Julian Knight: When energy firms call say: 'No thanks, bye'

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The Independent Online

Ofgem is investigating the sales practices of several energy firms.

There is a longstanding problem with people being shifted between providers without their knowledge or lied to by salespeople. It's inevitable wherever you have profit-hungry firms and commission-incentivised salespeople. We've seen it countless times in financial services – think pensions mis-selling for one. Let's hope Ofgem's investigation is conducted quickly, and if firms are found guilty they are fined substantially: the watchdog has the power to dock 10 per cent of their turnover.

The best way to avoid mis-selling is not to get into a conversation with a salesperson. The simple response is always to say no thanks and good day. But this doesn't stop you being ripped off by the energy firms.

Consumer Focus put it well last week when it responded to a rise in EDF's prices: "It's worrying to see suppliers make immediate moves to pass on small increases in their costs when for months they have failed to pass on significant cuts in energy wholesale costs. Price hikes across the industry are not warranted, as these huge falls in wholesale prices have simply not been shared with consumers."

Too right, and what has Ofgem done about this continuing rip-off affecting many more than mis-selling? Absolutely nothing.

Relieve those tortuous queues

A visit to my local post office is always tortuous. Even avoiding peak times such as first thing in the morning and lunchtimes, I still get stuck in a massive queue. Buying some foreign currency took about 20 minutes the other day as the staffer – obviously cajoled by management – tried to sell travel insurance and the post office credit card to every customer. So busy was he trying to push the services on me that he didn't notice that he had counted me out too few euros.

There seems to be another reason for the terribly slow service. The clue comes from a campaign being run by Link, the UK cash machine network. It runs 740 free-to-use cash machines in Britain's post office network which are an invaluable alternative to the pernicious fee-charging machines which have sprang up in poorer areas, and in newsagents and even pubs.

Up to four million post office card account holders are barred from using the machines, which means they have to queue for their cash, prolonging waiting time for everyone else. The previous government decided to impose this restriction on post office card account holders – heaven knows why.

Now Link would like to extend its free-to-use ATMs into lower-income areas – deserted by the mainstream banks. But to do this and boost usage they need post office card account holders to have access too. The coalition needs to think about this. At the least it would reduce those queues – but then staff would be freer to try to foist more financial products on me.

Clodesdale not on their own

It's not just the Clydesdale bank – or Clodesdale as one reader nicknamed it – which is guilty of miscalculating its customers' mortgages and then demanding they make up the shortfall. The Financial Ombudsman said last week it had received a wave of complaints from consumers about their lenders' inability to add up. In some instances, borrowers had received an incorrect mortgage repayment amount in their original mortgage offer and then paid it in good faith only for the lender to come back later and say it had got its sums wrong.

With the reputation of financial services akin to that of the Pakistan cricket team, many would suspect foul play. But the most likely reason is good old- fashioned administrative incompetence. If you have suffered this, I'd like to hear from you as we need to name those firms which are getting it so wrong. Isn't it time the Financial Services Authority got its feet wet over this and checked to ensure that all lenders' admin is now up to speed?

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