Domestic gas trials delayed by a month

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Around 1.5 million gas consumers in the south of England will have to wait another month to take part in trials of domestic competition, planned to start in the new year, writes Chris Godsmark. The decision is a blow for the regulator, Clare Spottiswoode, who will announce the delay at a roadshow in Bristol, one of the target areas, on Tuesday.

Representatives from independent gas suppliers, British Gas and the Gas Consumers Council agreed to postpone the second phase of the competition trials after a report commissioned by the watchdog, Ofgas, warned the early start could lead to disruption for customers.

Households in Dorset and the former county of Avon will be able to shop around for their gas from10 February, instead of the original date of 13 January. In Kent and East and West Sussex, the timetable has slipped from 7 February to 7 March.

In the first phase, which began in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset in May, 72,500 of British Gas's 500,000 customers switched to other companies.

It also emerged that the industry was at loggerheads over how to introduce competition across the rest of Britain. The British Gas pipeline division, TransCo, wants to phase the process from April 1998. Some rival suppliers claim it could start area by area later next year.