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REAL's top tips to avoid being ripped off by solar cowboys

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 5 October 2011 at 8:36 am

The REAL Assurance Scheme* has received a surge of complaints about solar PV installers, leading it to assert that rogue traders are taking advantage of the expanding solar panel market to make a killing before the Government adjusts the Feed-In Tariff in the spring.

While they haven't yet specified what actual numbers constitutes a 'surge', it is enough to cause them considerable concern. The complaints indicate that some companies are using aggressive, high-pressure and sometimes illegal selling techniques to persuade consumers to sign contracts. These are tactics that blighted the double-glazing industry in its early days, and many of the traders have their origins there.

As a result REAL Assurance has developed some straightforward steps you can take to avoid being taken for a ride. I'll come to those in a minute - they are mainly about the sales process and contract, and are valid and useful things to bear in mind. However, my advice would be to not let any of these companies step over your hearth.

My clues for how to identify companies you won't want to let into your house:

- they cold call you, or knock on your door, out of the blue

- a leaflet drops through your letter box

- they offer a discount if you put a sign outside your house / sign the contract on the day

- they ask if your husband/wife/partner will be present at the initial meeting

- they want you to sign up at the first meeting

- it is difficult to get them to leave your house

If you've got any more clues to add let me know.

REAL's top tips to avoid being ripped off

- Only approach companies that are members of the REAL Assurance Scheme.

- Only sign a contract with a company that is certified under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) for the technology you are looking to install. If a company is registered for Solar Thermal but not Solar PV, their PV installation won’t qualify.

- Check the Energy Saving Trust website for objective information and target prices. Their online Cashback Calculator will tell you how much solar panels could earn on your roof [and YouGen of course - ed].

- Read REAL’s guidance carefully before you sign a contract or pay a deposit.

- Get at least three quotes before you decide which company to contract with.

- Make sure any testimonials you rely on are genuine and were not paid for; contact the people yourself and ask them any questions you might have.

- Before you sign a contract or pay a deposit make sure the company gives you a quote in writing, including a standard performance estimate specific to your property and a full breakdown of what will be supplied; make sure it’s all-inclusive.

- Before you sign a contract or pay a deposit make sure the company gives you their standard terms and conditions in writing.

- Before you sign a contract or pay a deposit make sure you read all the information carefully and you understand it.

- Never pay more than 25% of the contract price upfront and check it will be protected with insurance.

- Remember you have the right to cancel the contract within seven days with no penalty; make sure you don’t waive this right by signing a waiver.

- If you make any changes to the contract make sure these are agreed in writing and added to the contract.

- If the company makes any changes to the contract make sure you agree them in writing; remember if you are not happy with them you have the right to cancel the contract within 7 days with no penalty.

- Remember to send REAL your feedback once the job has been completed – it can act on tip-offs too.

*All MCS accredited installers must sign up to the REAL Assurance Consumer Code

Photo by Jeremy Levine


If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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8 comments - read them below or add one

Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 20 December 2011 at 11:03 am

I'm so sorry to hear that your relatives have been misled. Their first port of call for complaining should be the REAL Assurance scheme: click here to get started.

Read this blog for more information about how to complain

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unhappyofinverurieComment left on: 19 December 2011 at 7:49 pm

Thanks Cathy. Panels installed in April 2011. Thanks also for the microgneration database at the Sheffield Solar Farm. info. Had my relatives seen this, I doubt very much if they would have gone ahead with the installation. Even allowing for the regional differences in sunlight, the panels are not producing anything like what they were claimed to produce and my relatives say the installer seems to be deliberately vague and 'shirty' when challenged. How do they go about raising an official complaint?

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Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 19 December 2011 at 3:06 pm

@Unhappyof inverurie I'm sorry to hear your relatives' panels are not performing as expected. You don't say how long they have been installed. You should expect significantly lower generation in the winter months than in the summer. For example my installer did a predicted breakdown of generation by month from my 2kWp array in the south west, and it's proved pretty accurate: I should expect 45kWh in December and 230kWh in June. You'll get noticably less sunshine in Aberdeenshire than we do in Devon.

The calculation that installers do to predict generation under the MCS/REAL rules is based on the sunshine in the middle of the British Isles (Sheffield), so it will be a bit higher than you'd get in Scotland. However, their installer should have explained that.

To see what others are generating in your area you could have a look at the microgneration database at the Sheffield Solar Farm.

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unhappyofinverurieComment left on: 19 December 2011 at 9:45 am

Elderly relatives of ours have had 10 large PV panels installed by a local Inverurie electrical contractor this year. They do not appear to be generating anything like the power / revenue the electrical contractor claimed they would, and my relatives are distraught as they have spent a lot of money on them. They live in the AB51 Aberdeenshire area, and we are wondering if it is just the lack of sunlight(?). Has anyone else in the AB51 area experienced similar issues? how can they prove the contractor's claims are correct and not a case of mis-selling?

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Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 12 November 2011 at 11:37 pm

@purplewires There is some loophole (which they are trying to close) which allows sales companies that are selling on behalf of MCS accredited companies to get away with not being REAL members. I'd ask what, if any, subcontracting is going on, and who is responsible for what parts of the job too.

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purplewiresComment left on: 12 November 2011 at 10:56 pm

Hmm,  so you say that ALL MCS accredited installers MUST be signed up to REAL?

The guys I just signed up to (and paid my deposit to) said that they were no longer in REAL, but I can't now remember his seemingly plausible explanation....
I think I'll call them before the surveyor comes.

Any other advice?

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yaya77Comment left on: 7 October 2011 at 2:58 am

This comment has been removed by the moderator.

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Ecosource Solutions

Ecosource SolutionsComment left on: 6 October 2011 at 8:12 pm

Some great advice here, make sure the company is MCS Accredited and also ask for testimonials, and/or check them on the YouGen website.  

Its a shame that double glazing 'tricks' are still being used, these rogue traders have no place in this industry.


Exeter Solar Panel Installer - Ecosource Solutions (MCS Accredited). 

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