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Tips to avoid being ripped off by solar panel cowboys

Posted: 26 August, 2011. Written by Ciaran Burns

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.

The surge of complaints sent to the REAL Assurance Scheme indicates that some companies are exploiting a lack of consumer awareness and using aggressive, high-pressure and sometimes illegal selling techniques to persuade consumers to sign contracts. So REAL has drawn up a list of Top Tips for home-owners who are planning to install Solar PV.

Any installer offering a system that can earn money from the Feed-In Tariff must be certified by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) and be a member of REAL. Rogue companies are proving wily, according to REAL’s Chief Executive Virginia Graham, who says the best approach is to avoid them altogether.

“You can often spot a rogue trader through the very generous-sounding deals they advertise,” explained Ms Graham. “We advise you to make approaches to at least three companies based locally to you and ask them for a quote which must spell out exactly what you can expect from your system as well as the total price. Compare these quotes carefully before you decide which company to go with, and check the Energy Savings Trust (EST) website too for more useful information.”

It’s also important to check the small print.

“No deposit should be more than 25% of the total price,” said Ms Graham, “Check that it’ll be protected with insurance and placed in a third party account. Make sure the company states, in writing, that you have seven days to cancel your contract with a full refund.”

Free solar offers are another area where sharp selling practices have been found by REAL.

“Getting some of your own electricity for free while a company makes money from your roof might seem attractive, but it isn’t always the best option for you,” she explained. “Make sure you receive full details of the costs and benefits before you agree and be very wary of paying a deposit, or any other money, up front.”

Some of these tactics may sound familiar.

“Many of these traders have their origin in the double-glazing industry,” Ms Graham explained, “they have moved directly from windows to solar.

“We’re working hard to ensure all companies comply with our Code. We act on tip-offs and complaints we receive, and we audit and mystery shop several hundred companies each year. If companies don’t comply, we can investigate and impose sanctions.”

REAL’s Top Tips, How to avoid being taken for a ride is available at and available in hard copies: email to receive a batch in the post. REAL welcome feedback about good companies as well as complaints about poor companies.

Straightforward steps you can take to avoid being taken for a ride:

• Only approach companies that are members of the REAL Assurance Scheme; members are listed on

• 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.

• 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 – they can act on tip-offs too.

For further information or to request an interview:

REAL switchboard: 020 7981 0850