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What now for the people who were misled by SSE?

Cold-callers give me the shivers. Add a misleading sales pitch and you’ve got a consumer rights issue that’ll give anyone chills. Today SSE were sentenced for misleading doorstep sales. So what’s next?

I’d like to think that if someone had given me the wrong information about a product, I’d be able to call them and get my money back straight away. But unfortunately it’s not always as simple as making a complaint and getting a refund.

On Which? Convo we’ve been keeping up with the saga of SSE, and its dodgy sales script. Sales reps went out to consumers’ homes and told them that they were paying too much to their current energy companies. Does that sound like a compelling sales pitch? Perhaps, until you realise that it wasn’t actually the case.

So, it’s good that the company is being punished for this – today SSE was issued with a fine for £1.25m. I personally want to know that companies take their responsibilities towards us, their customers, seriously.

But is this the end of the matter? SSE pays the fine, apologises, and we all move on? I don’t think so.

Compensate your customers!

It might sound like a crazy idea, but I think that if people have been sold a product on the basis of a fiction, they should be compensated for the money that they’ve effectively wasted.

We spoke to Steve Playle at Surrey Trading Standards – one very determined individual, who has been working on this case for over a year. He told us that SSE should be able to identify the customers who were given this sales patter and subsequently signed up.

My reaction? Great! It’ll be easy to contact them then. But at the moment we’re not sure if SSE is going to – and that’s not acceptable.

Doorstep selling woes

A poll on Which? Convo told us that around 95% of you didn’t want salespeople knocking at your door. This poll was very close to my own heart – I’m bothered on a very regular basis by people wanting to sell me something. Even with a sign saying ‘no cold callers’, I still get people mistakenly ringing my bell looking for the flat upstairs.

So it’s good news that SSE (along with all other major energy suppliers, except Eon) has stopped selling to people on the doorstep. But while this is good news, it will be very cold comfort to those who have already been victims of poor sales practices.

When we last talked about the SSE sales fiasco, commenter William said he’d had some SSE salespeople at his house before. He added that he was ‘just glad I told them where to go.’

Exactly. Those who didn’t open the door must be relieved that they didn’t end up on a more expensive tariff. But for those who opened their doors to SSE’s salespeople, listened to their patter, and switched their tariff? It’s about time those people got another surprise at the door – a letter from the company offering an apology and their money back.


What have Ofgem got to say on the matter?
Will they now remove SSE’s “compliant” status with the regulator?

Rules to punish SSE (and every other energy company) for acting in this way are in place, but due to Hampton principles advisory regulation, they cannot act against “the needs of the business” nor can Ofgem inspect SSE without a reason.
This is more than enough “reason” to remove their compliant status and inspect them when the regulator so wishes.
Will Ofgem now do what the public/taxpayer pays them to do?

Come on Ofgem, we are waiting for answers…


“Sales reps went out to consumers’ homes and told them that they were paying too much to their current energy companies”

You missed off the “And we’ve taken over supply of your area”.

I’ve now got a No Cold Caller sign up and you’ve guessed it that didn’t work either. I’ve even had SSE ring me up and have the nerve to tell me my TPS registration had expired when I complained about them ringing me. FYI TPS is for life if its at a residential number. And when you complain to the TPS with their name and the date time they rang, they just say not enough information to go on.

Its a shame the regulator only fines these companies as we all know who ends up paying that, their customers. Why not ban the CEO from being a director. They get paid the big money, yet don’t seem to shoulder the big responsibility.

Mr Very Irritated. says:
8 August 2012

Below pasted from The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 – Statutory Instrument: 1277.

Note that the entire contents of SCHEDULE 1 are Criminal Offences ! Never mind Ofgem or the Energy Ombudsman (latter as funded by the energy industry) as are not listed in the Regulations as having the Duty to Enforce those Regulations.

You will of course need evidence (he said / she said – is not evidence).

