British Gas has announced that it will no longer call uninvited on potential customers in their homes.
The company’s decision to end doorstep sales was heralded as a rare piece of good news for consumers facing a winter of increased energy bills.
Consumer groups said they wanted to see British Gas’s decision replicated across the rest of the industry, but reiterated their concern that companies may shift hard-sell tactics from doors to phones.
“We want the rest of the industry to follow the lead of British Gas and SSE [Scottish and Southern Energy] by stamping out pressure selling on the doorstep. But this will count for little if it is just a temporary suspension or if suppliers simply switch to other forms of cold calling for the hard sell,” said Richard Lloyd, executive director at consumer group Which?.
SSE, which was convicted in May of using a misleading sales script when selling door-to-door, banned the practice in July. The company continues to cold-call potential customers via the telephone.
Energy industry regulator Ofgem is examining whether four of the six largest energy suppliers in the UK – SSE, Scottish Power, EDF Energy and Npower – flouted sales rules during telephone and doorstep sales.
Consumer Focus, Which? and the Trading Standards Institute have called on a self-imposed ban from the rest of the industry to end unsolicited visits to homes. Research found that the majority of customers who signed up to a tariff as a result of doorstepping were unhappy as a result.
Half of those who bought a product said they felt pressured to do so, and nine of out 10 said they would never sign up to an energy provider via door-to-door sales again.
The sales are a lucrative source of new custom for energy groups, however. Nearly one-third of customers who switched provider last year did so because of doorstep sales.
The energy industry is already under fire for raising bills for customers and offering an excessive number of tariffs. So far this year Eon, British Gas, Scottish Power and SSE have announced price increases, blaming the rising cost of wholesale energy prices as a result of turmoil in the Middle East.
Ofgem has also accused the utilities of bamboozling customers with overly complicated price plans and offers. Taking into account regional variations, offers for online payment and meter use, there are thousands of tariffs available in the UK.
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