Npower's doorstep salesmen slated by regulator

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Npower, the gas and electricity retail arm of the utility Innogy, was criticised by the regulator yesterday for failing to improve its doorstep sales practices sufficiently.

The rate of complaints from residential customers about the company has run at more than double the industry average, despite pledges from npower earlier this year that it would improve its marketing activities. Ofgem, the sector watchdog, has asked npower to provide a further report on what steps it has taken to minimise customer complaints.

Npower has been under scrutiny since January after it was warned about the practices often used by its salesmen to encourage customers to switch suppliers. It was given a year to clean up its act.

Npower said it had "largely met interim objectives", citing a 35 per cent reduction in the level of direct selling complaints received by Ofgem from April to June compared to the previous three months. It added that sales complaints received by npower in July were 30 per cent down on the January levels, "well inside" year-end targets.

However, Ofgem said: "We are concerned that the company may not meet its undertakings fully by next January." A spokesman said Energywatch, the industry's customer complaints office, had received 1.42 complaints about npower per 1,000 transfers compared with an industry average of 0.67.

David Andrew, marketing director at npower, said: "This is an ongoing programme and we would expect to see further improvements feed through the system." He added that it could take up to another six months for the impact of the improvements made in npower's recruitment methods and training to be fully visible.

Npower agreed to a string of undertakings which include developing new procedures for follow-up contacts with new customers.

Ofgem said that the overall number of complaints about the direct selling of gas and electricity had fallen by 26 per cent from October 2000 to March 2001 compared with the previous year. This represented a 39 per cent reduction in the rate of complaints per thousand customers transferred.