Energy Doorstep Selling Must be Banned, says TSI
A ban on doorstep sellers of gas and electricity is urged by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) following mounting evidence of chaos they cause to vulnerable consumers' household budgets.
TSI is lobbying Brussels for the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive to be amended to allow the UK to ban this practice.
The move has been prompted after reports from trading standards across the country about vulnerable people cornered in their homes into switching energy suppliers against their will or better judgment. Other common complaints include higher bills after the transfer and difficulties in cancelling the switch. Many are also duped into signing documents that turn out to be a contract to change suppliers.
More than 1,200 calls have been made to Consumer Direct since January 2009 by people reporting that they have been misinformed about the product, price, terms of contract or their right of cancellation by an energy sales agent.*
TSI has long been leading the fight against rogue doorstep callers who are rogue traders or salesmen. Utility tradesmen using aggressive, oppressive or misleading techniques are now the focus of trading standards authorities.
TSI's crime and disorder lead officer Brian Smith said: 'It is worrying that it is often the most vulnerable who are most at risk from losing out at the hands of unscrupulous doorstep callers. Many of the cases reported involve elderly or vulnerable consumers.
'We must put a stop to consumers finding themselves intimidated or misled into switching energy providers only to end up paying higher or duplicate bills for months on end - particularly for the more vulnerable consumer this can be a truly nightmare scenario.
'It is clear that despite a wide range of tools and sanctions available, misselling remains a problem . Attempts to encourage utility companies to self regulate through the adoption of a doorstep protocol have failed. Worryingly salesmen from utility companies even appear to ignore signs in areas that have joined the No Cold Calling Zones initiative, knocking on doors which have sticker saying 'No cold calling' or' We do not buy from doorstep sellers' or 'Do not call without an appointment'
'This is why we feel there is now only one real solution - banning energy doorstep selling altogether.'
Chair of the European Parliament's Consumer Protection Committee Arlene McCarthy MEP said: 'The cases of aggressive and deceitful selling of energy contracts are truly shocking, including outright fraud. These rogue sellers are preying on many of the most vulnerable in our society and risk driving them deeper into poverty.
'Laws introduced by the European Parliament ban many dubious tactics, with special protection for the elderly and disabled included for the first time. We must see action to drive the scammers out of business and the energy companies must take responsibility for what is done in their name.
' If these outrageous abuses don't stop, we will have no choice but to toughen the law to provide for an outright ban on the doostep selling of energy contracts.'
Chairman of TSI and head of Surrey County Council Trading Standards Peter Denard said energy companies were known to frequently ignore the eight No Cold Calling Zones in his area and added: 'Officers in Surrey are currently in the middle of two criminal investigations and have already formally interviewed two salesmen who are alleged to have made misleading statements and have been particularly aggressive in their sales pitch.
'The normal referral of the complaints to the respective energy companies has not been followed because trading standards are not satisfied that the behaviour of salesmen is being properly addressed.
'Salesmen work on commission and we find that they will say whatever it takes to get a contract signed. Surrey now say that enough is enough and we are going to make the salesmen and the companies they work for fully accountable.'
The call to ban doorstep tradesmen is supported by the National Pensioners Convention (NPC), which represents 1,5 million older people across the country.
NPC's general secretary Dot Gibson, said: 'Unsolicited doorstep selling can be a real worry for older people. They can be misled into changing energy suppliers when they don't really need to. It's time we stopped allowing unscrupulous companies to prey on vulnerable older customers and ban doorstep selling for good.'
Deptford Action Group for the Elderly (DAGE) has been campaigning for years to stop utility salesmen turning up on people's doorsteps after this emerged to be a significant issue for its members.
DAGE spokesman Tim Hamilton said: 'This practice of cold calling and selling must be stopped to protect our elderly members and any vulnerable person in society. Doing so will also remove the ideal cover for even more unscrupulous bogus callers who use doorstepping as an opportunity for distraction burglary.'
'We have campaigned locally for energy companies to be forced to make appointments by writing to residents first. Cold callers turning up unannounced have resulted in some of our members unwittingly changing energy suppliers - for example they were told they were merely signing to acknowledge that an energy company's salesperson had called.
'Or another example is the pensioner being told by a cold caller that their energy supplier had been taken over by another, and they would just be signing to indicate their understanding of this. But in both cases it turned out they'd signed a contract to switch suppliers.'
For further information or to arrange an interview please contact the Trading Standards Institute press office by phone on 0845 608 9430 or by e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org
- In the period 1 Jan 09 to 31 May 09, Consumer Direct logged 1235 cases of consumers who believed they were given wrong information by an energy sales agent, were misinformed about the product and/or price, the terms of the contract or their right of cancellation. Information captured by Consumer Direct is provided as given by the consumer. No opinion on the truth or verification of facts has been made by the Consumer Direct service.
Trading Standards Evidence:
Surrey County Council:
- Two criminal investigations into the activity of energy companies are being carried out - two utility salesmen have been formally interviewed about their alleged misleading statements and aggressive sales pitch
- Reports that energy company salesmen frequently ignore No Cold Calling Zones
- Reports both from consumers, council support staff and partner organisations e.g. Neighbourhood Watch and Angus Care and Repair that some utility companies are disregarding signs both inside and outside No Cold Calling Zones. (Angus Council has 140 No Cold Calling Zones based on Neighbourhood Watch Areas and including all 23 council sheltered housing complexes.)
