Jinhai's story: marketer misleads vulnerable customer
Door to door energy marketer takes advantage of Jinhai’s limited English
Jinhai was at home when a door to door energy marketer visited his street and said that he would receive a pensioner rebate and $50 off his bill if he signed up. His daughter, Daiyu, who lives in the house next door, was out at the time, but the marketer told Jinhai that his relatives at other premises would receive the same rebate if he signed them up too.
Jinhai has limited English and he told the marketer he didn’t really understand the contract. He asked to speak with a Mandarin interpreter before agreeing to anything and the marketer said he would arrange this. He then he instructed Jinhai to just say yes to everything the energy retailer representative told him over the phone and said that a Mandarin speaker would get back to him to explain. The marketer then left and when Jinhai didn’t receive a call back from a Mandarin speaker as he was expecting, he assumed that no confirmation had gone through.
Daiyu realised that the contracts had been established when her father received welcome letters from the new retailer and her mother received a letter to say her account was being closed. Daiyu wanted the three accounts transferred back and rang the new retailer to try to resolve the problem, but as her father was now the account holder they would not discuss the matter with her. They advised that an early termination fee would apply to each account if they were transferred.
We organised a Mandarin interpreter to assist in providing the authority to act required for Daiyu to advocate on her father’s behalf. We then discussed the complaint with the new retailer. The company agreed to return each of the accounts to the previous retailer and to waive the early termination fee.
Sadanah's story: Transfer made without consent
Transfer made without consent
Sadanah doesn’t speak English and was not the energy account holder in her household, but when a door to door marketer came to her home she signed up to a dual fuel contract. Her husband Ahmad came home in time to realise what had happened and he caught up with the marketer. He explained that they did not consent to the transfer and the marketer said it would be cancelled.
But after some time, Sadanah received a bill from the retailer the door to door marketer represented. She and Ahmad rang the supplier to explain the situation and were advised the account would be transferred back. But Sadanah continued to receive bills and then received one with an early termination fee.
Ahmad came to EWON for help. EWON spoke with the retailer, who advised that there was no record of the customer making contact to cancel the transfer. There was $466 owing on the account, including an early termination fee. The retailer transferred the electricity and gas accounts back to the previous suppliers and offered to waive the final bill.
Steven's story: Difficulty cancelling inappropriate energy contract
Marketer signs up dementia sufferer and retailer delays contract cancellation
Steven has Power of Attorney for his 83 year old mother, Lorraine, who suffers dementia. Lorraine was approached by a door to door marketer from Retailer A and signed a three year dual fuel contract.
The next day, Steven contacted the retailer to explain the situation and request the contract and transfer be cancelled. The representative he spoke with requested a letter from Lorraine’s doctor as proof of her medical condition, so Steven obtained this and emailed it to the retailer immediately along with documentation of his Power of Attorney.
When he called the retailer four days later, they said it would take at least five days to process his email. Concerned that the cooling off period would expire in the interim, Steven came to EWON for assistance.
EWON spoke to Retailer A and arranged for Lorraine’s accounts to be returned to her previous retailers.
Lin's story: customer with limited English misled and pressured by door to door marketers
Customer with limited English misled and pressured by door to door marketers
Lin, who does not speak English well, was approached by two door to door marketers. They opened her mailbox, took out an energy bill and asked her to open it. She refused, saying she was not the account holder and it was addressed to her landlord.
The marketers then told her that if her electricity is included in her rent, then her rent may decrease if she took their survey, so she handed over her details and signed a form. She was prompted to say yes into the phone and told she could cancel anytime.
Lin was not aware she had agreed to electricity and gas contracts in her name until she was notified by her landlord. She called the energy company to cancel the account and was advised to wait three months or pay a $110 early termination fee. Her landlord did not agree to this and contacted his previous supplier and organised a transfer of the electricity account.
