British Gas to suspend doorstep sales

Gas ring MPs recently called for energy companies to compensate for mis-selling

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British Gas has said it will end doorstep selling for three months, claiming the format is "outdated".

The company follows Scottish and Southern Energy in stopping the selling style, which was recently criticised by an influential committee of MPs.

The 400 agents employed by British Gas should continue to be employed in advisory roles, a spokesman said.

Watchdog Consumer Focus said many consumers switched to a worse deal after doorstep sales.

Changes

British Gas said that doorstep selling, in its current form, was an increasingly outdated way for energy companies to find new customers.

Those customers, the company said, no longer regarded it as a "preferred or trusted" way to consider their energy arrangements.

Start Quote

This will count for little if it is just a temporary suspension or if suppliers simply switch to other forms of cold calling for the hard sell”

End Quote Richard Lloyd Executive director of Which?

MPs were recently told that up to 40% of those who switched suppliers on the doorstep did not end up with a better deal, and that vulnerable customers were particularly targeted.

One firm stated that more than 70% of pre-payment customers who had recently switched to it had been won on the doorstep.

But British Gas said that it had reduced the number of sales agents from 1,300 in 2006 to 400 now.

"Doorstep selling, in its current form, is no longer a sustainable way to engage or build a relationship with customers," said Ian Peters of British Gas.

"We want the energy advice we give our customers to be trusted and delivered at a time and place that is convenient to them."

Richard Lloyd, executive director of the consumers' association Which?, said: "This will count for little if it is just a temporary suspension or if suppliers simply switch to other forms of cold calling for the hard sell.

"Energy companies must now focus on making it easy for everyone to get access to the best domestic deals, which is more important than ever at a time when people's personal finances are under so much pressure.

"They should make a start with the millions of people in the UK who have never used the internet and so miss out on the cheapest rates."

Prices

Consumer Focus has been campaigning for a ban on cold-calling by energy salesmen and recently called for suppliers to suspend doorstep selling and move to prearranged appointments instead.

"We know people strongly dislike doorstep sales, feel pressured to switch at the door and that energy firms do not offer their best rates face-to-face," said Adam Scorer of Consumer Focus.

It called on the other energy companies to follow the actions of SSE and British Gas and announce a three-month moratorium on cold-calling.

It wants the companies to inform customers of cheaper deals on offer, possibly on the internet, and outline independent advice that is available.

British Gas owner Centrica recently reported operating profits of £1.3bn in the six months to 30 June, down 19% on the same period last year.

It will increase its gas bills for domestic customers by an average of 18% and electricity bills by an average of 16% on 18 August.

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