British Gas pounds 50 call-out angers rivals

British Gas has become embroiled in a new row with rival suppliers, this time over the costs of administering pre-payment meters in poorer households, which the Gas Consumers Council has warned could threaten the success of domestic competition.

Suppliers have been asked by British Gas to pay pounds 50 for each emergency visit it has to make to homes with pre-payment meters, which are managed by TransCo, the company's pipeline division. Managers have become alarmed at the rising cost of administering the system, called Quantum, which is used by 800,000 households in the UK.

Under the system, customers charge up a smart-card with gas units at Post Offices instead of feeding coins into meters. Last year Quantum homes were responsible for 124,000 emergency call-outs, many of which are claimed to have been unnecessary. The new charge could net British Gas more than pounds 5m a year in extra revenue.

"There are some people with pre-payment meters who think they can get some extra gas by calling TransCo out. We have to run an emergency service which is cost-effective," said a TransCo spokeswoman.

However, new gas suppliers stampeding into the competitive residential market claim the call-out fee will wipe out any profit made from pre-payment customers. In trials of domestic competition in the South-west, prices offered for Quantum homes have been around 20 per cent higher than those for ordinary households.

The Gas Consumers Council has warned that the fee would encourage new entrants into the competitive market to "cherry pick" the best customers. The GCC is already concerned about the marketing frenzy under way in the second set of trial areas, where several companies are engaged in doorstep selling campaigns. Competition starts in Avon and Dorset next week and in Kent and Sussex from March.

Under licences issued by Ofgas, the industry regulator, new suppliers have to offer gas to any customer, regardless of income. Sue Slipman, GCC director, explained: "We know that cherry picking is happening and as soon as we get evidence we'll catch these companies out. This is a flagrant breach of licence conditions set by Ofgas."

One independent gas company, Calortex, has already raised concerns with TransCo about the call-out charge. Calortex, a joint venture between Calor and Texaco, has so far signed up 2,200 pre-payment meter customers in the South-west trial, some 80 per cent of all those Quantum households who have switched from British Gas.

Tomorrow the Office of Fair Trading is to hold a private conference with Ofgas and other industry experts to discuss the marketing problem. Ofgas has so far rejected the GCC's call for it to police a mandatory code of practice. The electricity watchdog, Offer, has also agreed to attend the gathering.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Alexis Sanchez, Alan Pardew and Graziano Pelle
footballAfter QPR draw, follow Villa vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Hull and Swansea vs Southampton
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
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