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Energy company Scottish and Southern ‘misled 800,000 customers’

Scottish and Southern Energy found guilty by court

Gas and electricity giant Scottish and Southern Energy has been found guilty of unfair trading for signing up new customers using a ‘misleading’ sales script.

The sales script at the heart of the case implied Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) knew customers were paying too much for their existing energy deal, when in fact it did not.

The script formed part of SSE’s week-long training programme for sales staff and said: ‘Most of the customers in this area have managed to get themselves off these expensive tariffs, but there’s always one or two we have to chase up…we reckoned you’d probably want to get off the expensive tariffs as well.’ 

Energy sales script

SSE admitted in court that it used the script successfully in 800,000 energy customer switches in 2008 and 2009.

We hope the outcome of the court case reflects the fact that this issue was systemic and not down to a few bad apples.

James Tallack,
Which? policy adviser

A SSE spokesperson told Which? that it is disappointed with the verdict and is: ‘now considering our legal options, which includes the possibility of an appeal’. 

The company adds that this case relates to sales aids that are not in use today and is confident its ‘sales processes continue to be fair and reasonable’. 

Proceeds of crime

Surrey Trading Standards was originally alerted to the script by a complaint from an elderly man living in a no cold-calling zone. He got a visit from a salesman trying to persuade him to switch supplier. 

The jury at Guildford Crown Court found SSE had been misleading under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Practices Regulations by a majority of 11-1. Sentencing will be on 27 May. 

Surrey Trading Standards has told the court that it would like to use the Proceeds of Crime Act to claw back profits from the 800,000 switches affected.

The Trading Standards Officer in the case, Steve Playle, says that he is ‘absolutely delighted’ with the result, adding: ‘When we first became aware of the sales script being used by Scottish and Southern Energy we were convinced that it overstepped the mark and was misleading to potential customers.’

Energy company practices

Which? energy policy adviser James Tallack says ‘We’ve heard energy companies blame mis-selling on “rogue agents” before, but in this case illegal practices have been exposed as a deliberate part of SSE’s sales strategy. 

‘We hope the outcome of the court case reflects the fact that this issue was systemic and not down to a few bad apples. With energy watchdog Ofgem currently carrying out a separate investigation into four of the big six suppliers’ sales and marketing practices, this latest development merely emphasises why this industry’s public image is so poor.’

Further energy company investigations

Consumer Focus’s head of energy Audrey Gallacher said: ‘This verdict must sound a wake-up call to the industry. Energy firms have had years to sort out this issue and yet consumers are still misled and tricked on the doorstep.’

Ofgem welcomes the result of the case and says that monitoring of its new tougher rules has led it to launch ongoing investigations into Scottish and Southern Energy, Scottish Power, npower and EDF Energy.

Which? energy company survey

SSE is the highest-scoring ‘big six’ energy company in the latest Which? Switch energy company satisfaction survey – but still only got a customer score of 56%. Utility Warehouse and Ovo topped the table with 77%. Npower is the lowest-scoring company, with just 34%. Npower was found guilty in a recent court case of ‘oppressive and unacceptable’ behaviour

If you’ve had problems with your energy company, Which? Legal Service can advise – membership costs just £68 per year.

Lower your gas and electricity bills

You can compare energy prices and switch to a new gas and electricity supplier on Which? Switch. People who switched with us between 1 October and 31 December 2013 are predicted to save an average of £234 a year on their bills.

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