Strangers are Calling! The experience of door-to-door sales in Melbourne's refugee communities

Door-to-door energy sales can be disruptive, misleading and high pressure for any household, but spare a thought for those vulnerable sectors of our community that are disproportionately affected by this type of selling – refugees, non-English speakers, concession holders, the young and the old.

A new report from Footscray Community Legal Centre,  Strangers_are_Calling, found these groups were less able to understand complex energy contracts or identify deceptive selling methods. The report also found that many consumers from newly arrived communities developed fear and mistrust of strangers as a result of negative experiences arising out of door to door sales.

The report was commissioned after Footscray Community Legal Centre’s community outreach workers became alarmed at the number of financial and legal problems they were seeing that were a direct result of energy switching.

‘Energy regulators have supported door to door marketing as necessary to develop a competitive market. However this report suggests that misleading sales to members of newly arrived communities leads to a lack of trust which works against government settlement policies designed to promote assimilation of these communities. Misleading sales are a problem across the board, but it’s magnified where consumers aren’t familiar with our market or have limited English – they’re easily pressured into signing contracts that leave them worse off and suffering a loss of trust.’ said Denis Nelthorpe of Footscray Legal Service.

The report is based on face-to-face interviews with community members. Their stories are those of confusion, anxiety and hardship and they make a compelling case for the introduction of greater consumer protection in energy sales or, ideally, an end to door-to-door selling by the energy industry. Their stories also illustrate the danger of policy silos which allow one arm of government to promote competitive markets through door to door sales at the expense of the settlement policies designed to assist assimilation being promoted by another arm of government.

Strangers are Calling! recommends

  • a collaborative approach to energy policy where the Department of Resources and Energy work with sectors such as the Department of Immigration and Citizenship;
  • support and expansion of the Do Not Knock campaign;
  • continues enforcement against illegal door-to-door sales practices;
  • an alternatives to energy marketing when dealing with vulnerable consumers;
  • targeted community education; and
  • an enhanced Code of Conduct from energy retailers.

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This article was originally published as Footscray Community Legal Centre’s media release launching Strangers are Calling!

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