Watchdog cracks down on phone switch sales tricks

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The Independent Online

New rules to crack down on rogue telephone salesmen will come into effect on Thursday, amid increasing evidence that thousands of customers are being mis-sold every month. Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, is to launch a crack down on "slamming", the practice where customers are conned into switching home phone provider without their knowledge or agreement.

New rules to crack down on rogue telephone salesmen will come into effect on Thursday, amid increasing evidence that thousands of customers are being mis-sold every month. Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, is to launch a crack down on "slamming", the practice where customers are conned into switching home phone provider without their knowledge or agreement.

Earlier this year, BT, the giant telecoms provider, said there were now 15,000 cases of slamming every month. Rival phone companies disputed the claim, but in at least half the cases investigated by Ofcom, there was genuine evidence of mis-selling.

From Thursday, Ofcom will require any company selling home phone services to have a code of best practice that follows its own guidelines. Companies that breach the rules will be named and shamed, and could eventually face fines of up to 10 per cent of their annual turnover.

Ed Knight, a spokesman for Ofcom, said: "We have evidence to show there is a problem that needs tackling and these new rules will give us stronger enforcement powers."

Complaints about slamming have increased, as a price war between home phone providers has intensified, following deregulation. When the gas and electricity markets were opened up to competition in the same way, millions of customers were wrongly switched to new providers.

Karen Darby, chief executive officer of price comparison service Simply Switch, said: "The problem of mis-selling seems endemic where the primary route to market is via cold-calling, either door-to-door or on the telephone. Unmonitored, biased commission-hungry salespeople often employ unscrupulous tactics."

But Darby warned homeowners not to be put off shopping around. Simply Switch claimed many households could cut their phone bills by up to 70 per cent by switching to a cheaper service.

Research published this weekend by Tesco, one of the new providers of phone services keen to take market share from BT, suggests the typical annual phone bill has increased by £300 compared with five years ago, even though call costs have fallen sharply.

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