British Gas share below 50%

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British Gas's share of the domestic gas market has fallen below 50 per cent for the first time after more than four million households switched supplier last year in protest at huge increases in bills.

New figures released by the energy regulator Ofgem show that fewer than 10 million of Britain's 20 million households now take their gas from the Centrica-owned company. In October 2006, British Gas's market share was 48 per cent. It had a monopoly of the gas market until it was opened up to competition in 1998.

Inflation figures published yesterday show that gas bills have risen 31 per cent while electricity prices are up by 22 per cent. In the past three years, the average household energy bill has gone up by £420 to more than £1,000. Last year, British Gas raised bills by 22 per cent in March and 12.4 per cent in September.

Ofgem said that, in the first 10 months of last year, 3.25 million gas customers changed supplier while4 million electricity customers switched. Because 80 per cent of customers choose "dual-fuel" deals, the actual number of households moving supplier was just over 4 million - 750,000 more than in 2005.

The figures also show the market share of five of the former regional electricity monopolies fell below 50 per cent last year in their home territories. Yorkshire, Northern and Midlands, all owned by npower, saw their market shares fall to 49 per cent, 48 per cent and 47 per cent respectively, and the Powergen-owned Norweb saw its market share shrink to 44 per cent. East Midlands, also a Powergen company, fell below 50 per cent as well.