New safeguards introduced to protect electricity and gas consumers

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A new mandatory Marketing Code of Practice to guard against mis-selling to Northern Ireland’s electricity and gas consumers has been introduced by the Utility Regulator in consultation with a range of stakeholders, particularly the Consumer Council.

All gas and electricity suppliers in Northern Ireland now have to adhere to the Code and failure to comply will be a licence breach which may be subject to enforcement action, including the possibility of financial penalties.

Utility Regulator Chief Executive, Jenny Pyper, said:

“The introduction of the Marketing Code of Practice represents a comprehensive step forward to protect Northern Ireland’s electricity and gas consumers.  It is a key part of the UR strategy to improve competition whilst protecting consumers’ interests.  As more suppliers enter the market, this Code will help ensure NI consumers are protected from many of the problems seen in other energy markets.  Specifically it will protect gas and electricity customers, in particular vulnerable customers, from inappropriate marketing practices.  This will ensure that they can make an informed, un-pressurised decision on whether or not to change their energy supplier.”

At an overall level the Code should:

• protect consumers against unwanted, unfair or misleading marketing methods;

• ensure that an electricity or gas supplier adopts best practice when marketing its products and services;

• ensure that electricity and gas suppliers take all reasonable steps to make sure their marketing material is accurate and clearly specifies the product being marketed;

• ensure that the appropriate training is provided on the Code, to their staff (including agents/third parties) if they are carrying out marketing activities on behalf of the supplier;

• ensure that suppliers make all reasonable efforts that employees or agents do not misrepresent the firm or portray products of rival suppliers in a negative way;

• make it mandatory that suppliers provide the option for customers (current or future) to opt out of future marketing activities; and

• help ensure that sales agents do not misrepresent the savings that customers can make by switching.  It will be incumbent upon any sales agent or representative of the company to demonstrate how any individual customer will save money when switching to that company.

Aodhan O’Donnell, Interim Chief Executive of the Consumer Council said:

“The introduction of a Marketing Code of Practice is a great step forward for consumers and energy companies as it will help control how suppliers behave when they go about trying to gain new customers.  Consumers in Northern Ireland can now have more confidence that they have additional protection from unfair or misleading sales practices and that information on energy products and tariffs should be clear, easy to understand and not give misleading information about other suppliers.  We hope the new Code will help to encourage more consumers to switch to a new supplier and potentially save money and receive a better service.  As more customers switch this will help keep prices down and levels of service up.

“The Consumer Council has information and step by step guides for consumers on switching, as well as the new Marketing Code of Practice, on our website at www.consumercouncil.org.uk.  We also handle consumer and businesses’ complaints in relation to energy suppliers such as switching, billing or inappropriate sales practices.  Consumers can contact us on 0800 121 6022 at complaints@consumercouncil.org.uk or via facebook or twitter.”

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