The Belfast boss of an energy supply company has apologised after customers were advised to eat lentils or open the oven door to keep warm as a way to work around an expected increase in gas prices.
Customers were sent the email with a 10-point list, which also included a warning to avoid eating chilli because it makes people sweat, by SSE Energy Services, owned by Ovo Energy, which was founded by Stephen Fitzpatrick.
Gas and other energy prices in England and Wales are capped but are set to soar when new tariffs are introduced in April.
Mr Fitzpatrick admitted the company made a mistake by sending the letter, describing it as “unhelpful” and “upsetting”.
“I’m glad you brought that up because this is one of the reasons I wanted to come on the show and explain just what a big mistake that was, and how embarrassed I was to find out that this was something our company had sent out,” he told BBC Breakfast News.
“It’s a ridiculous piece of advice. It was something that was really stupid. It should never have been written, it should never have been sent, and we should have caught it.
“About half an hour after we found out that it had been sent out, we retracted it, we made a big apology. And clearly for all the customers that we know are worried about paying, this kind of message is just deeply unhelpful and even upsetting and I apologise.
“It was a bad day, we made a mistake, and we’ve tried to put it right as soon as possible.”
Apart from telling customers it was a good idea to eat lentils or keep the oven door open, and avoid chilli, they were also advised to wear a fleece and thick socks, keep active, eat whole grains and ginger, cuddle up to pets or loved ones, open curtains to let in sunlight and patch up cracks and crevices.
One point stated, “Brisk activity will help you warm up. You do not have to nip down to the gym. Try cleaning the house, challenging the kids to a hula-hoop contest or doing a few star jumps.”
“I hope that the British public will understand that not everybody gets it right all the time,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.
“We have spent five or six years investing tens of millions of pounds on technologies that can help customers lower their carbon footprint, save energy and save money so it’s really ironic that we’re also the company sending out these ridiculous emails advising people to eat porridge and not drink wine.
“It’s just embarrassing and I hope that we have been emphatic with how we have dealt with this.”
Mr Fitzpatrick (44), estimated to be worth several hundred million pounds, founded Ovo Energy in 2009. He was educated at Our Lady and St Patrick’s College in Knock and the University of Edinburgh before moving to London.
Ovo bought over SSE Energy Services in 2020.