How to avoid a bad shock

CLARENCE Valley electrical consumers have been advised they have a 10-day cooling off period if they have signed a contract with a new electricity provider.

The advice comes from the Energy and Water Ombudsman following a number of complaints about energy marketing in the Clarence Valley.

Energy and Water Ombudsman Clare Petre said that from January to April this year her office received 27 complaints from the Clarence Valley.

"At least 12 of these complaints were about retail competition, where a customer signs an energy contract," she said.

"Six involved customer concerns about misleading conduct or coercion by a marketer.

"Overall in the North Coast (for January-April, 2006) we received 132 complaints regarding retail competition. Of these, 53 complaints involved concerns about misleading conduct and coercion.

"If a marketer does not provide information regarding termination fees and the cooling off period, or they mislead a customer into signing an energy contract, this is a breach of the Marketing Code of Conduct, which all energy retailers are obliged to follow."

Ms Petre said that for some people, being door-knocked or phoned by a marketer with an energy offer was their introduction to retail competition in energy.

She said that as with any contract, consumers should read the fine print carefully and be aware they have a 10-day cooling off period to cancel a contract without charge.

She said the Energy and Water Ombudsman provided a dispute resolution service, helped people with complaints about electricity and gas companies in NSW and some water companies, and was free. Meanwhile, residents have also been warned to take care if they are approached by people offering roof painting.

A spokesman for the Department of Fair Trading said these traders were known to target areas with a high proportion of older consumers.

"They are usually very forceful in their dealings with the elderly and have been known to drive them to the bank to withdraw money from their accounts," he said.

"All home owners, especially the elderly, should be very wary about any tradesperson who turns up uninvited, offering to do work around the home.

"Residents should be particularly wary of being pressured to get work done immediately. Always ask for a quote and the tradesperson's contact details.

"Any reputable tradesperson should provide this information, give you time to make a decision and return at a suitable time to do the work. If the person will not give you time to think, you should not listen to them any further. Close the door."

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