Luton Borough Council:
- There are 5 NCCZs and energy companies have frequently entered into them
- Reported cases of residents' wishes to respect the zones not upheld by energy companies.
Alleged breaches of the Consumer Protection Regulations:
- All sales staff claiming to be area managers
- Falsely claiming to be from the resident's existing supplier and the purpose of their visit is to read the meter
- False remarks about financial difficulty of existing supplier
- Failing to leave when asked to (banned practice)
- Aggressive selling
- False claims of permission from the council/police permission to be in the NCCZ
Leicestershire County Council:
- They have received a number of complaints from consumers regarding utility companies disregarding both street signs and house signage in NCCZ.
Problems reported with some utility doorsteppers include:
- Reps alleged to have been told to ignore NCCZ signs
- Rudeness of reps when challenged
- Cold calling continued by a utility company after being told of residents wishes in a NCCZ
- Reps stating that they are 'calling on behalf of the government' and therefore have permission to call in a NCCZ.
East Sussex County Council:
- Utility companies in particular are reported to be ignoring the signs in some zones
- Reported breaches of the banned practice 25 of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading regulations - will not leave when asked to
Somerset County Council:
- Breach of banned practice 25 of UCPD - will not leave when asked to
- Reports of persistent energy callers within a NCCZ
The EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive was transposed into UK legislation in May 2008 - it includes requirements to address misleading and aggressive practices and a list of 31 practices that are always unfair.
Ofgem's Standard Licence Conditions state that fuel companies should communicate with new consumers within two weeks following the marketing call to enable the customer to reverse the switch without penalty if they so wish. In addition it states that sales people must identify themselves, call at reasonable times and leave when asked.
Ofgem takes regulatory action where doorstep sales staff are breaking exiting codes of practice, or energy companies are found to be ignoring rogue practices - npower was recently fined £1.8 million.
The UN covenant on civil and political rights - article 17: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms - article 8: Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health and morals, or for the protection of the rights of the rights and freedoms of others.
The Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards Conference 2009
The national Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards Conference 2009, organised by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) is a 'must' for consumer journalists!
The TSI-hosted annual Conference and Exhibition is the leading consumer affairs and trading standards event in Europe.
The 2009 Conference is being held at the Brighton Centre from Tuesday 30 June to Thursday 02 July. The conference press office will be open from 9am on Monday 29 June (the day before the event starts) until 5pm on Thursday 02 July.
Journalists and photographers are welcome to attend but should contact the press office on 0845 608 9430 to arrange passes.
The conference is hosted by TSI chairman Peter Denard and the main sponsor is the British Toy and Hobby Association.
Some 3,000 people are attending the conference, including representatives from local and central government and those interested in fair trading, representatives of business and commerce, together with consumer organisations. This makes it an ideal place for consumer affairs journalists to mingle and make contacts!
Trading Standards Institute
The Trading Standards Institute has represented the interests of Trading Standards professionals for 120 years. We have a long and proud history of ensuring that the views of our members are well represented at the highest level of government, both nationally and internationally.
Our aim is to promote excellence and enhance the professionalism of our members in support of empowering and informing consumers, encouraging and working with honest businesses, targeting rogue traders and rogue trading practices and contributing to the health, welfare and wellbeing of citizens and communities.
TSI members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities in response to 2 million consumer and business complaints and enquiries each year. They also support the delivery of new initiatives such as Consumer Direct, providing first point of contact practical consumer advice.
They also work in the business, consumer and central government sectors in promoting and influencing the safety, prosperity and enhancement of individuals and markets with a dependency on effective and professional trading standards contributions and interventions.
The National Pensioners Convention
The National Pensioners Convention is Britain's biggest organisation of older people, representing 1.5m members in 1,000 groups across the country. The NPC campaigns on a range of issues from pensions to health care, to post office closures and age discrimination.
Deptford Action Group for the Elderly
This charity was relaunched in 2000 to help pensioners combat social isolation, get help and advice from the Pension Service, Police, Fire Brigade, NHS opticians and health promotion specialists, and to provide free outings, two free annual parties, a place where older people can meet each other daily and hear the tunes they've grown up with over free tea, coffee, sandwiches and cakes.
Consumer Direct - 08454 04 05 06
Consumer Direct is a Government-backed telephone and online consumer advice service which works in partnership with Local Authority Trading Standards. It provides clear, practical and impartial advice and information to help consumers resolve problems and disagreements with suppliers of goods and services. Consumer Direct is available from 0800-1830 Monday to Friday, and 0900-1300 Saturday, excluding bank and public holidays.
Calls cost a maximum of 4 pence per minute from a BT landline. Calls from mobiles or other networks may vary. Your service provider may charge a minimum cost per call. The advice and information given is free.
The press office number is 0207 211 8133.
Consumerline - 0845 600 6262
Consumerline is a telephone and online advice service for Northern Ireland.
Our telephone advisors provide clear and practical advice on a wide range of consumer issues. Where appropriate details of complaints will be forwarded to the Trading Standards Service for investigation