This article was written in 2011 and may contain out of date information. Browse more recent articles.
Depending on your point of view, doorstep sellers range from a minor dinnertime disturbance to a total plague on the nation. And there are loads of them out there right now. Deregulation of the energy market has meant that hoards of be-suited salespeople are knocking on doors across the country, telling householders that they can save loads of money by switching.
Unsurprisingly, there’s been some complaints. A lot of people have said they feel pressured. And a lot more have said that they are finding the deals very confusing. So the Commission for Energy Regulation has decided to do something about it. They are going to start making doorstep energy sellers carry a checklist which they’ll have to give to householders before any selling can begin.
Before they can open their mouths to tell you about how much money you can save, doorsteppers will have to hand you the checklist. They’ll have to tell you what company they represent. Then they they’ll have to show you ID.
If you sign up to a new deal on your doorstep, the salesman will have to make sure you understand it… or at least get you to acknowledge that you understand it (whether you do or not is another matter altogether!). And most importantly, they’ll have to tell you how to get out of the deal if you change your mind.
I love that one. “Now that you’ve signed up to a new energy deal, here’s how to get out of it.” In effect, you can sign up to a new energy deal and literally close the front door, pick up the phone and undo it. It seems strange, but energy deals are becoming very complicated, so it’s good that people are given time to check and make sure they are really getting what they’ve been told they’ll get.
Anyway, the checklist hasn’t been fully agreed yet. The CER ran a bit of a consultation and asked the public to comment on what it should include. The “public” that responded mainly consisted of big energy companies like ESB Electric Ireland, Airtricity and Bord Gais. And they didn’t think a whole lot of the idea. I suspect it’s because it would slow down their door-to-door sellers, which would mean fewer switches. Which is fair enough.
However, if we’re talking about fairness, I think it needs to be completely clear to householders that if they sign up to say Airtricity at their doorstep, they need to know what they are getting into. There should be no surprises later on. Customers should not find out after the fact that they’ve agreed to a one-year contract or that prices are going to change in six months. So a checklist is a really good idea and will hopefully keep sellers on the straight and narrow.
There’s a whole lot of things wrong with doorstep selling though. Besides disturbing your dinner, or Coronation Street, the biggest issue is that you don’t get to see the whole picture. There are now four energy companies operating in Ireland and doorsteppers represent just one at a time. They’ll all tell you that you could save money “just sign here,” and they’ll probably all tell you that their deal is the cheapest. But it most probably isn’t.
In a survey conducted by the CER at the start of the year, one in every eight people said they were put under way too much pressure to switch by energy doorsteppers. And for the over 65s, nearly one in four said the pressure was too much.
So if the guy flogging a new energy deal on your doorstep seems genuine, and he’s convinced you that you’ll save loads of money by switching to a new supplier, how do you know he’s not full of €*@+?
Well, this is where the folks at bonkers.ie can help out. We’ve come up with our own doorstep checklist, which will pretty much ensure that you don’t get swizzed! So here goes:
Get some ID!
Don’t be afraid to ask, you need to know who this guy is and what company he represents, especially if something goes wrong.
Ask your salesman if he’s telling you about his company’s cheapest deal.
He mightn’t be. They all have loads of deals and he may only be allowed to sell one.
If your sales guy tells you how many euros you could save, ask him how he knows.
You can only tell how much someone could save by knowing how much they use, what deal they are currently on and how they pay and view their bills.
Ask whether his deal has an inflated standing charge.
Loads of the new energy tariffs do, so watch out.
Ask how long the cooling off period is.
You also need to know when it starts, and how to cancel if you want to get out of the deal later on.
Ask if there’s an exit penalty.
Some suppliers will charge you up to €100 if you switch again before they say you can.
Don’t feel pressured to sign up to anything on your doorstep!
The last one is the most important. We all know how persuasive doorstep salespeople can be, but unless you’re completely comfortable, you shouldn’t sign up. And you can actually verify an energy seller’s claims in no time at all. Just use a gas and electricity comparison service like the one on bonkers.ie. That’s what independent and impartial comparison services are all about. An easy and pressure free way to find the best deal.
And just for fun, why not let us know your favourite excuses for doorsteppers, chuggers and telesales people! When we’ve got enough of them, we’ll publish the lot and let you know. If you have an excuse you'd like to share, please pop it in the comments box below.