ACM takes action against misleading customer-acquisition practices with regard to energy contracts

Energy companies currently do not sufficiently comply with the rules regarding the acquisition of new customers. This is one of the conclusions of a study conducted by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) into customer-acquisition practices by energy companies. Next, ACM will conduct follow-up checks on misleading commercial practices by several energy suppliers. With several other energy suppliers, ACM will make arrangements about safeguarding the interests of potential customers better. The latter group of companies concerns companies where, at the moment, ACM did not establish any misleading practices, but that do need to improve their methods.

ACM will keep a close watch on the companies that it will make arrangements with, and will continue to look into misleading customer-acquisition practices with regard to energy contracts. In that context, ACM will also look at companies that acquire customers on behalf of energy companies.

Examples of misleading practices

In the follow-up checks on misleading commercial practices, ACM will look into companies that provide incorrect or unclear information to persuade customers to switch energy suppliers. For example, it is often unclear to consumers what company is reaching out to them, and essential information about tariffs is missing. In addition, sellers sometimes present expected energy-consumption levels that are lower than they are in reality. As a result, it seems as if consumers will save money, because the new monthly fee appears to be lower, but afterwards, when the annual bill comes, consumers have to pay a lot more. Some companies deliberately choose to recruit vulnerable consumers.

Good examples

In its study into sales methods, ACM has also observed good examples, such as creating an extra ‘cooling-off period’. With such an extra period, consumers do not take out contracts directly over the phone or at their front doors, but, after the call, they are given an offer in writing that they are able to confirm at a later time. Another example is recording and saving the entire sales pitch, with the consumer’s consent, and not just the part where the contract is concluded. This can also be in the consumer’s interest, because it ensures that sales representatives will comply with the rules better. ACM calls on energy suppliers to follow these good examples.

Monitoring to prevent violations

ACM has also found that several energy suppliers should carry out improvements to prevent violations from occurring in the future. In addition to the cooling-off period and recording conversations, they can take measures to guarantee that sellers make acceptable offers to consumers. ACM will make arrangements with these companies regarding safeguarding the interests of potential customers better, and it will keep a close watch on whether companies keep their word.

Tips for consumers

On the website of ACM’s consumer information portal ACM ConsuWijzer, consumers can find tips about comparing energy suppliers. ACM calls on consumers to examine the offers of energy suppliers very carefully, and to compare them with those of other suppliers. After all, unsolicited offers (over the phone or otherwise) are not always the best offers. In addition, other factors besides price, such as sustainability (for example, a green or grey energy label), can play a role in the decision-making process. To protect consumers against unsolicited phone calls, new telemarketing regulations will come into force on July 1, 2021. From that date, businesses can only call consumers that have agreed to receiving such calls or if they were customers with those businesses up to 3 years ago.

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