When Big Media Aren’t the Biggest

UPDATE: AGL has apologised and explained. See this post for details

For a few days now, I’ve been receiving missed calls from a Victorian landline. It wasn’t a number I recognised and the caller hadn’t been leaving messages, so I did what any Gen-Y would do and Googled the number. It turns out this number belongs to a marketing company, CPM Australia. That information came in handy today when I finally picked up the phone today.

The caller claimed to be from AGL, my gas supplier. He offered me a 7% discount on my gas rate, and a 10% discount on my electricity if I switched from Integral/Origin to AGL. That sounds like a brilliant deal, but I have heard a lot of stories from people who received similar phone calls or door-knocks only to wind up paying significantly more. I asked the caller to hold on while I dug out my last electricity bill. Here’s what the billing rate is:

That is, I currently pay $0.2185c per kilowatt hour for electricity, and $0.5985c in a system access or service charge. Rounded up, thats 22c and 60c. The caller from AGL was offering a rate of 23c, including the 10% discount, and a service charge of 98c. He insisted these were set fees by the Government and no retailer could do cheaper. However, that wasn’t his first offer, as he initially thought I was with another provider. When I told him what I was currently paying, he asked if that included GST, and acted as if I was lying. I asked if his offer included GST and of course it doesn’t. If I took up AGL’s offer at those rates, I would be paying $92 for usage instead of $87.84 and my service charge would be $81.34 instead of $49.68.

I informed the caller that I had helped out other people in similar circumstances who had later received significant cheques from the company concerned and that I believed he was engaging in illegal activity by offering ‘discounts’ that were in fact price increases. I then said, “I know this is only your job, and you work for a marketing company, but I believe AGL is engaging in illegal activity.” He got into quite a flap and said he would get someone else for me to speak to, but I said that wouldn’t be necessary because I was not willing to take up the offer and I would be terminating the call. I asked the caller to not call me again.

I have also completed a complaint form on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission‘s website and registered on the Australian Communications and Media Authority‘s Do Not Call register. If you receive similar calls from energy retailers, I suggest you do likewise.

I will update this post if I receive a response from the ACCC. I have also contacted CPM Australia and offered them a right of reply.

Here’s what I told CPM:

I have written a lengthy blog post complaining about the tactics of your company. I would be appreciative of your response, and would be happy to publish it on my site. I have noted at the bottom of the post that you have been offered a right of reply, and I have also referred the matter to the ACCC. The post can be found at: http://www.travisholland.com.au/2012/06/the-big-switch-how-energy-companies-dupe-people-into-switching

Please note, I do not give you permission to use my email address or phone number provided above for any purpose other than responding directly to this email.