Lin called EWON for help when she was contacted by a debt collection agency threatening to credit list her for the $110 early termination fee. She had also received bills for electricity and gas.
EWON contacted the energy company to discuss the marketing action and account transfers. As a result the retailer retrospectively transferred the electricity and gas accounts to the original retailer, reversed the bills and cancelled the $110 termination fee, which removed the risk of credit listing.
Lyn's story: misleading marketing leads to payment plan cancellation
Lyn is misled by door to door marketer and loses her payment plan
Lyn is a recovering alcoholic with limited literacy who has been struggling to pay her gas and electricity bills. When a door to door energy marketer came to her home, Lyn explained that she was already on a payment plan to clear a debt with her existing electricity and gas retailer. The marketer claimed that transferring her account would not affect this payment arrangement.
Lyn agreed to the new contract based on this information. However, when the transfer went through and her existing account was closed, the payment plan was cancelled and she received a letter from a collections agency demanding payment of $185 to cover her outstanding debt.
Lyn wanted to transfer her electricity and gas accounts back to her previous supplier and to re-establish her $50 per fortnight payment plan with the company. She contacted the new retailer and they agreed to reverse the transfer, but the reference number they provided was not accepted by her former retailer and she couldn’t set up an account with them.
Having tried without success to resolve the problem directly with the retailer, Lyn came to EWON for help. With Lyn’s agreement, we referred the matter to specialist dispute resolution teams at both retailers. The new retailer confirmed that everything was now in place on both sides for the transfer to go ahead as requested and that a $60 credit would be refunded to the customer.
Karen's story: gas and electricity accounts transferred without consent
Karen denies consenting to an account transfer and is concerned about improper marketing practices
Karen received a phone call from an energy broker. The telemarketer asked Karen whether she was taking advantage of her benefits as a customer of her telecommunications provider, then went on to say she was eligible for discounts on her power bill if she merged her gas and her electricity account with another energy retailer. Karen said she didn’t want to take up this offer, but then several months later she received correspondence from this retailer saying they had taken over the billing of her gas and electricity.
She called the retailer and was told that the transfer request had been made by the marketing company – contact details for which they were unable to give Karen – and that she would have to pay a $90 fee to transfer back to her previous supplier. Karen considered that the transfer had been made without her consent and she came to EWON for assistance.
We discussed the case with Karen, who explained that she wanted her gas and electricity accounts transferred back to her previous retailers with no penalty, as she maintained she never consented to the contract. She also wanted to report her concerns about poor marketing practices.
As part of our investigation, the voice recording of Karen’s conversation with the marketing company was reviewed. The retailer represented by the company confirmed that Karen had not provided explicit informed consent to transfer the accounts, and agreed to transfer them back without charge. They also confirmed that they had since taken steps with the energy broker to ensure they abide by the marketing Code of Conduct and sent a letter of apology to Karen.
We assured Karen that her concerns regarding marketing conduct would be included in our regular reporting to the retailer and regulator.
Karen said she didn’t want to be contacted again by the retailer and agreed to our offer to request she be removed from the company’s internal marketing database. To help Karen avoid similar problems in the future, we also sent her information on energy marketing and suggested she might want to add her name to the Do Not Call Register.
Aphra's story: Retailer doesn't action cancellation within the cooling off period
Retailer doesn't action cancellation within the cooling off period
87 year old pensioner Aphra was approached by a door-to-door marketer one night and felt pressured into signing a contract to transfer over to the electricity retailer represented by the marketer. She was uncomfortable with the situation, so decided to cancel the contract.
Two days after the marketer’s visit an advocate at Aphra’s local council contacted the retailer on her behalf to request the cancellation. Aphra also posted a letter to the retailer requesting the cancellation of her contract.
Some weeks later, Aphra was advised that her account had been transferred, despite the letter and phone call made within the cooling off period to cancel the transfer. The retailer advised that they hadn’t received Aphra’s letter, but she had retained a registered post slip confirming the letter she sent had been received and signed for.
