/ Home & Energy

Who rules the roof? The downfall of a solar company

Which? members helped stop a £50m solar panel company in its tracks recently, after the extent of its dodgy trading was uncovered through numerous complaints. But is this the tip of the iceberg?

Over the last year, we received a series of complaints about the same solar panel company, Solar Energy Savings (SES). Which? members told us SES had bombarded them with ‘hard sales’ pitches, had sent panel installers who damaged and caused leaks to their roofs, and had used mis-selling tactics, such as promising the panels would work better than they could.

These complaints were obviously concerning, so we liaised with the Insolvency Service which was running an investigation. It was found that SES, which had offices across Britain (and was turning over a huge £50m per year), was using serious mis-selling tactics. This included claiming SES was a member of a trade body when it was not.

Plus, SES was found to have used high pressure sales tactics – using sales pitches that lasted over two hours, with customers eventually signing contracts merely to get the salespeople out of their homes.

One down, but how many to go?

Following the Insolvency Service’s investigation, Solar Energy Savings Ltd was wound-up at the end of July by the High Court in Manchester. Interestingly, it did not admit to the allegations but neither did it object to the winding-up order.

Although we here at Which? tend to shout a quick ‘hurrah!’ when such dodgy traders get shut down, we presume those that fell victim to SES have little chance of getting money back or getting out of the scheme – a sickening thought.

What is also worrying is that this company is potentially one of many that are lurking out there, as suggested in a previous Conversation when JunkkMale told us:

‘Everyday almost I get a card in the letterbox or an email pitching solar, often implying a ton of “free”… but, as with lunches, I have my doubts’

Sorting the wheat from the chaff

We’ve produced a downloadable solar PV installation checklist that includes tips and advice on what you should do, and the questions to ask, before, during and after a visit from a solar PV installer. We hope that this checklist will empower people to sort the wheat from the chaff when filtering through solar PV companies.

I’d also like to point out that despite the attraction of the feed-in tariff, we haven’t seen that many cowboys operating, which is probably thanks to the certification scheme in place.

My personal circumstances won’t allow for a solar investment, but I’m worried that my solar-keen family may accidently bump into a company like Solar Energy Savings and get misled or ripped-off. But is this just a case of one company ruining it for the rest? Have you had any good or bad experiences with solar companies?

Comments
redtulips says:
2 June 2013

Thanks alot for the info.
Is there a particular company you have used or would recommend?

Margaret says:
11 June 2013

I have been approached by solarson for the government backed scheme. It will be self payable and they say that it is backed by RBS. They said I pay £135 a month to rbs monthly and keep the rest for myself ? Have also been told I will get the passive system chase and led bulbs free ? Got surveyor coming on Thursday to double check things but wary low I have read these comments. He said I will not pay a thing out our own pockets

ian says:
13 June 2013

margaret sounds like what i was told but was really vague on the question of what happens if you dont make the amount of tarif to cover rbs told him i was looking into this and after the second phone call following his visit surprise he hasnt been back on the phone my advise having read all the comments think long and hard and always go with youre gut instinct it is rarely wrong.

Margaret says:
21 June 2013

I cancelled my order as I couldn’t take the chance of having to pay the loan incase it didn’t pay itself. Solarsun true to make me change my mind but I just went ahead and cancelled

Margaret says:
9 August 2013

I would advise anyone planning to get these panels from solarson to contact your local environment body who can check about the figures that solarson give you. Mine were way out as they said I would have enough to cover the loan and have loads put into my energy account. When I contacted my energy body they laughed and said I wouldn’t get a quarter of what they quoted and I would be out of pocket paying back the loan every month.

If you want an independent estimate of how much a system will generate, try the Energy Saving Trust website and their solar energy calculator.
http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Generating-energy/Getting-money-back/Solar-Energy-Calculator
It also gives a typical price for an installation of the size you select (eg just over £7k for a 4kW system)
My system is not from Solarson so I can’t comment on the company – except to say that they do look overpriced. Like everything else costing big bucks – SHOP AROUND and get a few quotes.

I’ve just had a second call from Solarson following on from an original sales call ‘to see if I qualify’. The blurb that I was given didn’t seem to add up so I asked for their web details so that I could check it out whilst chatting with her. Upon seeing the headlines at the top of this page I told her I was terminating the call and asked her to remove my details from their database.

