Twitter gives British Gas man a hot time

TwitterBritish Gas has faced a torrent of online abuse after hosting an online Q&A session on the day it announced a price hike.

The energy giant's customer services director Bert Pijls spent a difficult hour answering questions on Twitter.

Consumer watchdog Which? said the company was "very brave" to plan the Q&A on the same day that it announced that 7.8 million households face a 10.4% rise in electricity prices and 8.4% for gas tariffs from next month.

The Q&A was one of the top 10 trending topics as hundreds of customers took to the site to vent their anger at the rise.

Some dubbed the idea a "social media car crash" but others pointed out that it gave the company a good opportunity to explain the hike in prices.

One Twitter user posted a picture of an old woman wrapped in blankets and huddled next to a heater, writing: "Do images like this help you sleep at night, Bertie?"

Another said: "Hey BritishGas how many vulnerable people do you think you will push into fuel poverty whilst continuing to make billions in profit?"

Cal Loftus wrote: "Do the BritishGas board prefer to bathe in £20 or £50 notes?"

Alan Gibbs added: "Can you reinstate my paper bills please, or send anything else that will burn?"

The British Gas social media team posted a picture of Mr Pijls sitting in an office answering questions - but even that opened up criticism from Twitter users.

One wrote: "Nice to see him only wearing a shirt and no jumper. Bet all the free gas/electricity is going down a storm in the offices."

Mr Pijls reiterated comments from Ian Peters, managing director of energy at the company, who said the decision to raise prices was not taken lightly.

He said the three main reasons behind the hike were: "1. Wholesale price rises 2. Improvements needed to pipes & wires 3. Cost of govt programmes."

He added: "We have tried to hold our prices for as long as possible but factors such as rising wholesale prices have forced our prices up."

Twitter user Trevor Abbo asked him: "How can you justify hiking prices so far beyond inflation, the maths don't work out for the average household?"

To which he replied: "Our costs are increasing far above inflation. Wholesale by 7%, pipes & wires by 7%, enviro & social progs by 38%."

Another asked why the rise was announced ahead of the winter.

"Wholesale prices increase over the winter months and today's increase is driven by external costs," Mr Pijls said.

A number of customers raised concerns about not being able to pay their bills.

One said: "24,000 people died cos of cold homes last year, how many do you think will die this year with price increases so huge?"

Another added: "How will you feel when pensioners die from choosing to eat instead of heat?"

To which Mr Pijls responded: "No customer should have to make that choice. If someone you know is struggling to pay their bills please call 0800 980 1917."

Meanwhile, another honest customer took the opportunity to tell the company that they had been undercharging him for his heating.

Seth Kneller wrote: "I've tried to be honest & tell you that my key meter is UNDERBILLING me, but you have ignored me.Clearly you don't need the money?!"

Taking a welcome break from the backlash about the surge in prices, Mr Pijls replied: "Hi Seth, we're sorry about this. BritishGasHelp will contact you to sort this out."