Selling energy products door-to-door unsolicited in Alberta will be illegal in the new year, the Alberta government announced on Friday.
Starting Jan. 1, 2017, selling furnaces, natural gas and electricity contracts, water heaters, windows, air conditioners or energy audits door-to-door will result in a fine or possible charges under the Fair Trading Act, announced Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean.
If a supplier is charged under the Fair Trading Act, the maximum penalty is up to $300,000 and two years in jail. The supplier can also be subject to administrative penalties of up to $100,000 instead of being charged.
More than 1,000 complaints have been lodged about energy-related, door-to-door sales, many from seniors and families who felt they were tricked into buying a new furnace or water heater on the spot. In other instances, victims were pressured into signing contracts with salespeople, sometimes after two or three visits in a single day.
“We all know what it feels like to be enjoying a nice, quiet evening at home with your family or friends and to receive a rap on the door from a salesperson,” said McLean.
“And that salesperson might be a little bit pushier than you would otherwise appreciate.”
Ruth Zinck was victimized by a salesperson in April 2015, who signed her up for a five-year energy contract without her consent using the name of her deceased husband.
Loneliness, said Zinck, caused her to get duped.
“Through a friend and a registered letter I sent to the company and several other communications, I was able to get out of this difficulty, but it was scary,” she said.
“I have become very, very apprehensive about anybody coming to my door.”
Energy companies are still able to sell products online, by telephone, at kiosks or through traditional advertising, said McLean.
Direct Energy issued a statement Friday saying it “supports government’s goal of enhancing consumer protections,” however it added the company and customers will be negatively impacted.
“We are very disappointed with the decision to ban door-to-door sales of energy contracts,” said Gary Newcombe, vice-president of government and regulatory affairs.
“This decision removes the opportunity for Albertans to learn first-hand about energy supply and service options not available under the Regulated Rate Option.”
In a statement, Just Energy said it is assessing the government’s “surprise” announcement, adding direct sales is a “very effective way of educating consumers.”
The company added it also believes it is in the best interest of consumers, government and industry to work collaboratively to “ensure that Alberta consumers are protected, while not unduly harming business, innovation and growth in the province.”