BRITISH Gas owner Centrica has confirmed a pay freeze for non-customer-facing staff amid actions to cut costs by around £400 million as it braces for a hit from plunging business energy demand amid the UK lockdown.

The group said it was seeing increased demand for energy among households as Britons have been forced to stay at home, but it added it was being hit by a “more significant” impact from falling business energy use as firms have temporarily shut.

It also warned over the possibility of increasing numbers of customers falling behind with payments as household and business income is impacted.

As well as the pay freeze for many staff, Centrica is also deferring all employee cash bonuses,

scrapping its final shareholder dividend payout to bolster its finances and halting spending on non-essential projects.

It had already axed executive bonuses for 2019 earlier this year.

But the group said it was “difficult to quantify” the hit to its earnings outlook, given the uncertainty over the length of the lockdown, customer behaviour and economic impact.

Centrica has stopped non-essential customer visits to protect staff amid the pandemic but said it still has several hundred UK service engineers who have volunteered to carry out essential home visits to ensure energy supply is maintained for customers.

Chris O’Shea, interim group chief executive at Centrica, said: “As the scale and length of the crisis unfolds, it is becoming increasingly clear what a vital role so many of the Centrica team perform to keep our communities warm, safe and supplied with energy.”

He added: “While there are so many uncertainties surrounding the impacts of this situation, I am confident that we have acted promptly and prudently to underpin the long-term strength of Centrica.”

Last month, Centrica’s two top bosses – chief executive Iain Conn and chairman Charles Berry resigned.

Berry had been on medical

leave since the beginning of February, while Conn had already said he would step down this year, but the move left their successors to deal with the volatility caused by coronavirus.

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