold calling by energy companies has plagued the industry for years, and the practice recently came under fire when Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) was prosecuted last year by Surrey Trading Standards for mis-selling to customers using the technique.

It was claimed that staff of the energy firm were provided with sales material which was misleading, and now 400,000 customers have been offered compensation if they feel they were mis-sold to.

E.ON’s decision to bring an end to the practice was one of a series of measures announced by the company in its bid to improve its customer relations.

This comes after Ofgem said back in April that it was to investigate the company’s selling techniques to see whether it was mis-selling to customers.

E.ON says that it has now carried out a review and it has listened to its customers. It has asked over 28,000 customers for their opinions, as well as leading consumer groups such as Consumer Focus and Which?

Another of the changes it is planning to introduce is the introduction of a single-page bill, and it claims it is the first of the big energy firms to do this. This will be more customer friendly because it will be easier to read and understand.

It will also allow customers to check online or call the customer services division to find out whether they are on the cheapest tariff for the amount of energy they use.

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Argentina to sue British oil firms exploring in the Falklands

June 18, 2012 at 10:10 am

Exploration for oil by British firms has been declared illegal by the Argentinian government. As a result, Argentina has begun the process of suing five oil companies which are active in the region.

The companies in question are Falkland Oil and Gas, Desire Petroleum, Argos Resources, Borders and Southern Petroleum, and Rockhopper Exploration.

However, Britain has been quick to respond to the news, and has reiterated its support to the islanders, saying that they have the right to develop their natural resources as they see fit. It also complained that it is the Argentinian government which is acting illegally by intimidating and harassing the islanders.

It has been 30 years since the end of the Falklands War, but tensions are still high over the region. The news last year that a number of companies would begin to explore the region for oil, and the 30th anniversary of the war this year, have only increased tensions further.

The Falkland Islands, known as ‘Las Malvinas’ in Argentina, have been under British rule since 1833. However, the Argentinians have always claimed the territory as their own, saying that it was given to them by the Spanish. The president of Argentina, Cristina Kirchner, has called the oil exploration “clandestine” and “illegal”.

It is thought that the oil reserves around the islands could be worth in the region of tens of millions of dollars. However, only one company, Rockhopper Exploration, has confirmed the find of large reserves so far, and development is to start in the area later this year.

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British Gas to replace smart meters

April 26, 2012 at 4:24 pm

The great smart meter rollout has begun in earnest, but after getting a head start on its rivals, British Gas is now going to have to replace a large number of the meters it has already installed because they are not smart enough.

After the government released new guidelines stating that a higher specification is needed for the smart meters, the energy giant is going to have to replace an unknown proportion of the 400,000 new meters it has already installed.

British Gas began the rollout of the new smart meters back in 2010, before any of its rivals. Following the new guidelines, which state that the smart meters need to receive upgrades remotely, it is not known how many are to be replaced, or how much it will cost the company, but it is estimated that many thousands are likely to be replaced.

However, British Gas has stated that it knew that this was always a risk and that it is not actually bad news for the company. It has claimed that it only installed the new smart meters where the old meters needed to be replaced anyway, so even if the new meters have to be replaced the company has still managed to make large savings over the last two years as a result of the installations.

On top of that, the old meters do not need to replaced any time soon because the company has been given a deadline of December 2019 to update them.

There were always going to be a few teething problems with such a large project, but British Gas will surely be hoping that there will not be any more hiccups along the way as it aims to get the smart meters out to all of its customers as soon as possible.

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SSE to pay compensation to 400,000 customers

December 23, 2011 at 4:26 pm

The energy company SSE is to pay compensation to up to 400,000 of its customers in a process which could end up costing the energy giant up to £5 million.

The move has come after the company was found guilty by Guildford Crown Court of mis-selling to customers on their doorsteps. In cases where those customers have suffered a loss as a result, the company will now be offering compensation.

SSE is one of the biggest energy firms in the UK and is one of the so called ‘Big Six’ energy suppliers.

The problems began when its sales force started using dubious sales tactics to sell energy products to new customers on their doorsteps; after it was found guilty of this it stopped the practice.

It was the first of the big power companies to stop this practice, although it was soon followed by British Gas.

Now, anyone who was sold an energy contract by SSE after October 2009 could receive compensation. October 2009 was when Ofgem made energy suppliers ensure that their sales were carried out fairly and professionally.

