Energy companies are cold calling kingsUtilities companies are the worst offenders

02 March 2006

Gas and electricity companies are the chief cold-calling culprits, according to a new survey of Which? members.

We've found that utility companies account for nearly a fifth of uninvited doorstep sales visits - that's more than any other industry.

Our survey - which involved nearly 700 people completing a diary of all doorstep calls over a two-week period last autumn - showed British Gas made the highest number of uninvited sales pitches.

The energy giant, which yesterday raised its prices by 22 per cent, making it the most expensive utility provider, was a frequent presence on the doorstep. It accounted for six per cent of all recorded pitches, followed by Southern Electric at 4 per cent.

Intimidated

Overall, tradespeople made up 16 per cent of doorstep visits, charities 14 per cent, window and conservatory salespeople 10 per cent and telecoms salespeople 7 per cent. Phone company Onetel weighed in at 4 per cent of all doorstep calls.

Eight out of ten of those surveyed said they thought the practice of cold calling should be banned altogether, with nearly half admitting they'd felt intimidated by a doorstep seller and a similar proportion feeling pressurised to buy.

Jenni Conti, Head of Services Research at Which?, says: 'In our survey, British Gas made more doorstep cold calls than any other company. We strongly advise consumers to shop around to make sure they're getting the best deal for their gas and electricity supply.

'The supplier who turns up on your doorstep may not have the best deal for you.'

Which? runs its own impartial energy supplier comparison site (see related links, below) where you can check out which supplier offers the best deal for your gas and electricity.

By law, people who buy from a doorstep salesperson have a seven-day cooling-off period during which they can change their mind about a purchase. This applies only if the goods or services are worth more than GBP 35 and the salesperson wasn't invited to call. Failure by the salesperson to mention the cooling-off period is a criminal offence.

Silent calls

Meanwhile, there's more protection on the way for householders plagued by 'silent' calls, in the form of a fine of up to GBP 50,000 for companies which make them.

Silent calls happen when automated calling systems - used by call centres - dial more numbers than the call centre agents can deal with. So when some people answer their phone, there's no-one on the other end of the line.

The Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson has now decided to increase the fine for nuisance calls from GBP 5,000 to GBP 50,000. The change is due to come into effect later this year.

'Silent calls are annoying and distressing, particularly for the elderly, hard of hearing and people living on their own,' he said.