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Tuesday, 25 September, 2001, 20:25 GMT 21:25 UK
Power firms accused of dirty tricks
Customers can choose their gas and electricity suppliers
A significant increase in the number of complaints about the way some power companies sell their wares has been recorded by an industry watchdog.

Energywatch Scotland said the complaints centred on the way electricity and gas is sold.

It said one of the biggest areas of complaint was about fraud, with some customers' signatures being forged on contracts.

The watchdog said one firm in particular - the multi-service supplier Npower - had been the subject of 150 different complaints.

Thirty-five of those involved forged signatures, but Energywatch added that almost every company was guilty of mis-selling.

Complaints about fraud have risen

In recent years, customers have been able to choose who they buy their electricity and gas from.

There are big savings to be made by shopping around, and for the power companies, big profits.

But John Hanlon, chairman of the watchdog's national committee, said the level of complaints was "completely unacceptable".

He called for local trading standards departments to come down hard on companies using illegal sales methods.

He said: "Energywatch has already made it clear to companies that customers should be entitled to substantial automatic payments if they are wrongly transferred to another supplier.

"When that transfer involves fraud then I believe additional punitive measures should be taken."

Audrey Gallacher, the body's national director, said: "Customers are approaching us in greater numbers than ever to ask for help after their complaint has not been resolved by the companies.

'Committed to competition'

"Energywatch Scotland is now actively seeking support from trading standards departments within Scottish local authorities.

"A successful prosecution of a company for indulging in these sharp practices would fire a warning shot across the whole industry."

Mr Hanlon added: "Energywatch is committed in its support of competition in the energy market.

"However, companies must operate the highest standard of customer services. In far too many instances this is simply not the case."

Npower released a statement which said: "We take the issue of fraud very seriously and act when any cases are brought to our attention.

"Tens of thousands of customers transfer to Npower every week and most are satisfied with the savings they make."

Consumer affairs correspondent Gillian Marles
"In the last couple of years customers have been able to choose who they buy their gas and electricity from"
See also:

27 Feb 01 | Business
NPower firm buys Yorkshire Power
31 Oct 00 | Business
One-stop shop for utility complaints
31 Jan 00 | UK Politics
Utilities reforms to cut bills
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