Whilst I am keen to invest in solar energy, it seems there is a minefield out there. Be on your guard.

Stewart Brodie says:
10 November 2013

We bought 16 solar panels in August 2012. We only bought them because we were assured that the monthly payment of £250 would be covered by the amount we would receive from the solar panels. I telephoned the sales manager the next day to ask if we would make enough to cover the monthly payment. He told me without hesitation that we would definitely make enough to cover the monthly payment and that we could pay the loan off faster by putting the extra money we recieved into the loan. In the first year we paid £3000 to the loan and recieved £750 from the panels and a monthly reduction in our standing order to the Gas Board of £20 making a yearly amount of £990. This is scandelous and needs to be investigated! The salesman who sat in our living room actually told us that if we put all the money into paying off the panels they would be paid off in 3 years 8 months! We were assurred that sun was not required and that the panels would work very well on daylight alone. We have also just had one of the sunniest summers in Scotland for years.

[Sorry, your comment has been removed to align with our community guidelines. We do not allow spam or promotional content. https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Thanks, Alex.]

Stuart says:
13 November 2013

A couple of months ago we responded to an automated call by Solarson, who were selling the government backed FIT scheme for solar pv panel installation. We had a salesman come round who said that Solarson use quality German panels, but did not leave any product information with the other info. There is no info about the panels on Solarsons website and so I contacted Peniquik, which is the parent company, telling them I would cancel the contract if I got no info. They sent me info about the Chinese panels that they use! I seems that Solarson are mis-selling their products, and after looking at the energy savings trust website, I realise that the performance of the panels were grossly exaggerated by the salesman. He also offered me extra renumeration if I could get freinds and family to get panels fitted in a sort of pyramid selling kind of way (the more Installations, the more money I recieve, very dodgy I think). Solarson is not listed as a energy savings trust approved installer, but is affiliated to the MCA and other regulatory bodies. I am glad that I cancelled the contract, and would advise anyone to look at the energy savings trust website before considering any installation.

miss guided says:
13 November 2013

Hi just had a visit from solarson, and signed for a survey on friday! upon reading this post i think i will cancel,,, seems too good to be true ? has anyone used them before? was told i would not be paying anymore than my current tariff… any feedback is welcome.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Miss Guided, It’s really your call, but if it were me, I know what my decision would be. Check out other companies, there must be other reputable companies out there..

Matthew says:
9 December 2013

I had an installation by Solarson earlier this year and regret it. They came without the survey plans and fitted some in the wrong place,destroyed our stair carpet as the electrician made a cut straight across the stair rather then pull the carpet back . The returns is no where near what they predicted and as for there custermer service they never ring you back when they say and realy don’t seam to care. I am currently waiting for an engineer to repair the temp sensor . I would not recommend Solarson to my worst enemy

12SA says:
9 December 2013

Having previously worked with the feed in tariff at an energy company, I noticed huge differences in the prices people are being charged for what it seems on the surface is the same system set up.
I would definitely get more than one quote if you can – personally I think if you have to buy them through a loan, the money might be better spent on cavity wall insulation etc.

A 4kw system would probably get you around £550 to £650 p.a from the feed in tariff on average at current tariff rates, depending on how well sited it is. If you live in the SW, maybe £700 max.

I.barrie says:
10 December 2013

Thats terrible. I have heard so many bad things about them but also some good, but I must admit more are bad of late. Have you tried calling there contact centre they use? They don’t like you having that number so that usually gets things going, I know this from experience of my friend who had a recent installation from them, things went smoothly after that. I have had no problems with them at all however the aftercare you have received is shocking. There must be something you can report them to. Ofgem perhaps? Im not at all clued up on solar in general, still learning, just happy to have cheaper electric. But if this company carry on this way, which being part of weatherseal I have no doubt it will, then hopefully its shut down.

