British Gas risks losing quality service charter

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British Gas is in danger of becoming the first company to lose its charter mark, the government award for high standards of service to the public, according to the Gas Consumers Council.

A decision to strip the company of its award, presented two years ago, would come hard on the heels of harsh criticism it received following the pay rise of its chairman Cedric Brown, and the subsequent discussions about a drop in salary for showroom staff.

The council will meet on Wednesday to discuss three plans of action presented by its director, Ian Powe.

Mr Powe said last night that his first proposal was to "do nothing'', while the second was to say to British Gas: "Come on guys, you used to be a fine company, pull your socks up.''

However, it is his third suggestion to bypass British Gas and go straight to the Citizens Charter Unit and say "here are our complaints, do something about it'', that could strip the company of its award.

The doubt over whether the company still deserves the award follows a decline in the amount of services available at an increasingly small number of High Street showrooms.

The council said British Gas had closed almost half of its showrooms. Consumers used to able to get advice on debt and billing, servicing, energy efficiency and home insulation, as well as on buying gas appliances; now only the later two remain.

Mr Powe said the question over whether British Gas ought to retain its charter mark followed figures that showed complaints from gas consumers had increased alarmingly. Last year there were 24,359 complaints, compared with 20,428 in 1993, a rise of 19 per cent.

A spokeswoman for British Gas said last night: "British Gas is going through a massive reorganisation.

"There are inevitably some stresses and strains, but throughout this period of rapid change we remain totally committed to the safety and well-being of our customers.

"Naturally, we regret any increase in complaints, but the GCC figures represent only a tiny proportion of our 18 million domestic customers. This means that 99.9 per cent felt they did not need to complain to the GCC in 1994."