This guest blog post comes from Audrey Gallacher, Head of Energy at Consumer Focus:
“Ofgem is getting tougher on energy doorstep selling and many say it’s about time. Last week they announced an investigation into the sales and marketing practices of four of the big six energy companies.
Concerns centre around whether the energy companies are abiding by the new rules on selling that came into force last January that aimed to stop companies selling people a more expensive deal. They were introduced after it was found that nearly half of the people switching on the doorstep in fact moved to a worse deal. Worringly, most were completely unaware of this.
Doorstep selling has a bad reputation, which has dented consumer confidence in the energy industry as a whole. While most doorstep agents are doing a good job, and bringing better deals to customers who might not have internet access or actively think about switching, others clearly are not. And that may be down to a fundamental flaw in the pay and rewards structure which puts doorstep reps under pressure to meet sales targets to either keep their jobs or earn a decent wage.
The more basic issue for customers, I think, is that agents represent one energy company only, which means people don’t ever get an unbiased view of how a deal may compare with others on the market. Add to this the fact that agents are not even obliged to offer their own company’s cheapest deal, and you can see the dangers of signing on the dotted line. That’s why Consumer Focus continues to operate the Confidence Code – an accreditation scheme for online energy price comparison sites that ensures people are getting a fair deal.
It’s unlikely that Ofgem’s investigation will uncover evidence of the flagrant misselling that went on during the early years of the competitive energy market, when sales agents from gas and electricity companies used outrageous lies to win new customers or simply signed them up without their knowledge. However, they may well find that unscrupulous sales antics are still alive and well and being played out in the streets of Britain.
Let us hope that Ofgem provides a long term solution to a long running problem. It’s past time for a major rethink of the protections needed in this form of selling if it is to continue.
In the meantime, if you have experienced poor direct sales practice, call Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 for independent advice.”