Gas Charter Mark in jeopardy

The Gas Consumers Council has called on the Government to consider whether British Gas deserves its Charter Mark following a sharp increase in complaints received by the GCC about the company.

David Hunt, minister with responsibility for the Citizen's Charter, is routinely reviewing the company's Charter Mark, awarded in 1993, and is expected to give considerable weight to the views of the GCC.

Once, British Gas boasted a standard of service record second only to Marks & Spencer. The council says, however: "The tide of consumer satisfaction began to turn against the company at the beginning of 1994."

The GCC, which has written to Mr Hunt expressing its views, said that the fall in public perception of British Gas was not influenced until much later by the disclosure of salary increases among senior management.

British Gas has been dogged by adverse publicity since it emerged at the end of last year that Cedric Brown, chief executive, had been awarded a 75 per cent pay increase. The council said that, by then, complaints were increasing by more than 30 per centa month. In December they jumped 71.3 per cent.

Ian Powe, director of the GCC, said there was concern that standards would continue to suffer as British Gas restructured to meet the challenge of competition. The Government plans to end the company's monopoly over the supply of gas to households in 1996, with full competition following in 1998.

Norman Blacker, executive director of British Gas, said: "We are going through a massive reorganisation; inevitably that is putting strains on some services. These are temporary difficulties, but we aim to build a better business with more satisfied customers."