MP calls for FCA to investigate Centrica

A Labour MP has asked the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to investigate after claiming recent strike action left Centrica customers with their HomeCare insurance not being honoured.

GMB union says it understands that more than 100,000 customers have been impacted by the industrial action.

The strike was part of an ongoing dispute between GMB members and the British Gas-owner over revised contract terms and conditions.

On 7 January thousands of GMB members staged a five-day walkout and recently the union voted for 7,000 of its members to down tools for another five days from 20 January.

In response Stockport MP Navendu Mishra has accused Centrica of setting a “dangerous precedent” and in writing to the FCA accuses the company of “engineering an employment situation which results in the insurance cover that customers purchased in good faith not being honoured”.

Mishra added: “The FCA has powers under the Financial Services Act to investigate Centrica’s failure to fulfil its insurance obligations. It should use them to uncover the number of customers, including my constituents, who will be left without protection and clarify whether the possibility of industrial action was adequately conveyed to consumers when it sold them the insurance.

“Centrica needs to be held accountable for the way it has treated its staff and its customers.”

Justin Bowden, GMB national secretary, said: “British Gas has let its customers down. There is now a huge backlog of jobs not done. This backlog will not be cleared anytime soon, and it will grow with strikes running into next month.

“It was Centrica who provoked this dispute by threatening to fire and rehire their entire British Gas workforce, despite making close to a billion pounds in operating profit.

“It’s only right that they now face questions from the regulator about their management failings that have betrayed loyal customers and dedicated staff alike.”

Responding to the letter, a British Gas spokesperson said: “We will still be attending all essential and vulnerable customer appointments to keep homes warm and working.

“We will also catch up other appointments like annual services quickly and within contract periods so our customers are still getting the benefits of their policy.”

Trading update

This morning (14 January) Centrica posted a trading update ahead of its preliminary results due to be published next month.

The company says its operational and financial performance was resilient in the second half of 2020, as it maintained a “tight focus” on cash generation and expenditure against the backdrop of the pandemic.

Covid-19 did continue to impact financial performance, although gross impact was lower in H2 2020 than in H1. UK business electricity demand was negatively impacted by around 15 per cent in H2 2020 compared to around 30 per cent in Q2 2020.

Residential boiler installations recovered in the second half compared to the first but were still around 15 per cent lower than in H2 2019. The company added that cash collection trends across the group were broadly in line with previous years.

At the end of 2020 Centrica had 6.9 million UK energy supply customers and 3.6 million UK services customers, both broadly unchanged since the half year.

Group net debt as at the end of 2020 is expected to be approximately £2.8 billion, a reduction of more than 10 per cent in the year. This however is before the proceeds of its sale of North American business Direct Energy for £2.7 billion which closed earlier this month.

Centrica added it remains cautious as it heads into 2021, with the return of tighter Covid-19 restrictions expected to put continued pressure on business energy demand and limit services workload. In addition, the related uncertain economic backdrop increases the potential for additional working capital outflow and higher bad debts.