Genius Energy admits pressure-selling in case over "confusing and misleading" contracts
Solar panel sales company Genius Energy has been using “confusing and misleading figures” to push customers into making purchases they didn’t understand, the industry regulator has decided.
The company was up before a panel hearing after evidence was found that they had broken the code of conduct in place to protect renewable energy services customers.
The allegations were:
• That they broke section 5.1 of the code which says advertising has to be honest and truthful. The suggestion was that misleading information on the company’s website and materials were poorly explained and pushed customers into taking uninformed decisions.
• The next breach of the code was under section 5.2, which says employees must not “make any statement that is likely to mislead the consumer in any way," or put them under pressure to sign a contract. In fact, there were multiple complaints that these rules were ignored. The panel wanted to know whether pressure-selling was common among the company’s staff.
• The rules also say (in section 5.3) that salespeople cannot “oversell” energy generation products.
That means that any estimates a company provides about how much energy a unit can generate, and any savings it might offer, has to be based on a customer’s actual situation. If there are any assumptions in that calculation – such as a rise in the amount energy can be sold on for – then that must be explained.
• Section 5.4 of the code is straightforward. It requires that quotes for solar panels or renewable energy products are itemised, easy to understand and broken down. There are numerous complaints that the company ignored this too.
On the day of the hearing, a representative for the company accepted they had broken the rules on advertising (5.1), pressure selling (5.2) and poorly explained quotations (5.4). They denied the complaint of overselling.
In their defence, the company’s representative said they had looked at the results of the audit which brought to light these problems and had changed their contracts accordingly. The panel wasn’t swayed by this move – the contracts they had in evidence were poorly constructed and the financial breakdowns were difficult to understand. This suggested mis-selling.
One of the key problems was that the company combined the amount of money that users could potentially make from selling energy back into the grid with all other available savings. This gave customers a much higher annual income figure than they were ever likely to get. Many of these people thought their loan repayments would be covered by selling energy in this way, the evidence suggested.
Looking at the entire case, and the information provided, the panel decided the company was responsible for serious breaches of the code. Compliance with the rules wasn’t central to the working of the business, the panel thought.
The company’s representative argued this, saying the complaints were the result of a period of rapid expansion in the business. This had been scaled back and training and management of sales teams was much improved now. The panel accepted that things were better but they were still worried about the wording of the contracts.
Thanks to these concerns they set down a serious level of conditions for the company if they wanted to remain a member of the industry body:
• The company had three weeks to produce a new contract that splits up the costs and income for their renewable energy systems
• They had to undertake eight months of enhanced monitoring of the business by the regulator
• They had to urgently provide any outstanding documents their auditors wanted to see, and they needed to undertake another full audit within six months
In this case, the company was brought to account for the actions of heavy-handed salespeople and the way they do business had to change as a result. If you too would like to get justice for mis-sold solar panels then get in touch at mis-sold-solar.co.uk. We’re on your side.