Good business practice or moral theft?

The gap between “acceptable” business practices and downright dishonesty seems to me to grow ever narrower as time marches on, especially when dealing with large corporations.

For instance, as our garage stands some distance away from the house, when we took the decision to fit an electrically operated garage door, we were informed by our energy supplier that it would require a separate meter which was installed a couple of years ago. Since then the cost of opening the garage door two or three times a month has cost the grand sum of just under one hundred pounds and ten pounds a year, virtually all of which is accrued in standing charges while the power actually consumed is little more than a few pence each month. Browsing the net the other day, I came across a power supplier who was offering an electricity account with no standing charges which sounded interesting . The rate for the electricity was considerably higher, but it was patently obvious that we were going to make some reasonable cost reductions. Being the gullible idiot that I am and still mistakenly thinking that loyalty counts for something, I contacted our current supplier who happen to be one of the largest gas and electricity companies in the UK and asked whether they offered a similar type of account. I was told that they did not. Fair enough, back to the potential new supplier who informed me that based on our bills over the last two years they would offer an annual fixed price contract for the princely sum of 99 pence a month and asked if  I would be interested in changing to them? Too right I would, if it’s going to come in nearly a hundred quid cheaper. They assured me that they would handle all the paperwork and I would hear from them in the future with a commencement date.

A few days later I received a phone call from our original supplier asking the reason why we were transferring to another company. When I explained,  they then said that they offered a similar type of contract at a better rate than the new one from the other company, despite the fact they had previously denied that they offered this type of deal at all. They were somewhat surprised when I told them that in the light of the way they had behaved, they could take their offer and stuff it where the sun don’t shine (or words to that effect)

Which brings me to the point of this post and my mother. Ninety eight years old, deaf as a post and therefore doesn’t like to use the phone. If you handed her a computer she wouldn’t know how to turn it on, never mind being able to find or access comparison websites. A good customer though, one who pays her bills by direct debit, which also means she never receives a paper bill. This neatly avoids the problem where the rules says that your supplier must inform you if they can offer a cheaper tariff than the one you are currently on. I changed from her original supplier some years ago saving her some 25% of her annual cost which is a tidy sum as her gas heating is on twenty four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year.  Had I not been around, she would still be none the wiser, still on her original tariff and several hundreds of pounds worse off.

It’s perfectly obvious that this type of attitude cannot fail to penalise the frail and elderly and perhaps those who maybe don’t have the technical savvy or equipment to do anything about it. When did this method of generating increased profits by the targeting of the disadvantaged become in any way morally acceptable, legal or even considered by some to be good business practice?

11 thoughts on “Good business practice or moral theft?”

  1. Quite a story, jh! It feels as if the robotic bureaucracies ignore the need for standards of behaviour. ‘The system’ is blamed for every error and it is rare to unearth a human being to talk to.

  2. The irony is that all these new methods of doing business are promoted by government (following lobbying of interest groups such as business and the legal profession) in order to make things easier, cheaper and more efficient. But the completely opposite result is achieved.

    I have just spent a considerable amount of time assisting two people apply for visas, a mother, who with her daughter are travelling to Australia and another friend travelling to the UK. They are white Zimbabweans and therefore have almost zero rights as far as the international community is concerned. Applications can only be made on line and in each case they are so lengthy and convoluted, requiring numerous supporting documents, that one gives up the will to live, let alone actually visit those countries. And when it comes to trying to pay, that is a mission even Ethan Hunt would be unwilling to accept.

    The more complicated the system, the more people to employ and therefore the more they charge. Do these methods stop criminals and illegal immigrants entering countries? No. Do they prevent honest law abiding citizens from doing so? Yes. Who benefits? Politicians, civil servants and consultants/lawyers. Who suffers? Everybody else.

    Increasingly governments around the world are taking ownership of moral responsibility and regulating behaviour through draconian laws rather an individual’s conscience. The net result is that people are becoming increasingly dishonest. Like Phil Mickelson, they play to the letter of the law rather than the spirit. And if the law is not going to catch/punish them, as if often the case, then they are able to continue their dishonest ways with impunity.

    People no longer ask whether or not an action is moral. They ask if it is legal. If it is not they ask what are the chances of getting caught and penalised.

    The thing about a conscience is that it will always catch you out, the law seldom does so.

