British Gas owner Centrica said electricity demand among its UK business customers was down by around 15% in the second half of 2020.
The company also warned it “remains cautious” about 2021, as tighter coronavirus restrictions in the UK and Ireland are expected to put “continued pressure” on business energy demand.
“In addition, the related uncertain economic backdrop increases the potential for additional working capital outflow and higher bad debts,” the company said in a trading update today (14 January).
Centrica - which owns utility British Gas - said it ended 2020 with 6.9 million UK energy supply customers and 3.6 million UK services customers, which are both broadly unchanged since July last year. COVID-19 continued to impact the company’s financial performance in H2 2020, although the expected gross impact was lower than the first half of the year.
The company said it forecasts its net debt at the end of 2020 to be around £2.8 billion. This figure is before net proceeds of £2.7 billion from the sale of its North American subsidiary Direct Energy are included. The bulk of that will be used to reduce debt and contribute to the group’s pension schemes.
The update comes the same week as trade union GMB announced workers at British Gas will carry out a second series of five one-day strikes in a dispute over proposed changes to conditions.
A month after Centrica announced it would cut 5,000 jobs as part of a company restructure, British Gas revealed plans in July to fire and rehire its entire 20,000 workforce unless they agreed to changes in their pay and conditions.
GMB said its members would strike for five days at the end of January and beginning of February.
Centrica is due to publish its 2020 financial results on 25 February.