January 18, 2010 2:48 pm

Crackdown on energy suppliers’ sales tactics

New rules governing the doorstep selling of energy to give energy customers greater protection, came into force on Monday.

The changes mean that anyone sold a new energy plan on the doorstep, in the high street or even in a shop or store must now be given a written quote before the sale can go through.

The move is intended to bring more transparency to a practice that has long frustrated many homeowners and it follows an investigation by the energy regulator Ofgem into household bills.

Research from campaign group Consumer Focus has found that eight out of 10 people with first-hand experience of being door-stopped by an energy representative described it as a ”negative experience”. More than a third even felt they had been intimidated by the sales person.

But while consumer bodies welcomed the rules, some warned customers to double check they are being offered a better deal than their current tariff.

Ann Robinson, director of comsumer policy at Uswitch, said: “This new rule is not about making sure consumers get the best deal, or even a better deal. It’s about making sure they have written proof of what they’ve been offered. It’s then down to them to take this information and check for themselves whether they will be better off or not.”

As well as a written quote before the sale goes through anyone sold a new price plan must be told about how the different payment methods reflect the different tariffs. The rules also double the threshold of debt on a pre-payment meter with which a person can switch provider to £200. This should allow a greater number of vulnerable customers to move on to better deals.

Scott Byrom, utilities expert here at moneysupermarket.com, said: ”It’s a very positive change and will help rebuild trust in door-to-door activity.

”Customers can quite easily check the quote on a price comparison site or suppliers own site and, by doing so, check other deals available on the market before making a decision. If they do switch on the doorstep, the quote can help ensure they get the right prices when their account goes live.”

Energy companies this month came under heavy criticism for profiting from the cold snap. Research for Which?, the consumer group, indicates that four out of ten customers are worried about how they will pay this month’s bill.

Around 65 per cent of those surveyed said they had been thinking about their energy bill more than usual because of the cold weather, while 38 per cent said they were worried about how they would pay it.

More worryingly, 14 per cent of respondents had dipped into their own or their children’s savings to ensure they could afford to pay for their gas or electricity, and 18 per cent had made cutbacks, such as cancelling gym membership or leisure activities.

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