I.barrie says:
3 December 2013

I have recently just purchased an 8 panel system from solarson. I responded to an automated call, they guy I spoke to did seem to know what he was talking about and I felt no pressure at all. After the survey I decided I didn’t want to have a finance option so I bought them outright for 5500, which I thought was a good deal ( I never got other quotes). The installation was great, very professional and I really have no complaints. I have saw a huge saving on my electric bill. So im shocked to read about other’s bad experiences, but then again I didn’t choose finance, so im glad. However the reason I decided to post was that my daughter applied for a part time job to fit around her studies and it turns out it was solarsons call centre! To my surprise solarson, jobs worth doing and penekiuk are all weatherseal! So that would explain the miss selling! Needless to say she never took the job! Anyway by the sounds of it, I got off lightly

Jevban says:
13 December 2013

I recently had a 14 panel 4KW installed. The contract was based on calculations for SSW but due to lack of roof space at install, the MD made the decision to place 6 of the 14 panels on a N/NW facing roof (no communication to me).

Sheffield Solar (Sheffield university researchers )tell me this is not good, compounded by fact I have 3 roves with different orientations and panels on them and a dual mppt. All due diligence was done before install, ie spoke to a previous customer, checked companies house, checked registrations with REAL/RECC/NICIEC. Feel sick. £6000 down.

[This post has been edited to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Jevban says:
13 December 2013

I have asked REAL/RECC to act on my behalf. Spoken to solicitors and tried to talk to the owner and rescind the contract. He just told me off for 20/25 minutes. Anyone any ideas for resolution of this?

Please anyone that has had solar panels installed by a company called Solarson, JWD, Penicuik ect I would urge you all to have a qualified sparky come in and check the electrics!!!!! Also they are not a registered body of any of the organisation ib which they state to be! Please for your own safety!

James says:
23 March 2014

I agree, the electrics are shocking, also the whole instalation is meant to be carried out by a mcs qualified fitter, however there were none present at my install and the name used is registered to a different company

Did any solarson customers get a separate piece of paper with a breakdown of figures from 8, 5.5 and 3 hours of daylight?

Simon says:
7 May 2014

Solar Power Scotland of Unit A East Fulton, Darluith Road, Linwood, Renfrewshire, Scotland have recently gone into liquidation owing suspected millions to customers and businesses.

To date 120 creditors have contacted the Liquidation Firm, 20 of whom have stated how much is owed and that totals £722,000. So add in another 100 creditors and it’s going to be millions

Unfortunately my partner and I have been dealing with this fraudulent and incompetent company since 2010. We took them to arbitration after the RECC could do nothing to mediate on our behalf and won the case and were awarded £10,283.54 on the grounds of mis-selling HRI payments, incorrect installation and numerous failures to return phone calls, provide documentation and deliver compensation. The company failed to comply with either RECC or the IDRS Arbitration Service.

As the company is in Liquidation and rather conveniently has no assets we and none of the other creditors will get a penny from them! Yet, adding insult to injury, the Directors have immediately opened up another Solar company called ‘Delta’ from the very same building and are carrying out the same appalling business tactics. It seemed they were deliberately targeting the elderly and they are certainly still using cold calling high pressure selling techniques as I had 5 calls from Delta, before Solar Power Scotland went into liquidation! It is unbelievable that they should cold call my mobile number seeing as I have had a case against them for a number of years now. However, as the name was Delta I had no idea that it was Solar Power Scotland who were calling me.

This company claimed to be the largest solar installer in Scotland and were backed by RECC (formally REAL). RECC had previously struck them off their membership and later reinstated them. They had an investigation against them in 2013 but had failed to stop them trading. Trading Standards Scambusters also had an investigation but failed to stop them. It seems these governing and regulatory bodies have no teeth and no value. I certainly will never go by the membership of a consumer protection body to be of any value to a consumer.

In answer to your question of “Is this the tip of the iceberg?” – when I originally contacted RECC to lodge a complaint in June 2013 they said due to they amount of complaints they were dealing with they couldn’t get back to me till September. Yes, the iceberg is there, but once the company goes bust the iceberg melts away in a day and your left with a sinking ship of money, but it seems there is nothing you, Trading Standards, Police, Which? DTI, or anyone else can do about it.