Aphra considered that her account should never have been transferred and wanted it returned to her previous retailer at no cost. EWON spoke with the retailer, who agreed to transfer Aphra back to her previous retailer without charge or penalty.
Hayley's story: Marketer signs up 16 year old non-account holder
Marketer signs up 16 year old non-account holder
Hayley was alone at her sister’s home when a door-to-door marketer arrived. Hayley took down the details of the offer to pass onto her brother-in-law, Tim, who was the account holder. Tim did not want to take up the offer. He was then contacted by his existing retailer about the transfer and he explained that he did not want the transfer to go ahead.
Some months later, a bill for $412 arrived for Hayley from the retailer that the door-to-door marketer had been promoting. As Hayley’s advocate, Tim contacted EWON for assistance to get the account transferred back into his name and returned to his preferred retailer.
We spoke to the new retailer who said that while they were able to do a retrospective transfer to the previous retailer, their records showed that Hayley was 19, that she had agreed to the contract and that she provided her Medicare card to the marketer. They confirmed that the company could not sign up a 16 year old.
The account was transferred back to Tim with his preferred provider. We established that Hayley was in fact 16 years old and reported this to the retailer, who advised that they would be following up the matter with the marketer who signed Hayley up.
Ronald's story: Vision impaired pensioner signs contract under pressure
Vision impaired pensioner signs contract under pressure
Ronald is an aged pensioner with impaired vision. When he was visited by a door-to-door marketer from an energy retailer, he felt he wasn’t given enough time to think through the offer. Under pressure, he signed a contract and agreed to transfer his account to this retailer.
Ronald wanted the transfer cancelled and to stay with his existing energy retailer. He called the new retailer, but the cooling off period had passed and he felt he did not fully understand all the questions that were asked of him. He came to EWON for help.
We spoke with the new retailer who agreed to transfer Ronald’s account back to his previous retailer and waive any early termination fee.
Kimberly's story: Householder misled by door-to-door marketer
Householder misled by door-to-door marketer
Kimberley was approached at home by a door-to-door marketer from Retailer A who advised her that her current retailer was no longer issuing bills to customers and that she would have to sign an agreement with Retailer A to issue her bills now. Kimberley believed the story and signed the papers.
Soon after, she was contacted by her previous provider to ask why she was transferring. Kimberley explained what the marketer had told her and, realising now that she had been misled, she decided she did not want to go ahead with the transfer. When Kimberley called Retailer A to cancel the contract, she was told she would have to pay a significant amount in termination fees. Kimberley came to EWON for assistance.
When we spoke to Retailer A, they maintained they hadn’t received a cancellation call from Kimberley, but agreed nonetheless to transfer the account back to her previous retailer at no charge and to investigate the marketer.
Peggy's story: non-account holder transfer
Customer receives disconnection notice from an unfamiliar retailer
Peggy is an elderly Aboriginal woman living in regional NSW. When she received a disconnection notice from a retailer she had never heard of, Peggy contacted EWON for help.
Peggy explained she had been very ill and bedridden for some time and a family friend had stayed with her. When a marketer visited her property, her friend provided Peggy’s pension details to him, without Peggy’s knowledge or her consent to transfer her account. Peggy only realised there was a problem with her account when she received the disconnection notice. She was concerned about privacy and that a retailer she had never heard of had her personal details. Peggy wanted her account transferred back to her original retailer.
EWON organised for the disconnection action to be stopped and for Peggy’s account to return to her preferred supplier. The retailer acknowledged that Peggy had not agreed to the transfer and waived all the charges owing on Peggy’s account. Her preferred supplier then re-billed her from the transfer date.
Gayathri's story: transferred without consent
Customer’s electricity account transferred without consent
A marketer from Retailer A came to Gayathri’s apartment while she was out and spoke to her cousin Henry. Henry was on day-release from a refugee detention centre and he spoke limited English.
