Australian Power & Gas (APG) is the latest utility to be subjected to significant penalties imposed by the Federal Court for breaches of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). APG received a penalty of $1.1m.
The ACCC’s allegations concerned APG sales practices. Sales staff had told consumers that APG was affiliated with the consumer’s existing energy retailer or the government, and would receive a discount on their energy bill if they signed up. Another allegation was that a salesperson engaged in unconscionable conduct or unfair practices in selling to a person from a non-English speaking background, who did not understand the relevant contract.
Recently APG was acquired by AGL for $100m. Interestingly, AGL was also on the receiving end of a penalty of $1.555m for relatively similar conduct. A separate and unrelated company, Neighbourhood Energy, also received a penalty of $850,000 for various unfair practices during the course of door-to-door selling. Sales companies contracted by the utilities (CPM and Australian Green Credits respectively) also received substantial penalties for their involvement in the unfair practices.
A consistent theme has been that sales staff did not:
- clearly advise that their purpose was to seek an agreement to supply retail electricity
- advise they were obliged to leave immediately on request
- provide their name and address
- leave when requested to do so.
In two cases (APG and AGL), there also appears to have been an allegation that the salespeople attending asserted an affiliation with a government department or investigative body.
The ACCC has taken particular concern with the practices of utilities in door-to-door sales, especially given that that the practices appear to target vulnerable consumers, and the pressure that such persons may feel with sales staff in their homes.
There are a further two cases pending in the Federal Court involving Origin Energy (and marketing company SalesForce) and EnergyAustralia.
Do not knock stickers are available from the ACCC. Door-to-door salespeople making the visit or call, or the person negotiating with the consumer can only call on a person:
- between 9am and 6pm Monday to Friday
- between 9am and 5pm on Saturday
- not on a Sunday or public holiday.