British Gas bosses face a Twitter firestorm as they put up bills by 9.2%

  • Price rise that will add £123 a year to the average dual-fuel energy bill
  • Customer services director Bert Pijls holds Twitter question and answer
  • He endures an hour of non-stop abuse from furious customers
  • Twitter question and answer session that some described as a 'car crash'

By Sean Poulter, Consumer Affairs Editor

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British Gas bosses were subjected to a Twitter tirade yesterday as they battled to justify a punishing 9.2 per cent price rise that will add £123 a year to the average dual-fuel energy bill.

Customer services director Bert Pijls was on the wrong end of an hour of non-stop abuse during a question and answer session that some described as a ‘car crash’.

He went on the social networking site in an attempt to counter negative reaction to the price rise.

Mr Pijls insisted the company had no choice but to put up bills in the face of the rising cost of wholesale energy and green taxes.

British Gas Twitter row

But one Twitter user posted a picture of an old woman wrapped in blankets and huddled next to a heater, writing: ‘Do images like this help you sleep at night, Bertie?’

Lee Vincent wrote: ‘Hi Bert, which items of furniture do you, in your humble opinion, think people should burn first this winter?

 

Felicity Morse asked: ‘Have you found a way to channel angry customer feedback into electricity?’

British Gas, which supplies 7.8million homes, announced a 10.4 per cent rise in electricity prices and 8.4 per cent for gas, to take effect on November 23.

Its dual-fuel customers will see their average annual bill rise by £123 to £1,444 after the increases, according to figures from regulator Ofgem. But regional variations in prices mean some customers will see their bills top £1,500 a year.

Twitter storm: British Gas customer services director Bert Pijls was subjected to a torrent of abuse on the social media website Twitter during an online Q&A

Twitter storm: British Gas customer services director Bert Pijls was subjected to a torrent of abuse on the social media website Twitter during an online Q&A;

British Gas twitter storm
British Gas

Enraged: While twitter uses were angry about what they saw as rip off charges they were also able to see the funny side of the social media gaffe

Britain’s biggest energy supplier said at least £50 of the price rise can be blamed on green taxes and other measures imposed by the Government.

But this was denied by ministers, and David Cameron hit back by urging customers to switch away from the company over the ‘very disappointing’ increase.

Critics condemned the increase as a ‘disgrace’ and said it was a betrayal of pensioners and families who face a nightmare choice between heating and eating this winter.

The price rise follows an 8.2 per cent increase by SSE last week, while the other big energy suppliers are expected to follow suit.

British Gas saw profits rise by 11 per cent last year to £606million. More significantly, profits at its parent company, Centrica, which makes money from North Sea gas and power generation, surged 14 per cent to £2.7billion.

How the bill divides up

Ian Peters, managing director of residential supplies for the company, insisted he had no choice but to raise prices.

‘What’s pushing up energy prices at the moment are costs that are not all directly under our control, such as the global price of energy, charges that we have to pay for using the national grid that delivers energy to the home, and the cost of the Government’s social and environmental programmes,’ he said.

British Gas put much of the blame for the price rise on green subsidies for wind farms and new nuclear power stations and the ECO – Energy Company Obligation – scheme. This involves raising money through bills to provide free insulation to the homes of the poor.

It wants the cost shifted to general taxation, saying this ‘would lower the average annual dual fuel bill significantly’.

But Energy Secretary Ed Davey said British Gas should carry the can for higher bills, not the Government.

He suggested the company’s figures about the cost of running the ECO scheme were bogus saying, they ‘just don’t add up’. Last night Energy Minister Greg Barker admitted the energy price rises were tantamount to ‘robbery’.

Asked on Channel 4 News if customers were being robbed he said: ‘Absolutely, which is why we are doing something about it.

‘We’ve made it easier to switch, we’ve made bills easier to read and encouraged people to penalise the big six by voting with their feet and going to another supplier.

British Gas twitter reaction

British Gas twitter reaction

British Gas twitter reaction

Online gaffe: Twitter users responded by bombarding British Gas customer services director Bert Pijls with lots of questions relating to directors pays and bonuses

Online gaffe: Twitter users responded by bombarding British Gas customer services director Bert Pijls with lots of questions relating to directors pays and bonuses

‘By freezing the bills you kill the independents [firms] who bring choice and competition to the market.’ Caroline Flint, Labour’s energy spokesman, said: ‘Even the government minister can see this price rise today is unfair to customers, but would not refer the rise to the Competition Commission. We don’t have to, we’ve promised to freeze the bills.’

