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Which! Report: An Opportunity for Contractors to Shine

Release Date: 14/07/2011

Solar PV is a vital business opportunity, says ELECSA.

The WHICH investigation into Solar PV installations has cast an unfavourable shadow over some practices of sales mis-information to consumers, but it has also shone the spotlight on good practice in the industry and where to find it, says ELECSA, one of the operators of the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) for contractors installing renewable technologies in domestic properties.

ELECSA, the 6,500-strong certification body run by electricians for electricians, already runs a successful Part P registration scheme for electrical contractors, has extended its straightforward approach to certification for renewables, the primary aim of which is to provide consumers with confidence and protection, by guaranteeing that microgeneration products and installers who carry the mark meet robust quality standards.

Chris Beedel, certification director, ECA, said: “The WHICH Report has lifted the lid on some practices that none of us want to see in our industry because it undermines public confidence. Those accredited to MCS are bound by an Office of Fair Trading (OFT) regulated code of practice which means they should give accurate assessments as to the estimate of performance output based upon the fundamentals raised in the report. These are the position of the property, its location in terms of hours on sunlight and, of course, the pitch of the roof, if that is where the installation is best suited.” 

The OFT code of practice is governed by the REAL (Renewable Energy Assurance Ltd) Consumer Code.  This code provides the guiding principles for selling smaller-scale low carbon renewable technology in people’s homes and is a requirement for MCS accreditation.

The REAL Assurance Scheme stresses that members must not over-sell energy generating equipment to consumers and that before a sale is agreed they must provide customers with technical assurances and provide a credible estimate in line with MCS standards, as well as present the estimate in writing.

The code stringently governs the 'Behaviour of Sales Representatives' and stresses what performance information members must include in their estimates to customers, which must be provided in a format that is readily understandable by consumers and that comparisons for non-experts should be provided.
"To avoid danger of over-selling, members are advised to err on the side of caution when giving estimates."
Each year, REAL audits a third of its members to check they are complying and it also sends consumer satisfaction surveys to a third of MCS members for their customers to complete. Like WHICH, it uses mystery shoppers to inspect one in 10 of its members and randomly checks companies' compliance.
REAL has a stringent complaints process and ‘names and shames’ companies guilty of high pressure selling on its website.

“There is simply no-where to hide as MCS members are regularly audited and non -compliance will be subject to a full investigation and could lead to suspension of membership and MCS accreditation,” adds Beedel.
“The MCS is a means of providing the public with the confidence that the advice on their property and installation is accurate and in their best interests. Professional reputation as a contractor depends upon it because the majority of contractors are small to medium sized enterprises working in small towns and cities. To become associated with bad practice would be professional suicide.” 

“Any MCS holder using discount offers to encourage consumers to sign up there and then runs the risk of losing their livelihood as a result of either a complaint or being discovered through the annual audit process. Instead, they would carry out a full solar audit of a property before coming back to the householder with the best solution. This allows a cooling off period and for the customer to make a decision based upon facts and finances. For this reason, consumers should always check that the installer is MCS registered which means he or she is guaranteeing the service and the products being used,” says Beedel.

MCS accreditation will make it easy for installers to identify good quality microgeneration products and services in a rapidly growing market where more than 25,000 homes switched to solar PV last year, a figure that looks likely to be dwarfed by the end of 2011.

Beedel concludes: “Many consumers stand to gain from the Government’s FiT scheme and it is a shame that a minority of companies can give the sector a bad name. The Government has set ambitious targets to reduce fossil fuel use and in its latest review has made householders the primary focus of the cash on offer in order that more make the right choice and the right switch. They will only do this however if they can have faith in the people and products they are investing in.”