The owner of British Gas is running the gauntlet of public anger as it revealed a £606 million profit haul at its residential arm months after hiking customer tariffs.
Centrica said an 11% rise in profits at British Gas residential came after last year’s colder-than-normal weather saw gas use leap 12% and in spite of a 1% fall in customer accounts to 15.7 million in 2012.
The results are likely to raise questions over the fairness of energy bill increases after British Gas raised tariffs by 6% for around 8.4 million households at the end of last year.
Group adjusted operating profits rose 14% to £2.7 billion, but Centrica said it paid more than £1 billion in tax and invested £2.7 billion in 2012.
Directors from the company have appeared on television to defend the results.
Chris Jansen, managing director of services and commercial at Centrica, said a colder winter last year contributed to the rise in profits. He told Daybreak: “I completely understand our profits announced today will create a reaction with customers.
“I think it’s important to remember that in 2011 it was a very, very mild winter … so the country used a lot less gas, and actually our profits in 2011 were 20% down on 2010.”
Asked whether customers would face further price increases, Mr Jansen replied: “It’s impossible for me to say that, that’s like looking at a crystal ball. The general trend for energy prices are prices are increasing. All we say to customers is let’s do what we can to control energy bills. Prices might be going up but bills don’t need to if we control our energy use.”
Ian Peters, managing director of residential energy for British Gas, said: “If I look into the future we have no plans to put prices up even higher, the gas prices are relatively calm.”
Asked on BBC Breakfast how long into the future – and if the firm was committing to not putting prices up – he said: “I can’t do that because the gas market is volatile. But right now, as I say, it is very early in the year, we work in a very competitive market and it is not in our interest or our customers’ to put prices up. So we will do everything we can not to do that.”