[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 22 December, 2003, 19:32 GMT
Couple with no gas found dead
The home of George and Gertrude Bates
Nearly 1,400 cash was found at the couple's home
A coroner is to call for a change in the law after an elderly couple were found dead in their home weeks after their gas supply was cut off, due to the non-payment of a 140 bill.

George Bates, 89, and his 86-year old wife Gertrude were found in a decomposed state in October in the south London house they had shared for 64 years.

British Gas said the Data Protection Act prohibited them from passing information on the situation to social services.

On Monday, coroner Dr Paul Knapman recorded a verdict of death by natural causes.

He told the inquest at Westminster Coroners' Court that he would contact the Information Commissioner to bring to his attention what he described as "a very tragic story".

Neighbours in Salterton Road, Tooting, raised the alarm when they realised they had not seen the couple for some time.

There is no system in place to flag up vulnerable people
Hilary Carter from Help the Aged
Police found the pair on 18 October in their lounge.

Mr Bates had died from hypothermia, emphysema and coronary heart disease and his wife from coronary heart disease.

British Gas had twice visited their home, in June and August, about the outstanding 140.62 balance.

On the second occasion the supply was cut-off, the inquest heard.

Cash found

Harry Metcalfe, general manager of communications at British Gas, said 10 attempts were made to contact the couple before the supply was switched off, as is procedure.

He said since the introduction of the Data Protection Act, British Gas was prohibited from passing information to social services as they were not allowed to disclose information on debt without the customer's consent.

Later in the inquest, it emerged that when the house was searched officers found 277 in cash on a small table in the lounge and 1,116.70 in a purse in a shoe.

Act reviewed

Dr Knapman said: "I shall write to the Information Commissioner and bring to his attention the fact that this disconnection could not be brought to the attention of the social services because of the provisions of the Data Protection Act for such action as he may think fit."

Mish Tullar, a British Gas spokesman said it was important that the act was reviewed by the Information Commissioner and offered the company's condolences to the Bates family.

Hilary Carter, from Help the Aged, said: "I think the key issue here is that there is no system in place to flag up vulnerable people and though they [British Gas] knew there was vulnerability here they weren't able to tell social services."


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Tom Edwards
"They'd lived at their home in Tooting for over sixty years"



RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific