New law would target aggressive solar system, energy efficiency sales tactics

by James Martin II on January 17, 2013

YouGen logo

Government renewable energy consumer advocacy body YouGen has created a petition calling for an end to the high-pressure sales tactics used by some solar panel and energy efficiency companies in the UK, amongst others. Specifically, YouGen is calling calls for lawmakers to ban ‘on the day’ deals. The petition comes on the heels of a Office of Fair Trading (OFT) review of such practices and a letter to 50 companies reminding them of their duties under consumer law.

In addition to OFT’s written warning, YouGen is calling for the government to implement stronger laws to end aggressive sales tactics, the worst of which included salespeople staying in homes for hours at a time and pitching ‘now or never’ deals to customers, not allowing them time to think about the proposals being suggested to them or to compare them to other options.

Cathy Debenham, founder of YouGen, stressed the importance of the UK’s clean energy industry maintaining a good reputation. She was quoted SolarPowerPortal, saying: “I welcome the OFT’s work on cracking down on these companies. UK homes are some of the draughtiest in Europe, and it would be a great pity if people are put off investing in worthwhile home improvements by the aggressive sales tactics of a minority of companies. … If we are to maintain consumer confidence in the idea of improving home energy efficiency it’s important to eliminate poor and misleading practice from the industry.”

More generally, OFT’s review revealed that there has been a flood of complaints regarding ‘doorstep selling’, with a record of over 35,000 calls to helplines from distraught or annoyed homeowners. The bulk of the complaints are about companies dealing in home insulation and mobility aids, and elderly customers are generally the target.

The definition of doorstep selling is a broad one, and encompasses situations where salespeople have been invited to homes as well as those who haven’t. Doorstep selling itself is not a prohibited activity, and is used by solar installation companies, among others, as a way of connecting with potential customers.

The UK’s general economic gloom seems to be the backdrop to the apparent increase in doorstep selling and associated rise in the number of complaints. Companies feeling pressure to maintain revenues and beat out competitors are resorting to more door-to-door sales. Although the solar panel installation industry has grown phenomenally in the past few years despite the doldrums of the general economy, it has also seen a sharp rise in competition between companies as the government’s feed-in tariff incentive has been scaled back, leaving those who would have otherwise been interested in going solar feeling as if they have somehow missed out and therefore less inclined to proactively seek installers. (In fact, returns and payback for solar PV systems are remain attractive, thanks to the falling cost of installing a system.)

YouGen’s petition is an attempt to have banned the specific behaviour that has given doorstep sales such a bad rap–that of the ‘same day deal’ sales pitch. The banning of such unconscionable tactics and informing customers of their rights would help companies who do not engage in them reducing negative press. Furthermore, now that feed-in tariff reductions take place quarterly and are generally small, there no longer any need for time-pressured decision-making when it comes to buying a solar system. As the petition text reads:

Changing the law to make “deal on the day” illegal with a clearly stated penalty will help stop pressure salespeople from being able to apply their finely honed skills to the detriment of householders. Unlike some trades, there is no good reason for a householder to need to make a decision on the day when purchasing a renewable energy system as it only deprives them of the ability to think and compare options on a system that represents a significant investment.

“As such, purchasing solar or other systems are not readily suited to ‘on the night’ contract signing (‘Doorstep Selling’) but require careful consideration and reflection before committing to a purchase,” Virginia Graham, Chief Executive of Renewable Energy Assurance Ltd (REAL) was quoted as saying on the YouGen website. The REAL Consumer Code advises consumers to get at least three quotes, to compare them carefully, to check out any testimonials and to read the REAL Top Tips and Consumer Guide … before signing a contract or paying a deposit for a small-scale generation system.”

Solar Selections provides free advice and Solar Quote Comparisons from the most competitive Solar Installers in the UK. Request a free Solar Quote Comparison by filling out the form to the right of this page or call 020 7205 2267 for more information.

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