Today, April 3, 2019, reaffirming its commitment to full disclosure and integrity in the
state’s retail energy markets, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) again is highlighting state regulations governing Marketing and Sales Practices for the Retail Residential Energy Market.
In a Secretarial Letter to competitive electric generation and natural gas suppliers (suppliers), consumer and small business advocates, the Commission provides guidance and reminders on sales and marketing practices for Pennsylvania’s retail residential energy market found at 52 Pa. Code, Chapter 111 – reiterating what is expected of suppliers in any sales and marketing activities and the PUC’s imposition of fines and penalties on suppliers for non-compliance with regulations.
The Commission’s Secretarial Letter addresses sales and marketing activities related to telemarketing, door-to-door sales, direct mail and electronic solicitations, and a supplier’s use of agents, vendors and/or contractors. The PUC continually monitors suppliers and their sales and marketing activities through both the PUC’s Office of Competitive Market Oversight and its Bureau of Consumer Services.
On March 14th and March 28th, the Commission moved to impose civil penalties and mandate certain remedial actions against multiple electric generation suppliers for violations of regulations governing door-to-door sales – including failure to conduct proper criminal background checks on third-party vendors, ignoring local permitting ordinances and failure to provide required notifications to state and local authorities.
Regarding door-to-door sales, the Commission again reminds consumers that in Pennsylvania, from April 1 through Sept. 30, hours for door-to-door sales and marketing expand one hour, from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. When a local ordinance has stricter limitations, a supplier must comply with the local ordinance.
Additionally, the PUC continually advises consumers to immediately seek proper identification before engaging a salesperson. Regulations require agents who conduct door-to-door activities, or appear at public events, to wear an identification badge. The badge must:
- Accurately identify the supplier, its trade name and logo;
- Display the agent’s photograph;
- Display the agent’s full name;
- Be prominently displayed; and
- Display a customer-service phone number for the supplier.
Upon first contact with a customer, an agent must identify himself by name, the energy supplier he represents, and the reason for the visit. Additionally, the agent must make clear that he is not working for – and is independent of – the customer’s local utility or any other supplier. The agent may not wear apparel or accessories – or even carry equipment containing branding elements – that suggests a relationship with a utility, government agency, or other supplier.
The PUC urges consumers to avoid intimidating sales pitches pressuring them to act now, reminding them that they are not required to choose a competitive supplier for their electricity or natural gas supply. However, should they elect to enter into a contract with a competitive supplier, residents should expect the following once the supplier’s sales agent completes a transaction:
- Before the agent leaves the residence, the customer should receive a copy of each signed or initialed document relating to the transaction;
- The agent must explain the supplier’s verification process that is used to confirm the customer’s intent to switch suppliers;
- The agent must provide the customer with a full disclosure statement with all contractual terms and conditions along with a shorter contract summary that highlights the most important terms; and
- Agents must remind customers that they may rescind the transaction within three business days after receiving the disclosure statement.
Agents must immediately leave a residence when requested to do so, and furthermore must honor a customer’s request to be exempted from future door-to-door sales and marketing activities. Upon receipt of such a request, the agent notifies the supplier, which removes the customer from their databases within two business days.
As for telemarketing calls, the Commission stressed that agents must immediately identify themselves, identify the supplier they are representing and the reason for the call –also stressing that state and federal “Do Not Call” lists and regulations apply to all suppliers and are intended to safeguard consumers on those lists from unwanted calls. In addition to Do Not Call list protections, suppliers are also required to honor requests from individual consumer to not be contacted again.
When facing an aggressive sales agent or suspecting a potential scam, consumers are encouraged to contact the PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services at 1-800-692-7380, as well as alert their local utility. Consumers who feel threatened or are concerned about their safety should contact local authorities to report the incident.
Desire specific assistance regarding PUC matters, representation in transportation cases, ratemaking, contracts, real estate, or utility law, contact attorney Jeffrey A. Franklin at Prince Law Offices, P.C.