British Gas clashes with regulator on competition

Another row is brewing between British Gas and the industry regulator, this time over moves to bring forward the introduction of the next stage of domestic competition, due to start in April 1997.

Ofgas is pushing to speed up the second phase in the development of the residential gas market, which would extend competition to 1.5 million homes across the South of England, to a new date in January.

Ofgas hopes to publish a consultation paper on the proposals at the end of this month, but has already held talks with TransCo, the British Gas pipeline business.

The move is believed to be popular with Government ministers, who hope to provide crucial voters in the South with cheaper gas bills.

But TransCo wants to spread the process over several months. Instead of an initial "big bang" on 1 April, its preferred option is to introduce competition over a six-month period, taking each postcode area at a time. A spokesman said: "We see the value of some form of phasing over the first half of the year. We are concerned at what might be an over-hasty approach that could put customers off."

The Gas Consumers Council also prefers a step-by-step approach to competition, but such a move would mean many homes would not have the chance of cheaper bills from rival suppliers to British Gas before the general election, which must take place by next May.

The latest dispute comes as British Gas waits for Ofgas to reveal its contentious final price controls for the pipeline business. The company has campaigned ceaselessly against the proposals, which would cut TransCo's revenues next year by between 20 and 28 per cent, reducing average bills by around pounds 30 a year. British Gas said it would have to cut 10,000 jobs to fund the cuts, which it has described as the "the biggest smash and grab raid in history".

The head of Ofgas, Clare Spottiswoode, returns from holiday on Monday to face a meeting with British Gas as the company makes one final attempt to get her to water down the proposals. Publication of the final formula has already been delayed until "mid-August", though one industry source suggested they could be delayed beyond next week.

To prepare for domestic competition, TransCo has developed one of the world's largest computer databases to track customers as they leave British Gas Trading, the gas supply arm of British Gas, for rival suppliers. In the first phase, which began in May with 500,000 customers in Devon and Cornwall, around 12 per cent of households switched from British Gas.

However, several problems occurred, including some ex-British Gas customers having hundreds of pounds accidentally debited from their bank accounts when they moved from the company.

The next stage, to extend competition to the whole of the South apart from Greater London, was originally due to take place next April, with the rest of the country included in April 1998. However, Ofgas said yesterday: "The inclination is now to do something earlier in the year." The most likely new date would be 27 January.

Several independent suppliers have said they are keen to start supplying gas in the region sooner. One company, Total Gas, has already begun marketing in Kent and Bristol.

Meanwhile another argument came to a head yesterday between TransCo and independent gas suppliers over the rules governing the way different firms use the pipeline infrastructure.

Suppliers must match the amount of gas they put in the system with the amount of gas used by customers. From next month these forecasts must balance daily, rather than monthly, or the firms could face severe financial penalties.

British Gas's rivals have complained that information from metering systems, which comes via TransCo, is not accurate enough to forecast daily demand. Ofgas said it would announce proposals on the issue on Monday. But yesterday one independent supplier said if the problems were not sorted out before September, it may have to challenge its contracts with TransCo in court.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
News
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable
science

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show?
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Consultant - Soho - IT, Pharma, Public Sector

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000 first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

Sales Executive

£20 - 24k (Uncapped Commission - £35k Year 1 OTE): Guru Careers: We are seekin...

Payroll & Accounts Assistant

£20 - 24k + Benefits: Guru Careers: This is a great opportunity for an enthusi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £280 - £320 p/d - 6 months

£280 - £320 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week