Industry News

British Gas puts customers in control of direct debits

From today, British Gas is introducing flexible monthly direct debits and payment holidays for customers with online accounts. Eligible customers will now be able to set the amount they want to pay each month and choose up to two months in every 12 in which they pay absolutely nothing.

These new services are the first in a series of changes being made by British Gas as a result of a year of working with its customer panel to improve the business. Following significant involvement by the panel over the last year, British Gas has now invited 10 customers to form a permanent British Gas Customer Board which will continue to give robust feedback to the senior leadership team at British Gas.

Ian Peters, British Gas' managing director of energy, said:

"A year ago we embarked on a nationwide journey to listen to our customers, touring high streets up and down the country, as well as giving 40 customers the chance to visit and question us on every part of our business. Their frank and honest feedback has been hugely valuable and made us take a long hard look at ourselves.

"Unsurprisingly, one of the most pressing concerns was managing bills. That's why we're now offering our customers the chance to vary their payments online - and even take payment holidays if they need to. This is one of many changes we'll be making to the business this year."

Responding to customer feedback will be a major focus for British Gas and the customer board in the months and years ahead, and a five-point plan, put forward by the customer panel will provide direction for this. In addition to the flexible monthly direct debits, further steps are also being revealed under each part of the five-point plan:

1. Revolutionise customer service:

  • Our engineers now have flexible working patterns to ensure that our staffing levels match the demands of the busy winter months. In addition to our 24hr emergency service, British Gas engineers will now be available as late as 8pm, seven days a week
  • Customer loyalty is being rewarded through a new partnership with Nectar
  • We're simplifying our automated call systems and in some parts of the business we'll be trialling the removal of them altogether so calls are answered by real people straightaway
  • All our services have a free 0800 number with a local number also available for those using mobiles

2. Simplify billing:

  • In 2011, two million customers will receive a joint bill for their gas and electricity
  • Last year we took the first steps to simplify the design of our bill. We will continue to work with regulators to look at ways in which we can simplify this further

3. Make tariffs easier to use:

  • Online customers can now access a new and improved website with fuller, clearer information on their payment history and an online tariff checker to help choose the best possible tariff for their needs

4. Be open and proud - Let customers see the real British Gas:

  • A permanent customer board will be appointed to oversee progress, giving honest, impartial feedback, ensuring British Gas continues to listen to its customers
  • We'll continue investing to help our customers in the many ways we do, from making £37m available for vulnerable customers to providing free energy efficiency measures such as solar panels and ground source heat pumps to communities across the UK. We'll also do more to ensure our customers know about these activities and the benefits available to them

5. Lead the company and customers towards a carbon reduced future:

  • By the end of 2012, around 2m of our customers across British Gas and British Gas Business will have had a Smart meter installed. Smart meters will allow us to read the meter remotely, without having to send a meter reader and will help customers save energy and money
  • We'll go back to the high street this year and visit cities across the UK to provide free British Gas support and advice on energy efficiency and reducing their bills

Ann Robinson, director of Consumer Policy at uSwitch.com, who chaired the Customer Panel said:

"At uSwitch.com, our aim is to look after the public's best interest and, most importantly, save them money. As a result, I haven't always had good things to say about British Gas.

"I've been genuinely surprised at the access that the customer panel has had and I'm impressed to see British Gas taking the feedback of customers so seriously. It still has changes to make but I'm now convinced that British Gas is truly committed to listening to its customers and taking action to improve the business."

The first meeting of the customer board will take place in the spring, with a focus on helping customers benefit from smart meters as part of a commitment to lead them towards a carbon reduced future.

Peter Archibald, a panellist from Windsor, who will continue to help British Gas as a member of the British Gas Customer Board said:

"Before I joined the customer panel, I thought of British Gas as an old-fashioned, unresponsive company. It's been a real eye-opener getting such complete access to the business and I have seen that they are actually a modern, professional organisation that really does care about its customers and is keen to listen to us.

I have really enjoyed the opportunity to challenge even the most senior executives and have had regular email exchanges with Phil Bentley and a number of other Directors at British Gas."

For more information on flexible direct debits, visit www.britishgas.co.uk/flex.

Notes to Editors

For further information or an interview with British Gas, USwitch.com or a member of the new Customer Board please contact:

British Gas press office - 0800 107 7015

Flexible Payments Eligibility Criteria:
  • Flexible payments are available to all those who have set up their direct debits with an online account
  • Eligibility for flexible payments is subject to credit status.
  • Customers will also need to have at least three Direct Debit payments left on their plan to take up the flexible payments offer
  • The same annual amount is due whether customers take a payment holiday or not. Those who take the holiday will need to increase their payment in other months to cover the difference. No charges or interest will be applied during the payment holiday.

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