The Financial Ombudsman has issued a warning to customers over misleading and high-pressure sales techniques used to sell solar in the UK.
In the most recent edition of the independent finance watchdog’s newsletter, published today, the Ombudsman tackles concerns and complaints raised by customers over suspect sales techniques used to push solar, typically via cold calls and often to homeowners that have retired or are preparing to do so.
The warning comes amidst growing concerns within the industry regarding misleading sales techniques that stand to tarnish the industry’s reputation unless tackled appropriately.
Recent months have seen a number of warnings issued by councils across the UK over “nefarious” sales tactics and last year Scotland-based AES Solar established its own helpline after being “inundated” with calls regarding sales calls offering unnecessary upgrades or maintenance.
The range of complaints heard by the Ombudsman typically relate to customers sold lines of credit to pay for the upfront cost of solar panel installations, only to find the cost of the repayments either higher than expected or not outweighed by the install’s benefits.
Most cases involve stories of customers being told that the panels will “pay for themselves” or words to that effect, and more often than not include evidence of high pressure sales techniques, misleading literature or unclear representations from salespeople.
The newsletter also includes the example of a ‘Mr L’ who made a complaint after being sold solar panels on the basis of them being “self-funding”. The cost of the panels was met partly by Mr L’s savings and the rest via a credit agreement he was signed up to.
However after the panels were installed, Mr L found that the panels were not producing the required savings. Complaints to the credit provider were dismissed and Mr L was forced to take the issue to the Financial Ombudsman.
It was later found that a salesperson of the credit provider had told the customer that the loan repayments would be fully covered by the benefits of the system, taking into account both feed-in tariff payments and savings made on energy bills. Mr L claimed the salesperson had described solar as “better than free”.
Further analysis by the Ombudsman of the paperwork given to the customer found that it was not complete and was, in its view, unclear. Mr L would therefore have been reliant on what the installer and/or credit provider had told him instead of what was revealed on the paperwork.
The Ombudsman then examined the actual returns generated by Mr L’s system and discovered that due to under-production, he was nearly £1,000 out of pocket each year, concluding that there was clear evidence of misrepresentation. After taking the case further, and dismissing an earlier offer of a slight reduction to the loan, the Ombudsman instructed the credit provider to rework the loan so that the customer would not pay any more for the panels than the potential savings made over the long term.
The Ombudsman has further advised that anybody with similar experiences should resist the urge to use claims management companies and instead contact the credit provider themselves, detailing the nature of their complaint. If customers are still unhappy they should contact the Ombudsman directly.
Solar Power Portal is conducting its own investigations into the rising number of complaints regarding sales tactics in the UK, specifically those originating from the sale of customer lists. If you would like to get in touch, you can contact Liam Stoker in confidence.