Energy doorstep selling

Policy Brief

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The idea of ‘freedom to enjoy quiet possession of a property without interference’ – is a contentious concept in the context of doorstep selling. The United Nations Covenant states ‘everyone has the right to the protection of the law against interference’.

TSI is aware that across the UK there are numerous examples illustrating the problem of utility companies ignoring the wishes of consumers who display deterrence signs in their property. One energy company has justified its actions by reiterating the argument that ‘no cold calling signs’ are only meant to deter rogue traders, unfortunately this is the legal position. The Guidance that they provide to their sales reps encourages the reps to approach households even when deterrence signs are displayed, albeit cautiously!

Where is the householder’s protection in law against such interference?  Article 17 of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights establishes that ‘no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy’. An unsolicited visit is not unlawful but it fits within the definition of ‘arbitrary’ and an unsolicited visit where a ‘no cold calling’ sign in a window is ignored would fit within the definition of ‘interference’.

The arguments

The UCPD addresses misleading and aggressive sales practices – one of the drawbacks of trying to enforce this in relation to the doorstep sale of energy, is determining that the sales pitch and actions of the sales rep were misleading/ aggressive and gathering the evidence to substantiate this.

Proof that high pressure selling remains widespread is evident in Ofgem’s Energy Probe that found 52% of those switching as a result of a doorstep sale, switched to a higher tariff.

Best practice has been established by  Ofgem and the Energy Retail Association; Ofgem’s Standard Licence Conditions require energy companies to follow specific marketing guidelines and ERA’s EnergySure Code ensures companies provide appropriate training to sales staff and the EnergySure database records where sales personnel break the rules. 

But how effective are these schemes when the purpose of employing sales staff is to increase sales of energy; sales staff are motivated by commission and fundamentally this compromises the wellbeing of the consumer. If this were not the case why did Ofgem have to insist on the adoption of new complaint standards earlier this year and consequently administer a fine when these were not being seriously implemented by one of the big six energy retailers?

Our Aim: To achieve a ban of energy doorstep selling via change of practice.

We appreciate that the practice of face-to face selling/opportunity is legitimate and provides for those in society who do not have access to internet and other market opportunities, to be included. The possibility of using predisposed social networks to provide this choice to consumers is a means through which we would encourage the practice of direct marketing for the future.

What we are doing

Our call for a ban on energy doorstep selling received good media response during conference 2009.

The issue was debated during the plenary session ‘Do you feel safe in your community’ where the Energy Retail Association, Ofgem and Age Concern Help the Aged participated in discussions about the problem and explored potential remedies. It was concluded that social networking as a means of communicating with vulnerable consumers should be piloted.
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