Tc says:
25 May 2014

In addition to Simon, I am also a victim of Solar Power Scotland going into administration. My Loss is only for £250, and nothing compared to Simon or others. I was looking for a maintenance contract from them after getting Solar PV installed without a problem 4 years ago. Anyone who did get Solar PV installed around that time know that they used Kloben Sky 21CPC 58 evacuated U Tubes. However they took my money a few months ago and never came out to service the system.
Any body out there who can recommend a good Solar PV service agent who knows all about the Kloben tubes would be much appreciated.

Thanks

jevban says:
25 May 2014

Simon..I am in a similar predicament to you only its a company in England. The regulatory bodies and affiliation with them by these rogue companies, lulls you into thinking you have layers of protection and backing, when in fact the regulators are toothless and powerless and frankly, a disappointment. After 2 negative experiences using ‘approved’ installers, I have limited faith and trust in governing bodies. Sadly, there are excellenent companies out there, but plentry of scam artists too. Your tale fills me with dread as our complaint is currently with NICEIC before going back to RECC. My contractor just ignores everyone, is Trading Standards, building control etc etc…buyer beware.

Simon says:
10 June 2014

Turns out that Trading Standards Scambusters investigated Solar Power Scotland from August 2013 as they had received an “horrendous amount of complaints”. They put their case to the Procter Fiscal recommending Court Action and he decided (for an undisclosed reason) not to go to Court.
The company owes £500K to the Government in unpaid taxes, over £50K to RECC for unpaid Legal Costs and, to date, over £1M to 112 different businesses and individuals.
RECC tell me that they were investigating them from 2009 (the company only began trading late 2008!) and they had never had any other company cause so many complaints to be sent their way for settling…. and still RECC didn’t stop them trading.
It is a complete failure of RECC, Trading Standards and the rest as far as I can see. It should be national news and the Directors should be in Court and forced to pay back the money they owe for the rest of their lives.

Solar Sam says:
24 July 2014

Hi TC
My company is basedin Glasgow. We have carried out a lot of repairs from this companies trail of destruction from both private calls and IWA insurance repairs. We can service and maintain the system for around £200-£250 per year dependent on location. You can reply to this for further details if required.

jim says:
24 July 2014

Only reading this thread out of interest, but I’m confused here. When our system was installed 2 years ago, we were told it did not and would not need any routine maintenance at all – no annual service contract necessary. Only breakdown maintenance – if anything went wrong, inverter failed, washing blown all over the panels, water ingress to the connectors or whatever. So what does an annual maintenance contract offer? This kit is supposed to be maintenance free, isn’t it? Or is it like an insurance policy for any other household appliance, and covers breakdown maintenance / replacement too?

Simon says:
7 October 2014

The service contract as far as I understand it would cover things like blown/damaged tubes, checking for leaks, checking fluid levels, the expansion tank, if the pump is working ok, etc. Nothing is maintenance free as everything is in a state of change. I guess a comparison might be that you could only repair your car when it goes wrong or get it serviced every year.
But Maintenance Contracts could also be another tidy way of making money for very little work or as in the case of Solar Power Scotland a tidy way of making money by doing NO work.

Good point if you have solar thermal for water heating I guess. My comment was based on solar PV, which I still believe requires no routine maintenance. I may be wrong, of course, and it wouldn’t be the first time, but there are no fluids, pumps, expansion tank. And by hooking up the PV inverter to a PC, you can monitor system condition fairly easily yourself. Output, earth leakage, etc. Earth leakage / resistance is a good indicator of faulty or failing electrical connections and water ingress.

Simon says:
7 October 2014

Ah, yes if it’s PV then I guess it would require minimal maintenance Jim.

alan says:
9 June 2014

what is the downside,s to free solar p v. has ashadegreener installed your system ?

JO says:
23 July 2014

Hi am thinking of getting solar pv fitted by my planet in warrington.. any one know if any good

Considering having solar panals fitted by a company called EURO SOLAR any one got any feed back about this company based nr old Trafford .pls

jevban says:
1 September 2014

Hi Dave

I have had a terrible time with this company. Do a Google search or look back on this review site. I am taking them through the complaints process now.

Jevban

Hi, today I was contacted by a company called SES, made an appointment for their representative to visit and inspect our home this Thursday, I was told that the whole installation is funded by Barclays, our contribution is just one hundred pounds as deposit. Full information will be given on Thursday.

What is your initial thought about this offer.

Regards
Sam