Surrey County Council v Scottish and Southern Energy Plc

This was originally posted in August 2013

What happened?

In this case Surrey Trading Standards prosecuted Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) for misleading consumers into signing up to their services by using misleading sales scripts.

SSE were found guilty in the Crown court. They appealed to the Court of Appeal but lost. The case then went back to the Crown court for sentencing. SSE were sentenced to a fine of £1,250,000. I believe this is the biggest ever fine for a Trading Standards prosecution. Though of course it is a drop in the ocean to the amount of profit they make.

You can read the Court of Appeal transcript which explains in more detail what the case was about by clicking here.

You can also read the BBCC article on this case here.

The Appeal

You might be wondering why SSE appealed – after all you only appeal when you are innocent or there appears to have been some error in the way the law was applied, right?

Don’t get me wrong, if the law had been applied incorrectly or the case was not handled fairly then I think a defendant should be able to appeal. In my view though SSE appealed on spurious ground and only did so to chance it – after all they could easily afford the appeal.

After losing their appeal and getting sentenced, SSE said they were ‘sorry’. Do you think they would have said sorry if they had won their appeal? I doubt it. They would have said they were innocent of any wrongdoing (as technically they would not have been convicted of any crime).

I would point out that none of the grounds of their appealed denied that they used misleading sales script. It would have been perfectly possible for them to have used what the average person would describe as misleading sales practices and not get convicted because of legal issues.

From a Trading Standards perspective though these appeals and delays to a case use up valuable staff time and money – and of course if Surrey Trading Standards had lost they could have ended up footing a massive bill.

Trouble with OFGEM

In April 2013 Scottish and Southern Energy were fined £10,500,000 by OFGEM for misselling. (link)

OFGEM said:

Customers contacted by SSE were exposed to misleading statements, inaccurate and misleading information on SSE’s charges and misleading comparisons between SSE’s charges and the costs with other suppliers. These failures meant that many customers were unable to make well-informed decisions about whether to switch to SSE and about comparing products in a competitive market, and they were exposed to the risk of choosing a more expensive energy deal. Customers were also told that they could save more money on switching to SSE than was possible. (link)

In my view if Scottish and Southern Energy are found to be misselling again the relevant Director should be held responsible – it is not like they have not had enough warning that they need to get their house in order.

The end of cold calling?

In July 2011 Scottish and Southern Energy announced they would no longer sell their services by cold calling on the doorstep. (link)

In August 2013 Scottish and Southern Energy announced they would no longer sell their services by cold calling on the telephone. (link)

I wouldn’t be surprised if they quietly start up cold calling again in the future………..

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