Intrusive door-to-door sales have long plagued Australian consumers, however hard fought campaigns are beginning to achieve major victories for consumers.
An ACCC report last year exposed the wide-spread use of door-knocking sales tactics. It found that every household in Australia was being door-knocked on average eight times a year. Of the 1.3 million door-knocking sales conducted last year, approximately 1 million were related to energy services.
However in February this year EnergyAustralia and AGL, two of Australia's leading energy retailers, announced that they were stopping their use of door-to-door sales tactics. This come after a petition launched by the Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) targeted these companies, as well as an initiative run by the ACCC against door-to-door sales tactics.
Door-to-door sales tactics have also been fought successfully in the courts. In a federal court decision last year that ACCC Chairman Rod Sims has called “hugely significant”, energy retailer Neighbourhood Energy and its marketing arm, Australian Green Credits, were fined a hefty $1 million for door-knocking sales tactics that breached Australian Consumer Law in multiple ways.
One of the charges was that door knockers hired by Australian Green Credits disregarded “do not knock” stickers, in effect refusing to leave when the residences requested to do so. The significance of the court ruling is that door knockers who engage in similar conduct in the future will cost the companies they represent up to $50,000 per incident.
Sims described it as a three-way win for consumers. “This is the first court outcome arising from the ACCC’s focus on door-to-door sales activity, it is the first ACCC case to be bought under the Unsolicited Consumer Agreement Provisions of the ACL, and it provides the first guidance as to the importance of ‘do not knock’ stickers.”
The court also found that door knockers representing Neighbourhood Energy lied to residents as part of the sales process, saying they not there to sell anything and that the consumer had been ‘zoned incorrectly’ and was being wrongly billed by their supplier.
Do not knock stickers
However legislative initiatives have been less successful. Last year the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs recommended against passing the Do Not Knock Register Bill 2012- a private members bill introduced by Labor MP Steve Georganas.
The committee noted that under the existing Australian Consumer Law a salesperson must leave if requested to do so by a consumer. These protections have been central to campaigns by the ACCC and CALC which distribute Do Not Knock stickers.
Still more work to do
Despite some victories, door-to-door sales continue to be a major issue for many Australians. Consumers are encouraged to get Do Not Knock stickers. It is illegal for door-to-door sales salespeople to ignore these stickers.
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