British Gas to end doorstep selling

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The Independent Online

British Gas today signalled an end to doorstep selling after consumer groups claimed the practice puts pressure on people into switching to worse deals.

The energy giant currently employs more than 300 staff who cold-call at homes, but said they will stop knocking on doors for three months while it explores other ways to sell its products.

British Gas said its doorstep sales force will spend the next three months talking to existing customers about its home insulation deal and added that it has no plans to make redundancies.

Consumer Focus last month called for a 90-day moratorium on cold calling, but said that out of the other big six suppliers, EDF and Scottish Power refused to end the practice, while E.ON and npower have yet to make a decision.

The other big player, Scottish & Southern Energy, last month announced it would suspend all doorstep activity after being found guilty of two counts of mis-selling in a case brought by Surrey County Council.

Currently, Scottish Power, SSE, EDF and npower are all being investigated by energy watchdog Ofgem about whether their doorstep sales practices have broken the rules.

British Gas hailed the move as an important step towards rebuilding trust in the sector.

It employed 1,300 doorstep sales staff in 2006 but has since reduced the number to less than a quarter as customer attitudes changed and people increasingly sought the best deals over the internet.

Consumer Focus applauded British Gas's move and called for the rest of the sector to follow suit or risk driving mistrust of energy companies deeper.

Adam Scorer, director of external affairs at Consumer Focus, said it was "the sort of move that responsible companies make when it becomes clear that consumers are unhappy with the way they do business".

He added: "For over a decade cold call doorstep sales have led to hundreds of thousands of people paying more for their energy after switching to a worse deal.

"We know people strongly dislike doorstep sales, feel pressured to switch at the door and that energy firms don't offer their best rates face-to-face. Cold call energy sales simply aren't what customers need or want."

He urged consumers to think twice before they buy on the doorstep, shop around for the best deal, and take time to think things over before making a final decision.

British Gas said doorstep selling in its current form was "increasingly outdated" but there was growing demand for pre-arranged face-to-face meetings.

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

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