British Gas said it is hiring more people to deal with a rise in the ustomers who are struggling to cope with soaring energy bills, as its owner, Centrica, predicted annual profits this year will hit the top end of expectations.
The company, Britain’s biggest energy supplier, is to recruit another 500 people to field calls from the growing number of people who are facing higher energy bills at a time when the wider cost of living is outpacing wage growth, piling pressure on household budgets. They will be based in the UK. British Gas currently has about 6,000 call centre staff.
A spokesperson for Centrica said demand for customer services had been “phenomenal” over the past year. “We’re taking on extra employees to manage that demand,” they said. “Customers are very concerned about rising energy costs and we want to help them as much as we can.”
Scottish Power boss urges Sunak to take swift action on energy bills crisisRead more
The average household dual fuel tariff jumped to just under £2,000 a year on 1 April, when the UK’s energy regulator raised the price cap by 54% to reflect sky-high wholesale gas prices. Bills are poised to rise further at the next energy price cap review in October.
Centrica said in an unplanned trading statement on Tuesday that it expected 2022 operating profits to come at the top end of City forecasts, which range from £739m to £1.4bn.
Investec analyst Martin Young said: “A doubling of the bad debt rate would impact [the company] by about £100m, although we would expect some recovery via the price cap, in time.”
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has been heavily criticised for not doing enough to help low-income households, and calls for a windfall tax on energy producers such as BP and Shell have intensified after they made billions in profits on the back of higher oil and gas prices.
Centrica has also beefed up the British Gas energy support fund, set up in December, which has tripled in value since then to £6m. It provides grants of up to £750 to help vulnerable customers pay their energy bills.
Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk
The fund has paid out £1.9m to 3,600 customers so far, equating to an average grant of £534. A further £1.6m of grants is pending.
The firm will create a further 1,000 engineering apprenticeships at British Gas after 500 were set up last year, with the goal of taking on 3,500 over the next decade. It said it hired 700 qualified engineers to install and repair boilers and heating systems last year, but lost 450 existing engineers who refused to sign up to tougher employment terms, in a controversial “fire and rehire” scheme.
Centrica said supply chain disruption, with global delays to shipments of some parts, and higher inflation was affecting the British Gas services arm. However, its British nuclear and gas production business is performing strongly, and the company has secured more supplies of gas from Norway and renewable energy – mainly wind and solar – from across Europe and within the UK.