End 'Del Boy' Energy Sales Tactics - MPs Committee
Customers who have been mis-sold gas and electricity deals on the doorstep should be compensated by the energy companies, according to an influential group of MPs.
The Energy and Climate Change Committee said that the mis-selling problem should have been resolved years ago, adding that the industry should look at whether many consumers have paid too much for their energy.
Calling on energy firms to stop "Del Boy sales tricks", committee chairman Tim Yeo noted Parliament's mounting concern about the doorstep-selling techniques of large energy companies. "If it turns out that consumers are being persuaded to switch contracts when it's not in their best interests, by salespeople keen to earn commission, then it would only be right for the energy companies to cough up compensation."
Although the industry body Energy UK stressed there had been a strengthening of the rules on sales, MPs were told that up to 40% of those who switched suppliers on the doorstep did not get a better deal, with evidence that vulnerable customers were particularly targeted.
One company claimed that over 70% of customers who had recently switched to pre-payment had been won on the doorstep. However, the government watchdog Consumer Focus has campaigned for a ban on cold-calling by energy salesmen.
The regulator Ofgem, which is investigating four of the main energy firms over the issue, needs to take a "firm grip" on the market. "No market should be able to run on organised confusion, pressured selling and misleading information, especially not one that provides an essential product that is getting more and more expensive," said Consumer Focus chief executive Mike O'Connor.
Since the 1990s' privatisation of electricity, many have complained that suppliers employ salesmen who trick customers on their doorsteps into switching from their existing gas or electricity firm.
The comments of the MPs' committee came with its March response to Ofgem's retail energy market review. The regulator said at the time that it wanted to "break the grip" of the six main energy firms, three of which - British Gas, SSE and Scottish Power - have recently announced increases in their domestic gas and electricity tariffs.
Worried about the apparent tendency of charges to "rise like a rocket and fall like a feather" and that it too was concerned about the 'big six', the committee said the many tariffs on offer were designed to bamboozle customers.
Energy UK director Christine McGourty said: "The rules around doorstep selling are tighter than ever, with sales people now required by the energy regulator to leave the customer with a written quote that sets out any likely saving. Sales people are also under instructions not to knock on doors that clearly display 'no cold-calling' stickers."