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Overall cases by industry (Apr-June 2018)
Jul-Sep 2017 Oct-Dec 2017 Jan-Mar 2018 Apr-Jun 2018
486 529 463 453 508
2,189 3,033 3,068
4,289 5,031 4,924 5,755 5,530
7,036 8,653 8,523 8,873 8,690
Note: All quarterly totals include Dual Fuel and Other Industry cases. In the January to March 2018 quarter there were 11 Dual Fuel and 49 Other Industry cases.
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Top three issues by industry (April-June 2018)
- Billing 33%
- Credit 23%
- Provision 20%
- Other 24%
- Billing 31%
- Credit 25%
- Provision 23%
- Other 21%
- Billing 54%
- Credit 14%
- Land 14%
- Other 18%
Marketing-related systemic issues
EWOV's identification and reporting of systemic issues plays an important part in reducing the potential for problems or practices to affect more customers. Our recent casework has highlighted several systemic issues related to energy marketing practices. With a view to curtailing the impact of these practices on customers, the Ombudsman has written to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The issues have arisen in both door-to-door and telephone sales, with customers complaining of misleading and high-pressure sales tactics and transfer of their account to a different energy retailer without their consent:
- Over 2016 and 2017, EWOV received 15 complaints from customers complaining that they’d received an excessive number of telephone sales calls from a small retailer. The retailer’s explanation was that this was the result of poor practices by two different sales companies it had engaged, and the practices were subsequently stopped. (SI/2016/50)
- Over 2016 and 2017, 17 customers complained about a small retailer’s misleading door-to-door marketing and related transfers without consent. The retailer’s explanation was that the complaints related to conduct by multiple sales companies. It said one sales agent was dismissed and agents were re-trained. (SI/2016/70)
- In early 2018, several customers complained about transfers without consent following telephone marketing calls from a small retailer. The retailer’s explanation was that its sales company had obtained explicit informed consent, but some customers seemed to be unaware they were agreeing to transfer. It said it had since modified the consent procedure to include a customer ID check, which would make it clearer that the customer was agreeing to a transfer. (SI/2018/15)
EWOV is currently investigating a potential systemic issue (SI/2018/26) relating to door-to-door sales. A different small retailer’s practices have prompted a customer complaint about transfer without consent.
A reminder of rights and responsibilities
While the Energy Retail Code places some specific obligations on energy retailers around provision of information to customers and energy marketing activities, it's not the only source of marketing obligations. Other codes and laws setting out the rules that energy retailers and their sales representatives must follow include the Australian Consumer Law, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)'s Do Not Call Register, and the Telecommunications (Do Not Call) (Telemarketing and Research Calls) Industry Standard 2017.
The Australian Consumer Law provides that people must be given clear, truthful and easy-to understand information. Marketers must be honest that they’re selling energy. They mustn’t let the person think they’re calling from their current energy retailer or distributor, or from the government. They mustn’t pressure someone to make a decision. If someone says ‘yes’ to a sales representative at their door, they must be given the contract terms and conditions then and there. If they say ‘yes’ over the phone, the terms and conditions must be sent to them as soon as possible.
Consent to switch to another energy retailer must be explicit (a conscious decision) and informed (the person knows what they're agreeing to). It must also be shown by the person's signature on a contract (door-to door sales) or a voice recording (phone sales) and kept by the energy retailer. There is a cooling-off period of 10 business days starting from the day after the person agreed to and signed the contract, or received the contract information. Within this time, the contract can be cancelled without penalty.
Customer story: Pressure sales
Telemarketing; aggressive and persistent sales representative
Case number: 2017/21347
Ms T was distressed after a telephone marketing call from an energy retailer's sales representative. She said she was aggressively pressured into a contract for electricity and gas, even though she said she wasn’t interested and was happy with her current retailer. She said the salesperson persisted, insisting she should change retailer.
We registered Ms T's complaint as an Assisted Referral and facilitated contact with her by a higher-level contact within the energy retailer. She returned to EWOV saying the retailer hadn't contacted her as part of the Assisted Referral process, so we opened an Investigation.
Responding to EWOV's Investigation, the retailer apologised for what it assessed as inappropriate behaviour on the part of the sales representative. It said it had reviewed the recording of the call to Ms T and agreed that the representative had acted aggressively, hadn't listened to her and had pressured her into a contract. The retailer said its sales agent had since put the salesperson through a six-week training and coaching plan and had undertaken to closely monitor all his future sales. The retailer confirmed that no contract was in place.
The retailer added Ms T to its 'do not contact' list so that she wouldn't receive any more marketing calls. She was given a direct contact at the retailer should she have any further concerns. We also referred Ms T to the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s Do Not Call Register, so she could list her phone number and opt out of receiving telemarketing calls generally.
Ms T was satisfied with this outcome. The complaint was closed.
Customer story: Transfer without consent
Telemarketing; customer requested information; found his account switched to a different retailer
Case Number: 2017/25002
Mr B received a telemarketing call from an energy retailer. He said he didn't agree to switch, but he did ask for some written information so he could consider the offer. When he didn’t receive anything, Mr B called the retailer to ask for the information again. The customer service representative who took the call told Mr B that he’d already signed up and his cooling-off period of ten days was about to expire. The same day, Mr B received a welcome pack via email. Mr B said he'd tried several times to get through to the retailer's call centre to cancel the transfer. When he couldn't get through, he contacted EWOV.
We registered Mr B's complaint as an Assisted Referral and facilitated contact with him by a higher-level contact within the energy retailer. He returned to EWOV saying he received a call and was assured a transfer back to his original retailer would be arranged. However, the same day he received an email stating that a payment would be required. He rang the retailer again. This time he was assured the transfer back would be arranged by mid-November 2017. When that didn’t happen, Mr B recontacted EWOV and we opened an Investigation.
Responding to EWOV's Investigation, the retailer acknowledged that it had obtained the billing rights to Mr B’s property incorrectly. It arranged a retrospective transfer back to his original retailer and confirmed that he wouldn't be billed. To make sure he wouldn’t receive any more marketing calls from it, the retailer put Mr B on its 'do not call' list. It also provided a $50 customer service payment via credit card in recognition of the inconvenience the transfer without consent had caused.
Mr B was satisfied with this outcome. The complaint was closed.