Consumer Focus welcomed the decision and said that it will now be easier for customers as they won’t have to go through the Energy Ombudsman.

The compensation process is to start in January when letters will be sent to all customers who bought energy after October 2009. The letters will ask them to contact SSE if they think they have suffered any loss as a result of purchasing the energy contract. A dedicated helpline will also be set up.

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Centrica and Qatar sign new deal

December 14, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Centrica, which owns British Gas, recently agreed to a new deal with Qatar Petroleum, the oil company owned by the state in Qatar.

The memorandum of understanding between the two companies will lead to Qatar providing Centrica with a steady supply of gas, and the two companies have also agreed to invest jointly in a number of projects.

These projects will comprise of a number of new projects along with some existing ones, and will include investments in liquefied natural gas (LNG), turbines powered by gas, and gas storage amongst other things.

It is not yet clear how much the two companies are planning to spend on these projects or when the first joint deal will be fully completed. However, the move signifies a strengthening of ties between the two companies which is a good thing in these volatile times for the energy industry.

The deal is being billed as good news for the gas supply of Britain, and the CEO of Centrica, Sam Laidlaw, said that the investments will improve the security of the gas supply for the UK.

The deal was announced at the start of the World Petroleum Congress in Doha where the major energy companies were meeting to discuss the turbulent times the industry is having to face at the moment, with issues surrounding the Arab Spring high up on the agenda.

The deal follows on from a previous deal made between the companies back in April 2011 where Qatar agreed to provide Centrica with 2.4 million tonnes of LNG over a period of three years.

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850 jobs to go at British Gas

November 14, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Centrica, the owner of British Gas, has announced that it will be axing 850 jobs.

The news comes after Centrica had to revise its profit forecasts following the unseasonal autumnal weather which has led to a massive decrease in the household and business consumption of gas and electricity.

For the first 10 months of the year, gas consumption fell by 17% compared to last year, and electricity consumption was down by 3%.

As a result, the operating profit for 2011 could be £100 million lower than expected, and the job cuts are therefore needed to save on costs.

The jobs are to go from the services business, with management and support positions targeted. But the remaining 34,000 employees across the group will also be worried as Centrica confirmed that it could not rule out further cuts.

The company announced that it has to provide value for money for its customers in order to stay competitive, and it therefore had to reduce its costs by cutting back on staff numbers.

British Gas has seen 200,000 customers leave recently, according to the Mirror, after it increased its energy prices during the summer. Perhaps customers have now started to seek out better deals before the winter arrives.

Whether the cuts will make British Gas more competitive is yet to be seen. With higher gas and electricity prices across the board, it is getting more difficult to find a better deal. However, comparison websites are still the place to go if you want to find a cheaper energy deal before the really cold weather hits.

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British Gas receives £2.5 million fine from Ofgem

August 9, 2011 at 2:45 pm

British Gas has been fined the huge sum of £2.5 million by Ofgem. The fine came after Ofgem decided that the company had failed to deal correctly with a number of customer complaints.

British Gas provides power to nearly half of all the households in the UK, so the fact that it has been letting its customers down is worrying.

Ofgem said in a statement that it had found during an investigation that British Gas had “breached regulations setting standards for the way energy companies handle customer complaints”. This is now being seen as a warning from the regulator to other energy firms to take their complaints process very seriously.

As well as failing to deal with its complaints properly, British Gas also failed to provide important details to customers about how to seek help from the energy ombudsman. Ofgem claimed that the investigation highlighted the “basic failures” in the customer service, in particular when dealing with small business customers.

This comes after Ofgem warned the industry back in March that it would be taking a tougher approach to reforming the market.

British Gas claimed that, because the company has 16 million accounts, the breach was quite minor. However, a spokesman said that “we acknowledge our service fell short of what they should expect from British Gas”. He also claimed that British Gas has made a £4 million investment to meet its regulatory requirements.

People are going to expect more from the energy companies now that they insist on raising their bills so frequently, so this is a tough message from Ofgem that it is not going to take bad service lightly.

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19% rise for Scottish Power customers

June 26, 2011 at 2:42 pm

There was yet more misery for gas customers recently when Scottish Power announced that it would be increasing its gas bills by a massive 19% in a few months. At the same time, the energy provider said that its electricity bills would also rise by 10%.

