Energy companies giving wrong advice to customers
- Published on Thursday, 13 October 2011 09:28
- Posted by Scott Buckler
Energy companies are giving inaccurate information and dodgy advice to people who ring up to switch, finds Which?In an undercover investigation, the consumer champion called each of the six major energy suppliers 12 times in one week. Despite clearly being asked for the cheapest deal, in nearly a third of the calls the firms failed to offer their cheapest tariff. Staff also gave questionable advice about potential savings, cashback deals and fixed prices
Which? found that Southern Electric telesales staff only mentioned its cheapest tariff in three of the 12 calls**. Seven of the 12 EDF Energy salespeople recommended its more expensive fixed-rate deals instead of its cheaper online tariff.
Across all the companies, one third of the salespeople did not mention relevant exit fees, and Scottish Power failed to reveal its £51 exit fees in nine of the 12 calls.
British Gas staff offered its cheapest tariff in ten of the 12 calls but offered wildly varying cashback deals alongside this tariff, ranging from £0 to £175. Offers varied significantly even within the same region – a caller from one London postcode was offered £125 cashback and another was offered nothing.
Some salespeople gave conflicting advice on fixed-price tariffs. One advised signing up to Scottish Power’s three-year fix because it was so long while another recommended its one-year fix because it was so short.
With price increases of up to £190 a year now taking effect, the average annual household energy bill is now £1,300. Which? has found that more people are looking to switch and in recent weeks consumers have been urged by the government to do so. More than a quarter of customers looking to switch rely on telephone advice from energy suppliers to get a better deal.
Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director says:
“If you call an energy supplier asking for their cheapest deal, that's exactly what you should get. It’s unacceptable for sales staff to give information that’s plain wrong or confusing. Giving the right advice to customers about switching matters more than ever when so many people are struggling with escalating fuel bills and colder weather is starting to bite.
“Which? is talking to the energy companies involved about sorting this out, and we hope they will do so quickly. This is one way the energy industry could start rebuilding trust among consumers.
“Our advice to customers is that if you are going to switch, make sure you insist on being told the cheapest possible deal. Check for exit fees and ask about paying by direct debit or managing your account online as this will usually get you a discount. Or compare all the available offers using an independent comparison website or phone line to get the best deal. Switching is actually much easier to do than you might think and can save you money.”