Consumer rights: Snake oil and energy tariffs – the many faces of mis-selling

The electricity supplier SSE has been fined £10.5m and promises it has changed, but many consumers will be wondering who they can trust

From snake oil to payment protection insurance and energy tariffs – mis-selling takes many forms. There's the straightforward "not what it says on the tin" where you're sold something that is not what it claims to be. Then there are products which do what they claim to do – for some people – but are useless when sold to people who can't use them or don't need them. Payment protection insurance was sold to hundreds of thousands of people who would never be able to claim as exemptions ruled them out.

And then there are the things that are essential but which are sold to you in the wrong way at the wrong price – such as gas and electricity. SSE (formerly Scottish and Southern Energy) is one of the big six energy providers. Over the past few years its managers seem to have assumed that rules about selling didn't apply to its employees. The company has been fined £10.5m for "prolonged and extensive" mis-selling.

Ofgem, the industry watchdog, said the company had allowed sharp selling practices over the phone, on customers' doorsteps and in-store. The judgement against SSE says management wasn't doing enough to prevent mis-selling and was allowing the culture to continue.

Some customers were told they would save money by switching to SSE but ended up being worse off. Others were told they would save more than they did by switching. Still others were told they would save money when in fact they were switched on to a more expensive contract. Even the people employed by the company to make sure that customers were treated fairly and by the rules were on commission, so they had no incentive to report or prevent mis-selling.

SSE says it is very sorry, it has learned its lesson, has completely reformed its business in this area and will be reimbursing customers. It has already paid out £400,000.

SSE isn't alone in breaking the rules and ripping off customers. In March last year, EDF Energy agreed to pay £4.5m to vulnerable customers following breaches of marketing rules. Scottish Power, Npower and E.on are also being investigated, and although there are no findings yet, you could be forgiven for thinking that doesn't leave many companies in the energy industry that consumers can trust.

The Government is debating its new energy bill which will make things simpler and hopefully clearer by limiting the number of tariffs the energy providers can use. It will also force suppliers to move customers on to the cheapest tariff automatically, and tell customers if they could get a better deal on a different tariff. Some of these changes should be in place by the autumn.

In the meantime customers don't know who to trust. If you are thinking of switching, take time to check out all of the options and tariffs and consider going through the price comparison sites. If you think you have paid out more than you should have to SSE and haven't had a letter from them yet, contact the company and ask to be reimbursed.


Q: I've lived in my leasehold flat for about 20 years. There's 68 years left on the lease.

I'm beginning to worry that if I decide to sell I will have problems finding a buyer. My neighbour tells me that I can extend my lease but that it will cost several thousand pounds.

Can you give me any advice on how to find out what the cost of an extension might be and how to go about it?

MA, Southampton

A: You are entitled to ask for a statutory 90-year extension although the freeholder may agree to a longer one. The shorter the remaining term on the current lease, the more expensive the extension can be.

The Leaseholder Advisory Service's website at has a lease extension calculator and a wealth of information. I've tried it with your figures and it came up with the rather off-putting figure of £18,000.

However, you might be able to persuade your mortgage lender to lend you the money, or you may find a buyer willing to extend the lease when they buy , or arrange to extend the lease at the same time as you sell, and hand over the money when the buyer pays you.

The first step would be to talk to the freeholder. If you feel it is asking for an unreasonable amount you can go to a Leasehold Valuation Tribunal.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Suggested Topics
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Customer Service Executive / Inbound Customer Service Agent

    £18 - 23k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Customer Service Executiv...

    ASP.NET Web Developer / .NET Developer

    £60 - 65k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a ASP.NET Web Developer / ....

    Operational Risk Manager - Asset Management

    £60,000 - £80,000: Saxton Leigh: Our client is an leading Asset Manager based...

    Project Coordinator - 12 month contract

    £27000 - £32000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our large charity ...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

    The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album