Strangers are calling: refugee experience of door-to-door sales

The Footscray Community Legal Centre has recently released a report on the experiences of Melbourne refugee communities with door-to-door knocking

The key findings of the report are

  1. door-to-door sales disproportionately affect vulnerable consumers
  2. vulnerable consumers are more likely to sign a new contract as a result of the door-to-door visit
  3. many vulnerable consumers receive false or misleading information about the product (in this case, the energy contract) that is being sold to them
  4. the FCLC has found that the sellers featured in their case studies were in breach of contract law, laws regulating unsolicited visits (ie door-to-door sales), misleading/deceptive conduct, unconscionable conduct, unfair tactics and energy specific consumer protections.
  5. many of the vulnerable consumers were unable to provide informed consent
  6. many consumers of a refugee background are unable to implement measures recommended by Consumer Affairs Victoria due to a lack of skills and resources
  7. self regulated codes of practice are not enough to protect consumers
  8. independent enforcement against misleading or illegal door-to-door sales can be effective
  9. alternative methods are available to sell directly to vulnerable consumers

What are the FCLC’s recommendations?

We call for inclusive energy policy.
The Australian Government’s social inclusion agenda as well as the Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s settlement programs are being undermined by door-to-door energy sales practices. Migrants and refugees are telling us that door-to-door sales practices, in general, are harmful and unwelcome and have a negative impact on their social, emotional and physical well-being. The negative impacts are magnified when door-to-door energy sales are conducted in a misleading or illegal manner. We recommend that governments and service providers work together to ensure that issues of settlement, energy provision, and legal assistance is as consistent and inclusive as possible.

We call for support and expansion of the “Do Not Knock” campaign.
We support the Consumer Utilities Advocacy Centre’s recommendation that the Essential Services Commission develop an online tool to allow consumers to be added to retailers’“No Contact” lists via a central system. We recommend government funding be allocated to trialling “Do Not Knock” areas, which may include designated public housing flats with sufficient resident backing. We make this recommendation specifically in the context of energy door-to-door sales practices.

We support continued enforcement against illegal door-to-door sales practices.
We commend theAustralian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) current focus on enforcement of door-to-door sales misconduct and support measures to educate vulnerable consumers and encourage them to invoke their rights.

We call on energy retailers to provide an alternative to door-to-door sales.
We argue that maintaining a competitive market can and should protect the most vulnerable consumers. We recommend alternative strategies, which could include “Energy Market” events in which consumers can attend an open forum in a public space with energy retailers offering competitive rates. This could be supported by interpreters, community leaders and other service providers as appropriate.

We support targeted and appropriate community education.
We welcome and support the targeted community education already provided by ConsumersAffair Victoria (CAV) and call upon CAV and other service providers to expand the tools available for non English speaking consumers with low literacy and numeracy rates and for those who may not have a computer. We suggest the models employed by Footscray Community Legal Centre and Victoria Legal Aid which use visual stimulants and community venues.

We call for an enhanced Code of Conduct from energy retailers.
The industry Code of Conduct by EnergyAssured Limited should include strategies to address systemic misconduct which can occur in door to door sales practices. Commission-based selling which encourages aggressive sales tactics must be addressed.

Who are the vulnerable people affected most by door-to-door sales?

The Report notes that FCLC has identified “several groups of people as being more vulnerable to misleading or illegal door-to-door energy sales practices. These include non-English speakers (many of which have a refugee background); residents of public housing; concession holders; women, particularly when home alone; and elderly and young people. We argue that the vulnerability of these groups of people is related to their capacity to identify, respond to, and manage a confusing or illegal doorto-door energy sale.”

View the full Footscray Community Legal Centre report on door-to-door sales