EnergyAustralia and its former telemarketing company, Bright Choice, have been penalised a total of $1.1 million for contravening the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).
The Federal Court of Australia ruled that Bright Choice, on behalf of EnergyAustralia, called residents in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria with misleading representations.
Consumers were made to believe that they were not being signed up to an energy agreement, that they would be sent information to help them decide if they wanted to sign up, and that EnergyAustralia and Bright Choice would not treat them as if they had entered a new plan.
The Court found that Bright Choice recorded consumers as having entered into EnergyAustralia contracts regardless, sending them out “Welcome Packs” that contained contractual documents and treating them as though they had switched energy services to a new EnergyAustralia plan.
“This decision demonstrates that companies cannot avoid their obligations under the Australian Consumer Law by engaging sales agents,” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Chairman Rod Sims said.
“The Court has now ordered significant penalties against some of Australia’s largest energy retailers for misleading sales tactics. However, the ACCC will continue to monitor the energy sector. Whether selling door-to-door or telemarketing, the ACCC will take action to ensure compliance with the Australian Consumer Law.”
EnergyAustralia was penalised $1 million and Bright Choice $100,000. Bright Choice was ordered to stay away from similar conduct for a period of 5 years and was tasked with establishing an ACL compliance program for the next 3 years. Both EnergyAustralia and Bright were also ordered to pay contributions to ACCC costs.
The ACCC released the following points of guidance for consumers to make them more aware of their rights relating to telemarketing calls:
If you receive a call from a salesperson, you can hang up.
Before you say yes to anything, ask questions about what you are agreeing to.
If you receive something after the phone call you did not agree to, act straight away by contacting the company, correcting the position and, if necessary, making a complaint to the ACCC or your state or territory fair trading office.
Remember: it’s OK to say no and it’s OK to change your mind during any cooling off period.