Energy Company gets Record Fine

An energy supply company was fined £1.25m on Friday for using doorstep sellers to "trick'' people into switching supplier, according to a local authority.

Scottish and Southern Energy was brought to court by Trading Standards officers from Surrey County Council (SCC) after it found that the company's sellers were using misleading sales scripts.

It is understood that the fine is the largest ever to have been handed out in a trading standards prosecution.

The firm was found guilty at Guildford Crown Court Court of taking part in misleading selling practices relating to a sales script, between September 2008 and July 2009 and was found not guilty on five other similar matters, according to SCC.

A council spokesman said: "The punishment marks the end of a landmark prosecution by Surrey County Council Trading Standards that was the first of its kind against one of the 'big six' energy firms.

"Trading Standards officers doggedly pursued the energy giant after discovering its sales agents were using misleading sales scripts on people's doorsteps.

"The sellers claimed to have information showing that households were paying too much with their current supplier. In reality they had no such information.''

Steve Playle, SCC Trading Standards investigations and enforcement manager, said: "This was a real David versus Goliath battle which resulted in a victory for consumers everywhere.

"It should send a message to the energy industry that deceptive, misleading and illegal sales tactics are not acceptable.

"Hopefully this fine will serve as a reminder that no matter how competitive the market, companies cannot lose sight of the law.

"If they do, trading standards teams will be there to straighten them out.

"The case shone a spotlight on the dubious practice of doorstep selling. Our advice to consumers remains the same as ever. Never deal with cold calling doorstep traders.''

Audrey Gallacher, director of energy at Consumer Focus, said: "Firms must not be left to profit at the expense of customers who have been misled.

"A fine of £1.25m set by the court sends a very strong message to the energy industry that it must play fair by its customers and get it right on sales.

"Surrey Trading Standards should be applauded for its persistent pursuit of a guilty verdict over these obviously misleading sales practices.

"It is positive that since this case started most energy firms have ended cold-call sales on the doorstep. Poor practices like this are unacceptable and drag the reputation of the energy industry further through the mud.

"We hope the lessons learned from this issue will mean energy firms make sure they put consumer protection and customer service at the heart of all their sales methods.

"We'd urge any customer who thinks they may have lost out after being missold to by an SSE salesperson to contact the firm to seek compensation.

"We are also calling on E.ON, as the only major supplier left who has failed to stop cold-call doorstep sales, to end this distrusted sales practice immediately.''