British Gas accused of 'nuisance calling'

There are several reasons for the 11% profit hike British Gas announced last week. One less understood cause may be the amount of cash British Gas now throws at cold calling, often to elderly consumers.

A new survey suggests the energy player could be making around 4m cold calls to British homes every year - many could be rightly regarded as 'nuisance'.

Gassing on the 'phone

The survey of 20,000 homes discovered British Gas was a high, repeat offender of the practice. The survey saw 5,000 machines connected to the Internet via a central database, which recorded the telephone number of the company who made cold calls, and how many times a call was dialled.

Tory MP Alan Cairns says a number of the calls will have been targeted at the elderly. "Certain groups of people," Cairns told the Sunday Telegraph, "particularly the elderly who may be at home all day, will not answer their telephone unless they recognise the number because they are so concerned about nuisance calls."

Multiple daily calls

Some people are getting five or six of these sorts of calls every day, Cairns says. British Gas weren't the only company that chalked up a huge number of calls. Other utility players that push the practice hard include TalkTalk, Npower and Homeserve.

British Gas is treading on dangerous ground. Last year Ofcom imposed fines of £750,000 on Homeserve for excessive cold calling, and £60,000 on Npower.

However British Gas rebutted the accusations. "When we do call our customers," it said in an emailed statement, "it is always with their permission, or when we have undertaken all relevant checks to confirm consent."

Your preference

It went on: "We uphold the highest standards of customer service and when calling it is to offer people information on products and services that may save them money or offer peace-of-mind, such as boiler care. We have invested heavily in state-of-the art technology to stop silent calls."

Which? recommends consumers affected by cold calling sign up to the (free) Telephone Preference Service which should cut the cold calls people receive on average by one third, it says (though the TPS takes 28 days to become fully effective).

To register with the TPS, call 0845 070 0707 or visit the TPS website.

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