Page last updated at 10:43 GMT, Monday, 18 January 2010

Doorstep energy sales rules are tightened

Oven
The changes come after an Ofgem investigation

New rules that ensure doorstep energy salesmen hand over a written quote have come into force.

The changes, aimed at preventing cases of mis-selling, started on Monday after an investigation by the energy regulator Ofgem into household bills.

But a comparison website has warned that consumers still need to double-check if they are being offered a better deal than their current tariff.

Tighter rules on energy contracts for small businesses have also come in.

Energy companies must give small businesses clear contracts, and more notice of when a new contract can be negotiated.

Changes

A series of measures to ensure the fairer treatment of customers are being phased in after the new rules were set by the regulator. Ofgem started the investigation into the state of the energy market in the UK in February 2008.

This new rule is not about making sure consumers get the best deal, or even a better deal
Ann Robinson, Uswitch

All energy customers will be sent their first annual statement by their supplier by December 2010, Ofgem said.

Changes that allow pre-payment meter customers to switch suppliers even if they have a debt on bills of up to £200 should already be in place.

As well as different payment methods reflecting the different tariffs, anyone sold a new price plan on the doorstep, over the telephone, or in a store must be given a written quote before the sale goes through.

However, according to price comparison website Uswitch, this does not mean it will necessarily be the cheapest deal.

"This new rule is not about making sure consumers get the best deal, or even a better deal," said Ann Robinson, of Uswitch.

"It is about making sure they have written proof of what they have been offered."

Freezing

In a separate poll, the consumers' association Which? found that the recent cold spell had put extra pressure on people's personal finances.

Frozen tap
Conmen have been using the weather as an excuse

Thirty-eight per cent of the 1,066 people polled were worried about paying their energy bill in January.

Some suggested that they would dip into their own, or their children's savings, to pay the demand.

The survey also found that wearing extra clothes was the biggest tip for staying warm in the cold weather, although three people said they would make love to stay warm.

The Trading Standards Institute (TSI) has warned that distraction burglars are using the cold spell as an opportunity to steal valuables.

The group said that criminals were claiming to work on frozen pipes, but after gaining access to people's homes would steal their belongings.

"The unscrupulous take their opportunities in adversity and we know conmen are taking advantage of widespread problems with plumbing that the freezing weather conditions have caused," said David Sanders, chairman of the TSI.

People requiring plumbing services should use traders recommended by family and friends, get a number of quotes and check whether the traders are part of a reputable trader scheme.



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