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Ban deal on the day: open letter to Greg Barker MP and Jo Swinson MP

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 13 December 2012 at 2:16 pm

An open letter from Mike Stephenson, H2Eco  to the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Jo Swinson MP, and the Energy Minister, Greg Barker MP and the wider Renewable Energy Installation industry.

Help reduce pressure selling in the home by banning ‘deal on the day.’

I would like to propose that Government amends its statutory regulations with regard to sales tactics and practices in the home.

Government should issue a strict ruling to ban installers and/or salesmen working in the renewable energy sector from being able to make a ‘sale on the day’ when conducting the survey/initial sales call or whilst they are in the premises of the potential customer.

I raise this as an important and ethical issue, and one that has come to light from experiences presented to me by home owners, some of which are quite shocking.
I come at it from the premise that in terms of providing quality consumer care there is no good reason for a customer to be expected to make a decision at the point of initial sales visit.

Whilst I would hope all certified renewable installers give customers time to consider a sales proposal and compare quotes – I am suggesting it should be made mandatory good practice.

Unlike other household service providers (plumbers for example) there is no occasion where a customer would find the need to place an ‘emergency’ order for renewable energy. A decision to commit to renewable technologies is a significant financial investment, and therefore customers should be left freely to compare different companies and fully understand their options before signing their contract.

Currently those who engage in ‘doorstep selling’ fall under the Doorstep Selling Regulations, and anyone found to be abusing this can be penalised accordingly.
However, we are concerned with the situation of a company representative having been invited into the home by the householder who subsequently adopts pressure tactics to close the deal. Consumers are protected by a mandatory 7 day cooling off period that applies to ‘sales in the home’, and indeed the contract is void if consumers are not informed of this and if there is no cancellation form contained in the terms & conditions.

Nevertheless there are several issues with this, such as:

1. Those who employ pressure sales tactics simply don't tell customers they have a cooling off period. It is reliant upon the consumer understanding their rights and reading the T&C’s in full.

2. Once people have made a commitment (even if under pressure) they tend to be reluctant to cancel as they do not wish to confront the salesperson, or feel embarrassed or humiliated about making a wrong choice.

3. In the worst cases homeowners are genuinely fearful of cancelling (particularly if they felt intimated by a pressure sales experience at the point of signing).
Regrettably, there are some people involved in selling renewable energy who are applying pressure tactics in order to get a customer to sign for a ‘deal on the day.’ If you are a genuine trades supplier (not driven by sales commission) you will understand that any home owner is unlikely to sign on the dotted line with the first deal they are offered, and that it is perfectly acceptable (in fact preferable) for them to review their options and weigh up which company they feel most comfortable with, and is offering them the best service, price or product.

We propose that Government requires the Office of Fair Trading and Trading Standards to ban the signing of contracts in the home ‘on the day’.

This would be in the interests of consumers and therefore would further enhance our standing as honest, ethical and approved renewable energy experts.

Rather than place the onus on the consumer to a) know their rights or b) make a formal complaint – why not make a simple and powerful rule: "no sales in the home or on the day of the first call".

Furthermore, Government must require that Trading Standards can impose a fixed and advertised penalty for breaking the law, and uphold it rigorously. This would soon flush out any examples of pressure sales tactics, and ensure that those working in the renewable energy sector are well trained and operating to acceptable standards of sales and information giving.

By adopting this ban, certified renewable businesses would immediately have better standing in the eyes of the customer, Trading Standards and any consumer watchdog/rogue trader programmes, and the number of registered complaints would be reduced.

We already have the support of YouGen and many of its members and hope we can count on the support of REAL and its membership to endorse this motion.
For the majority of those working in the renewable energy sector it will not only boost reputation and customer confidence – but will prevent any ambiguity and reinforce excellent customer service standards. Only those who adopt disreputable practices have something to fear or object to.

If you wish to know what has driven me to this conclusion, I have listed below seven genuine extracts taken from conversations or situations that have arisen in the past three months whilst visiting potential customers on pre-arranged appointments.* I am sure you will agree these demonstrate the very worst of ‘foot-in-the-door’ tactics of old, and not those I would want associated to renewable energy.

I am shocked and saddened that people working in my industry can stoop so low – and to this end I want bad practice eliminated, in order that consumer trust can be regained. I have a passion and pride for renewable energy, as I know do the majority of those working in the sector – and I hope together we can make a real difference.
We are confident that you will wish to support this motion to improve consumer rights, whilst allowing homeowners to enjoy the benefits of renewable energy, and we look forward to your timely response and suggestions as how to move this proposal forward.

Yours sincerely

Mike Stephenson
Director
H2Eco Ltd

*Examples of bad practice and intimidating sales tactics shared with me from bona fide potential renewable energy customers. I am sure you will agree such behaviour is reprehensible. These are genuine and not exaggerated in any way.

1. Salesman in the home of a single retired lady informing her that a 12 panel system should cost £10,995 but he is willing to drop the price to £8,995 if she signed there and then.

2. Telling the same retired single lady that the feed in tariff rates could drop by 50% next week so she needed to act immediately. (In fact the 3% drop had been confirmed for weeks).

3. Offering a discount of £2,000 for marketing referrals – but pressurising home owner by saying that only one installation per postcode was eligible (and having spoken to sales manager they had to get in quick).

4. Salesman refusing to leave the home of a single female customer despite her polite request for him to go and give her time to think.

5. Incorrectly stating to the customer that the PV panels they were selling were the only ones on the market to use "safe" glass, and telling him there was no point in looking elsewhere to compare as they had the exclusive sales rights.

6. Getting openly cross and irritated with a single female customer when she would not sign after several hours of pressure sales techniques. In this instance the home owner felt so intimated that she went into the bathroom to hide, from where she telephoned a neighbour to come and assist her in removing the salesman.

7. Offering the "governments monitoring discount" - but again telling customer that only one discount was available for that postcode, and therefore customer needed to sign immediately in order to benefit from the price reduction.

If you support Mike's call for a ban on deal on the day please sign this e-petition.

If you want to do more please write to your MP asking them to support a ban and let us know what they say in reply. Installers who want to take an active part in the campaign can email Cathy.

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

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