So-called energy scammers are using deceptive and aggressive practices to try to impose unfavourable energy supply contracts on people. Recently, there have been attempts from several quarters to stop their behaviour. These include proposals for legislation, initiatives by energy suppliers, and inspection activities by the Czech Trade Inspection Authority and the Energy Regulatory Office.
Domestic energy traders use a number of tricks to pressure consumers into entering into unfavourable contracts. First of all, we advise people not to open their doors if they ring them. We also advise them to be vigilant during phone calls, where just saying the word ‘yes’ can lead to a new energy contract or a change in the existing one,” says Eduarda Hekšová, director of the consumer organisation dTest.
Seniors are a particularly vulnerable group. They are the ones who most often succumb to pressure from energy scammers and sign unfavourable contracts with them. Brokers often take advantage of their inexperience and gullibility. They often give false information, impersonate the representatives of the existing energy supplier, distributor, consumer ombudsman or an employee of the Energy Regulatory Office. They trick seniors into giving them a bill under the guise of an audit and then calculate the savings they claim to have made.
An amendment to the Civil Code recently introduced by the Ministry of Justice of the Czech Republic could help solve the problems of concluding contracts over the phone. It would oblige traders to deliver a text form of the proposed contract after a telephone call with the consumer. The contract would then be concluded only when the consumer sends his consent to its conclusion in writing. In some cases, the forthcoming class action bill could also help.
Energy scammers sometimes don’t directly offer people an energy supply contract to sign, but an energy auction application form. Often, however, there is no auction, and the energy supply contract is concluded directly on the basis of the consumer’s application form containing a power of attorney. “The stumbling block here is that the intermediary to whom you sign the application form is not the energy supplier. It is therefore not licensed by the Energy Regulatory Authority and is not subject to its control. The supervisory authority in this case is the Czech Trade Inspection Authority,” explains Eduarda Hekšová. The Ministry of Industry and Trade is therefore preparing an amendment to the Energy Act, which would introduce a new type of business, energy intermediation. The licence would be granted by the Energy Regulatory Authority.
The energy market situation is also being addressed by energy suppliers themselves, some of whom have signed a document called the Declaration of Electricity and Gas Market Participants for Consumer Protection. It was initiated by the entrepreneurs themselves together with the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Czech Trade Inspection and the Energy Regulatory Authority. The suppliers who signed the Declaration committed themselves, among other things, to transparent communication with their customers or to clear and fair contract terms. Although this is a voluntary commitment by energy suppliers, the Czech Trade Inspection Authority and the Energy Regulatory Authority can monitor compliance with the declaration.