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Monday, 25 July 2011

Fair Energy?

What is it about the UK's institutions that makes them think it's okay to drag consumer champions through the courts?

The banks have been tireless in their battles with consumers and regulators across numerous products.

Now Scottish and Southern Energy is appealing its losses on doorstep mis-selling cases brought by Surrey County Council's Trading Standards unit, while MoneySavingExpert reports:
"Some 73% of Scottish Power's pre-payment customers in 2010 came from the doorstep while SSE, which has just announced price increases of 18% for gas and 11% for electricity, says 45% of the new customers gained in the UK came from door-step selling."
As Mike O'Connor, chief executive of Consumer Focus, says:
"Organised confusion, pressured selling, misleading information - no market should be able to operate like that, and especially not one that provides an essential product that is getting more and more expensive."
Today, MPs reported that "four of the Big Six [consumer energy suppliers] were under investigation by Ofgem for mis-selling" and that:
"On 7 July SSE announced that it was suspending all door-step sales activity with immediate effect. Its press notice stated that it had taken this action for four reasons:
  1. There was low confidence in the way companies sold energy on the doorstep, and the way in which salespeople were remunerated;
  2. Energy was a significant purchase, and the sales process rightly required increasingly significant customer safeguards;
  3. Customers have a growing need for objective information and help to enable them to use efficiently the energy they buy, especially in an environment of rising unit prices; and
  4. The energy supply market was evolving from the simple retailing of electricity and gas to providing a bigger range of smarter energy products and services, and engagement with customers needed to reflect this."
So why are they appealing the Surrey mis-selling findings?

Because our energy providers are not in the business of solving their customers' problems, but their own. They are institutions, not facilitators. Which, as they may be starting to gather by now, exposes them to the downside, not the upside, of social media.
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