High energy bills have risen to the top of the political agenda following a promise by the Labour leader Ed Miliband to freeze prices if the party wins power at the 2015 general election.

The Prime Minister said: ‘I think it is a very disappointing announcement by British Gas.

‘There is something everyone can do, which is look to switch their electricity or gas bill from one supplier to another.

‘On average, this can help people save sometimes as much as £200 on their bill. So I would encourage customers who are not happy to go to the switching sites online and see whether they can get a better deal.’

A Downing Street spokesman suggested the Government would investigate ways to make it easier to switch,

John Allan, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: ‘Today’s British Gas increase at three times the rate of inflation is a disgrace.

Ill advised: Some twitter users pointed out it might have been a bad idea to hold an online Q&A the same day the company hiked prices

Ill advised: Some twitter users pointed out it might have been a bad idea to hold an online Q&A; the same day the company hiked prices

‘It is going to hit many households hard at a time when they simply cannot afford it. More than 40 per cent of small businesses are with British Gas and energy price rises are going to make the cost of doing business even higher.’

Gillian Guy, chief executive at Citizens Advice, called on other suppliers to hold prices. ‘Now is the time for energy firms to show an understanding of the day-to-day lives of their customers and put a freeze on further price rises this winter,’ she said.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of consumer group Which?, said more action is needed.

‘We want the Government to intervene to make sure everything possible is done to keep prices in check,’ he said.

Consumers can protect themselves against price rises by switching to fixed rate deals, some of which guarantee not to raise tariffs until 2017.

For example, First Utility has a tariff fixed until January 2016 with an average annual bill of £1,274.06, while EDF Energy has a fixed deal charging an average of £1,339.70 until March 2017.

The comments below have not been moderated.

I see they've finally pulled today's epic fail of an advert on Facebook after getting a barrage of (deserved) abuse.

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Fixing isn't an option for those on Prepayment Tariffs, and changing supplier is of little use also, because ALL of the energy companies charge Prepayment customers their most expensive (Standard) tariffs, meaning they already pay upto £200 a year more than credit customers, even before this increase. So the solution for these customers is what exactly?. Changing to credit meters is not a solution either, because those on prepayment meters are in that situation either because they are on low incomes, or because they are already in debt and fuel poverty.

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Perhaps the Government can lead by example, by removing the 5% VAT which is charged on domestic energy bills.

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Easy solution just swap energy supplier. Just tell friends and family to move from British gas to a cheaper alternative.

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Doesnt work, Ive been waiting for 2 yrs for BG to allow me to change suppliers. They let me change suppliers for my electric but the gas they wont. I keep getting told by the company I want to change to that BG wont send what they need over for the change.

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Gas and electricity go up once or twice a year. Fuel for the car yo-yo's but always rises throughout the year. Public transport fares rise massively every year. The cost of food and essentials like cleaning products cost more each time you shop. Yet inflation hovers around 2.5% - magic?

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When you vote for green socialist governments you can't really moan about high fuel bills. If you want cheap fuel dump the windfarms and start fracking. A 5% profit is hardly unreasonable, even if they became not for profit, the and the directors ate from food banks, your bill would still be 1360 instead of 1440. Stop moaning about something that is your fault.

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You can leave BG without exit fees if they apply just quote Ofgem's Standard Licence Conditions 23 and 24 "Once a customer becomes aware about a change to their energy contract (through a public announcement or individual notification), they can notify their supplier that they intend to switch in order avoid the effects of those changes at anytime on or before the date the change is scheduled to become effective."

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afarce, London UK, 1 hour ago Eve - roflmso . +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Cheers Afarce, a green tick for your sense of humour !.... I must be going soft in the head.. Ha Ha

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The energy industry is nothing more than a scam they never tell you how much they have to pay for energy on the open market they then produce the power and sell it to themselves then they charge for the use of cables pipes ect all the time racking up the bills so they can pay big dividens to shareholders and pay themselves fat bonuses on top of their fat salarys it`s fair to say there is no down side to being in the energy industry.

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In terms of waste, I think advertising comes fairly top of the list. I often refer to it myself as the Washing Powder syndrome. What I mean is that irrespective of how many washing powder adverts there are, the adverts won't increase overall washing powder consumption. It's the same with energy companies. Switching doesn't result in people using more gas/electricity, so ultimately, the cost of any advertising is just an extra cost that must be shared across all of the customers. After a given period of time, you still have the same number of customers, but with increased costs. As far as I can tell, British Gas spend a fortune on television advertising.

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