Corporate Election Watch: British Gas

Posted on 09/05/2017


The news headlines have been awash with the Conservative conversion to price caps for energy bills.

The “Marxist” policy was first floated by Labour in 2015 and is still supported by the opposition, but Lib Dems oppose it.

This makes it a political battle.

On Tuesday 9th May, the Today Programme news bulletins contained British Gas’ response to Tory plans.

Simon Jack’s Radio 4 report claimed that the British Gas’ boss “warned of the unintended consequences of a ban… which might mean higher average prices.”

Further news reports claim that Centrica (the owners of British Gas) were attacking the PM’s plans and warning a vote for price caps could send bills up.

Online, they published a trading update and warned: “Centrica does not believe in any form of price regulation”


Centrica Statement

It’s clear in the publication of this report, British Gas are clearly trying to warn voters away from candidates that support the price cap on energy bills.

Under the terms of the Lobbying Act restrictions in place on all organisations, charity and corporate alike, during the election, the publication of material designed to influence voters could be “regulated” behaviour.

But is British Gas registered as a non-party campaigner with the Electoral Commission?

Not according to the database.

Has clearly crossed the threshold of spending required to do so?

An estimate of the time spent so far on its activity would be more than £25k (breakdown below). Clearly above the limit of £20,000 set by the rules for registration. And this is just on the promotion of this online statement, has there been other activity “below the line” we can’t see? What are their plans to continue this campaign against candidates which support a price freeze?


Corporate Election Watch - Centrica

In addition, the Electoral Commission issued a ruling that all work on activity to influence the electorate should be backdated to 9 June 2016. How long have British Gas been working on its policy to oppose candidates who support the energy cap? Quite some time according to the Guardian. Has any communication with the public on this issue been attempted in the last 12 months?

The Electoral Commission will be informed; watch this space.


The Electoral Commission have investigated and have responded:

We have carefully reviewed the information provided to the Commission.  Based on that information alone, we are of the view that investigative action is not appropriate at this stage.  However, in line with our usual practice, we have issued advice and guidance to Centrica to ensure that they are aware of and remain compliant with the non-party campaigner rules.

Full workings are available in this spreadsheetCharities and campaigners should read this advice on the Lobbying Act.