British Gas feels the heat after recording huge profit increase

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BRITISH Gas is facing a public backlash after recording a massive 23 per cent increase in profits on the back of hefty prise rises.

The UK’s biggest energy supplier, which is owned by utility giant Centrica, put its gas and electricity tariffs up by 18 per cent and 16 per cent respectively in August last year, blaming higher wholesale costs.

The company admitted the increases helped its residential arm to an operating profits haul of £345m in the six months to the end of June. That equates to £1.9m a day, or an average of £3.64p a month from the 15.8 million accounts its serves.

Centrica claimed the rise was the result of weak comparative figures with the previous year when it had delayed passing on a price hike, while the cold start to this year’s summer had boosted demand.

But consumer groups and unions said it needed to share more of the pain being suffered by hard-pressed consumers by dropping its prices.

Unison’s head of business, Mike Jeram said: “British Gas seems to have side-stepped austerity Britain and passed the pain of the double-dip recession onto their domestic customers.

“How can it be right that families across the UK are suffering from pay freezes, job cuts and struggling to pay their fuel bills, at the same time as the company is posting a 23 per cent profit hike?” he asked.

Audrey Gallacher, of Consumer Focus, said: “Hard pressed consumers will be shocked to see such a big rise in profits. The disconnection between profits and prices risks deepening consumer distrust over energy bills.”

Centrica claims to control just 15 per cent of a customer’s bill through its operating costs and profit margins.

Chief executive Sam Laidlaw said: “Centrica has performed well in the first half of 2012 despite challenging market conditions, although the increase in earnings must be placed in the context of unusually low levels of consumption and profits in the UK in the first half of 2011.”