The announcement has been met with widespread criticism. Now customers are being encouraged to go online to find a better deal before the rises come into force in August 2011.

So why the increases?

Scottish Power claims that it is responding to a rise in wholesale costs over recent months as well as to the volatile global markets.

However, this is not likely to go down well with the 2.4 million households affected by the increase. The average dual-fuel customer will now have to pay an extra £175 a year following the increase. Consumer Focus described the decision as a “body blow” for customers.

The move comes less than a year since Scottish Power last increased its bills. Back in November 2010 it announced that it was increasing its gas bills by 2% and electricity by 8.9%. However, this latest increase represents a much larger rise and is set to hit customers hard.

Scottish Power said that customers will be notified in June so that they are given 30 days notice before it comes into effect. It also claimed that 700,000 customers will not be affected due to being on fixed or capped tariffs.

However, there are now fears that it could lead to more price rises by the other energy providers. History shows that the large energy providers tend to increase their prices together, meaning other energy customers could also be affected.

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Elderly targeted by rogue gasfitters

April 27, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Criminals posing as gasfitters are door-stepping Britain’s elderly. Many vulnerable pensioners (particularly those who live alone) are falling victim to the scam, and finding themselves seriously out of pocket as a result.

It is not yet clear how long the criminals have been in operation, but British Gas (and other gas providers) has acted swiftly to notify and warn customers whom it feels may be susceptible to such illegal activity, and is taking steps to fight it.

British Gas has been successful in recent years in bringing unauthorised gas engineers to justice. Those who have been found guilty of fitting dangerous, carbon-monoxide emitting gas appliances and flues have been heavily fined in court. But, as yet, criminals preying on Britain’s elderly by insisting they need to ‘carry out important gas checks’ in their homes have yet to be caught.

After having their gas boiler, gas cooker or gas fire looked over by their visitor(s), some victims are then complying with demands for cash. They are unaware that they actually qualify for a free gas check, being of pensionable age. The illegal gasfitter then leaves and becomes untraceable.

Sadly, so many of the elderly victims are socially isolated and suffer from loneliness and depression. When a polite and helpful ‘gasfitter’ knocks on their door, they can feel glad of the company, and permit access without even asking to see any kind of credentials or official papers, such as a Gas Safe Register ID card (proof that a gas engineer is legally permitted to carry out gas repairs in the UK).

The older generation also generally possesses a natural respect for (and deference to) officialdom and authority. When a uniformed visitor knocks at their door, their first instinct is not usually one of suspicion, but of compliance. The rogue gasfitters know this and feed on it to almost effortlessly win an elderly person’s confidence, and to then gain entry to their home.

Even those who have their suspicions can be reluctant to report a visit from an illegal gasfitter, for fear of any reprisals. The irony is that information about possible illicit activity by rogue gas engineers operating across Britain can be made anonymously to the Gas Safe Register or by calling the helpline free on 0800 408 5500.

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Middle East chaos could lead to rise in gas bills

March 20, 2011 at 12:21 pm

The recent chaos in the Middle East, which has seen widespread protests and fighting in Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya, may seem far away. However, there’s a chance the consequences could be felt a lot closer to home in the form of rises in gas bills.

In an interview in The Telegraph, the chief executive of Centrica, Sam Laidlaw, said that he could not rule out price hikes as a result of the problems we are witnessing at the moment, which will be worrying for all gas customers in the UK.

As a result of the widespread unrest, oil went up to $119.79 per barrel, the highest since the financial crisis. On top of that, gas went up 2.7% to 64.5p a therm, the highest since October 2009.

What’s even more worrying for gas customers is that bills were already hiked back in December. British Gas customers saw their bills go up on December 10 so that the average dual-fuel bill is now £1,239 a year instead of £1,157.

At the same time as he refused to rule out price hikes as a result of the Middle East problems, Laidlaw also announced record profits for both British Gas and Centrica. British Gas saw profits of £742 million last year, a 24% rise on the previous year, and Centrica revealed record profits of £2.8 billion.

British Gas was not the only power company to announce its profits. Scottish Power announced profits of £1 billion and RWE npower said it made profits of £233 million, a 6% rise on last year.

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