Blog by Aleksandra Klassen, Policy Analyst at The Solar Trade Association
A disreputable salesperson will often hook a customer with an eye-catching, but plausible, scenario of how their target customer is either at risk or missing out on an easy benefit. Here are some myths currently doing the rounds that we in the solar industry are concerned are leading to mis-selling to often vulnerable consumers.
NO, an Ofgem representative will not come to your home to check your solar panels.
NO, the fire and rescue services will not fail to respond to a fire in your home if you have a certain type of inverter.
NO, there are no products on the market that can increase your electricity output by a quarter, unless you live directly under a mature oak tree that obscures most of your roof (which, if the case, should elicit additional questions).
While far from the norm, these are some of the most extreme, deceitful selling tactics that have been used by those seeking to tap the solar market without giving any benefit to consumers. Such practices are of course not unique to the solar industry—snake oil salesmen have existed aeons past. But the technical nature of Solar PV, Solar Thermal and Battery Storage can be more easily exploited to over-sell, mis-sell and in some small cases purely scam homeowners. The majority of these scams target existing solar system owners, since doing maintenance work does not require MCS certification, which also means these companies are typically not members of any consumer code such as RECC or HIES, and certainly not members of the STA.
So, what’s the classic hook?
1. Your warranty is about to expire
2. Your installer is no longer trading and all warranties are void
3. You can get a free panel health check
4. Your system needs a fire risk test
5. You can get an upgrade/maintenance plan in partnership with MCS
The above are the five most common things to watch out for, either within letters, on cold-calls or even a knock on your door. Some homeowners that have seen the deal through have had their perfectly functioning inverters replaced with cheaper models for inflated prices and were sold unnecessary add-ons such as voltage optimisers.
Before proceeding to book any appointments/visits, it is always recommended to verify the information you’ve received by getting in touch with your original installer. If that’s not possible the next recourse is to reach out to a renewables consumer code or Citizens Advice. If you suspect foul-play, you can check the number that called you on a website that logs complaints.
The STA is not a consumer-facing organisation and has come to learn about these shoddy practices through our reputable installer members that were wrongfully dragged into this or have had to advise their customers that were targeted. Several STA members have been instrumental in spearheading this dialogue and have done a fantastic job in collating evidence to bring to our and the wider industry’s attention.
As the voice of the UK solar industry, the STA’s role is safeguarding the development of the industry, which includes ensuring the existing market of roughly 1 million homes with solar panels are treated fairly. Consumer protection and health & safety are of the utmost concern, which is why we’ve produced multiple guides to elevate standards, such as the Confidence Checklist for commercial rooftop solar and the Commitments for Domestic Energy Storage.
The STA also supports and contributes to numerous external activities linked to assessing and maintaining quality of installations, such as the recent BRE Fire Safety Workshops and the transformation of the MCS into a more robust body. This restructuring could lead to strengthened powers for the MCS to improve installation practices and clamp down on mis-selling. We would like to see maintenance and battery installation covered by MCS, for example.
No STA members have been implicated in mis-selling and our stringent terms and conditions inherently discourage this type of substandard behaviour. The T&Cs stipulate that installers of domestic solar systems who join the STA must be MCS certified and a member of a consumer code. The STA also withholds the right to terminate any member who is expelled from any consumer code.
Mis-selling, specifically, has been on our radar for much of 2017, and remains a priority to prevent serious reputational damage to the vast majority of solar companies that take their responsibilities to their customers very seriously. We have been engaging with relevant stakeholders on this front and discussed mis-selling multiple times in our PV Rooftop working group in 2017. Last October, members of the STA board spoke about this issue at a public meeting at Solar & Storage Live.
To further raise awareness, we have started compiling go-to resources on mis-selling on our website. We will be reaching out to all of our members imminently to underscore this new content and advise them to get in touch with their customer-base in order to warn them to stay vigilant.
Blog first featured on YouGen