Gas industry regulator Ofgas is pushing through a June deadline for national competition, despite warnings from gas companies that computer systems face unacceptable risks on that timescale.
Significant numbers of computer errors have already been experienced during the early roll-out of open competition to limited parts of the country.
Last year, errors in the metre reference database caused thousands of consumers to be transferred to a new gas supplier without their knowledge. While faulty data has been at least 96 per cent cleaned up, a large amount of systems work remains to be completed.
The UK Link database that tracks the trade of gas between the various suppliers is currently undergoing a #374 million overhaul by gas transmission network owner Transco, to increase the number of customers switching suppliers it can handle.
The opening up to full competition is dependent on completing this by the end of February, something Transco says is a "very tight deadline" and "still not guaranteed".
Even with the overhaul, suppliers will be forced to impose limits on the number of consumers per day transferring because of system constraints across the industry.
A Department of Trade and Industry report on the opening up of the market, completed last week, recommended that Ofgas take more heed of suppliers' warnings about possible problems.
"We are still not convinced that the risks have been reduced to an acceptable level, or that contingency plans are in place to handle major failures in the process should they occur," a Centrica representative told the DTI committee.
Transco was equally concerned, telling the DTI, "The roll-out of competition to the remaining regions still represents considerable challenge and risk."
The report recommended Ofgas take more note of these warnings, but an Ofgas spokesperson remained unrepentant.
"Time will tell if there are reasons for delaying [national competition], but we believe it can be brought in even sooner than June," he said.
Last week the electricity industry admitted full competition would be delayed by six months because of problems in completing the integrated computer systems.
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