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Rip-off at the doorstep

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Centrica plc (‘British Gas’) today announced that

its field sales agents will cease doorstep energy sales activity for an initial three-month period. This in line with a request to all suppliers made by Consumer Focus. The energy provider will now work with its customers and consumer bodies to develop the way it provides access to advice and information about its products and services, including the role of appointment based face-to-face advice.

Doorstep selling, in its current form, is an increasingly outdated way for energy companies to engage new customers who no longer regard it as a preferred or trusted way to review their energy arrangements.

British Gas has been reducing the use of doorstep selling for many years. The number of British Gas field sales agents is now less than a quarter of the 1,300 employed in 2006.

Adam Scorer, Director of External Affairs at Consumer Focus, said:

‘British Gas has responded to our call for action. We applaud the move and call for others to follow the lead set by British Gas and SSE. This is the sort of move that responsible companies make when it becomes clear that consumers are unhappy with the way they do business.

‘For over a decade cold call doorstep sales have led to hundreds of thousands of people paying more for their energy after switching to a worse deal. We know people strongly dislike doorstep sales, feel pressured to switch at the door and that energy firms don’t offer their best rates face-to-face. Cold call energy sales simply aren’t what customers need or want.

‘Energy firms have had years to get doorstep sales right. There have been plenty of well-intentioned commitments and initiatives to do things better, but they have failed to deliver the change that consumers want.2 Unless other energy firms realise the end of the road has been reached on cold call doorstep sales, mis-selling will continue to drive consumer mistrust even deeper. It also risks damaging consumer confidence and buy-in for key Government schemes, including the Green Deal and smart meter roll-out.

‘We would urge all consumers to think twice before they buy on the doorstep, shop around for the best deal, and take time to think things over before making a final decision.’

But British Gas seems to be reserving the right to resume such activity, if its competitors persevere with it.

The fact is, door to door utility salespersons have been scamming people across Britain for years, with many of them working for unscrupulous ‘marketing’ firms hired by the energy suppliers. It’s outrageous that they are allowed to call at the homes of confused old people, and sign them over to more expensive contracts.

Consumer Focus suggests that all consumers ‘shop around for the best deal’, but this is much easier said than done. The utilities companies have a plethora of different and complex tariffs, and equally complex terms and conditions. This makes the comparison of suppliers’ offers an extremely difficult task, probably beyond the capabilities of most people. So there needs to be a substantial amount of imposed tariff standardisation, in order that people can make informed choices between different suppliers’ quotes on the same product.

Written by beleben

August 12, 2011 at 8:24 pm

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