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  1. ITV Report

Shareholder fury as owner of British Gas announces 234,000 customers have left in first third of year

  • Video report by ITV News Business and Economics Editor Joel Hills

Many shareholders have been venting their fury after it emerged 234,000 customers left Centrica, owner of British Gas, in the first four months of this year.

Britain's biggest energy provider also warned warmer weather and a £70 million hit from the Government's energy cap will impact first half results.

Some 1.88 million customer accounts have been lost since 2015.

Shareholders arriving at the annual general meeting on Monday told ITV News they were not happy about the company's performance and wanted to ''humiliate'' Centrica's Chief Executive Ian Conn over his £2.4 million pay packet.

Mr Conn’s pay for 2018 has risen by almost half and has caused unrest among workers as the company began cutting 2,000 jobs in Glasgow and Leeds.

Yet despite criticisms of Mr Conn, 85% of shareholders voted in favour of his pay award.

Centrica said it saw a “challenging” start to 2019, with falling UK natural gas prices adding to its woes.

Speaking about the loss of 234,000 UK customer accounts over the first four months of 2019, the company said the increase in the level of the new default tariff price cap led to a spike in customers switching in March and April.

Centrica said gross revenues rose 54% in the four months and it kept its full-year outlook unchanged for operating cash flow and debt as it expects cost savings to ramp up in the final six months of 2019. Shares rose 2%.

The group made savings of £58 million to the end of April and is on track for £250 million over the full-year, including moves to axe up to 2,000 jobs in 2019.

Iain Conn, group chief executive of Centrica. Credit: PA

Iain Conn, group chief executive of Centrica, said: “Although operational performance has been largely in line with our plans, external factors have presented challenges for Centrica during the first four months of 2019, in the form of the default tariff cap, warm weather, and falling gas prices.

“We have also experienced extensions to nuclear outages.

“However, we continue to focus on those things we can control and as a result we expect to achieve our 2019 cash flow and net debt targets.”

Centrica pledged to give a strategic update alongside its half-year results in July, when it also expects to have “additional clarity” on the trading pressures and issues impacting the sector.

The firm warned in February that the energy price cap will knock its 2019 performance.

Last July, the Government passed a Bill which called on Ofgem to impose a cap on all default energy tariffs, including the standard variable tariff, which came into effect at the start of the year.

George Salmon, an equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, warned the “stage is set for a dividend cut” at Centrica.

“The reality is that challenges throughout the group, not least the 234,000 UK home customers (accounts) that have walked out of the door so far this year, mean a rebased dividend is looking all the more likely,” he added.