Mis-selling used to be a major problem in the energy industry, but complaints fell significantly following the introduction of a code of conduct in 2003 and an investigation by Ofgem, the regulator, in 2004. However, a recent undercover investigation by The Sunday Times found that some consumers may still be falling victim to unauthorised sales practices.
Energy firms rely heavily on doorstep selling and on the whole, most sales people adhere to the code of conduct their provider is signed up to. However, as with any industry, there may be some rogue sales advisers who employ underhand tactics to get consumers to sign up for a new energy contract.
In the worst cases, people are not aware that they have signed up to a new provider until they receive a welcome letter. But other examples of mis-selling practices include the sales person making factually incorrect claims about the firm they work for or competitors such as claiming a tariff to be the cheapest on the market when it is not, or over-stating the price a rival firm charges. Top tips
If a salesperson comes to your door, ask to see some form of identification and check that they are who they say they are. It is worth making a note of their name in case you do need to complain.
Do not be pressurised into signing anything you are not comfortable with. It may be the case that you could make significant savings by moving on to a different tariff - around six million households have never switched energy provider and are paying an average of £300 a year more than they need for their gas and electricity - but you do not have to sign anything there and then. Ask for a copy of the tariff information and then take the time to read it carefully to ensure that the claims made by the sales provider are factually correct. While you may be able to save money by switching to the deal the sales person is recommending, there could be even greater savings to be had from another provider. The cheapest product for you will depend on your consumption and where you live.
You can maximise savings by switching to an online tariff and opting to pay by monthly direct debit, rather than quarterly by cash or cheque. Npower is currently offering the cheapest tariff in most regions. Its online SOL 10 product will cost a typical household around £795 a year. If you are currently on your provider's standard tariff, you will probably be paying in excess of £1,100 a year for your gas and electricity.
An easy way to find out which is the cheapest product for your circumstances, is to use a comparison site. By entering your postcode and your consumption (based on past gas and electric bills) or spend you can retrieve quotes from all major providers in minutes.
What should I do if I think I have been mis-sold? The good news is that none of the big six energy providers - British Gas, EDF, Eon, Npower, Scottish & Southern or Scottish Power - currently tie customers into a contract so if you are paying too much or have been moved against your wishes, switching to the provider of your choice is straightforward. If you feel that the methods used to secure your sign-up were unscrupulous, lodge a complaint. Your first step should be to contact the company itself and see if the matter can be resolved amicably - check the contract or brochures left by the salesman for a contact number and ask to speak to the complaints department.
Energywatch, the gas and electricity watchdog, recommends giving the firm at least 10 working days to resolve the issue. If it fails to do so, or you are not happy with what it proposes, contact Energywatch and it will take up the complaint on your behalf.
Disclaimer: Please note that any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.
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