Warning: Beware cold callers trying to sign you up for a smart meter
Energy salesmen are being offered commissions of up to £50,000 a year to convince homeowners to install smart energy meters.
A Money Mail investigation found staff are being recruited to knock on doors and phone customers on behalf of major energy companies. Job advertisements posted online state that they will be selling new digital smart meters.
These meters automatically send readings to suppliers every half an hour and show customers in pounds and pence exactly how much power they are using.
Sales staff will also be selling special energy tariffs alongside the meters.
The adverts say the salesmen could get commissions of more than £1,000 a week – giving them bonuses which are twice what the average worker earns in a year. If they meet their targets some will also have the opportunity to win free tickets to football matches and music events.
One advert asks that applicants have previous experience as a charity fundraiser. Many so-called chuggers have a poor reputation for stopping people in the street and encouraging them to sign up for monthly donations.
Doorstep selling is legal, but remains controversial. The recruitment drive by energy firms comes amid concerns that households are being put under pressure to have smart meters installed.
On Monday, the Mail revealed that Trading Standards has written to industry trade body Energy UK to raise concerns that major firms may be flouting consumer law by failing to make it clear that smart meters are optional.
Over the past year, Money Mail has received a stream of complaints from customers who feel harassed or bullied into getting one of the new devices.
The Government has told energy firms they must offer all households a smart meter by 2020. So far around eight million smart meters have been installed in people’s homes.
But with just two years to go until the Government’s 2020 deadline, many firms now appear to have ramped up their efforts.
Firms have been criticised for sending misleading letters that suggest it is a legal requirement to have a smart meter fitted. In some cases, they have given the impression over the phone that customers cannot refuse to have one – when they can.
Now it appears some firms are working with companies that encourage staff to sign people up.
The Government has told energy firms they must offer all households a smart meter by 2020. So far around eight million smart meters have been installed in people’s homes
Trading Standards officers warn that doorstep salesmen motivated by commission could pose a threat to households.
Steve Playle, lead officer for energy at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, says: ‘All of our experience tells us that when companies start using commission hungry salesmen to cold call customers it is recipe for disaster. It is down to the companies to do their due diligence checks to make sure agents do not mislead customers by just saying whatever it takes to get a sale.’
All the jobs seen by Money Mail are for third-party companies which claim to offer smart meter installations for major energy firms in Britain.
Many also sell pre-pay tariffs, where customers have to buy credit online or at a local shop before using gas or electricity.
One firm is advertising a job for ‘target driven sales agents’ based in Southampton.
They will be selling ‘an excellent, market leading smart metering service’ via door-to-door and telesales around the South coast and surrounding areas, the advert reads. It also says that it offers ‘an amazing pay scheme’, with uncapped commission and a competitive bonus scheme.
It claims top performers are currently earning more than £1,000 a week in commission.
Another company is looking for ‘field sales representatives’ based in London who are ‘sales, money and target driven’.
Doorstep energy selling has been left with a poor reputation after a series of investigations by watchdog Ofgem led to suppliers being fined millions of pounds for misleading customers over how much money they could save
It says sales agents will be ‘working in a business-to-customer role selling smart metering services to households around Britain’ and should have previous door-to-door or field sales (where staff work out of the office) experience.
Successful candidates will get a basic salary of £15,600 plus uncapped commission, bonuses, incentives as well as opportunities to win free tickets to football matches, music events and more.
In a separate advert, also for a field sales representative in London, it says previous experience in ‘charity fundraising, street canvassing, road side assistance sales or mobile phone sales’ is preferable.
Another firm is recruiting energy sales advisors to join its field-based team in Gloucester.
In an advert it says: ‘Using our bespoke iPad app and working door to door, you will be able to show potential customers what we have to offer as well as being able to offer all new customers a smart meter.’
Applicants are offered ‘uncapped commission’ and ‘up to £40 per contract’. The advert says on average advisers earn between £800 and £1,100 per week – potentially worth £50,000 over a full year – with many earning much more.
Another advert for an ‘outbound telesales advisor’ based in Bolton states that staff must make a minimum of 14 smart meter appointments per day.
The salary is £16,640 a year, with no mention of commission.
Another firm is hiring a ‘smart outbound adviser’. Their job will be to make contact with existing customers to offer them a free upgrade to a smart meter. They must ‘work to team deadlines and personal targets’.
Doorstep energy selling has been left with a poor reputation after a series of investigations by watchdog Ofgem led to suppliers being fined millions of pounds for misleading customers over how much money they could save.
The fall-out meant that between 2011 and 2012 all of the Big Six suppliers – British Gas, EDF Energy, Eon, Npower, Scottish Power and Scottish and Southern energy – scrapped face-to-face sales practices.
But many smaller energy companies have now started sending staff to knock on doors.
They are required to meet Ofgem licence conditions, which state suppliers and their representatives must carry out marketing activities in a fair, transparent and professional manner. Those breaking the rules could be fined.
At the end of last year one supplier, E, was forced to pay a £260,000 penalty after face-to face sales representatives presented themselves to potential customers as working on behalf of an independent comparison service.
Experts have raised concerns that a return to doorstep selling could leave elderly people vulnerable to sales pitches.
Robert Cheesewright, director of policy and communications at Smart Energy GB says: ‘There’s no obligation for anyone to have a smart meter whether you accept a smart meter is up to you.
‘If you change your mind, you can ask your supplier for a smart meter at a later date.’
A spokesman for Energy UK says: ‘Energy companies are committed to meeting the Government’s deadline of ensuring all households and businesses are offered a smart meter by 2020.
‘They will be adopting various methods of communication with their customers to increase engagement and enable as many people as possible to experience the benefits that smart meters bring.’
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