In a case that stemmed from events between 30 September, 2008 and 6 July, 2009, SSE was found guilty by jury of mis selling energy contracts through door to door campaigns. This was the first ever of its kind successfully prosecuted against any of the ‘big six’ and there may be more to follow.
At the centre of the case was the fact that door to door sales personnel were using pre-written and altogether too complex scripts which led consumers to believe that they were paying more than they should for electricity and gas. These agents were direct representatives of the company and therefore SSE was held liable for their actions. In many cases, the information they provided was erroneous as consumers were already being given the lowest rates in their vicinity. Even so, with the script they were using to lure customers in, there was no way to fully understand what the bottom line is because of the way the pitch was worded.
Although the trial was conducted May of last year, the fine was actually imposed this month in the amount of £1.2 million in what is now a landmark case that will set a precedence as other British energy suppliers are called to task for the very same misleading sales practices. Any supplier that is found guilty of misleading homeowners into believing they had been paying too much for gas or electricity will be fined heavily as well. This trial was held over a five day period at Guildford Crown Court and was the first-ever case of its kind being successfully won against major suppliers.
What this means for customers in terms of pricing and compensation is yet to be seen, but the courts did rule that customers should be compensated pound-for-pound on any losses incurred as a result of being misled into changing contracts. Not only did complaints pour in locally where the case was tried, but from around the country as well. Since the investigation into these practices began, SSE has ceased using cold-canvas door-to-door salesmen and four of the other big six have also stopped this practice. Consumers will no longer be ‘put on the spot’ on their own doorsteps which will leave them free to research cheaper rates on their own.
According to Judge Christopher Critchlow who presided, being made to compare tariffs on he spot is not an easy position to be placed in. The object in fostering competition is to provide consumers with cheaper alternatives to business and residential energy. By misleading consumers they are not really afforded the opportunity to choose the best tariffs and are also not given the time to actually look over the facts and figures when being forced to listen to sales pitches on the spur of the moment. The outcome should be great news for energy customers who will not be subjected to forceful measures which are more often than not, misleading.