The marketer advised Henry that Retailer A was the new electricity provider for the area, and that the form needed to be signed to ensure that Gayathri's electricity supply would continue. Henry signed the form the marketer gave him.
When Gayathri found out what had happened, she contacted her previous retailer to cancel the transfer request. She was told that it was too late as the transfer had been completed. Gayathri emailed her previous retailer, but she received no reply. Gayathri called her previous retailer, who referred her to EWON for help.
EWON contacted Gayathri's previous retailer who said the transfer had not been completed as yet and the account was still in her name. We contacted Retailer A who agreed to cancel the transfer.
We advised Gayathri that we would be reporting the misleading marketing to the regulator.
Jeremy's story: transfer without consent
Housesitter signs contract without account holder’s consent
Eng was house-sitting for Jeremy while he was away for 10 days. During that time, a door-to-door energy marketer visited Jeremy’s home and suggested to Eng that she sign a contract. Eng didn’t speak much English and signed the contract without realising Jeremy’s account would be cancelled.
When Jeremy discovered his account had been transferred without his consent, he was very concerned. To complicate matters, Eng was the new account holder at the property but she was no longer in the country, as she had returned to China. Jeremy wasn’t sure when the last bill was paid and he was worried his supply would be disconnected so he contacted EWON for help. He said he just wanted his account transferred back to his original retailer.
EWON explained the situation to the new retailer, who agreed to cancel the contract signed by Eng and arranged to have the account transferred back to Jeremy’s preferred retailer at no cost.
Iris' story: Misleading marketer signs up elderly customer
Elderly customer misled by false claims of door to door marketer
A door to door marketer came to Iris’ house and said that she would need to transfer her account to Retailer X as her existing retailer had closed down. Later Iris discovered this was not true and spoke to her friend Jenny about the experience.
Jenny contacted EWON for help in having Iris’ account transferred back to her preferred retailer. She explained that Iris is 91 years old and vulnerable.
EWON discussed the complaint with Retailer X, who acknowledged that Iris had been provided with incorrect and misleading information by the marketer. They agreed to retrospectively transfer Iris back to her previous supplier without charge.
Donald's story: Vulnerable customer transferred then disconnected
Carer comes home from hospital to find her disabled son’s electricity disconnected
Donald is autistic and cannot read or write. He lives alone in a public housing apartment and his mother Deborah assists with his affairs. Deborah was in hospital for an extended period when an energy marketer from Retailer B knocked at Donald’s door and arranged for his account to be transferred from Retailer A to Retailer B.
Twelve months later, Deborah returned home from hospital and discovered that Donald had been disconnected the day before and that he had accrued arrears of $1,250 with Retailer B. Deborah called Retailer B to have the account transferred back to Retailer A but was unsuccessful. Deborah called EWON explaining her son would not have understood the marketer and the implications of any contract. Donald had kept a fortnightly payment arrangement with Retailer A for many years and thought his payment arrangement was covering his bills with Retailer B.
EWON called Retailer B to put a hold on the account. We reviewed the signature on the contract as well as the voice recording and found there was no indication that Donald understood the terms of the contract nor that he was agreeing to transfer the account.
Retailer B sent him letters warning of disconnection but, as he had had no assistance to interpret them at the time, he ignored the letters. Retailer B had also attempted to call him, but EWON’s investigation found that the mobile number on the contract was fabricated – Donald did not operate a land line or mobile phone.
EWON also found Donald was still making payments to a closed account with Retailer A. He had accrued $1,915 in credit with Retailer A while he accumulated arrears of $1,250 with Retailer B. Retailer A sent Donald a cheque for $1,915. Acknowledging the breach of the marketing code of conduct and Donald’s vulnerable position, Retailer B waived all arrears on the account.
Donald’s account was transferred back to Retailer A and EWON sent him a ‘No marketing’ sticker for the front door of his apartment