It should be easy to find utility suppliers for the family home: but all too often big businesses use unscrupulous – but technically legal – means to squeeze every penny out of their unsuspecting and trusting customers.
Here are the five top cheeky rip offs to watch out for:
Loyalty is Dead
Choosing a supplier should be easy: have a look online or phone a few companies, find a contract that you like and sign up, happily expecting to keep receiving the same good price as long as you keep your business with that one company.
However, sadly, loyalty means nothing these days. Do not expect to automatically receive good rates as a long-standing customer as marketing tends to skew better prices towards attracting new customers.
If a better offer from a competitor comes up, do not feel guilty about either switching or telling your current supplier that you want them to match that deal.
Out of Contract Broadband Price Hikes
Long-term customers should be especially careful about coming out of contract, for example with their broadband supplier.
Suppliers are under no obligation, at present, to inform customers about end-of-contract price bumps and sometimes customer do not even realise that their bill has gone up – quite dramatically in some cases – at the end of a contract.
Research shows that 72% of all homes with broadband are paying more than they need. Bear in mind that once your contract has ended, you can leave your current supplier without penalty. Remember this and do not hesitate to act upon it if it can save you significant sums.
Pay Attention to All the Details
Landline rental should not be expensive but the price has steadily increased over the last ten to fifteen years, and it is quite possible that customers can be paying up to thirty-eight per cent more than those who have not renewed their contract recently.
Hard Sell Threats
Sometimes companies employ ‘hard sell’ pressure to persuade customers to change suppliers (of energy, broadband, phone services: there are few industries untouched by this unsavoury practise).
These cold calls can be over the phone or in person, and often come with a vaguely menacing threat that action must be taken now to avoid punitive fees.
There is often an implication that your current supplier has passed your account over to them, when this is very far from the truth.
No reputable company will ever make you sign up with them without giving you at least a short time to think it over, and should anyone ever place that kind of pressure on you, let them know that Trading Standards, the Ombudsman or even the police will be involved should they persist.
Broadband Speed Blues
Broadband speed is a great hook for new customers, especially those frustrated with lagging downloads and jumpy streaming.
However, very often the top speeds advertised are often those achieved at extreme off-peak, when the network is not busy, and close to the hub.
Customers living further away and wanting to use their internet at a reasonable hour often end up disappointed as they never achieve the wonderfully fast speeds that attracted them to the contract in the first place.
In all these cases, the customer does have a measure of legal protection. If you are careful and vigilant, read the fine print on your contracts and keep track of which agreements are ending, you can avoid most, if not all of these pitfalls.
And should you be treated badly despite this, there are consumer protection organisations out there, to whom you can take your issues.
These include, as mentioned above, ombudsmen and Trading Standards, but there is also the Consumerline or the Consumer Council, and, in extreme cases, the police’s fraud division.