SCHEDULE 1 Regulation 3(4)(d)
Commercial practices which are in all circumstances considered unfair

25. Conducting personal visits to the consumer’s home ignoring the consumer’s request to leave or not to return, except in circumstances and to the extent justified to enforce a contractual obligation.

26. Making persistent and unwanted solicitations by telephone, fax, e-mail or other remote
media except in circumstances and to the extent justified to enforce a contractual obligation.

Trading Standards says:
5 May 2012

Customers have always had a route to get their money – (civil) court. But for the vast majority of people its not worth the hassle. I would guess its also very difficult to quantify losses as it may be the case that each persons circumstance is individual to them depending on their tariff. And it would probably be hard to quantify the exact loss for each customer.

The (criminal) court was the one who dished out the fine. The legislation they were prosecuted under only allows for a fine or jail. So I do not think the court has the power to demand SSE refund all of their customers – certainly not udner the prosecuting legislation anyway.

Mr Very Irritated. says:
8 August 2012

Indeed what you say is correct and we are going to have to wait for Government decision on the Law Commission recommendations to simplify matters of redress affordable to / by consumers.

The Joint Report by the Law Commission and Scottish Law Commission considers the redress available to consumers who have been the victims of misleading or aggressive practices by traders.

Sanctions against such practices are set out in the Consumer Protection from
Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (the Regulations) – Statutory Instrument: 1277.

The Regulations concern public enforcement rather than private redress. They do not give consumers the right to start civil actions to obtain compensation or other remedies. Instead,
consumers must rely on existing private law doctrines, such as the law of misrepresentation and duress. This is problematic: the law of misrepresentation is complex and uncertain; while the law of duress leaves gaps in protection. Misleading and aggressive trade practices are common and lead to a high level of consumer detriment.


Why when Banks, Energy companies etc… do this it is called mis-selling, but when we do it it is called fraud?

The correct procedure would be:
Seize the company, freeze the shares [if any], appoint administers to run it and take the board [the decision makers] to court to stand trail for the crimes they have committed against us.
Shareholders [if any] would be allowed to take joint action against the board, customers would be given a refund, and compensation if funds allow.
The company would then be nationalised, or restructured and put back into the market.

Instead they are accused of mis-selling [just what the hell is that?] and given fines which are paid for by price hikes.

Mr Very Irritated. says:
8 August 2012

Your suggestion certainly has merit but is perhaps a little OTT / time and cost consuming since legislation exists to prohibit unfair trading practices – the problem is that such is not being observed / implemented by traders.

Perhaps an alternative would be to impress upon the trader’s workforce, that they have committed offences as well as their employer. Clearly employees are in a vulnerable position and do / would therefore follow employers instructions / policy.

Perhaps appearance at a Criminal Court with at least a strong warning issued against further repetition of offence (as involves fine and / or imprisonment – subject to offence) may just get the message across to them AND collectively to apply pressure from within the company to let the top dogs know that placing employees in such position is unacceptable.

Following paste from Statutory Instrument 1277.

Offences committed by bodies of persons
15.—(1) Where an offence under these Regulations committed by a body corporate is proved—

(a) to have been committed with the consent or connivance of an officer of the body, or
(b) to be attributable to any neglect on his part, the officer as well as the body corporate is guilty of the offence and liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.

(2) In paragraph (1) a reference to an officer of a body corporate includes a reference to—
(a) a director, manager, secretary or other similar officer; and
(b) a person purporting to act as a director, manager, secretary or other similar officer.

Mr Very Irritated. says:
8 August 2012

I think SSE is continuing to offend under Statutory Instrument 1277 despite hollow expression of regret regarding this ‘door step’ sales matter.

Hopefully and properly Dorset Trading Standards will follow Surrey’s lead and send yet another message to this trader that legislation is to be observed and complied with.

Well done Mr Playle (STS) for the determination and Professional Diligence to take these ‘big boys’ down a few pegs.

[We have slightly edited this comment due to it breaking our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods.]