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Low wages...huge bonuses: How Utilita Energy motivates dodgy doorstep sellers with £52,000 a year

Matt Clark
Feb 1, 2018

The scam is simple: Tell people you have permission from the landlord to fit a new Smart Meter in their home. Just sign here...

Unwittingly you  become a customer of Utilita Energy. If they protest, be aggressive. Don’t let go until they’ve signed. Or until they chuck you out.

That’s what happened to Lee Robinson, who contacted us after a high pressure salesman tried to con him on his own doorstep.


Flame silhouette

Lee was angry about being lied to – and angrier still that his vulnerable partner was verbally abused as they tried to make the troublemaker leave them alone.

We approached Utilita who insisted only "a tiny percentage" of the huge number of complaints it gets each year were about it’s selling techniques.

Suspension...but no apology

It confirmed two of its agents had been suspended while it carried out an investigation. It would not apologise to Lee, of Elland, Yorkshire, and his partner in the meantime.

But it assured us that "These kind of allegations are extremely rare.

“We have robust monitoring processes for all our sales activities – in fact, all sales are verified by non commission-based members of staff, to prevent mis-selling."

What they didn’t tell us was how they motivate their sales staff.

But today we can reveal – pure desperation and, sometimes, pure greed.

Utilita is advertising online right now for Face to Face Sales Agents (that’s door-to-door cold callers in plain English) across the country.

The basic salary is £15,600 a year – one of the lowest wages offered among its many vacancies.

A Receptionist would earn £16,000 to £18,000.

A Telephony Administrator would get £21,000.

But the big draw for a would-be sales agent is the extremely generous “uncapped” commission and bonus scheme.

The company tells applicants: "We are currently expanding our sales team with sales personnel earning more than £1,000 a week."

£1,000 a week! That’s £52,000 a year. Nice work if you can get it.

But how do you earn that in an 8-hour day? And with 28 days’ holiday entitlement?

The answer: You must be willing "to achieve and exceed set targets." You must be "sales focussed." "A self-starter." "Ambitious." You must "want to be the architect of your own success." You must also, it claims, have the ability to "build strong client and customer relationships."

It seems you must also be pushy, persuasive and have difficulty taking no for an answer.

Previous experience Utilita says is desirable includes “Charity Fundraising” and “Street Canvassing.”

To most of us that means chuggers (charity muggers) – the people who beg you to stop and sign up for monthly donations to charity.

Many of them know every trick in the book…from polite pleading to persistant hounding, even when you’ve said thanks but no thanks and walked away.

Utilita Energy is advertising with online recruiter

And it’s shocking to read the comments of people who say they are former staff.

'Anything goes to get business'

One wrote: "Due to the fact that they have a bad reputation and excessive targets, reps get reduced to an anything-goes-to-get-business type of behaviour. Appalling aggression towards workforce."

Another posted: "Takes on average an hour to complete every sale! Too long. Can't make many sales a day. Bad reputation as some reps tell customers have no standing charge which they do!"

We asked Utilita Energy’s Director of Marketing and Communications Jem Maidment the following questions:

1 Could you confirm that some of your staff ARE earning more than £1,000 a week in commission and bonuses?

2 Could you tell us how many sales they would have to achieve in a week to earn that sort of bonus?

We put it to him that the Chartered Trading Standards Institute’s lead officer for energy Steve Playle has criticised rewards for door to door sales staff, saying: “All our experience tells us when companies start using commission-hungry salesmen to cold call customers it is recipe for disaster." So we also asked:

3 In the light of that – and the current investigation – is Utilita Energy concerned that huge bonus deals are likely to encourage your sales staff to use questionable methods to sign up people and earn more money?

The company has not responded. Nor has it told us of any progress in its investigation into Lee’s case.


Megaphone silhouette

It seems when it comes to sales Utilita Energy wants to keep its doorstep sellers hungry. And therefore desperate to sell, whatever the cost.

No wonder its staff tried to con Lee Robinson in to a deal he didn’t want.

Tell us your experience

Did you work as a sales agent for Utilita Energy? Tell us your experience.

And have you been the victim of a desperate doorstep scammer flogging smart meters with hidden costs? Let us know. We’re on your side – fighting for the little people against dodgy dealers.