Centrica, the UK home services company that controls British Gas, has lost 300,000 to 350,000 gas customers since increasing its prices at the start of the year. The group admitted at its annual meeting in London that the number of its gas customers had fallen to about 13m, compared with 13.4m at the end of December. “Steps have been taken to address the position against a background of subsequent competitor price increases. The profitability of the gas business has improved,” said Roy Gardner, the chief executive of the group. Consumer groups have criticised Centrica for increasing its prices twice within a year. The average household bill for the company's customers has risen by almost ten percent since the first increase in April 2001. The UK Consumers Association earlier this year started a campaign to persuade people to switch supplier. Energywatch, the gas and power consumer body, has also carried out research showing almost one in five Centrica gas customers are considering leaving the company. Centrica pointed out that it had started a new marketing campaign aimed at halting the slide and that competitors such as Powergen and London Electricity had implemented similar rises. The group had partially offset the fall in gas customers with a 100,000 increase in electricity customers and had built up the number of “customer relationships” in the US to four and a half million, following acquisitions earlier this year. Centrica has pioneered a strategy of cross selling many products to utility customers to offset tightening margins in the UK. The group also owns the AA motoring services company, Goldfish credit card and One.Tel telecommunications.
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