Thursday, 4 April 2013

Doorstep wolves should never have been unleashed

Here's a shocking case of door-to-door sales reps tricking and pressurising unsuspecting customers into switching gas and electricity suppliers.

They use false claims about prices, bribes and straightforward blarney to hoodwink people.

Some victims are switched without their knowledge, using information about relations who have died or details obtained from the electoral register to fill out supplier transfer forms.

Quite rightly the company is fined millions of pounds.

Ofgem, the energy regulator, says: “Mis-selling causes great confusion and distress for individuals, often those who are most vulnerable."

"It also damages customers’ confidence in switching suppliers which means that they may not be benefiting from consumer choice as they should."

Familiar? No this isn't SSE (Scottish & Southern Energy) in 2013. It is London Electricity, including Virgin Energy, in 2002.

How quickly we forget. It's as if energy companies only just started ripping off customers.

No one has any sympathy for SSE, punished by Ofgem yesterday for its nasty selling tactics.

But why was this still happening between 2009 and 2012, as Ofgem describes in horrendous detail?

Sadly, there is more to this long-running tale of mis-selling, exploitation and profiteering than the predatory methods of several companies.

You see, the scene was set by government reforms and regulators. They actually wanted those doorstep sellers to be on the streets, knocking on doors and ringing bells.

Gas was privatised in 1986, electricity in 1990. Then gas was opened up to competition in 1996 and electricity two years later.

The dogs of competition were unleashed. The authorities thought they would be sheepdogs, herding customers towards better prices.

In fact, they were wolves.

And because the received wisdom was that most customers would pay less if they switched supplier, not much was done.

They may have been wolves but they were doing God's work, so to speak.

It was a very damaging situation:

*It was wrong for people to be hoodwinked

*It was wrong for the industry to be allowed to get away with it for years

*People lost out. Once they'd saved money by switching the first time there was a real danger that the next time they would end up paying more.

Now, the main suppliers have pledged to stop selling on the doorstep when they haven't been asked to make a visit.

The fact is, they should never have been allowed to do it in the first place.

No comments:

Post a Comment