The profits of the owner of British Gas have more than tripled to a record £3.3billion
As many households struggle with soaring power bills Centrica’s massive windfall has provoked accusations of profiteering. It comes after a row over debt collectors breaking into the homes of hard-up British Gas customers to forcibly install pre-payment meters.
Record operating profits of £3.3billion were recorded at the company, up from £948million in 2021 and surpassing the firm’s previous highest of £2.7billion, posted in 2012.
The general secretary of the Unite union, Sharon Graham, said the figures were “obscene”.
She said: “Energy companies are showing us everything that is wrong with the UK’s broken economy.”
Trades Union Congress general secretary, Paul Nowak, called for public ownership of energy companies and said: “While millions of families struggle to heat their homes, firms like Centrica are raking in monster profits.”
Millions of British Gas customers, along with those of other providers, have been struggling to pay energy bills as prices have soared due to the war in Ukraine.
Millions of British Gas customers have been struggling to pay energy bills
Centrica chief executive Chris O’Shea is now under pressure to scale back a potential multi-million-pound pay and incentive package.
He is in line for a salary and bonus bonanza of up to £4.2million linked to Centrica’s performance.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called the huge profits a betrayal for British Gas customers who are “struggling to keep their heating on”.
He said: “Once again the Government’s failure to implement a proper windfall tax is allowing oil and gas businesses to make billions off the back of hardworking families.”
But the financial performance at British Gas itself was not as strong as its parent company. Adjusted operating profit decreased to £72million in 2022 from £118million in 2021 – a 39 per cent decline.
Centrica’s annual report said protecting vulnerable customers is a priority. The firm has committed to donating 10 per cent of both British Gas Energy’s and Irish operator Bord Gais’s adjusted operating profits “to help until the current crisis is over”.
Tom Mars-land, of Disability equality charity Scope, said: “It’s obscene that energy companies continue to make massive profits as disabled people face devastating situations because they can’t afford enough energy.
“We’re being inundated with heartbreaking calls from disabled people who haven’t eaten for days, who can’t afford energy to charge wheelchairs and stairlifts but are racking up huge energy debts.”
Centrica’s North Sea profits are subject to a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas operators. However, there have been calls for the oil and gas windfall tax to capture a greater proportion of profits, especially considering Shell and BP also reported record profits this year.
Labour wants the scrapping of an investment allowance which cuts tax for oil and gas operators that invest on increasing production.
Sana Yusuf, of Friends of the Earth, said the Government “needs to back a tougher windfall tax on excessive profits of fossil fuel companies like Centrica to help fund insulation and homegrown renewables needed to bring down bills”.
‘I can’t use a hot water bottle as I can’t afford the energy’
Disabled Michelle Dearden has had to use food banks and is struggling to keep her heating on because of soaring prices.
The mother of five often goes to bed with the heating off and under numerous duvets to keep warm, on an empty stomach.
She is neurodivergent – the term describes people whose differences such as autism or other learning disabilities affect how their brain works.
Michelle, 52, from Lampeter, Ceredigion, does not have anything else to cut back on.
She told the Daily Express: “It’s like all my rights have been stolen. I’ve done all I can.
“I can’t even use hot water bottles because it takes up too much energy to boil the kettle.”
The cost-of-living crisis has left her isolated just when she needs her family the most.
Michelle added: “I haven’t seen my daughter for three years now. She lives in Dover. I just don’t have the spare cash to travel there from Wales.”
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has been urged to introduce a lower, social energy tariff for people like Michelle.
The charity Age UK says that the measure could benefit up to 10 million vulnerable households – funded by taxation or by spreading the cost across better-off consumers.
Louise Rubin, of disability equality charity Scope, told MPs recently: “So many are fighting to keep vital medical equipment on, which drains electricity, and they are missing medical appointments because of the cost of getting there.”
Michelle said that such a tactic would be “a fair way of helping people and it would help me get a bit of dignity back”.
Social tariffs are found in the telecoms industry, and some energy firms did offer them before the introduction in 2019 of Ofgem’s price cap.
The Daily Express’s crusade to End the Disability Bills Crisis fights for more financial support for the hardest-hit families.
COMMENT BY SHANI DHANDA
We’re in the darkest depths of winter and still more than six weeks until spring.
For many of us this means sky-high energy bills with little relief in sight.
Rishi Sunak has announced a new Energy Security and Net Zero Department for “bringing down bills and halving inflation”.
This must include a solution for disabled people at financial breaking point.
Some will die if they can’t stay warm enough. This is the brutal reality for disabled people who rely on lifesaving equipment.
The Government’s cost-of-living support payments – £150 for disabled people and £650 for anyone on means-tested benefits – have been swallowed up by bills and rising food prices. The next payments aren’t due for months. They must bring these forward.
Long term, we need a fairer system. Scope, Age UK and around 100 other charities are campaigning for a social energy tariff. This would mean discounted bills for the disabled and would half costs. It’s a solution specifically for a group who have no choice but to use a lot of power.
Even energy companies like Ovo and Good Energy have joined the call.
Momentum is building behind a system where disabled can afford to live at home.
So, Jeremy Hunt, bring forward the planned payments and introduce the new tariff in your Budget next month. Disabled people can’t afford to wait.
- Shani Dhanda is a disability activist and Scope ambassador