  3. Sipu: One of my mates wants to visit me in the UK and go to Scandinavia. His problem? He holds a mainland Chinese passport. He has to fill in a disgusting amount of paperwork for his visas. As he’s trying to get permanent residence in the USA, that is already sucking the life blood out of him so he’s putting off any visits.

  4. Christopher, what always amazes me is the number of indigenous Zimbabweans I see at border posts, airports and elsewhere who hold British passports. Most white Zimbabweans have no chance of getting one, but for blacks, it seems to be a doddle. But it is not just the UK. I am for ever coming across black compatriots who say that they are going to live in Canada, the US, UK, somewhere in Europe and increasingly Australia. I really do not know how they manage to do it. Many whites won’t visit the UK because it so much hassle. The Schengen visa is much easier to get hold of, so they stick to mainland Europe.

  5. Sipu: As usual, British bureaucracy isn’t fit for purpose. As much as I detest Terra Nullius Inwognita, otherwise known as Dodgydagoland, otherwise known as the rubbish bin north and east of Portugal, otherwise known as Spain, I was able to sort out my paperwork within days there. It took months and months in the UK. Interesting that you mention your compatriots. I spoke with a man today who recently moved from South Africa to Dorset, a British South African. He said that it is proving to be a great deal more work than he planned to get everything settled.

    The paradox is that the Chinese require European tourists to obtain a visa, but they make it a very straightforward, simple affair and have even authorised a number of agencies to act as proxies. All I need to do to get a ten year Chinese visa is to pay a single fee, fill in a couple of forms and send a cheque to a visa service centre. It takes no more than 15 minutes and £100.

    Janus: For the first time in many years, I can say that moving isn’t really worth the effort as life wouldn’t be appreciably better elsewhere. I have a secure position, a comfortable quality of life and a good social network. I’ve also been fully accepted into Dorset.

  6. Janus,
    You can be really annoying, you always manage to say something better in twenty words than I did in three hundred

  7. Re the electricity meter. I would have run an underground cable, no extra charge at all!
    After all, an up and over door does not take much power.
    Most farms I know in Wales have their local electrician fix such for hard cash and a quiet mouth. The only way to survive these days.
    It does occur to me that the UK is far more rip off than here. A few weeks ago our gas meter went up the creek. Polite knock on the door, and they have to replace it. I had thought that the gas bills were getting rather cheap of late but never twigged it had stopped completely. I asked what about the current bill. Reply, no bill, our bad luck! I can imagine in the UK that happening. He even came in and relit our pilot lights subsequently.

  8. CDorset, that sums up Britain pretty well. It ain’t perfect living here but it could be so much worse.

  9. When my mother retired at 72 she decided to learn about computers – and acquired a machine – and an e-mail address with BT. She really never got the hang of it, and basically – just gave up after about five years…

    … however, she did have an e-mail address…

    When she was 90+ some whizz kid got on the phone and sold her a TV bundle – it was very reasonably priced and did seem to give her access to programs that she would enjoy. I was in the UK at the time, and noticed that BT had her e-mail address on the documentation. I phoned immediately and told them that under no circumstances should they use e-mail to contact her – since she didn’t even have a computer. Yeah, yeah…

    Some time later, she noticed that her subscription charges had virtually doubled… and phoned to find out what had happened. Yes, said BT, we sent you an e-mail telling you that we would be putting you on a different (and more expensive) bundle and that if you didn’t reply we would assume that you agreed…

    … and nothing she said – or I said on my next visit made the slightest difference… the fact that she had not replied to an e-mail that she hadn’t got and couldn’t get and that they had been told not to contact her via e-mail made the slightest bit of difference…

    Silence was assumed to be consent.

    “Good Business Practice” be damned – that was downright dishonest moral theft.

  10. From what I can gather there seem to be no consequences in the UK for sharp practice. Apparently the govt. does absolutely nothing about these malefactions. It seems to be strictly caveat emptor. Here there are very tight rules restricting everything about companies operating these ‘bundles’, when, where, how much etc. The resulting court cases are ruinous for the companies.
    Interestingly it is the total reverse when it comes to planning for development. Here you seem to be able to build anything anywhere, however dangerous or stupid whereas in the UK everything is nigh on impossible anywhere!
    Likewise financial felonry will get you a jail sentence every time here but rare in the UK.

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