Public flak for gas suppliers

The Gas Consumers Council has published its first list of customer complaints against independent gas suppliers, with Calortex and Eastern Natural Gas topping the list of shame.

The GCC, which was set up to monitor standards of service to gas consumers, has logged 291 “problem calls” about independent gas suppliers from July 28 to August 8.

The complaints range from customers being mysteriously signed up to new gas suppliers without their consent, to signing agreements thinking they are simply asking for more information.

The figures, revealed exclusively in Marketing Week, come as free competition in gas supply is rolled out across the country. It has been introduced in two areas – the South-west and South-east of England, and is due to be introduced in Scotland and the North-east in November, before being launched into the rest of the country next year. The independent companies are offering discounts of up to 24 per cent on gas bills compared with those of British Gas. There are some 15 independent gas supply companies vying for business.

The GCC is to publish the list every month so consumers – and industry players – can compare the performance of the different companies.

There were 36 complaints from customers whose gas supply was changed from British Gas to independent suppliers without them signing a contract. Eastern received 12 complaints about this and Sterling Gas received 11.

The list shows Eastern attracted the highest number of complaints, a total of 83, with 31 concerning dubious doorstep selling tactics. There were 21 complaints from consumers who signed up to switch from British Gas to Eastern and then tried to cancel the agreement, but were transferred anyway. And seven complained they were misled into signing a contract thinking they were signing for more information.

A spokeswoman for Eastern says the company has signed up 250,000 customers and gives 50,000 presentations a week. “We are concerned about any complaints or problems. We are always trying to change and improve what we do.”

Calortex attracted 42 complaints about poor standards of service – the highest of any gas supplier. These accounted for a total of 81 complaints against the company. A spokesman for Calortex says: “I find that surprising, but it is a new industry and there are going to be mistakes – we are modernising our systems.”

The list is published as industry watchdog Ofgas reveals it has received complaints from nearly one in ten consumers who have switched from British Gas since January in the counties of Kent, Sussex, Avon and Dorset.

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