Records of the Office of Gas Supply (OFGAS)
Records of the Office of Gas Supply (OFGAS) relating to the regulation of the gas supply industry from 1986.
Annual reports are in FA 1
The Office of Gas Supply (OFGAS) was at the centre of the framework of regulations established under the Gas Act 1986, which created British Gas plc. Its chief responsibility was to monitor British Gas as a public gas supplier, and in particular to protect the interests of the company's consumers.
British Gas was required to comply with conditions affecting the supply of gas enforceable by the office's director general under the Gas Act. Among these was a requirement that the company should publish within a specified time statements and codes of practice on aspects of its business of importance to consumers, such as arrangements for the payment of bills, services available to customers, in particular the elderly and disabled, and information on the efficient use of gas. In addition, the office worked closely with the Health and Safety Executive in the field of gas safety. The director general was also empowered to fix the maximum prices at which gas supplied by public gas suppliers could be resold. This function had previously been the responsibility of the British Gas Corporation. The office was given the task of monitoring the accounts of the gas supply business which British Gas was required to prepare. The director general was enabled to issue authorisations to non-public gas suppliers; that was, to those wishing to supply specific premises, for example with piped liquified petroleum gas, rather than all the premises in a designated area. These authorisations had previously been granted by the Health and Safety Executive on behalf of the Secretary of State for Energy.
The office had a general duty to keep under review activities connected with the supply of piped gas, outside as well as inside Britain. For this reason it gathered information on continental gas industries. British Gas was required to notify the office about any future construction of high pressure pipelines more than two miles in length. The office was then required to publish brief particulars and make them available for inspection. Similarly, the director general was required to consider representations from persons interested in having their gas conveyed through these pipelines.
A major function of the office was to consider complaints from gas consumers. Under the Gas Act 1986, this responsibility was divided between the office and the Gas Consumers Council. The director general of the office had a duty to investigate any complaint which appeared to him to be an instance where his enforcement powers could be exercised. The Gas Consumers Council had a similar duty to refer to the director general any complaint which it considered to be an enforcement matter. The council was authorised to investigate and report on matters which might be referred by the office, or which arose from complaints made by others, including complaints relating to issues on the customer's side of a gas meter, for example concerning gas appliances and their installation. In this way the office and the Gas Consumers Council had distinct but complementary duties to investigate consumers' complaints. It was understood from the outset that close liaison between the two bodies would be necessary.
Normal procedure was for consumers to refer their problems initially to British Gas. If they were still dissatisfied, their next channel would be the regional office of the Gas Consumers Council. The council had a duty to notify the office if it appeared that the director general's enforcement powers might be applicable. It remained open to any tariff customer to refer a problem direct to the office.
The office was a non-ministerial government department. Its expenditure was voted by Parliament, but its costs were recoverable through the licence fees payable by public and non-public gas suppliers.
The office's organisation consisted of a director general, a deputy director general and a legal adviser, who was involved in drafting the Gas Act 1986 and British Gas's authorisation, and who thereafter helped the office to interpret these documents. These were assisted by four more advisers responsible for business, public affairs, consumer affairs and commercial affairs respectively:
- The consumer affairs adviser was responsible for consumer complaints, liaison with the Gas Consumers Council, applications for the use of a public gas supplier's pipeline, and monitoring British Gas plc's codes of practice.
- The business adviser was responsible for monitoring the tariffs applied by British Gas.
- The public affairs adviser was responsible for relations between the office and the media, and for providing information to the public and dealing with external enquiries. An additional role was to maintain the office's library, which housed the register of specified documents which the director general was required to have available for inspection by the public, together with a separate register of high pressure pipeline notifications received by the director general.
- The commercial affairs adviser, subsequently known as the administration manager, was responsible for non-public gas suppliers' authorisations, the maximum resale price of gas, office personnel, finance and services matters, and for information technology.
In 1999 the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, or OFGEM (see PY) was created to bring together the responsibilities of OFGAS and the Office of Electricity Regulation.
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