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Energy firms’ sales teams misleading consumers over tariff switching

Customers encouraged to switch tariff by supermarket-based sales staff could be worse off, says Which? study

Supermarket sales teams for large energy companies are using underhand sales and leaving consumers who switch tariffs worse off by hundreds of pounds a year, the consumer group Which? has claimed.

The group went undercover to check the energy firms’ sales teams who approach shoppers in supermarkets and big shopping centres in a bid to get them to switch supplier, and said its staff were told they could save as much as £142 if they switched supplier there and then. But when Which? crunched the numbers it found many consumers would actually have been between £39 and £311 worse off had they taken the energy companies’ advice.

Which? said all of the sales teams based savings quotes on the assumption the customer was on a standard tariff, which tend to be the most expensive deals available.

Even when the undercover researchers returned to the salesperson after the sale to provide them with the name of their cheaper tariff, none altered the quoted savings, and only half said it could make a difference to the amount saved.

In a separate investigation, Which? found that when people call up energy companies asking for the cheapest deal they may not be getting accurate information and quotes every time. While four of the major energy suppliers performed well, British Gas and E.ON still got it wrong. Similarly, when researchers asked the salespeople in supermarkets and shopping centres about better deals, only two out of 13 admitted there may be better offers available.

Richard Lloyd, executive director at Which?, said: “It is simply not good enough for energy salespeople to be quoting misleading individual savings to people who sign up to switch in supermarkets. It’s little wonder that trust in the energy sector is so low. We want the energy suppliers to build confidence among consumers that switching is both simple and worthwhile.”

A spokesperson for the energy firms association Energy UK defended the role of salesmen in the sector. “It is important that consumers can have confidence in the sales process, which is covered by the industry’s EnergySure Code. All salespeople undergo training and the code is audited annually. All customers who sign up to a contract will receive a written estimate, and there is often also a check phonecall to confirm the details,” he said.

“In addition, there is always at least a week’s cooling-off period, so if a customer isn’t satisfied and decides that the new offer is not right for them then they can still change their mind.”

Meanwhile, Which? has launched a new initiative called The Big Switch. It is hoping that 80,000 households will join together as a group to get a cheaper deal. Which? is aiming to negotiate a market-leading deal with the energy companies on behalf of those that have joined. Consumers have until 31 March to sign up. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds