Prospect Law, working on behalf of Crystal Windows and Doors, has accused Renewable Energy Assurance Ltd (REAL) of “working closely” with TV production company Ricochet Productions to “expose” its members through the popular television show Cowboy Traders.  

A letter obtained by Prospect Law, which was sent on to REAL-member customers from Ricochet Productions, said: “We [Ricochet Productions] are currently producing a brand new series called Cowboy Traders in which we will expose all types of ‘rogue traders’[…] to achieve this we are working closely with REAL, and they have kindly agreed to pass this letter on to you[…]we would like to find out more about the unfortunate experiences you have had with the solar panel company.”

A spokesperson from Prospect Law explained: “Prospect is extremely concerned to discover that Ricochet is ‘working closely with REAL Assurance’ to make undercover programmes about REAL’s own member firms. We cannot understand how REAL believes this conduct fits into the powers conferred on it by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in its Consumer Code and we have written to both the OFT and REA to ask how long they have been aware, as regulator and sponsors of the REAL Code respectively, that this practice has been going on.”

He added: “If OFT and REA didn’t know about REAL’s cooperation with programme making about Member firms with Ricochet Productions, we’re urging them to urgently address the matter with REAL.”

The accusation heaps more pressure on the administrators of the consumer code, who Prospect Law previously accused of changing crucial parts of the code without prior consent from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), as well as already defending a High Court incompetence claim filed by Crystal Windows and Doors.   

Commenting on the accusations, John Oddi, MD, Crystal Windows and Doors Ltd, said: “Of course the solar industry needs to be held to account, good journalism is essential and we welcome best practice in the industry, but for a regulatory body to deceive its own members and act illegally in this way is totally unacceptable.”

Oddi added: “Crystal is not one of the companies affected, as far as we are aware, but no one seems to be taking responsibility for what increasingly appears to be a cowboy regulator; this is of great concern to us as members and consumers. The matter has now been reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office, the organisation governing data protection breaches.”

A spokesperson for Prospect Law concluded: “REAL is required under its Code to operate in a fair and proper manner towards any of its members which are involved in a complaints process – covert cooperation with TV companies making entertainment programmes about “rogue traders” without telling Members that this is going on does not fit into REAL’s remit and constitutes a very serious breach of the REAL Code.

“We will be forcing answers to the questions we have now asked OFT and REA in order to establish how long these breaches have been going on and how many Member firms and their customers are affected.”

Responding to the accusations, a spokesperson for the REAL said: “REAL denies in the strongest terms that it has ever had any commercial involvement whatsoever with Ricochet Productions or has benefitted from the company in any way whatsoever. REAL’s only contact from Ricochet Productions was in January 2012 regarding a contact it had had directly with a consumer about a serious complaint.

“REAL devotes a large amount of time to resolving complaints and since 2008 it has resolved over 1,000. There is no practice, past or present, in involving TV production companies handling and resolving consumer complaints or in administering the code. REAL’s only contact with Ricochet Productions occurred briefly in January 2012 following a consumer complaint.”