Shareholders in Centrica, the dominant energy supplier, including the 1.3 million remaining 'Sids' who bought stakes in British Gas when it was privatised, are to enjoy a £530 million special dividend, the company announced yesterday.

Centrica, which demerged from British Gas in 1996, also disclosed that it plans to offer its 16 million domestic consumers a range of services in and out of the home that are a far cry from the humble offering of gas and boiler-maintenance.

Centrica is already moving into plumbing and electric appliances maintenance and repairs but, confirming its interest in taking over the RAC's vehicle breakdown servicing arm, wants to expand into areas like motor insurance and car-leasing. Customers could eventually be offered services such as security devices and heating/lighting controls triggered via the meter or a phone line.

Goldfish, its credit card, has already won 900,000 customers who will eventually be offered a range of banking services, including mortgages, on top of the home insurance already on tap.

But regulatory barriers, according to Mark Clare, finance director, could prevent Centrica from expanding into telecoms and water.

Unveiling a 19 per cent rise in full-year operating profits to £208 million, Roy Gardner, the chief executive, said the special dividend pay-out of 12p a share and a regular dividend of 2.5p this year, the first Centrica has paid and costing a further £100 million, left the company enough resources and flexibility to fund its growth strategy.

It claims to have won more than one million electricity customers, making it a bigger supplier than the smallest regional electricity company, Swalec.



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