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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 February, 2005, 14:47 GMT
British Gas seeks customer growth
British Gas wants its customers back
British Gas-owner Centrica has said it will focus this year on winning back customers it lost in 2004.

British Gas - which also provides electricity - revealed in December that it had lost about one million users over the year after it put up prices.

Centrica said it had no plans to raise household bills further, but added that wholesale costs remained volatile.

The comments came as the company reported a 16% rise in operating profits to 1.2bn ($2.3bn).

Operating profits at Centrica's British Gas arm rose 64% to 337m - a figure that came in for criticism from consumer group Energywatch.

Since 2003, the cost of gas for British Gas' domestic customers has increased by 22%, while the price of electricity has gone up by 18%, Energywatch said.

"Consumers accept that companies need to make profits. What they won't accept is that the profits come at the expense of consumers, with minimal risk taken by the company," said Allan Asher, chief executive of Energywatch.

Fightback

Energy costs soared during 2004 as strong global demand coupled with political unrest in the Middle East pushed oil prices higher.

We are optimistic that we will see no net customer losses in 2005
Phil Bentley, Centrica finance director

Chief executive Sir Roy Gardner said: "We expect 2005 to be no less demanding than 2004. Wholesale prices will continue to challenge energy retailers."

Rising costs forced British Gas to raise prices twice during 2004, which led customers to desert the firm as they sought cheaper suppliers.

But Centrica has now said it wants to stem the loss of custom.

"We are optimistic that we will see no net customer losses in 2005," said finance director Phil Bentley.

The firm is cutting costs to protect its profit margins and also introducing measures aimed at luring users back.

One such measure - a billing plan which allows customers to fix their energy costs until 2007 - has proved very popular, Centrica said.

More than 600,000 users have signed up to this plan.




SEE ALSO:
British Gas loses a million users
10 Dec 04 |  Business
Centrica warns on the cost of gas
29 Jul 04 |  Business
British Gas owner cuts 850 jobs
03 Jun 04 |  Business


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