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 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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