Origin Energy has been fined $2 million after the Federal Court found it guilty of illegal door-to-door sales.
Federal Court judge Justice Anna Katzmann said Origin and its marketing company SalesForce had exploited vulnerable consumers in their own homes in order to get them to sign energy contracts.
‘In each case the sales representative practised deceptions on the consumers in order to secure their custom,’ she said in her judgment.
‘They preyed on the vulnerable and the ill-informed.’
Justice Katzmann found Origin and SalesForce guilty of unconscionable conduct, undue harassment or coercion, false or misleading representations and in breach of consumer law provisions.
She ordered Origin to pay $2 million in penalties and fined SalesForce $325,000.
Origin, which purchased Country Energy in 2010, has thousands of the former state-owned company’s north-coast customers still on its books.
Origin’s fine was double that slapped on smaller rival EnergyAustralia last week in a similar case.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said the Origin fine was the biggest yet stemming from a string of recent legal cases launched by the watchdog against energy retailers.
‘This reflects the serious nature of the contravening conduct, including the fact that Origin and SalesForce were held to have engaged in unconscionable conduct and undue harassment or coercion,’ he said on Monday.
The ACCC accused Origin sales representatives or having harassed and coerced 10 people at their homes in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia in an attempt to get them to sign electricity contracts.
In one case, a sales representative negotiated a contract with a native Tamil speaker, despite being told the person had difficulty understanding English.
In another, a sales representative instructed a woman to say her husband, who was the authorised account holder, had signed an agreement when that was not true.
Origin Energy said it’s prepared to pay the fine and won’t appeal the decision because it did not support such behaviour.
The company stopped door-to-door sales in September, 2013.
Other utilities companies fined for aggressive marketing after action by the consumer watchdog, include Neighbourhood Energy, Australian Power and Gas and AGL.